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Dec 29, 2010

Wick Rowland is Denver Post's TV person of the year

The TV critic for the Denver Post has selected Wick Rowland, president of KBDI/Colorado Public Television, as the local 2010 television person of the year. Joanne Ostrow also called KBDI "the little station that could," and a "feisty outlet" that "routinely stands up to the Public Broadcasting Service bureaucracy."

"When more timid station managers caved on matters of censorship or politics," she says, "Rowland hangs tough."

KCET creates Kids & Family channel

In 2011, KCET in Los Angeles will replace PBS's famous children's programming with a new digital family channel, as well as a daily lineup that includes Busytown Mysteries, a Canadian animated series with feline characters; and Peep and the Big Wide World, a cartoon that teaches children about nature and science. The station's Peabody Award-winning series A Place of Our Own/Los Niños en Su Casa will remain part of the station's morning programming.

The moves come as the station nears its Jan. 1, 2011, drop from PBS membership (Current, Oct. 18).

The station is also revamping its digital channels. It will launch KCET Kids & Family on the channel previously called KCET Orange; PBS World becomes MHz Worldview, with international programming. KCET will continue to carry Spanish-language channel V-me.

Dec 28, 2010

"New York Street Games" on PBS gets nod as one of TV's best in 2010

The documentary "New York Street Games" snagged a spot for PBS in the top 10 TV shows of 2010 as complied by New York Daily News critic David Hinckley. "This fairly modest production is a documentary shown on local PBS stations, which confirms again the value of PBS," he writes. "It's an unpretentious, straightforward and thoroughly charming look at the games New York kids used to play on New York streets —presented not as nostalgia, but a vivid, riveting snapshot of growing up in the melting pot that was early and mid-20th-century New York." Other shows on the list include HBO's miniseries "Boardwalk Empire"; AMC's Mad Men series and TBS's late-night Conan O'Brien.

Knight winner ponders lack of minority participation in ONA confab

2010 Knight News Challenge winner Retha Hill attended the Online News Association gathering in October in Washington, D.C., and found it valuable. However: Where were the minority participants? "The lack of diversity at ONA '10 was the subject of a brief but heated conversation between some National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) members, a few of whom wanted to 'do something' about it, like call ONA's leadership out," she writes on today's (Dec. 28) MediaShift.

"Was it an oversight? A slap?" Hill mulls. "Or was it a reflection of the lack of diversity in the country's online newsrooms? Maybe it is the echo chamber effect of the online news types whose definition of who is innovating is limited to the people they hang with."

She also offers a few "New Year's resolutions" for bringing more diverse voices into the online news world, including tapping the staffs of BET.com and MTV.com.

WHRO helps blind listeners keep up with publications

The Hampton Roads Virginia Voice, a service of dual licensee WHRO in Hampton Roads, Va., uses more than 90 volunteer readers to bring newspaper stories (even grocery ads), magazines and online publications to blind listeners. A story in today's (Dec. 28) Virginian-Pilot highlights the program, which uses a closed circuit signal via a specially modified radio; about 1,000 of the devices are in use. Live broadcasts are also streamed over the Internet.

NPR has become "Champale," Shearer opines

"I think comparing NPR to the BBC is like comparing Champale to Champagne," writes actor, satirist and KCRW's Le Show host Harry Shearer in a comment in response to a lengthy analysis of the past year at NPR on Radio Survivor. He adds: "The days when the former would 'go long' on a story of prime importance have long since been superseded by the era of the unbreakable, predictable format."

Perhaps Shearer is still upset with the network because it didn't cover his Cine Golden Eagle award-winning Katrina doc "The Big Uneasy," and wouldn't let him buy underwriting to promote the film.

In the Monday (Dec. 27) Radio Survivor post, writer Gavin Dahl looks at what he calls NPR's "identity crisis," examining everything from minority employment within the network to the politics behind its funding in 2010. It's his second post on the topic; the first is here.

Dec 27, 2010

NPR lands in third place on annual PR blunders list

NPR's handling of the Juan Williams controversy holds the No. 3 spot on the 16th annual year-end "Top 10 PR Blunders List," compiled by San Francisco's Fineman PR. It ranks behind BP's reaction to its disastrous oil spill, and Toyota's decisions after its massive recall.

"Although [NPR] commentator Juan Williams raised eyebrows when he told Bill O'Reilly of FOX News' The O'Reilly Factor that flying on airplanes with overt Muslims made him nervous, it was NPR that took the damaging reputational hit," the list notes. It faults NPR President Vivan Schiller for firing Williams over the phone and later hinting that he had psychological problems.

Fineman PR says it "assembles the annual PR Blunders List as a reminder that good public relations is critical to businesses and organizations. Selections are limited to Americans, American companies or offenses that occurred in America. Selections are limited to avoidable acts or omissions that caused adverse publicity; image damage was done to self, company, society or others; and acts that were widely reported in 2010."

Nebraska pubTV crew endures challenging conditions in Antarctica

Think it's cold where you are? A Nebraska Educational Television crew endured 35-degrees-below-zero temperatures when they shot Tuesday's (Dec. 28) Nova episode, "Secrets Beneath the Ice." Since 2005, scientists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have journeyed to Antarctica to drill through ice and rock to find clues to what might happen if the Earth's atmosphere and oceans continue to warm.

Producer Gary Hochman, videographer/editor Brian Seifferlein and senior audio engineer Jim Lenertz traveled from Lincoln, Neb., to McMurdo Station on the frozen continent, landing on 26 feet of ice. Little thermometers that came with survival gear couldn't register low enough. Cameras froze. The 24/7 daylight meant aerial photos were shot in softer light at 2 a.m.

"The goal was to tell a story that makes sense to the person at home, the viewer," Hochman said. "We made a character out of Antarctica because our main character couldn't speak for itself."

MPT President Rob Shuman to retire in June

Robert J. Shuman, president of Maryland Public Television since 1986, announced last week that he’ll retire at the end of June.

The state-operated network operates Thinkport.org, one of the more active public media sites for K-12 education, and produces MotorWeek, among other national programs.

Shuman succeeded Raymond Ho, who was fired in 1985 after an unsuccessful drive to establish MPT as an international coproducer. The network later lost its major national production when Louis Rukeyser rebelled at PBS/MPT plans to refresh Wall Street Week, and new version without him failed to take hold.

MPT took a shot at a nightly newscast, but NewsnightMaryand didn’t find ongoing funding and ended in 1991. Now Shuman is working with the University of Maryland’s j-school to start an online news service. More on that in Current

Shuman’s MPT went on to establish Maryland-centric programming and educational services as its specialty.

“In many ways, I thought this would be an easy decision for me since it actually would be a second retirement,” Shuman said in a memo to his staff Dec. 10. “That turned out not to be the case, as staff members and Commissioners have become more like family and special friends over the years than I ever could have imagined.”

Shuman had planned his first retirement after running the independent cable network The Learning Channel for 10 years and selling it to Discovery Communications in 1991, investing the proceeds in a foundation. Before that he helped establish the channel with the pioneer Appalachian Educational Satellite Network, which became the American Community Service Network.

A search committee of the Maryland commission will recruit a new president/c.e.o. for MPT.

Dec 26, 2010

KOCE's 2011 schedule won't include three longtime pubTV shows

KOCE, soon to be PBS SoCal, will not carry Independent Lens, Charlie Rose and Nightly Business Report as of Jan. 1, when it becomes the Los Angeles market's primary PBS station. The New York Times reports that viewers will need to turn to KLCS in L.A. or KVCR in San Bernardino to view the programs. Mel Rogers, KOCE president, said the scheduling decisions were made due to existing commitments.

PBS favors East Coast's "big three" shows over other stations' programming, KCET execs say

KCET station execs told the Los Angeles Times that an institutional bias within PBS favoring East Coast stations marginalized its contribution to the system. But critics counter that the station, departing PBS on Jan. 1, 2011, "squandered its potential" of its Hollywood location for productions.

PBS favors the "big three" — WETA, WGBH and WNET — which creates an "oligarchy" that means not only KCET but also medium and smaller PBS affiliates are unfairly blocked from getting their productions on the PBS schedule, KCET execs say. But LA media watchers insist that KCET simply didn't produce competitive programming. WNET in New York contributed 125 hours to PBS last year; WGBH in Boston, 135 hours; and WETA in Washington, D.C., 337 hours. KCET contributed 10 hours.

PBS's response: "Nothing prohibited KCET from becoming a highly productive producer in the PBS system," a PBS representative said. "All avenues were open to them." PBS President Paula Kerger declined to comment.

One professor agrees. "KCET," said Lawrence Wenner, professor of communication and ethics at Loyola Marymount University, "has long had the reputation in the Los Angeles creative community as a hamstrung entity with total lack of imagination."

Dec 24, 2010

Hallelujah! It's a musical treat from NewsHour

Your Current blogger has been looking for the perfect holiday item for you, and leave it to PBS NewsHour to provide it: "Hallelujah! A Global Mash-up of Handel's 'Messiah'." It stars a worldwide array of musical participants including the NewsHour staff as well as contributions from PBS member stations KTWU in Topeka, Kan.; WOSU in Columbus, Ohio; and Smoky Hills Public Television in Bunker Hill, Kan.

University commercial station to go public in Georgia

Pending FCC approval, the University of Georgia will transform its commercial TV station WNEG to a public station to be named WUGA, the university announced Thursday (Dec. 23). It is entering into a programming management partnership with Georgia Public Broadcasting. The university acquired the station in October 2008 to serve northeast Georgia and offer laboratory experience to students. It will still do so. Day-to-day operations will be under a director of television who will report jointly to the university's vice president for public affairs and the director of GPB Media, which will provide core programming.

KCET to announce reorganization of top management

As KCET in Los Angeles departs the PBS system on Jan. 1, it'll have a reorganized management team in place. The Los Angeles Times is reporting the changes; the station is expected to formally announce the changes Dec. 27. According to the newspaper:

— Deborah Hinton, e.v.p. of operations and c.f.o., will be replaced by Camille Gonzalez, the present controller.

— Mary Mazur, currently head of programming, becomes c.o.o., a new position. Moving up to programming chief is Bret Marcus.

— Susan Reardon, general counsel, will be chief development officer. Her previous position will be filled by June Baldwin, now director of legal and business affairs.

— Gordon Bell, overseeing engineering and operations, will be a senior v.p.

Seasonal salutations from the staff of Current

To all our faithful RSS readers, happiest of holidays!

WDAV-FM loses its g.m. to love

The general manager at WDAV-FM/89.9 in Davidson, N.C., Benjamin Roe, will depart to marry one of the station's "high-profile hosts," reports the Charlotte Observer today (Dec. 24). Roe said that he and Jennifer Foster, the station's midday announcer, plan to marry sometime in 2011. He departs the post Jan. 14, and will work on contract into the summer. He arrived at WDAV in 2008 with more than 25 years of experience, including serving as NPR's director of music and music initiatives. Roe also was a Grammy and Peabody Award-winning producer. Foster will continue her work as host and producer.

Dec 23, 2010

Center partnership with APM's Public Insight Network a "resounding success" so far

When the Center for Public Integrity partnered with American Public Media's Public Insight Network (PIN) in November, "we weren’t quite sure what to expect," writes Cole Goins, the center's deputy web editor, "but the initial results in just two months have been tremendous." The PIN comprises more than 90,000 participating "citizen sources" that have signed up to help reporters nationwide.

So far, the center has reached out to the sources for two stories: looking for persons living near coal power plants, and others whose credit card use has changed over the past year. In all, reporters received about 230 responses offering valuable information and generating several stories.

"Our first use of the network turned out to be a resounding success," Goins notes.

WQLN sues Erie County gaming agency to be eligible for funds

WQLN Public Media in Erie, Pa., filed suit Wednesday (Dec. 22) against the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority in an effort to receive proceeds from the Presque Isle Downs and Casino. The nonprofit is seeking to be named a "dedicated regional asset," which is required to be eligible for the funds. The suit claims that WQLN meets the criteria established by the authority, which includes county assets "that have a strong history of service to the community, a large operating budget and a regional audience base."

Dec 22, 2010

Silver batons go to five public broadcasting projects

Five public broadcasting projects won 2011 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Awards. The silver batons are among the most prestigious honors in broadcast journalism.

PubTV and radio winners are:

— KCET, Los Angeles, for "Up In Smoke,"
"Protected or Neglected: Workplace Safety" and "Hung Out to Dry?"
— NPR and Laura Sullivan for "Bonding for Profit."
—  P.O.V. and Geoffrey Smith for "The English Surgeon."
— West Virginia Public Broadcasting and Trey Kay for "The Great Textbook War," distributed by PRX.
— WGBH, Frontline and reporter/videographer Najibullah Quraishi, for reporting on Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.

The awards ceremony is scheduled for Jan. 20 at Columbia University's Low Memorial Library. Here's a list of all the winners.

After nearly half a century at WEMU pubradio, Art Timko to retire

Art Timko is retiring after 42 years at WEMU, Eastern Michigan University's pubradio station. Timko, 64, started at WEMU as a student in January 1968, when he enlisted served in Vietnam. He returned in 1970 for graduate school, finished that year, and started working at the station again. "I was hired in August of 1971 as a producer and have been here ever since,” he told AnnArbor.com, adding that he has no regrets about working at just one station for his entire career. Molly Motherwell, the station’s general manager/marketing and development director, will be interim executive director during the search for Timko’s replacement.

Foundation pledges $2.4 million for Philly collaborative news project

The William Penn Foundation has approved a $2.4 million grant for a Networked Journalism Collaborative project in Philadelphia, based in part on input from the American University School of Communication's J-Lab. Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab, announced the grant in her blog. A c.e.o. search begins in January.

The money will come in a three-year grant to Temple University to create a center to incubate a new organization to produce original journalism, aggregate other news, and support the city's growing group of news websites.

J-Lab’s mapped the Philadelphia news ecosystem in late 2009. "Philadelphia has become a hotbed of journalistic networking and innovation," Schaffer noted.

Dec 21, 2010

Moon over Miami: WPBT and hundreds of its fans worldwide watch the lunar eclipse online

Several staffers at WPBT2 in Miami may be still asleep this winter Tuesday afternoon, after staying up overnight (Dec. 20-21) for a unique event: The station presented a live stream of the lunar eclipse, along with an online chat. The full eclipse of the moon was also a perfect time for a 30-minute episode of its revamped Star Gazer series that directed folks to the web activities. Three chatrooms were full of visitors within five minutes, and the station now has about 1,000 new Facebook friends.

"It was a remarkable night and the feedback has been terrific," Neal Hecker, v.p. of programming services told Current. Here's Hecker's fave Facebook comment: "Thank you WPBT2! I live in Japan, and was clouded over for the eclipse. I caught a link to you on Twitter (man, #eclipse was flying!) and was able to watch the eclipse with my son, while we positioned a lamp, a globe, and a plate on a stand to follow along. While the beauty of nature and the majesty of blah blah blah... We had a great time! Thanks!"

Sadly, one astronomer wasn't around for the festivities: the original stargazer, Jack Horkheimer, who created and hosted the weekly segments. Horkheimer died in August. But his show lives on, and WPBT is opening up its host search to the public.

Do you aspire to Packardness?

Jim Packard, longtime radio sidekick to host Michael Feldman on Whad'Ya Know?," is retiring at the end of January. He's also a familiar voice to Wisconsin Public Radio listeners; he's been there since 1981. So the popular show is searching for a new (temporary) Packard, literally, with its "Being Jim Packard" contest. ("If you can say . . . 'That's One Right' you could be me on Whad'Ya Know? for one fabulous day. To quote Michael, you could get in on the ground floor of radio and stay there, much as I have.") Entries are due Jan. 12, 2011, and the winner will be announced on the Jan. 15 show.

Dec 20, 2010

Tavis Smiley leaving KCET partnership for WNET

Tavis Smiley is severing his producing partnership with KCET in Los Angeles, and will collaborate instead with WNET/Thirteen in New York city beginning in January. WNET President Neal Shapiro told station staff in an e-mail: "Tavis will celebrate his 20th year in broadcasting in 2011, and we are truly privileged to have the opportunity to work with him as he continues to bring his nightly half-hour talk show to PBS stations across the country." Smiley said in November that he had not been aware of KCET's plans to drop its PBS membership in January.

UPDATE: WNET issued a press release today (Dec. 21) on the new partnership.

Scrooge lives in a Dallas mall. Who knew? KERA did.

Hey, how about sharing some station seasonal cheer in the Current blog for the next couple weeks? We'll start with this feature from KERA in Dallas, where for more than three decades a Scrooge puppet has been hurling insults at NorthPark Center mall shoppers during the holidays. KERA's Stephen Becker talked to John Hardman, the voice behind the grump.

Is your station covering a fun tradition in the community, or planning any special events? Let us know. And don't forget to send along photos!

Debbi Aliano, CPR development director, dies October 2010

Debra Aliano, a fundraising executive for Colorado Public Radio and former g.m. of the University of Nebraska at Omaha's radio and television stations, died in October after a six-month battle with cancer. She was 57.

Aliano joined CPR in late 2007 as executive director of development and major gifts. Under her leadership the public radio network's major giving revenue grew by more than 50 percent, according to CPR. She also managed a 2008 donor event featuring NPR journalist Robert Siegel that raised more than $100,000 toward operations expenses.

Aliano was a native of Omaha, Neb., and began working at the University of Nebraska's KVNO classical radio and UNO Television in 1992. She rose through the ranks to become development director, assistant g.m. and later, g.m., a post she held for 10 years. She also was an adviser for the Minneapolis-based public radio fundraising and marketing association Development Exchange, Inc. In 2006, Aliano was named manager of the year by the Midlands chapter of the National Management Association.

"She loved public radio; she loved classical music," said John Aliano, her husband of 35 years, in a recent Omaha World-Herald obit. "She felt that it wasn't influenced by advertisers and that it was there for the public. She was always trying to improve things."

While working at CPR, Aliano commuted to her home in Omaha on weekends.

In addition to her husband, Aliano is survived by her sons Jeff and Nick, daughter Lauren Aliano Mueller, two grandsons, mother Rosalie Tessin and sisters Susan Bruning and Pam Klusaw.

Dec 19, 2010

Cookie Monster gets his fave treat, live from New York

Cookie Monster's campaign to host Saturday Night Live didn't work -- but did get him on the show. He made an appearance on Dec. 18 next to host Jeff Bridges at the opening of the popular NBC show. What did Cookie want for Christmas, Bridges asked. "An iPad!" Cookie replied, quickly changing his mind to "A cookie!" Of course. Cookie Monster and Bridges also sang a duet, check it out.

More than 90 percent of large cities can view government meetings on PEG channels

Of 276 U.S. cities of 100,000 or more residents, 256 of them — that's 93 percent — televise routine meetings of one or more of their governmental bodies on PEG (public, educational and government access) channels, says Rob McCausland on the Sustaining Democracy in a Digital Age blog. McCausland, who has been involved in community access television since 1979, continues mining facts in his comprehensive study of PEG channels nationwide. Check out his ever-growing database. Local cable access channels have been struggling in recent years as support wanes: Since 2005, some 600 community access stations have shut down, according to the Alliance for Community Media.

After a decade, Local Community Radio Act is on its way to the president

It's official: After nearly 10 years on Capitol Hill, the Local Community Radio Act has passed both the House and Senate and now heads for the president's signature. The House approved it Friday (Dec. 17) and the Senate, on Saturday.

Free Press released a statement that said in part, "Woo hoo!"

The law will repeal restrictions on the LPFM (low-power FM) spectrum approved by Congress in 2000 at the request of commercial broadcasters. The restrictions limited the frequencies available to LPFMs to every fourth frequency instead of every third. When low power FM was approved by the FCC in 2000 (Current, Jan. 24, 2000), commercial broadcasters complained that the stations would interfere with their broadcasts. NPR and CPB also opposed LPFM "with gusto," as Current wrote.

The Prometheus Radio Project ("Freeing the Airwaves from Corporate Control") has a complete timeline of the LPFM history here, going back to October 2009.

“We are thrilled that Congress has finally passed legislation that will put the airwaves back in the hands of our communities," said Candace Clement, outreach manager for the Free Press Action Fund. "The Local Community Radio Act will make it possible for hundreds, if not thousands, of new local radio stations to go on the air."

Dec 18, 2010

Funeral and endowment announced for MJ Bear; early and influential leader in interactive pubmedia

MJ Bear, a former vice president for online at NPR and a founding board member of the Online News Association, died Friday (Dec. 16) in Seattle after battling leukemia for seven months. At the time of her death she was based in Vienna for Microsoft as an executive producer in central and eastern Europe, and the Middle East and Africa. She was 48.

Bear ran NPR online operations from 1996 to 2001, as manager and director of new media services, and vice president for online. She created more than 35 NPR.org websites; acquired online properties such as Fresh Air with Terry Gross; and created the web-only music destination All Songs Considered. Bear won two Webby Awards.

She also created the PBS/NPR Interactive Summit, which, by its second year in 2001, drew 600 participants. From 2002 to '05, Bear was a professor in residence and assistant professor at American University's School of Communication. She taught digital media, broadcast journalism and advanced editing, as well as co-authoring a report on media self-censorship in coverage of the war in Iraq.

In 2004 she served as a Knight International Foundation Fellow in Bucharest, Romania, training journalism students and media professionals. She was later recruited by Radio Free Europe in Prague and served as director of programming from 2005 to 2008.

During the last several years her responsibilities with Microsoft included launching websites in Greece, Poland, Israel, and Turkey as well as new TV programming in Kyrgyzstan and Georgia.

She was past president of the Young Leadership division for the Jewish Federation of Seattle. She had an active role in Jewish communities in every city in which she lived.

Mary Jane Bear was born on April 9, 1962, to Aaron David and Jeanette Blumberg Bear in Des Moines, Iowa. She received a bachelor's in broadcast journalism from Boston University and a master's in U.S. foreign policy and Mid-East governments from University of Virginia.

She was preceded in death by her father, David Bear. She is survived by her mother, Jeanette Bear; brother, Dr. Philip (Robin) Bear; sister, Linda (Robert) Carpenter; uncles Myron (Barbara) Bear and Rabbi Herman (Paula) Blumberg; niece and nephews Chelsea, Elliot and Mason Bear, and Blake and Jake Carpenter; and cousins Joan Tigai, Jonathon Blumberg (Jenny Richlin), David (Karen) Blumberg, Naomi (Rabbi Braham) David, Dawne (Gregg) Novicoff, and Ab (Allyson) Bear.

"MJ's energy, vision and dedication to public media made a lasting impression in the hearts and minds of so many," Cindy Johanson, former PBS senior vice president, interactive and education, told Current. "She will be missed."

UPDATE: Her funeral will be 1 p.m. on Tuesday (Dec. 21) at Tifereth Israel Synagogue (924 Polk Blvd., Des Moines, Iowa, 50312). A "Seattle Celebration of MJ" will take place at 7 p.m. Jan. 6 at the home of Wendy and Reuven Carlyle; visit this Facebook page for details and to RSVP. There'll also be a memorial service in Washington, D.C., sometime in January.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that friends consider a donation to the Online News Association.  Bear had expressed interest in creating an endowment to help aspiring young journalists. During her illness, she wrote this purpose statement for the endowment:

"To promote the voices of young professionals working in or training to work in the field of Online news by presenting programs at the Association’s annual meeting, or in other venues. The programs will be designed to explore and showcase innovations, developments and new ideas in the field by sponsoring panel presentations, keynote talks or other appropriate formats."

The ONA is a 501(c)3 tax-exempt non-profit organization. Make checks payable to Online News Association, with a memo/notation on the check, "MJ Bear Endowment Fund." Mail to: Online News Association, MJ Bear Endowment Fund, P.O. Box 65741, Washington, D.C. 20035.

Dec 17, 2010

So long, KOCE; welcome, PBS SoCal

KOCE in Orange County, Calif., stepping up to the primary station role in the L.A. market in January, will now be known at PBS SoCal. It's launching a new website where viewers can find the schedule for their fave shows. KOCE used to be secondary to KCET in the second-largest media market, but that station is dropping its PBS membership — and all PBS programming — as of Jan. 1 (Current, Oct. 18).

Who, me? Patrick Stewart gets SAG nod for "Macbeth"

Actor Patrick Stewart had no idea the Screen Actors Guild nominations were to be unveiled Thursday (Dec. 16) so he was especially stunned when his name was among them, for his title-role work in the Great Performances presentation of "Macbeth." "That is always the nicest way to receive good news," he told the Hollywood Reporter. "When you're not expecting it and it comes, it's especially pleasing." His was PBS's sole nomination. (Image: PBS)

Dec 16, 2010

Berkes wins Sidney Award for reporting on Massey Energy

NPR's Howard Berkes won the November Sidney Award for a seven-month investigation into Massey Energy, which owns the West Virginia Upper Big Branch mine where 29 miners died in April (a Dec. 13 Berkes piece on Massey here). One finding: NPR obtained court documents and state and federal records citing persistent and widespread safety violations. Berkes spearheaded a team of NPR journalists that included Susanne Reber, deputy managing editor of investigations; producer Robert Benincasa; and reporter Frank Langfitt. Berkes conducted a dozen on-air stories for NPR about Massey, and wrote or co-wrote another 15 pieces for the NPR website. Berkes, 56, has been NPR’s rural correspondent since 2003, based in Salt Lake City. The Sidney Award is given once a month to an outstanding piece of socially-conscious journalism by the Sidney Hillman Foundation. Berkes discusses the project on the foundation's "Backstory" page. NPR has been bolstering its investigative news work over the past year (Current, Jan. 11, 2010).

PBS Kids programs score high in fall ratings

According to Nielsen ratings, PBS Kids had four of the top 10 spots in children's programming among kids 2 to 5 years old for September, October and November. Curious George was ranked No. 1 in September and tied for the spot in November. And The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That was No. 1 in October. Results are based on national ratings for PBS and select competitive cable networks (Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, the Hub, Nickelodeon, and Nick Jr.) and unique program names for shows telecast at least three times each month.

Sesame Street returning to Chinese TV Dec. 22

There's been lots of coverage of Sesame Workshop's recent news out of China. But Hollywood Reporter has the coolest photo. Interesting story, too, of the Workshop's history in the country, from the movie "Big Bird in China" in 1983, through Sesame Street's run on Shanghai TV from 1998 to 2001.

CPB seeks organizational consultant for L.A. work

CPB is continuing its work to support the burgeoning collaboration among the three PBS member stations in Los Angeles (Current, Aug. 9, 2010) with an RFP for an organizational consultant. Deadline is quickly approaching: Jan. 3, 2011.

Quite a year for HistoryMakers

HistoryMakers, the nonprofit African-American archive of oral histories and a longtime contributor to PBS programming, is wrapping up a busy year. Its archives — already the largest of its kind in the world — increased are still growing; this year brought interviews with Maya Angelou, Bishop T.D. Jakes and Minister Louis Farrakhan. Appearances by individual history makers at schools reached 10,000 students at 105 schools in 50 cities. That led a four-week National Endowment for the Humanities-funded Summer Institute on oral history techniques and African American political history. It also received a $2.3 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation to conduct 180 ScienceMakers interviews, provide educational public programming for children and adults, and produce a ScienceMakers DVD Toolkit . And something new and different: University of Illinois African-American Studies Professor Christopher Benson and Chicago playwright David Barr III created a dramatic play, "The Moment," inspired by their research in the archives. It was staged at the Champaign-Urbana, Ill., campus in March.

Several pubradio stations say Williams furor didn't affect fall pledge

NPR station execs tell the Washington Post today (Dec. 16) that the controversy over the firing of commentator Juan Williams in October didn't significantly affect their fall pledge campaigns. New Hampshire Public Radio raised $473,000, a record amount. Another record set at WAMU in Washington, D.C., which hit $1.7 million — up $400,000 from last year's fall drive. WMFE in Orlando is running pledge this week; contributions are above the goal. Any fallout from the controversy during your station's fall fundraising? Drop us a line.

Dec 15, 2010

Elvis Mitchell dropped as co-host of Roger Ebert's new show

Elvis Mitchell, host of KCRW's The Treatment, will not co-host the new Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies as was announced in September.The reason remains somewhat of a mystery. Since the pilot was shot, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, there had been "growing concern about whether Mitchell was the right person for the job." A source who saw the show's pilot said that Mitchell and his co-host, Associated Press movie critic Christy Lemire, had "little on-air chemistry." But Ebert shot down that possibility in a Tweet: “Elvis and Christy had great chemistry, as anyone could see who bothered to watch the pilot we posted.” A new co-host will have to be announced soon: The show debuts Jan. 21.

Virginia governor takes another stab at zeroing out pubcasting

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has made good on his promise to slice public broadcasting out of next year's budget. His office announced today highlights of his budget proposal that will be unveiled Dec. 17. McDonnell said that ending support of public broadcasting by the Commonwealth will save $2 million in fiscal 2012 and a full phaseout by the end of FY 2013. His total package of recommendations would save Virginia some $191 million.

McDonnell included pubcasting cuts in budget amendments he submitted to the legislature in the spring; they were rejected. Overall funding for public stations has declined in recent years, dropping from $3.6 million annually during the 2006-08 biennium to $1.9 million in the current two-year budget, reports the Virginian-Pilot.

P.O.V. looking for Diverse Voices

Diverse Voices Project IV, offering up to $100,000 in co-production funding per documentary project, is accepting applications. The fund, a P.O.V. initiative backed by by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, fosters emerging and diverse doc filmmakers with production support and mentoring. Deadline is Jan. 14.

NPR's outsourced blog monitoring going well

NPR's use of an outside blog comment moderation firm has come in handy — particularly in the days after the Juan Williams firing in October, when "we had tens of thousands of comments coming in that week," NPR Senior Strategist Andy Carvin tells the American Journalism Review. ICUC Moderation Services now monitors all blog posts. "NPR was forced to take defensive action after barrages of inflammatory posts by trolls and spammers polluted its discussion boards and threatened to become a persistent problem," as AJR reports. Previously, interns and NPR staffers deleted offensive posts. But the online comments have become so plentiful that they simply couldn't keep up.

The service began on Oct. 12. Just eight days later, Williams was terminated after he said Muslims on airplanes made him nervous (Current, Nov. 1).

Carvin says visitors who feel the need to vent are still free to do so on NPR's 1.4 million-fan Facebook page, where "users are snarky and swear like sailors."

NPR's Linda Wertheimer to move to half-time position

NPR's Senior National Correspondent Linda Wertheimer has decided to move to to half-time status in 2011. She will continue as a substitute host of Morning Edition and other NPR news programs and as an anchor for special events, including Congressional hearings. A memo to stations noted that "Ms. Wertheimer emphasizes she does not expect to spend more time with her family." (Image: NPR)

CPB offers $2 million to 20 markets for mobile DTV

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting announced today (Dec. 15) $2 million in grants to fund mobile DTV work at stations in 20 markets by the end of 2011. The funding will help stations pay for equipment and installation to broadcast pubTV content to mobile and handheld devices. Public television and commercial broadcasters are all working toward a national mobile video service. The deadline for a second round of grants is June 30, 2011.

Williams to pen book on free speech

Juan Williams, the news analyst who landed a $2 million contract with Fox News after his dismissal from NPR, has signed a two-book deal with Crown Publishing, the New York Times reports. His first book, to be released next summer, will “focus on free speech and the growing difficulty in America of speaking out on sensitive topics.” The second book doesn't have a publication date, but will “examine the changing face of America since the time of the Founding Fathers," as seen by "noteworthy individuals who have helped to expand on and transform our ideas of what it means to be an American.” Terms of the book contract have not been disclosed.

Dec 14, 2010

Big Bird lands in China to help kids deal with disasters

Big Bird visited Beijing today (Dec. 14) to help kick off a new outreach to produce and distribute emergency response and preparedness content for children and their families in China. “A flood came through Sesame Street and destroyed my nest,” Big Bird said. “It was really scary. But the good thing is that it didn’t hurt any of my friends and they all helped me make a new home. Today I found out about what other things we could do to keep safe and how we can help each other when something like that happens. Gosh, I can’t wait to tell all my friends what I learned!” The educational materials addressing needs before and after a natural disaster feature Big Bird and his Sesame Street neighbors.

CPB announces appointment of Jennifer Lawson as s.v.p. of TV/digital content

Jennifer Lawson has returned to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, this time as senior vice president of television and digital video content. Lawson, currently g.m. of WHUT/Howard University Television in Washington, D.C., will work with PBS, pubTV stations and independent producers to develop content. She recently ended her term as vice chair of the PBS board of directors.

Lawson originally was hired by CPB in 1980, working as associate director of the fund's drama and arts program and later television program fund director. She left for PBS in 1989 as executive vice president for national programming and promotion (Current, October 1989), back when Congress ordered CPB to work more closely with PBS to determine how to improve the national production funding process.

Ebert's latest show will air in 192 markets

Movie critic Roger Ebert has Tweeted that his new show, Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies is being picked up in 192 markets and the Armed Forces Network. Debut is January.

Two local pubradio stations now qualify for CSGs

Two public radio stations are receiving their first Community Service Grants from CPB. KCNP-FM in Ada, Okla., licensed to the Chickasaw Nation, gets $104,813. It began broadcasting in 2009. It covers the central and southeastern regions of the state with tribal, local and national news and issues; cultural programs; and music and talk shows. WSGE-FM, in Dallas, N.C., signed on in 1980. It will receive $69,875. Its motto: "Your Eclectic Music Station."

Founding father of Hawaii pubradio dies at 86

The first general manager of Hawaii Public Radio, Cliff Elben, died Dec. 11 in Honolulu. He was 86.

Eblen arrived in Hawaii in January 1966 as program manager for ETV, Hawaii's first public television station, which launched that April. That ultimately became KHET-TV, now PBS Hawaii. Eblen and ETV colleague Bob Miller often discussed Hawaii's need for a pubradio station, so Elben quit KHET-TV in 1980 to give that a go. KHPR-FM, with a startup budget of $7,000, signed on in November 1981.

Eblen also was active with Hawaii theater groups and played a recurring role as an FBI agent in early episodes of the original Hawaii Five-0.

Dec 13, 2010

"170 Million Americans" launches to help save pubcasting funding

On average every month, 170 million Americans go to television, radio, online services and in-person events offered by public media. That crowd amounts to more than half of the country’s population.

Surprised? That’s just what the slogan writers are hoping for.

The line “170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting,” debuting today (Dec. 13) on a new website — 170MillionAmericans.org — is intended to help defend public broadcasting from potentially dire funding cuts looming in the new year.

The site is sponsored by nine national public TV and radio organizations and co-managed by two of them, the Association for Public Television Stations and Minnesota-based American Public Media.

And the big audience statistic reveals for the first time a comprehensive estimate of public media users across all platforms. Public radio’s Station Resource Group spent months, long before this campaign was devised, gathering the data and subtracting people in overlapping audiences who could be counted more than once.

See this week's Current for the story of how one big number grew into an even bigger advocacy campaign.

New director of development at Idaho PTV

Idaho Public Television has hired Megan Griffin as its new director of development.

She will manage a team of 10, including director of membership, director of major giving and director of corporate sponsorship.

From 2005 to '09 she was a program director and director of development at the Children’s Home Society of Idaho, where she created a program that raised more than $3 million.

Edwards appoints NPR programming panel

KPCC President Bill Davis will chair a task force of public radio programmers, researchers and news execs analyzing programming opportunities and economics for NPR, Board Chair Dave Edwards announced today.

"[T]here are some dayparts that have traditionally underachieved in their ability to attract an audience," Edwards wrote in his Dec. 13 memo to NPR member stations. "The economics of new program development also remain a challenge." Another role for the task force will be to articulate "the role that NPR and stations can play" in programming opportunities.

"This work will be very helpful in guiding the NPR Board on future investments in programming," Edwards wrote.

Prior to joining American Public Media's KPCC in Pasadena, Calif., Davis was senior v.p. of programming at NPR. One focus of his work was addressing problems with under-performing midday shows.

Also serving on the task force are George Bailey of Walrus Research and four station programmers: Lynn Clendenin, Oregon Public Broadcasting; Ron Jones, Detroit's WDET; Hawk Mendenhall, KUT in Austin, Texas; and, Steve Schram, Michigan Radio. NPR staff on the panel include: chief researcher Lori Kaplan; programmers Margaret Low Smith and Eric Nuzum; station relations chief Joyce MacDonald; Ellen McDonnell, executive director of news programming; and Keith Woods, v.p. for diversity in news and operations.

Edwards, who serves on the NPR Board as g.m. of Milwaukee Public Radio, is also a member of the task force. He announced his intention to convene the panel last month, just moments after his election as NPR chair.

ivi TV adds Chicago signals, including WTTW

The controversial online TV provider ivi, which sells worldwide access to broadcast signals, announced today (Dec. 13) that it has added Chicago channels to its lineup. A rep for ivi told Current that the new stations include pubcaster WTTW/Channel 11. ivi, which launched in September, captures and encrypts TV stations’ signals and distributes them through a web app to subscribers. It says stations are paid for the content through the U.S. Copyright Office. PBS, WNET.org, WGBH and 22 other plaintiffs disagree, and filed suit in U.S. District Court in New York on Sept. 28, saying in part: “The defendants are nothing more than publicity-seeking pirates" (Current, Oct. 4).

With Soros funding, NPR walked into escalating crossfire

Should NPR have accepted a $1.8 million reporting grant from the Open Society Foundations, given the antagonism that political conservatives and Fox News has for their founder, philanthropist and financier George Soros? "In retrospect, knowing what I now know, would I rather that the first money had come from somewhere else? Probably yes," says Oregon Public Broadcasting President and NPR Board member Steve Bass in Politico's lengthy Dec. 12 report on how the grant exacerbated the controversy over NPR's dismissal of news analyst Juan Williams.

Politico's Keach Hagey reveals that the grant, which backs start-up of an NPR news initiative to strengthen enterprise reporting in state capitols, was approved in mid-August after months of discussions. "The Open Society grant came to NPR at a time when Soros was trying to cement his role as the definitive bogeyman of the right," Hagey writes. The same week that NPR unveiled its Impact of Government project, Soros announced his first-ever contribution to David Brock's progressive watchdog group Media Matters for America to "more widely publicize the challenge Fox News poses to civil and informed discourse."

The Washington Post recently reported on the long history of crossfire between Fox News and Media Matters -- and how NPR walked unwittingly into it.

NPR plans to announce more funders for its Impact of Government project soon, President Vivian Schiller said during a Dec. 8 roundtable forum in Washington, D.C.

Transfer of Current to American University approved in principle

Current is likely to have a new publisher in January — the School of Communication at American University in Washington, D.C.

Details of the contract to transfer the print/web publication remain in negotiation, but the governing boards of the university and Current’s longtime publisher, New York’s WNET, have approved the deal in principle. The unanimous approval by the WNET Board, Dec. 9, prompted a story in a New York Times blog Dec. 12.

WNET has published Current since 1983, for most of its 30 years.

The editor and staff will keep their jobs, the publication will continue to cover public media, and the School of Communication has said Current will be editorially independent.

Larry Kirkman, dean of the school, told the Times that the school has “become a laboratory for the future of public media,” with the help of affiliates such as the Center for Social Media and the Investigative Reporting Workshop, which produced its first documentary for Frontline this spring.

Current will report more about the transfer and plans for its future when details are settled.

Dec 11, 2010

Pubcaster Monk gets to thank his lifesavers in person

One year ago, on Dec. 10, 2009, Curtis Monk had a heart attack. Monk, president of Commonwealth Public Broadcasting, which operates Virginia's Community Idea Stations, doesn't remember anything about that day after his wife called 911. But his rescuers, paramedic Julie Anderson and emergency medical technician Desirée Myers, spent the year wondering how he was doing: They had to shock his heart three times to bring it back to life, and soon after turned Monk over to the hospital. On the anniversary of his rescue, the Richmond (Va.) Ambulance Authority reunited Monk and his lifesavers, as part of an employee appreciation day. And the Richmond Times-Dispatch was there with a video camera.

Dec 10, 2010

KCET releases 2011 programming details

KCET in Los Angeles, going independent of PBS membership on Jan. 1, 2011, has announced its lineup. Pubcasting programmers have been waiting to see how the station will fill its schedule without longtime PBS staples like Frontline, Masterpiece and Antiques Roadshow.

According to the station, KCET will have a "new on-air look" and organized "themed viewing blocks" to make it easier for viewers to find shows.

On primetime:

Sunday: Hollywood movies. First Works looks at how directors approach their craft. The new Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies offers film critiques, and KCET Presents runs popular movie titles.

Monday: Action and travel. There's Globe Trekker; MI5, following British secret service agents; Rick Steves’ Europe; and Burt Wolf: Travels & Traditions, introducing local customs from around the world.

Tuesday: Science and innovation. The Nature of Things with David Suzuki, highlighting rare wildlife along with science and technology; following will be "an evening of documentaries that explore a range of thought-provoking topics and current events," the station said in the release.

Wednesday: Drama. Robert Vaughn stars in Hustle, about a grifter who works with a team of con artists with a conscience in England. Helen Mirren stars in Prime Suspect; and The Write Environment features local filmmaker Jeffrey Berman conducting one-on-one interviews with screenwriters.

Thursday: Eclectic. There's the weekly premiere of KCET's longtime pubaffairs show SoCal Connected. Also, Doc Martin, the British medical comedy/drama; and The Aviators, which looks at the latest advances in aircraft and aviation technology.

Friday: News. The McLaughlin Group, followed by an encore of SoCal Connected. There's BBC World News; Inside E Street, with developments affecting economic security, health care and retirement; Inside Washington; NHK Newsline and its updates from Japan and other Asian countries; and Scully/The World Show, featuring one-on-one interviews with prominent personalities.

On daytime:

KCET will continue to feature morning children’s programming, with two Jim Henson Co. productions: Construction Site, in both English and Spanish, and The Wubulous World of Dr. Seuss. Also, the station's Peabody Award-winning series for parents and caregivers, A Place of Our Own and Los Niños en Su Casa, will continue.

The rest of the day focuses on cuisine and travel, with shows hosted by culinary experts Lydia Bastianich, Jacques Pepin and Rick Bayless;  Smart Travels – Pacific Rim; Journeys in Japan; Travelscope; and 13 Wonders of Spain.

Nightly news: NHK Newsline at 6 p.m., BBC World News at 6:30 p.m.

The local favorite Visiting with Huell Howser also will remain exclusively on KCET.

Mary Mazur, KCET executive vice president and chief content officer, said in the statement: “We intend to collaborate with the talented and diverse creative voices here in Southern California, in addition to acquiring programming in the genres our viewers have come to enjoy over the years.”

Ups and downs for 4G and mobile devices in '11

The good news: 2011 promises to be a big year for 4G, with new mobile devices hitting the marketplace, and networks upgrading. The bad news: While many industry players remain enthusiastic, few will see much 4G revenue in 2011. That's the outlook from the Yankee Group, the Boston-based tech research and consulting firm.

Among its 21 specific predictions:

— Mobile users will flock to the simplicity and savings of hotspots, which will reduce 4G subscriptions in the long run.

— Mobile video won't be "the killer 4G app" everyone is expecting. Consumers will spend more time with music services like Pandora and Slacker.

— In the rush to roll out 4G, operators are cutting corners on security. Yankee thinks that in 2011, a denial-of-service attack will take a 4G network down.

NJN may land at college in Pomona, N.J.

The New Jersey Network, which Gov. Chris Christie wants to cut from the state coffers, could be heading to a new steward, Richard Stockton College. College President Hermann Saatkamp has asked the governor to make NJN part of a college nonprofit managed as a broadcast and radio operation in conjunction with a group of state colleges. The station would be administered through Stockton's 501c3 organization. The college has been home to WLFR-FM since 1984. The proposal could keep NJN on television and the radio into next year, when budget cuts were expected to end programming (Current, July 6).

Dec 9, 2010

Sreenivasan ponders how NewsHour would have handled WikiLeaks documents

What if PBS NewsHour had been approached by WikiLeaks with its raw, secret diplomatic cables? How would the news staff have handled the material? On Nov. 29, the cache of documents was given to journalists at the Guardian, Der Spiegel and Le Monde (the New York Times also received the data, via the Guardian).

That was one question for Hari Sreenivasan, online and on-air correspondent with the show, in today's (Dec. 9) online Reddit chat marking the one-year anniversary of its revamp (Current, Jan. 11).

"We don't have nearly as many staff members as those institutions but we would have reached out to partner perhaps with someone the likes of ProPublica to help sort through the data," Sreenivasan replied. "As you've seen over the past few weeks, its not just raw data that tells a story, its context and perspective."

Pubradio's Golding named USA Rasmuson Fellow

Barrett Golding, indie curator of NPR's Hearing Voices, on Tuesday (Dec. 7) was named a USA Rasmuson Fellow by United States Artists. He is one of 52 artists receiving $50,000 each from the grant-making and advocacy organization. Winners include "cutting-edge experimenters and traditional practitioners from the fields of architecture and design, crafts and traditional arts, dance, literature, film and media, music, theater arts, and visual arts," the group said. The fellows were announced at a celebration Wednesday night at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City.

US Artists has also unveiled USA Projects, an online microphilanthropy initiative to encourage direct connections between artists and the public, catalyzing new funding for artists and helping to complete creative endeavors.

NJN signs long-term leases, hoping to stay in New Jersey

The New Jersey Public Broadcasting Authority — whose future is set to be debated yet again today (Dec. 9) in Trenton — has approved two long-term lease agreements, hopeful that the New Jersey Network will remain in the state after it is cut loose from state funding (Current, July 6). So far interested buyers include WNET/Thirteen and WNYC in New York City and Philadelphia-based WHYY. The Senate State Government Committee is expected to discuss today disbanding the authority and could consider a bill to give control of NJN’s future to a bi-partisan committee of legislators.

AIR, ITVS survey indie journalists

The Association of Independents in Radio (AIR) and Independent Television Service (ITVS) have teamed up to survey the field of independent journalists who have been paid or commissioned to produce reporting for public radio, TV or digital platforms within the past two years.

The Scan of Public Media's Independent Journalists, to be conducted by MarketTrends Research through Dec. 31, was commissioned by CPB to provide a more complete picture of the journalistic capacity of the field. It complements findings of the census of public radio and television journalists conducted this summer by Public Radio News Directors, Inc. This survey seeks insights about formats and distribution outlets for indie media makers, as well as their sources of income outside of public media.

"The scan is part of a larger-capacity building initiative of AIR funded by CPB and designed to help the organization develop a strategy for a) sustaining AIR’s core programs and b) [determining] how the talents of independent producers can best be directed to build/strengthen the public media industry," AIR explains on its FAQ.

The survey is the first-ever collaboration between AIR and ITVS. Results are to be released in February.

CPB, PRX "haven't gotten any traction" on Apple's iPhone nonprofit app ban

Nonprofits remain upset with Apple's ongoing ban on making donations on the iPhone through charity apps. Donors are directed out of a nonprofit’s app and to its own website, making the process of contributing more cumbersome.

CPB and the Public Radio Exchange met about three years ago with Eddy Cue, the Apple exec in charge of iTunes, which handles the App Store. “We heard there were really serious internal discussions about this at Apple after that, but we haven’t gotten any traction,” Jake Shapiro, executive director of PRX, told the New York Times in a story Wednesday (Dec. 8).

“One of Apple’s major objections," he said, "has been that if donations were to go through its payment mechanism, it would have to be in the business of managing and distributing funds and verifying charities as well." PRX has developed iPhone apps for pubradio stations and programs. Shapiro told the paper that the apps had the potential to become a “core revenue source” for the organizations.

An online petition protesting the ban has nearly 2,000 signatures as of Thursday morning.

Current reported in March that public broadcasters who have tried raising funds from mobile givers via texting have met with very limited success. Doc Searls, executive director of Berkman Center’s ProjectVRM, told Current that this whole hardware category is "very young" and dominated by Apple and its App Store. “We’re going to see lots of other devices, hardware makers, service providers and applications flowing into the marketplace over the next several years,” Searls said.

Chicago media critic and former Vocalo blogger lands at Time Out Chicago

Veteran Chicago newsman and former Vocalo writer Robert Feder has joined Time Out Chicago, a weekly cultural magazine, as media critic. Feder left Vocalo in November, just as the blogs were moving from an independent site to WBEZ's online home.

Dec 8, 2010

New House Appropriations Committee chair is Kentucky's Hal Rogers

The new chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee is Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.). That's good news for pubcasters, because also in the running was Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), who favors halting all federal funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Rogers, on the other hand, voted in June 2005 to restore $100 million for CPB. And earlier that year, when Kentucky Educational Television reached out to him, Rogers helped raise awareness of public broadcasting's role in public safety efforts, culminating in a partnership between APTS and the Department of Homeland Security/FEMA on the Digital Emergency Alert System (DEAS).

Another request from House to GAO for pubcasting audits

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), sponsor of a bill to defund CPB, has asked the Government Accountability Office to audit CPB and NPR funding. Two Texas congressman sent a similar letter to the independent investigative agency on Nov. 18, singling out NPR.

In a Tuesday (Dec. 7) press release, Lamborn said that "it is imperative that an accurate and complete snapshot of CPB’s use of taxpayer funding be available to lawmakers and the public. Unfortunately," he said, "the charts, figures, statistics and documents posted on these entities’ websites — and often cited in the news media — do not sufficiently account for the complicated revenue streams between and within these entities.  Efforts by Congressional staff, including the non-partisan Congressional Research Service (CRS), to contact CPB and NPR for clarification in this regard have been frustrating and limited in success."

NPR's Anna Christopher told Current: "This is a surprising claim, as NPR quickly and respectfully responded to each and every CRS inquiry. CRS repeatedly expressed gratitude to NPR for providing all requested information, and for adding clarity and context."

And Nicole Mezlo, CPB spokesperson, said that corporation staff members have spoken with the Congressional Research Service "numerous times," and CPB has not been contacted directly by Lamborn's office.

Cable news veteran to head up Boston's WBUR

WBUR in Boston has a new general manager. Charles Kravetz, longtime news and programming director of New England Cable News, is stepping into the position to be vacated by Paul La Camera on Jan. 1, 2011. Upon arriving at the new cable channel in 1992, Kravetz assembled a news operation from scratch. Within five months he supervised the building of a newsroom, hired 90 staffers and started 24-hour programming. He also opened four new state bureaus and led the news team to Peabody, Murrow and duPont-Columbia awards.

White paper: Status quo will not carry pubcasting into the digital future

A white paper on the future of public media warns that the field must step up its public advocacy and structural reforms if it is to meet the news and information needs of local communities and citizens.

"Rethinking Public Media: More Local, More Inclusive, More Interactive," by veteran news exec Barbara Cochran, follows up on the recommendations of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, October 2009. That report challenged public broadcasting to "move quickly toward a broader vision of public service media," one that is "more local, more inclusive and more interactive."

Although policymakers and philanthropic organizations must do many things to support the field's transition to digital public media, Cochran writes, public broadcasters themselves must demonstrate their commitment to change and make a bold, compelling and united case for it.

"There is universal agreement that funding sources — whether government, philanthropic or corporate — will not provide more money to support the status quo," Cochran writes. "Many recognize that some of the funds now going to public media could be redirected for greater efficiency and less duplication. Some believe public media missed an opportunity to bring new ideas to the table when the FCC’s national broadband plan was under discussion."

Cochran endorses the dramatic journalistic expansion proposed by public radio, including local newsgathering, and calls for public television to develop a new strategy to enhance its news output and community engagement. But she challenges the field to redirect its resources from "outmoded broadcasting infrastructure and duplication of service to building digital capacity." She calls on federal policymakers to provide more funding and the regulatory and legal foundation for public broadcasters to operate as effectively and efficiently as public media.

Acknowledging that public broadcasting faces a difficult environment in Congress next year, Cochran proposes that the field seek a special appropriation to produce more digital content under the national broadband plan and push for a reauthorization that would recast CPB as the Corporation for Public Media. Republican attempts to end federal funding of public broadcasting are "nothing new," she writes. "By emphasizing to Congress that support is going to strengthen local stations, public broadcasters may be able to avoid getting caught in partisan attitudes about national programming."

Cochran, who headed NPR News in its early days and was longtime president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, will present the report this morning during a roundtable forum at the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C. To follow the event on Twitter, search for the hashtag #knightcomm.

Dec 7, 2010

Myatt, former grantmaker and PBS exec, heads NEA media arts

Alyce Myatt, a programmer and former producer who has experience with foundations, PBS and production, is the new director of media arts for the National Endowment for the Arts. She starts work Jan. 3 as head of NEA's grantmaking in film, video, audio, web and other electronic media. Myatt served as PBS's director of children's programming, an e.p. for Children's Television Workshop and Nickelodeon, as a grantmaker for the MacArthur Foundation and, most recently, as executive director of Grantmakers in Film + Electronic Media, an association of foundations interested in media. She succeeds Ted Libbey, the NPR music commentator and now PBS arts advisor, who took the NEA job in 2002. Last year NEA laid out $8 million for media-arts projects.

ACL announces plans for new studio gala in February

KLRU in Austin, Texas, has set the stage (literally) for what it calls a "world-class celebration" to unveil its new Austin City Limits theater. The big event is Feb. 24, 2011, and rocker Steve Miller and his band will do the honors. A new Austin city skyline backdrop will also be revealed — fans of the show know what a big deal that is. The move has been several years in the planning (Current, July 20, 2009) and will provide the iconic music show with a 2,500-seat auditorium (up from its present 250) in a $300 million downtown redevelopment (as opposed to its nearly hidden studio on the University of Texas campus).

Pacifica is first U.S. radio network to add Al Jazeera English programming

Calling it a "first-of-its-kind agreement," the Washington Post is reporting today (Dec. 7) that noncom Pacifica Radio is adding the Middle East-based news channel Al Jazeera English to its five outlets nationwide. Stations in New York, Houston and Berkeley, Calif., will begin to carry the audio portion of Al Jazeera's TV news broadcast this week; Los Angeles and Washington will do so next year. Pacifica is the first American radio broadcaster to air programming from AJE, the English-language offshoot of the Arabic-language Al Jazeera network. Read the Pacifica press release here.

Houston NBC affiliate KPRC/Local 2 shot a segment this morning at Pacifica's KPFT. Programming Director Ernesto Aguilar told Current that due to the station's history — bombed off the air by the Ku Klux Klan twice in 1970 — local law enforcement officials were notified of possible protests. There were none.

The Houston Chronicle also covered KPFT's latest programming addition. Duane Bradley, the station's general manager, defended AJE. "It is programming of a high quality that is underexposed in America," he said, "and it certainly falls within our mission to bring in sources of news from different locations to round out media offerings for our listeners, our members and the broader community."

NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik did a segment on AJE in February 2009, "Al Jazeera English struggles for U.S. audience."

ITVS films continue to rack up awards

Four ITVS films were honored last week (Dec. 3) at the IDI Documentary Awards ceremonies, presented by by the International Documentary Association: "Waste Land," which received the IDA Pare Lorentz Award; "For Once in My Life," for music documentary; "Bhutto," the ABC News VideoSource Award; and "The Oath," the IDI Humanitas Award. Watch clips here.

Pubcasters need to gird for a serious fight, analysts say

Hollywood's The Wrap eyeballs the overall public broadcasting picture — "Massive budget shortfalls, vicious in-fighting and a power shift in Washington" — and predicts even more dire times ahead. Congressional champions are few, it says, and the incoming GOP members are even more anti-pubcasting than during the mid-1990s, when CPB was nearly extinguished. “These people are more conservative to the point where the only media they see as legitimate is Fox, and everything else is unreliable,” says Raphael Sonenshein, a professor of political science at Cal State Fullerton.

And just how relevant is public broadcasting? “All media is being asked to reinvent itself — and that includes public media,”says Tom Glaisyer, a Knight Media Policy Fellow at the New America Foundation. “Their heart is and should be in producing quality public media, but there’s been a lack of comfort with making the kind of argument in favor of what they offer that needs to be made.”

Read Current's analysis of the situation here.

Dec 6, 2010

Reality TV isn't, proclaims Ken Burns

PBS documentarian Ken Burns has some strong opinions about reality television — and all are negative. In an interview for a Kansas City Star series on the subject, he tells TV critic Aaron Barnhart: "The nomenclature is what’s infuriating to me. This is not reality. Nobody proposes or dates or checks people out in front of millions of people. The notion that this is reality is beyond the pale. What it does is just become a vehicle for the same shallow consumerist mentality that is driving our country into the dirt."

Burns continues: "There is an aspect of voyeurism that is interesting, but what we’ve done — and it’s the definition of decadence — each generation of reality shows has to up the ante. So now we’re watching the Kardashians get bikini waxes with the appropriately fuzzed-out areas. What does this say to our children when we’re falling behind in math and science?"

Barnhart identifies Burns as "filmmaking legend and reality hater."

The Economist and PBS NewsHour soon to join for doc project

PBS NewsHour is partnering with The Economist to run docs on subjects that the magazine covers, including politics, health, technology, religion and government. Starting in January, "The Economist Film Project" will accept films for review. Segments will air on NewsHour and the project's website through 2012.

CPB soon will assist station mobile DTV efforts

Broadcasting & Cable is reporting that CPB is close to announcing an initiative to help stations fund the cost of deploying mobile DTV. CPB issued an RFP for a Mobile/Handheld Digital Television Program in July. Jay Adrick, broadcast technology v.p. at Harris Corp., a major broadcast equipment manufacturer, told the mag that stations can launch basic MDTV services for around $130,000 to $160,000 a year.

Former APTS president's wedding gets write-up in New York Times

The recent nuptials of Larry Sidman, former president of the Association of Public Television Stations, and his bride Jana Singer were featured in Friday's (Dec. 3) New York Times. She is a law professor at University of Maryland. Their first date, after meeting at a dinner party in March 2009: “I asked her to go for a walk around the Tidal Basin to see the cherry blossoms,” Sidman said. Less than a year later, he proposed while the two were vacationing in California.

Whither college radio? Not without a fight

Add Vanderbilt University's WRVU to the list of student-operated radio stations that may be offered for sale to the highest bidder. Vanderbilt Student Communications, license holder of the 10,000-watt underground music station broadcasting on 91.1 FM, is exploring whether to sell WRVU and use the proceeds to establish an endowment supporting "innovative student media experiences . . . in perpetuity."

Unlike the pending license transfer of Houston's KTRU, the Rice University station that's to be converted into classical music pubradio outlet by aspiring owner KUHF, the proposal for WRVU is a trial balloon, according to the New York Times. The Times reports that as financially strained universities increasingly question the viability and value of their campus radio stations, advocates for student-operated outlets such as KTRU and WRVU have organized and mounted vigorous protests.

Friends of KTRU, for example, retained the Paul Hastings law firm and petitioned the FCC to reject the sale of their 50,000-watt station. “Rice University and [KUHF licensee] the University of Houston System used underhanded techniques in this attempt to sell KTRU’s FM license, which was student-created and has been maintained by four decades of hard-working student volunteers,” said Joey Yang, KTRU station manager, in a Dec. 3 news release. “With this Petition to Deny, we hope to stop them and return KTRU-FM to its rightful owners: the students.”

KVCR-TV might not survive immediate CPB funding cut, station president says

"Halt to federal funding could doom KVCR-TV" reads a headline in today's (Dec. 6) Sun newspaper in San Bernadino, Calif. With Republicans ramping up the fight to annihilate CPB funding, the local station is concerned: More than 13 percent of its $6 million operating budget comes from the corporation.

“We’d end up having to cut the budget significantly,” Larry Ciecalone, president of KVCR, told the paper. “I’m not really sure we could sustain an instant cut. If we were to wean us from that over a period of four to five years, it’s doable. It’s just not doable immediately.” But that immediate cut is what some Republican lawmakers, including California Rep. Jerry Lewis, want. He is in the running for chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. (Ironically, Lewis was instrumental in securing a critical earmark for KVCR's digital transition: Current, Feb. 11, 2002.)

“We’ve always had battles with Congress over this stuff,” Ciecalone said. “But it’s probably a more serious threat than it’s ever been in that Republicans do have the votes to make it happen.”

The station recently announced a partnership with the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians, which pledged $6 million over three years to help KVCR develop the first national TV channel about Native Americans (Current, July 10). It's expected to launch in spring 2011.

Interim president appointed new head of KMBH in Harlingen, Texas

John Ross is the new president of television and radio operations at KMBH in Harlingen, Texas, which has been mired in controversy for several years (Current, March 16, 2009). Ross has been general manager since April 12 when its former president, Monsignor Pedro Briseño, was reassigned to full-time parish work by the station's owner, the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville. Ross has been with the station 16 years.

Dear Apple: Please stop being such a Scrooge

Public Radio Exchange, a leading developer of iPhone applications for public radio stations and programs, is promoting an online petition that asks Apple to change its policy barring charitable giving on the iPhone. "Apple is a leader when it comes to producing life-changing innovations, but at the moment, the company is also making it harder to do good in the world," the petition, addressed to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, states. As of this morning, the petition has garnered more than 1,150 signatures. PRX Project Director Rekha Murthy compiled a round-up of blog links on Apple's ban on nonprofit gifting.

Dec 4, 2010

$6.2 million in RUS grants go to 13 licensees for digital conversion work

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday (Dec. 3) announced $6.2 million in grants to public television licensees in 13 states to complete digital TV conversion projects. The money comes through the Public Television Digital Transition Grant Program, administered by USDA's Rural Utilities Service. The program provides equipment funding to public stations that serve substantially rural populations.

Work includes a $677,920 project by the Kentucky Authority for Educational Television (KATV) to place digital translators in eight isolated rural communities. A grant to the West Virginia Education Broadcasting Authority for $366,000 will be used for a digital translator to serve a rural part of state that had previously received analog service.

Grants to licensees range from $39,000 to $749,000. A full list is here.

Rep. Eric Cantor: "Big Bird will be just fine without his federal subsidies"

Looks like the "Big Bird defense" (Current, Nov. 29) might not be as effective in preserving public broadcasting funding as it was in the mid-'90s, when the yellow-feathered, towering character showed up on Capitol Hill to save the day. Back then, “it was Big Bird that killed us,” former House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston (R-La.) acknowledged to Fox News just last month.

In an interview published today (Dec. 4) with Americans for Limited Government, Rep. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a leader in the effort to defund CPB, said that shows such as Sesame Street "are thriving, multimillion-dollar enterprises.”

“According to the 990 tax form all nonprofits are required to file," he added, "Sesame Workshop President and CEO Gary Knell received $956,513 — nearly a million dollars — in compensation in 2008. And, from 2003 to 2006, Sesame Street made more than $211 million from toy and consumer product sales. Big Bird will be just fine without his federal subsidies.”

Dec 3, 2010

Fresno, Calif., PBS affiliate cuts three positions

ValleyPBS in Fresno, Calif., has eliminated three positions due to budget constraints, reports the local Business Journal. Paula Castadio, ValleyPBS c.e.o., said two receptionist positions were eliminated, in addition to the director of marketing. He said a drop in funding "across all fronts" led to the layoffs. "Our philosophy is to live within our means in the current environment," Castadio said. "We believe that's what our donors expect us to do."

NJN may stay on the air past Jan. 1 funding deadline, governor says

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has decided that the New Jersey Network may remain on the air after Jan. 1, when state funding for the network ends, in order to provide more time to work out NJN's future, he told the Star-Ledger. Christie proposed ending state support earlier this year (Current, July 6) and the legislature has been researching the situation since then. The state wants to retain ownership of the licenses and would like to use a consortium of broadcasters to provide content. Possible partners include WNET/Thirteen in New York City and WHYY in Philadelphia.

Deficit commission fails to pass plan that included ending CPB funding

The White House's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform fell short of the 14 members necessary to approve its plan for $4 trillion in cuts and tax increases over the next decade — which included killing off all funding for CPB. That means the plan will not move forward to the Senate for consideration. However, a majority of the panel, 11 members, did approve the proposal. President Barack Obama said the commission report "includes a number of specific proposals that I — along with my economic team — will study closely in the coming weeks as we develop our budget and our priorities for the coming year.”

P.O.V. and Adobe join to help young filmmakers create digital media docs

The Adobe Foundation's Adobe Youth Voices and the documentary series P.O.V. today (Dec. 3) launched Project VoiceScape, to fund middle- and high-school students to create nonfiction films using digital media tools. The projects will then stream on P.O.V.'s website. The PBS Teachers website will be the hub where educators can get advice from youth media experts on inspiring students to produce innovative content. That site also will also provide access to Adobe Youth Voices Essentials, a set of free curricula and resources.

Show on Burma's possible nuclear bomb sparks controversy, PBS ombudsman writes

An investigation over Burma's supposed work on a nuclear weapon by Need to Know and ProPublica has led to a "quiet explosion and some pretty toxic fallout" among those involved, writes PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler in today's (Dec. 2) column. The controversy was ignited by accusations between those supporting the "credibility and importance" of the allegations and the producers of the segment who are "raising the flag of caution."

"What's interesting here, aside from where the truth lies," he noted, "is that the dispute pits against each other people who formerly worked together, and involves well-respected journalistic enterprises and other organizations here and abroad that one would generally assume are on the side of the angels."

Dec 2, 2010

Interference could interfere with FCC aim to boost VHF signals

The Federal Communication Commission's plan to create space for more wireless devices on the spectrum includes tactics to improve the quality of TV signals in the VHF band weakened in the digital transition. One way to do that would be to increase the effective radiated power (ERP) of VHF stations in the FCC's heavily populated Zone 1 (the Northeast and Upper Midwest). But that could complicate life for stations including WNET/Thirteen in New York City, according to TVNewsCheck.

Broadcast consulting engineer Charles Cooper said the power boost would create problems with interference, particularly in the Northeast. Cooper said the high-V stations in New York City (WABC, WNET and WPIX) are now operating with ERPs of 12 kW or less. Under the FCC proposal, they could boost power to 50 kW. "The stations would have to seek interference agreements with other stations," Cooper said, "and most likely, these agreements could involve daisy chains involving multiple stations and perhaps those other stations having an issue with even other stations.”

Full deficit panel to vote Friday on recommended cuts, which could include CPB

The final co-chairs' report of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform awaits a full-panel vote Friday (Dec. 3). Although CPB was recommended for elimination in the co-chairs' draft of "$200 billion in illustrative savings," the corporation was not specifically mentioned in the final report released Dec. 1. But that doesn't necessarily mean that public broadcasting is safe. The final report refers to using that "$200 billion in illustrative 2015 savings" as a starting point for cuts. Meanwhile, two more commissioners have signaled they will vote for the plan; that means nine members have announced their support and one said he is likely to back the proposal. Fourteen of the 18 commissioners must approve the plan for it to continue on to the Senate.