May 30, 2008

NPR/PRI-produced program on housing crisis a hit

Ira Glass's Public Radio International program This American Life usually gets five to 10 comments per show, but after "Giant Pool of Money," a May 9 special on the housing crisis produced in partnership with NPR's All Things Considered, the program received nearly 100 listener comments, reports NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard. ATC was also flooded with comments. Shepard lauds the producers for telling the story--13 minutes on ATC and a full hour on TAL--in a "fascinating, compelling way that anyone can understand." The reporters "take you, the listener, along on their reporting journey where you meet (and in some cases may even like) the people who did the borrowing, the bundling, the loaning, the deceiving and the profiting--until it becomes clear that everyone involved is culpable," she says. Listen to the ATC report here and the TAL report here.

May 29, 2008

Four-day work week at WVPB

To help employees save money on gas, West Virgina Public Broadcasting's Beaver station (WSWP-TV Grandview/Beckley) is experimenting with a four-day work week, reports the local NBC affiliate. If it works out, WVPB may institute the schedule at other stations across the state.

May 28, 2008

Rose steps beyond public radio

After seven years as president of North Carolina Public Radio (WUNC-FM), the Raleigh News & Observer reports, Joan Siefert Rose is moving out of public radio to run the Council for Entrepreneurial Development, a long-established nonprofit that encourages "high-impact, high-growth" companies in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill region. Rose came to WUNC in 2001 after four years as p.d. of Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor.

WHYY's On Canvas is what it "should be doing"

WHYY's new weekly arts show On Canvas, which premieres tonight on its digital arts channel, is "just the kind of thing the big public station in the nation's fourth-largest TV market should be doing: a showcase of the variety of performing arts in the region," writes Philadelphia Inquirer TV critic Jonathan Storm. He lauds the program for not crowding performances--a banjo gathering, classical Arab music, a Native American flute player, a local singer-songwriter--with interviews and explanation.

May 22, 2008

Gross advises: Listen even during the boring parts

Speaking at Columbia j-school's commencement yesterday, Fresh Air host Terry Gross tells why she gets better answers in interviews if (a) she urges subjects to draw the line when questions get too personal, (b) she lets them start over with their answers, and (c) she listens to what they say, even the boring parts. (Exception: People in politics aren't eligible for the leeway of "a" and "b.") Gross received the school's highest honor, the Columbia Journalism Award.

WaPo on NPR's 'throwback' quake coverage

The Washington Post approvingly surveys NPR's earthquake coverage from China, which it describes as "a kind of throwback to an era when radio carried the first audio accounts of major events, before television crews could move bulky equipment to the scene." All Things Considered hosts Melissa Block and Robert Siegel and seven staffers were stationed 50 miles from the earthquake's epicenter in the Sichuan province when it happened. "Oddly, without anticipating a crisis, [the disaster] did what we were trying to do here -- to put a human face on another place and its issues," Siegel said.

WXEL: back in play on Treasure Coast

The licensee of WXEL-FM/TV in Palm Beach, Fla., and New York's WNET have dropped their 2005 agreement for WNET's purchase of the Florida station, the Palm Beach Post reported today. Richard Zaretsky, head of a local nonprofit that was to be a part of the purchase, said the group has been raising money and can make the deal on its own. Former suitor Miami's WPBT said it's still interested in some arrangement with WXEL. The licensee, Barry University, put the station in play in 2004 and later agreed to sell it to WNET, but the FCC held up the license transfer. Zaretsky said the commission feared the sale would violate its policy favoring local station ownership.

May 21, 2008

No more volunteers on the phone at Wisconsin Public Radio

Citing concerns about identity theft, Wisconsin Public Radio has traded in its pledge drive volunteers for a hired call center, reports the Wisconsin State Journal. The station doesn't want to be responsible for someone stealing info from donors, says Jennifer Dargan, manager of on-air fundraising and volunteers, though WPR isn't aware that any donor info has been compromised in the past. The station cannot afford the insurance that would protect it if it were sued, while the call center is covered up to $100,000 per incident. Minnesota Public Radio and WNYC in New York are also outsourcing calls.

NPR's Garrels on Iraq: "The reaction comes later"

In a lecture at Northwestern University about covering the war in Iraq, NPR correspondent Anne Garrels described an "unlikely partnership" in Baghdad: Fox News offered to share generator power with NPR, which was only getting two hours of electricity a day. NPR rejected the offer at first, then relented. Garrels also described her wartime experiences, including watching people get killed. She admitted, "The reaction comes later--suddenly you don't handle things the same way... In my case, I started drinking too much. I came home, and I couldn't deal with it."

May 16, 2008

NPR's Raz picked as Nieman Fellow

NPR defense reporter Guy Raz was chosen to join Harvard University as a 2008-09 Nieman Fellow. Raz will use his fellowship to study "the collapse of ancient and modern empires and the effect of such collapses on global order," according to a press release. (Via Romenesko.)

Dear rural America: When you shop for that DTV box...

Oregon Public Broadcasting is alerting viewers of the state's 400 rural translator stations that they should make sure the DTV converter boxes that they buy have the "analog pass-through" feature that feeds both analog NTSC and digital ATSC signals to their TV sets. That's because the FCC is allowing translators to continue analog broadcasting after DTV Day next Feb. 17, and some broadcasters are likely to switch at different times, requiring receivers to be ... open-minded. More on OPB's rural DTV page. The bad news: Boxes with analog pass-through "are not yet widely available in stores" and many salespeople won't know about this feature. OPB said it has received more than 10,000 calls and e-mails about the DTV switchover since opening its help line in January. OPB's Becky Chinn says the state network vowed to help viewers with the transition. They'll love OPB if it helps them, she wrote, and hold it responsible for DTV problems it if doesn't.

"Sid" drops in at PBS Showcase

PBS Showcase attendees got a preview this week of Sid the Science Kid, the new series from the Jim Henson Co. Sid combines several production techniques “to create lifelike animated characters that are more ‘everyday’ than ever before,” reported the (Palm Springs, Calif.) Desert Sun. “It’s not escapist entertainment,” said Lisa Henson, co-c.e.o. of the Henson Co. “This is a more authentic representation of what happens in a child’s life. We wanted to expand those experiences and to model positive situations for them to learn from.”

Philly station aims to make viewers into producers

“In my 20 years in the business, I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” says a Pennsylvania pubTV leader of Philadelphia’s WYBE, which has reinvented itself to air short videos made by community members. An Associated Press article describes the channel’s offerings as “a grab-bag of museum-exhibit tours and Christian rappers, tattooed performance artists and a green-building primer by local corporate landlord Liberty Property Trust.”

"Electric Company" to return to PBS

Production has begun on a revival of The Electric Company, the classic kidvid show from the ’70s. Media Life reports that the new Company will air on PBS Kids starting in January, with a writing team that includes veterans of Law & Order and the Will Ferrell film Blades of Glory. “The biggest advantage for ‘TEC,’ which enters a much more sophisticated kids’ TV environment than when it debuted 37 years ago, may be its devoted following among nostalgic adults, who will ensure that their children watch the show,” says the magazine. A New York Times article calls the new version "a weekly, more danceable version of its former daily self."

V-me offers preview of programming

V-me, the Spanish-language multicast channel, is set to introduce an original show aimed at preschoolers and, for adults, a reality series about new parents, reports MediaDailyNews. Two additional reality series are also in the works.

May 15, 2008

Horn named e.p. of Great Perfs

WNET has promoted David Horn from series producer to e.p. of Great Performances, the station announced today as the PBS Showcase Conference wrapped up in California. Horn has led four Primetime Emmy-winning productions and won two ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards for music programming. He came to Thirteen as a production assistant in 1979 and later created In the Spotlight and was e.p. of Sessions at West 54th, both pop music series.

Lowell Award goes to Becton

CPB gave this year's Ralph Lowell Award to Henry Becton Jr., who retired as WGBH president last fall and is now vice chairman. Becton discussed his career and WGBH in a Current Q&A in September.

Knight Foundation backs project creating open source software for pubradio

The Knight Foundation announced a $327,000 grant to Quiddities, a web development company partnering with KUSP-FM in Santa Cruz, Calif., to develop and test a Drupal-based content management system tailored to public radio stations' needs. The open-source software package, dubbed RadioEngage, will be designed to "promote local discourse, expand participation in the arts, and increase civic participation in local and regional communities," the partners said in a news release. Quiddities is among 16 winners in the foundation's second annual Knight News Challenge, and plans to share the new software package with other public radio stations. Full descriptions of this year's News Challenge winners are posted here, and foundation President Alberto Ibarguen discusses this year's submissions and grantees here.

May 14, 2008

NPR reviewing controversial installment of The Infinite Mind

NPR is reviewing whether the recent Infinite Mind program "Prozac Nation: Revisited" meets its editorial standards and practices, according to Ombudsman Alicia Shepard. The program, which NPR distributed on its Sirius satellite radio channel, criticized the media for overplaying the link between antidepressant drugs and violent behavior, and didn't reveal that experts who appeared on the program had financial ties to drug companies that manufacture antidepressants. Also: the series itself received a substantial grant from Ely Lilly, maker of Prozac, two years ago, according to Shepard. "Being upfront about real or potential financial conflicts of interest is key to establishing credibility," Shepard wrote. "Financial associations don't mean that experts should necessarily be disqualified as commentators, but the public must be told about them." NPR initiated the review after Slate described the program as an egregious example of undisclosed conflicts of interest in medical reporting. Infinite Mind E.P. Bill Lichtenstein responds to Slate here. Statistical Assessment Service, an arm of George Mason University run by Robert Lichter, took both the Slate writers and The Infinite Mind to task May 14: "To sum up: one can be too credulous of industry or dismissive of its importance; but one can also be too cynical and lurch towards paranoia when investigating its influence."

May 13, 2008

PBS picks thePlatform for online video

PBS has chosen thePlatform, an online video publishing and management company, to provide the backend of a pubTV online video distribution system, Jason Seiken, senior v.p. for interactive announced today at PBS's Showcase conference in Palm Desert, Calif. Local stations will also be able to use thePlatform's publishing system to post locally-produced video on their own websites and make it available to other stations' sites. ThePlatform provides online video services for BBC, Gannett/USA Today and PBS KIDS Sprout, among other media companies.

It seems a long time since Alistair Cooke

Scottish actor Alan Cumming will host Masterpiece Mystery!, the summer season of WGBH's imported drama series, PBS announced today. (In January, Gillian Anderson started hosting the winter season, Masterpiece Classic.) Cumming has played roles from Chekhov and Euripides, as well as in X-Men and a James Bond flick, and won a Tony as the emcee in Cabaret. Cumming's website. He'll introduce a season that includes the conclusions of Foyle's War and the Inspector Lynley series and a spinoff of Inspector Morse.

Google announces copy/paste social networking app

Not specifically pubcasting-related but perhaps of interest to station webmasters: Google's new Friend Connect aims to enable even small websites to incorporate social networking aspects by pasting some code into their pages. The tool offers free access to social apps. It also makes it possible for site users to import profile and friend information from established social networks such as Facebook.

NPR advance team in China reports on earthquake's aftermath

NPR's Melissa Block recorded a live account of yesterday's earthquake in central China and later reported from the scene of a collapsed middle school where parents grieved over the bodies of their dead children. Raw audio of both scenes, as well as coverage from yesterday's edition of All Things Considered in which Block describes being surrounded by an angry mob and forced to leave the middle school, are posted here. The ATC reporting team, including co-host Robert Siegel, were on assignment in a city near the quake's epicenter, gathering material for a series of special broadcasts planned for next week. Their web diary of the trip, Chengu Diary, is providing updates on the quake's aftermath. Associated Press reports on how Block's interview with a religious leader unexpectedly became live reporting from a disaster scene.

May 12, 2008

Slate questions drug companies' influence on pubradio's Infinite Mind

Slate has stirred up a new controversy over improper editorial influence in pubradio programming: a recent edition of The Infinite Mind is under fire for failing to reveal that four mental health experts contributing to "Prozac Nation: Revisited" have financial ties to drug companies that manufacture anti-depressants. The recent episode, in which host Fred Goodwin and all three interviewed guests agreed that the media overplays the link between violent behavior and antidepressants, is portrayed as an example of medical reporting that is "in a class by itself for concealing bias," according to Slate. Producer Bill Lichtenstein responds here and additional commentary, including a response from Slate's writers, is here.

May 7, 2008

Jay Iselin, former WNET president, dies at 74

John Jay Iselin, ebullient president of New York's WNET from 1973 to 1987, died of pneumonia May 6, the New York Times reported today. He presided as the station matured and developed such major PBS series as Nature, Live from Lincoln Center and the NewsHour. The former Newsweek reporter went on to head Cooper Union, the free-tuition arts-architecture-engineering college in Manhattan. Iselin's predecessor, James Day, died less than two weeks earlier at age 89.

The Daily Show, Chicago-style, from WTTW

WTTW and performers from Chicago's Second City and the comedy troupe Schadenfreude have produced IL-Informed, a comedy show that satirizes local issues--and the pubTV public affairs format. "The pilot is pretty funny, and that's more than I can say for most, if not all, public television," writes Time Out Chicago blogger Madeline Nusser. But "it doesn't quite live up to its potential," according to a Chicago Sun-Times review: "Interviews and investigative segments don't really follow the standard TV news format, and some of the news being spoofed is dated." The show features sketch comedy, newsmaker interviews and music. "Think the Daily Show meets Saturday Night Live--only completely local," says WTTW on the IL-Informed website. View a clip here and WTTW's promo here

In NYC, The Police will play for pubTV

At The Police's farewell show in New York this summer, every breath they take will be for trees and public TV. Proceeds from the concert will go to WNET and WLIW's arts programming and to MillionTreesNYC, the city's project to plant one million trees by 2017 and reduce The Big Apple's carbon footprint. The rockers pledged $1 million to the tree fund--no word yet on how much pubTV will garner. Tickets for the event will be available nationally via the WNET and WLIW websites.

A Place of Our Own adds newswoman to cast

TV anchor Elizabeth Sanchez is the new host of A Place of Our Own, KCET's English program for parents and caretakers of young children and sister program of the Spanish-language Los Ninos en Su Casa. Sanchez, a Los Angeles native, most recently anchored for the ABC affiliate in San Diego, where she received three regional Emmys. She is the mother of a three-year-old and 17-month-old and joins two other hosts on the show.

May 6, 2008

Tough enough for cable TV

At the History Channel, home of Ice Road Truckers, the host of the new weekly series Tougher in Alaska, premiering Thursday, May 8 (10 p.m. Eastern and Pacific), is Geo Beach, 225-pound public radio producer, whose publicity photos support the network’s press release: “It wouldn't be a tough show without a tough host, and ... Geo Beach is just that. Since moving to Alaska, Geo has worked as a logger, firefighter and medic, and commercial fisherman -- including winter crabbing on the Bering Sea.” This week, Geo hunts for gold; next week, salmon. On July 31, the series gets around to waste disposal, also tough in Alaska.

May 5, 2008

MPT's $1 million gift is its largest ever

Real estate developer Edward H. Kaplan, chairman of the Maryland Public Broadcasting Commission, and his wife, Irene, will give MPT $1 million over the next four years to develop new programming. The gift is the largest in the state network's history.

May 2, 2008

Getler: Moyers soft on Rev. Wright

In his latest column, PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler takes note of some positive aspects of Bill Moyers' interview with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., but goes on to say, "...I do feel that there were not enough questions asked and some that were asked came across as too reserved and too soft, considering the volatility of the charges." Viewers shared some stronger words with Getler.

Rehm's show to remain a pubradio fixture

Talk shot host Diane Rehm tells a Michigan TV station that she expects to continue hosting her show for at least another five years. “[A]s long as my voice holds out, I’ll be there,” she says. (Via the PRPD blog.)

PBS news duo to receive Cronkite Award

Jim Lehrer and Robert MacNeil have been chosen to receive this year’s Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism, reports the Arizona Republic. The award is bestowed by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

British press weighs in on Beeb-WLIW split

“The idea that we don’t see our future intertwined with public television and radio is absolutely not true,” says Michele Grant, the executive vice-president for news and sport at BBC Worldwide America, in a Guardian article about the British broadcaster’s loss of the U.S. distribution deal for its nighty news program via New York’s WLIW. The Guardian reports that the deal “broke down partly because the US channel wanted to combine BBC content with US content to produce a tailored programme for US viewers.” A Guardian blogger also weighs in with a commentary.

May 1, 2008

CPB will reward outstanding radio testimonials with cash

CPB will give $3,000 to the stations that produce the three most compelling My Source radio testimonial spots, the corporation announced. CPB will also fly the top winning producer and the community member featured in his or her testimonial to the Public Radio Development and Marketing Conference in Orlando in July, where they will be recognized. The Development Exchange Inc. will manage the radio testimonial awards for CPB. The deadline for submitting testimonials is June 20th; tools and other guidelines are available at

Winslow: Lehrer recovering nicely from heart surgery

Jim Lehrer will return to the Newshour in a few weeks after recovering from heart valve surgery, Linda Winslow, e.p., told PBS's new Engage blog. Winslow "said she’ll know Mr. Lehrer is feeling better when he starts phoning her with story tips and suggestions." Anchor duties will rotate among the Newshour correspondents until Lehrer returns.

WGBH, Sesame Street lead PBS slate of Daytime Emmy nominees

Daytime Emmy nominations announced this week by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences include 44 for PBS programs. Ten series produced by Boston's WGBH, including two foodie shows distributed by American Public Television, garnered 26 Daytime Emmy nods. Sesame Street, a perennial favorite in the annual competition, leads the pack of PBS Kids fare with 13 nominations. Nominees in three or more categories include Between the Lions, Design Squad, Curious George, Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman and From the Top: Live from Carnegie Hall. PBS has the second-highest tally of Emmy nods among commercial and cable TV networks, topped only by CBS. Winners will be announced June 13.

James Day, pioneering pubTV exec and program host, dies at 89

James Day, co-founder of San Francisco's KQED and host of the influential weekly interview program Kaleidoscope, died last Thursday from respiratory failure. He helped establish public television's reputation for in-depth, serious programming and blazed the trail for pubTV on-air pledge drives and auctions. In 1995, he penned a history of public television, The Vanishing Vision: The Inside Story of Public Television. Current contributing editor David Stewart drew from Day's account for this feature on KQED's early years. Variety, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the New York Times have each published obits.

Ten new pubTV stations join Raising Readers

CPB and PBS have selected 10 new pubTV stations to participate in Raising Readers, a program to improve the reading skills of 2-to-8-year-olds, particularly those from low-income families in areas with low reading scores. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the initiative pairs PBS children's programs such as Between the Lions with a literacy curriculum based on recommendations of the National Reading Panel. Ten stations have already partnered with community organizations to create local literacy programs. The new participants are WHRO in Hampton Roads, Va; Iowa Public Television; Louisiana Public Television; WLJT in Martin, Tenn.; WNPT in Nashville, Tenn.; WSRE in Pensacola, Fla.; KAET in Phoeniz, Ariz.; WFSU in Tallahassee, Fla.; WHUT in Washington, D.C.; and West Virginia Public Broadcasting. 

Meet Etsy's new COO, Maria Thomas

Etsy, the online crafts marketplace that hired NPR digital media chief Maria Thomas as its new c.o.o., produced a video to introduce her to employees. "I love that 'etsy' means connecting with something authentic," Thomas says. [Via Converge]