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Jul 30, 2010

Not our petitions, NPR says

NPR released a statement today (July 30) to Poynter Institute blogger Jim Romenesko, that it is "not involved in any way" with petitions circulating online that ask the White House Correspondents Association to give now-retired longtime reporter Helen Thomas's front-row seat in the White House briefing room to the network. Petitions have been put forward by CREDO Action, a progressive advocacy site; it already has 254,218 signatures to give the chair to NPR rather than FOX News. Another progressive online group, MoveOn.org, is also getting involved. "NPR was not consulted about either petition and we learned about them via Facebook and e-mail. We have no position on the petitions, and no comment on the other media organizations that are competing for the seat," the statement said. NPR formally requested the seat July 14.

Jul 29, 2010

Dish Network finally inks pubcasting deal, just not with APTS

After the Association of Public Television Stations spent several years trying to get the satellite provider Dish Network to sign a carriage deal for HD noncoms, Dish finally has done so. But not with APTS. Broadcasting & Cable is reporting that Dish has struck an independent HD carriage agreement with at least 30 "geographically diverse" pubcasting stations.

New York's Thirteen to auction equipment as it prepares to depart building

More than 400 items from the offices and studios of WNET/Thirteen in New York are being auctioned off Aug. 3. The station soon will move to new digs but doesn't yet know where, according to Crain's New York Business. It's sub-leasing to Gay Men's Health Crisis starting in October.

Pittston, Pa., pubradio nearing return to the airwaves

WVIA-FM 89.9 in Pittston, Pa., will return to the air Aug. 3 after a $2 million fire five months ago completely destroyed its transmission facilities, the station said in a statement today (July 29). The fire began while electricians who were working on the building on Penobscot Mountain accidentally set the ceiling ablaze. Many listeners have been affected, the statement says, "from difficulty with a signal that is spotty and barely satisfactory, to the complete absence of WVIA-FM in several areas that once received it." The station has been operating out of a trailer next to the site.

International Sesame Streets now on demand through Amazon

For the first time, fans can watch individual episodes of Sesame Street's international productions via Amazon Video On Demand. Included are co-productions from Bangladesh, Brazil, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Kosovo, Palestine, Russia, South Africa, Northern Ireland, India and Egypt, the Sesame Workshop said in a statement July 29. (Image: Sesame Workshop)

MHz develops social networking/learning site for the digital media industry

Indie pubcasting network MHz is partnering with IDMAonline on a new website that offers a "social learning network specifically for the digital media industry," the two announced in a statement Monday (July 26). Site members have access to the Commons, to meet with colleagues and ask and answer questions. What makes the site unique, the two said in the statement, is the "live online" professional training in the digital media arts: multimedia, filmmaking, animation and photography. There are full certificate programs and mentorship initiatives where students can focus on a specific topic. MHz Worldview, MHz Networks' flagship channel, brings international programs to audiences though cable, satellite and online affiliates. It provides the Washington, D.C., area with 10 local broadcast channels in more than 20 different languages, with studios in Falls Church, Va., and at Washington, D.C.'s Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

Lehrer came into Emanuel interview with "pre-conceived notions": CPB ombudsman

CPB Ombudsman Ken Bode faults PBS NewsHour's Jim Lehrer for "an opportunity lost and a lesson in what can happen when an interview is constructed on the basis of pre-conceived notions." In Bode's latest report, he's reacting to a viewer's complaints that Lehrer "has increasingly lost his impartiality," particularly in an interview with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. "It seemed designed to build a narrative that President Obama has slow political reflexes and is disengaged from key decisions of his administration," Bode said of the July 7 interview. "Mr. Emanuel convinced this viewer otherwise."

Jul 28, 2010

KCET lays off 13

At an all-station meeting in Los Angeles Tuesday (July 27), KCET staffers were told that 13 employees are being laid off. Cuts come from across several departments, and at least one vice president is affected. In June 2009, KCET cut 12 full-time and part-time staffers and announced furloughs and pay cuts. The station also dropped its 45-year-old program guide that month, citing financial reasons.

LJCs launch in Upper Midwest, Florida

Two of the local journalism centers backed by CPB in April are up and running. "Changing Gears," helmed by New York Times veteran Micheline "Micki" Maynard, has launched its website and a blog pointing readers to coverage from the three partner stations, Chicago's WBEZ, Michigan Radio, and Cleveland's ideastream. HealthyState.org, a collaboration of five public stations in central Florida, has hired Jennifer Molina to lead its editorial team. Launch plans for additional LJCs are still pending; Fronteras, the largest collaboration to be announced so far, is recruiting a social media editor for its project covering immigration and border issues in the Southwest.

Working group begins planning PBS national online giving initiative

PBS is moving ahead with its national online giving campaign, a topic of much conversation within the system (Current, June 7, 2010). The working group recently met for preliminary talks. Station reps include Tim Olson, veep of digital media and education at KQED; Kelly McCullough, g.m. at Eight/Arizona PBS; Joe Krushinsky, veep of institutional advancement at MPT; Ken Yanhs, director of WGBH Online; Michal Heiplik, director of membership at Houston PBS; Shane Guiter, KLRU's director of development in Austin, Texas; Robert Altman, president of WMHT in Troy, N.Y., with David Preston, Twin Cities Public TV membership manager, speaking for the Development Advisory Council.

And fear not: Despite rumors of the DAC's demise, it's still up and running. DAC and PBS continue to mold its future role with the network, which is evolving in the wake of four positions eliminated in PBS Development as of June 15. Those staffers had specialized in several aspects of station fundraising.

PBS recently hired Carol Sorber as its director of professional development; she'd held similar positions at several law firms. According to a PBS internal memo, she will "coordinate our professional development offerings to stations and develop a leadership training curriculum." Sorber reports to Thomas Crockett, veep of station services.

Jul 27, 2010

New home for Democracy Now!: greener than gold

Take a look at Democracy Now’s new studio/offices in lower Manhattan, the first broadcast facility to receive LEED Platinum rating for low adverse environmental impact ­– low energy and water usage, high levels of recycled materials, and the rest, says a report in the July/August architecture mag Metropolis. Extra care in design and construction, such as using sheetrock that’s not only recycled but locally made, helped the handsome, not-too-lush renovation of a former printing plant win the top rating from the U.S. Green Building Council (study up). Co-hosts Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez guest-star in the slideshow.

Fund to back reporting collaborations for Philadelphia

An accountability journalism project announced last week by J-Lab will back in-depth reporting and collaborations among news organizations in the Philadelphia region. The Philadelphia Enterprise Reporting Fund is seeking proposals for enterprise, investigative, explanatory or computer-assisted reporting projects that enhance public understanding of important city or regional issues, engage in developing solutions or reveal new information. Collaboration--among news creators or between journalists and programmers, for example--is a key focus of the project. “This experimental pilot is intended to demonstrate the power and potential for increased civic accountability when strong, professional public affairs news operations are given incentives and resources to work together in the public interest,” said Shawn McCaney, program officer with the William Penn Foundation, which created the Fund. The project follows up on the findings of J-Lab's recent analysis of the landscape of online news covering regional Philadelphia. The deadline for applications is Sept. 16.

Sale of licenses could help NJN become a "model" of pubmedia, prof writes

The struggling New Jersey Network should turn into a public corporation, sell off several of its licenses and use that money to become a private community nonprofit. That would "turn it from an outdated television network into a model for multiplatform public media that fits the conditions of the twenty-first century." So says Princeton Prof. Paul Starr in "A Future for Public Media in New Jersey: How to Create a New Basis for Public Radio, TV, and Online Media in One of American Journalism's Worst Covered States." The Trenton-based think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective released the paper today (July 27) as statehouse discussions over the future of NJN continue (Current, July 6, 2010). "The hour is late to save NJN," Starr warns in the report.

Nigeria meets the Muppet it named

Sesame Workshop is welcoming a new Muppet to the family at Sesame Square in Nigeria. On Monday (July 26) Zobi made his public appearance – the first Muppet to be named via a mobile phone vote, with callers from around the country. Sesame Square launches later this year in Nigeria. It will be hosted by Kami, an HIV-positive girl Muppet, and Zobi, a furry blue boy Muppet. In a statement from the Workshop, Zobi said: “I’m so excited about telling all of you all about my favorite things – and especially about my obsession with yams! Isn’t everyone obsessed with yams?” (Image: Sesame Workshop)

Unwelcome competition in Delmarva

Pubcasters on Maryland's Delmarva Peninsula are not rolling out the welcome wagon for their newest neighbor, WRAU 88.3 in Ocean City, a station simulcasting NPR News and talk programming from WAMU in Washington, D.C.

The region now has five public radio stations broadcasting NPR News shows, reports the Delmarva Daily Times, including a signal from Baltimore's WYPR broadcasting on 106.9 FM. "If WAMU were to bring a different format, we'd welcome it with open arms," says Gerry Weston, g.m. of Public Radio Delmarva. "Those stations [WRAU and Baltimore's WYPO] have resources in big cities and they are deciding to come down here."

Mark McDonald, WAMU p.d., says listeners lobbied his station to expand its signal into the Delmarva region. "There will be duplication, but our aim is to be distinctive in our local coverage," he tells the Daily Times.

Public Radio Delmarva, which is based in Salisbury, operates WSDL as an all-news station and WSCL as a news and classical music service. Further south in Princess Anne, WESM-FM splits its broadcast days between NPR News shows and jazz and blues music. "I can't say we're happy about it," said Stephen Williams, news director, of the new competition. "It's especially problematic because we want our listeners to know they are listening to WESM."

Princeton ending University Channel, 121 pubstations affected

The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting that on Nov. 3, Princeton University is ending its University Channel, which provides academic programming to schools and 121 pubTV stations. A statement from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs said the cancellation was due to financial reasons. The online audio and video service began in 2005 and supplies lectures by scholars on political affairs from 47 colleges both here and overseas. " ... We still believe that noncommercial, quality educational programming is an important part of the World Wide Web," Wilson spokesperson Rebecca Anderson said in a statement. "Therefore, in the coming months, we will be pursuing options to ensure that many of the Woodrow Wilson School lectures and conferences are posted on our school’s Web site, and we hope that you will do the same at your institution."

"This Old House" warns of end of civilization; that's a tough renovation

This Old House is looking for those new faces, according to the Hartford Courant. Yes, the perennial pubcasting fave is putting out a casting call for painters and electricians, particularly those in New England. Perhaps the show is bracing for the upcoming rebuilding efforts after the end of the world. Yes, tucked between stories on its home page including "How to Install a Solar Attic Fan" and "Lawn-Less Yard Solutions," is this terrifying headline: "10 U.S. Cities That Could Disappear Tomorrow." Egad. "We're not talking about a couple of feet of water in your basement or a tree down in the yard," it says. "We're talking about your home obliterated." Click the link and there's another headline: "The End of the World as We Know It." (No, we are not making this up.) Continuing into the story: "As This Old House found out, no matter where you live, you can't escape from the forces of nature. Read on to see how, in just the blink of an eye, entire American cities could be wiped off the face of the Earth." As one commenter quipped, "Get out your duct tape and caulk, people."

Jul 26, 2010

Attention, social (media) butterflies

CPB is looking for a social media guru. An RFP on its website says that stations tell CPB they want to improve social media skills, learn best practices and increase their use of the online services. The consulting contract is for six months.

Jul 23, 2010

NPR's Daniel Schorr dies at 93

Veteran newsman Daniel Schorr, a pioneer of broadcast journalism who was part of Edward R. Murrow’s legendary CBS team, died this morning (July 23) after a short illness at the age of 93, NPR announced. Since 1985, Schorr was a senior news analyst on Weekend Edition and All Things Considered; his last segment was July 10. Scott Simon, host of Weekend Edition, said in a statement, “I was privileged to know Dan Schorr for 25 years and cherish him as a fierce journalist, and a tender friend and father. We used to joke, ‘I’m not Dan’s son. But I play Dan’s son on the radio.’ Sharing the studio with him, and so many laughs and memories, has been the blessing of a lifetime."

Schorr's news career began in 1946 as a foreign correspondent for Christian Science Monitor, then the New York Times. He first began working with NPR in the late 1970s. He help create CNN in 1979, and served as that network’s senior correspondent in Washington. He became senior news analyst for NPR in 1985.

Schorr earned many news awards including a Peabody for “a lifetime of uncompromising reporting of the highest integrity,” three Emmys and the duPont-Columbia Golden Baton. In 2002 he inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Society of Professional Journalists. His memoir, Staying Tuned: A Life in Journalism, was published in 2001, and Clearing the Air, an account of his experiences at CBS, hit bookstores in 1977.

In a 2001 interview with Current, Schorr recalled an infamous moment in his broadcast career. In 1973, during Watergate, he was on the air reading President Nixon's "Enemies List." Suddenly, he came to his own name at No. 17. He simply kept reading. "But every now and then I’m sort of retrospectively alarmed. I think, jeez, what do you think he would have done?," he told Current. "It is true that for the first and only time in my life, my income tax was audited that year. The Treasury denies there was any connection, but it’s a big, big coincidence."

"Dan was around for both the Russian Revolution and the Digital Revolution," Simon said. "Nobody else in broadcast journalism – or perhaps any field – had as much experience and wisdom. I am just glad that, after being known for so many years as a tough and uncompromising journalist, NPR listeners also got to know the Dan Schorr that was playful, funny and kind." (Image: Stephen Voss for NPR)

Senate committee approves $20 million in funds for PTFP

The Senate Appropriations Committee late yesterday (July 22) okayed $20 million in federal funding for the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program. "For over 40 years, PTFP has ensured that public broadcasters are able to provide the highest quality, reliable, universal service to their local communities, including underserved areas and communities devastated by disasters,” APTS Interim President and CEO Lonna Thompson said in a statement. “APTS looks forward to working with Congress to ensure that this funding remains in the final bill.” In June, Democratic Ohio Rep. Charles Wilson had introduced a bill to kill the funding, which helps pay for construction and infrastructure at stations.

Jul 22, 2010

WQED promotes Deborah Acklin to president and CEO

WQED announced today (July 22) the appointment of Deborah Acklin as president and CEO of the Pittsburgh station. She's currently executive v.p. and COO. She steps into the spot vacated by George Miles Jr., who was at the helm for more than 16 years. She's won awards including a CINE Golden Eagle and seven Mid-Atlantic Emmys. Her first day is Sept. 23.

Pacifica's KPFK prepares to revamp its schedule with audience goals in mind

Citing an "urgent need" to make programming changes at Pacifica's KPFK in Los Angeles, interim p.d. Alan Minsky asked programmers with afternoon, evening and weekend slots to either take steps to increase their audience and fundraising or make room for programs that will. "We have about eight to ten new hours of Mission-driven programming that we believe will dramatically improve our listenership and our fundraising in the coming year," Minsky writes in a July 21 memo posted on LA Observed. "In order to make room for these new shows, we need some of the underperforming shows to step aside."

Jul 21, 2010

PBS brings onboard new corporate communications veep from AOL

Anne Bentley is joining PBS as vice president of corporate communications, the network announced today (July 21). Among other duties, she will be PBS's chief corporate spokesperson. Bentley spent 13 years at AOL, most recently as the senior veep of corporate communications at the global Internet services and media company. Prior to AOL, Bentley worked in publishing, creating publicity campaigns for fiction and nonfiction titles including the Nan A. Talese imprint at Doubleday Publishing, Simon & Schuster, Levi Strauss & Co., Time-Life Books, and Viking/Penguin publishers. (Image: PBS)

MPB fires reporter for leaking Fresh Air memo

There's one more voice that's off the air of Mississippi Public Broadcasting following the state network's cancellation of Fresh Air.

Carl Gibson, whose first job out of journalism school was covering the state capitol for MPB, was fired on Friday for leaking an internal memo about the state network's decision to drop the NPR-distributed show. Gibson was just returning from an assignment covering the Gulf Coast oil spill, he said, when controversy over MPB's cancellation erupted over the blogosphere on July 15. Friends at the Jackson Free Press, the state's only alternative newspaper, approached Gibson as a source, and he wanted to help them get the story straight, he told Current.

The Free Press's July 16 story points to the discrepancy between MPB Executive Director Judith Lewis's official statement describing the "careful consideration and review" given to the decision to drop Fresh Air and the email that Gibson leaked, which was written by MPB Radio Director Kevin Farrell shortly after the axe came down. Farrell notified MPB staff July 8 that the show was being dropped immediately "due to content issues with the program," according to Free Press. Farrell sent the memo less than 24 hours after MPB aired the Fresh Air interview in which comedian Louis C.K. discussed why he had sex with his shirt on. MPB has pointed to this edition of Fresh Air as an example of the content it found inappropriate.

Leaking the memo was a violation of MPB policy, Gibson acknowledged, but he mostly regrets sending it from his office email account, which was traceable. "I was not the only one leaking emails; I was the only one that got caught." He believes that, by canceling Fresh Air, MPB Executive Director Judith Lewis violated another important policy: MPB's commitment not to censor or edit programs for broadcast "solely out of fear of complaint."

MPB has not responded to Current's request for comment.

NewsHour exec moves to president's post at MacNeil Lehrer Productions

Simon Marks has been named president of MacNeil Lehrer Productions, according to a statement from the program. He's currently associate executive producer at the production company's signature show, PBS NewsHour. Marks oversees daily production of the NewsHour broadcast and digital news. He also helped develop and spearheaded the recent integration of the show's broadcast and online operations (Current, Jan. 11, 2010). He has produced and reported for the program since 1994. He replaces Lester Crystal, who is retiring. Marks assumes his duties on Sept. 1. (Image: NewsHour)

Jul 20, 2010

Survey for CPB: Have some journalists working there?

CPB has ordered up a headcount of journalists working at both public TV and radio stations to serve as a baseline for monitoring future employment levels. Station execs will receive questionnaires later this month from a team of consultants working with Public Radio News Directors Inc., hired by CPB to handle the survey. PRNDI hired Michael Marcotte, Ken Mills and Steve Martin to do the survey, working with a research adviser, Hofstra University media-industry scholar Robert Papper. To induce replies by the survey deadline of Aug. 6, the team will give respondents a shot at winning a highly tactile new iPad touch-screen tablet.

NPR vies for coveted seat in White House briefing room

Former White House Correspondent Helen Thomas's front-row seat in the press briefing room is up for grabs and NPR wants it. In a July 14 letter to the White House Correspondents Association board of directors, NPR Managing Editor David Sweeney makes his case: "Our audience size, national and international reach, presence at the daily briefings, regular service in the radio pool rotation and on White House travel . . . all testify to our place among the premier news organizations covering the White House." [Full text here.] Fox News and Bloomburg also are vying for the seat. NPR Correspondent Don Gonyea, a WHCA board member, recently told Poynter.org why the seat is so coveted by reporters covering the White House. "That seat is in the front row right under the press secretary's, and sometimes the president's, nose."

Bill would give broadcasters some spectrum auction cash, set annual fees on existing use

Under legislation introduced Monday (July 19) in the Senate, broadcasters would share in the proceeds of a spectrum auction, according to TVNewsCheck. In the Spectrum Measurement and Policy Reform Act, put forward by Communications Subcommittee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), the Federal Communications Commission would determine how auction proceeds would be allocated between license holders and the government. The legislation would also authorize the Commerce Department to set annual fees on existing spectrum users based "on the fair market commercial value of that spectrum" as determined by the FCC. The government sees the auction as a way to clear spectrum space needed for the increasing number of wireless devices (Current, Feb. 8, 2010). The FCC's National Broadband Plan recommended the auction money be used to create a public media trust fund; however, the White House signaled in June that it would prefer spectrum cash go to public safety, infrastructure job creation and deficit reduction.

PBS's Kerger to chair November International Emmy Awards

PBS President Paula Kerger is gala chair for this November's International Emmy Awards Nov. 22 in New York City, reports WorldScreen.com. The 38th annual awards presented by the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences honor work in 10 categories.

Jul 19, 2010

UNC-TV reporter issues statement on Alcoa investigation controversy

The reporter behind the controversy over PBS affiliate UNC-TV releasing pre-broadcast footage and reporting docs to the North Carolina state legislature spoke out on Friday (July 16). In a statement, Eszter Vajda said: "This is why I became a journalist ... to bring information to the public that they don’t have, to arm them with information that sometimes is kept from them on purpose." She said the story, on Alcoa's request to renew its license on several hydroelectric dams, "deals with the relationship between big business, people and the environment."

After a state legislative committee investigating Alcoa's license renewal request declared UNC-TV a "state agency," Alcoa then demanded, via the state's open records laws, that the station furnish it all the reporter's materials on the story dating to January 2008. A station spokesman said its attorneys are currently reviewing the request. See the next Current, July 26, for more on this story.

Tribe donates $6 million to California affiliate for first 24-hour Native channel

KVCR-TV in San Bernardino, Calif., has received a $6 million donation from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians to fund the nation's first full-time Native American channel, reports the Desert Sun newspaper. “We fully anticipate this channel to become a model for public television programming across the country,'' said Larry Ciecalone, president of the PBS affiliate. James Ramos, chairman of the San Manuel Band, said the channel supports the tribe's mission of "eradicating stereotypes that often stem from inaccurate depictions of American Indians in commercial television." He said content will be Native-produced film and television, providing potential work for actors and storytellers. The donation will come in three installments of $2 million over the first three years of the channel, called First Voices. Tribe and KVCR reps will sit on the channel's board. The San Manuel also gave $1.5 million to KVCR during the digital transition, which enabled the expansion from one to six channels. Launch date for First Voices is spring of 2011.

UPDATE: Loris Taylor, exec director of Native Public Media, told Current in a statement: "San Manuel Band of Mission Indian's investment into KVCR public television demonstrates how extra digital channels can be used to provide service to unserved populations. This will be the first TV channel to provide important Native American programming not only for San Manuel but other tribes in the area. A strong and healthy information ecology is critically important to the nation building efforts of Tribes and every time another facility is added to our pool of broadcast assets, our system grows stronger. Native Public Media is happy to extend its assistance to Chairman Ramos of San Manuel in this historic endeavor."

Fans wait for hours to meet "Red Green" in West Virginia hardware store

"The Red Green Show" fans Kerry Comerford and his longtime partner, Brooke Parker, left their home Berkeley Springs, W.Va., for their first overnight away in 25 years and drove five hours to meet their quirky pubTV fave character, currently on his "Wit & Wisdom" tour, in Charleston on Sunday (July 18). The two never get away as they have horses and other farm animals to tend. But that day they were among a massive crowd that waited at Zeeger Hardware in Charleston, Va., for hours to meet Steve Smith, the Canadian who plays the "handyman hero" on the show, reports the Charleston Daily Mail. As fan Bill Riffle of Charleston told the paper: "He's just like us. Who else but a West Virginian would be a member of the Possum Lodge?" The show ended its original run in 2006 butis in syndication on several PBS affiliates. And its fans are famous for their devotion: Comerford and Parker brought items to give to Smith, including an honorary degree penned on a roll of single-ply toilet paper signed by folks in line. The newspaper said the roll, or "scroll" as Parker called it, "conferred the degree of 'Philosopher Emeritus of West Virginia' upon Red Green."

Production U to teach high-schoolers TV content skills

Production U, a new two-week media camp for high-school students, kicks off Aug. 2 off at PBS 39 in Bethehem, Pa., reports Lehigh Valley Live. "In public television, a huge mission of ours is to educate people," said Amy Burkett, station senior veep of production. "The thing I'm most passionate about is television and I want to share that passion and education with the next generation of television producers." The students will shadow producers, as well as write, shoot, edit and act in a 15-minute teen-oriented newscast to be shown online. A second session begins Aug. 16. (Image: PBS 39)

Knight-Batten Awards for innovations in journalism

ProPublica, The Takeaway and Ushahidi Haiti, a crowdsourcing crisis map created in response to the massive earthquake in January, each received 2010 Knight-Batten Awards of Special Distinction. The awards, selected by an advisory board, honor innovative journalistic collaborations that "foster unique levels of digital engagement," according to J-Lab, which administers the awards. ProPublica was lauded for advancing the craft and practice of crowdsourcing; the Takeaway for its use of text-messaging to collect tips from residents in a Detroit neighborhood; and Ushahidi Haiti for its rapid and multi-layered efforts responding to disaster-relief needs in Haiti. Cash prizes of $1,000 go to winners of Special Distinction Awards; the Grand Prize of $10,000 went to Sunlight Live. Notable Entries also cited by the judges for innovation were from NPR, PBS NewsHour, New Hampshire Public Radio and WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show, among others.

PEG channel conference shows move toward "community media centers"

An often-overlooked corner of the evolving pubmedia ecosystem hides PEG access (public access, educational, government) channels. But the recent conference of the Alliance for Community Media PEG advocacy group revealed the trend that more of the channels are transforming into "community media centers" to further their public-service mission, write Bill Densmore and Colin Rhinesmith at the New America Foundation blog Sustaining Democracy in a Digital Age. The support once required from the cable industry is fading away; cities including Los Angeles and Las Vegas have totally pulled the plug. But the Web offers low-cost (or free) ways to deliver information to Web-savvy citizens, PEG supporters say.

Part of the discussion at the confab focused on that growing use of online media -- and the concern it raises regarding audiences with no access to the Web. One solution may be inspired by Access Sacramento's "hyperlocal news bureaus" in libraries and other community spaces to serve as a bridge between those online and those yet to be trained. “We are proposing that we create stories of a neighborhood nature that would be relevant," said Ron Cooper of Access Sacramento at the conference. "We are training folks and providing them with the lowest-possible learning threshold for loading digital content of any kind whatsoever."

Cooper said he encountered reluctance among the city's cable regulators who oversee the PEG channel's $400,000 annual budget: Why should they pay for a website? He overcame that by pointing out that this would reach new audiences and the video training would create “new fresh programming that will run on the cable channels and complete the loop of why are we spending money on a website.” In a nutshell: “It creates programming for the access channels."

Dayton-Cincinnati merger results in five full-time job cuts

Five staffers have been due to the ongoing merger between PBS affiliates CET in Cincinnati and ThinkTV in Dayton, Ohio, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. The two have been operating together since 2008 as Public Media Connect Inc., headed by president David Fogarty. "We're going through changes with staff realignments and technical operations," in both cities, he told the newspaper. CET's signal is now being sent from Dayton. All channel monitoring and program traffic are done there for both. One master control operator from each station, two producers and an educational services staffer lost jobs. Fogarty said they're also cutting some part-time and contract personnel.

KQED expands local news for radio, Web audiences

San Francisco's KQED is adding weekday newscasts to its FM station and as on-demand audio on its website, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. "These will be the first local news-only reports on KQED-FM in several years and will air on the half hour from 6:04 a.m. to noon and at 4:33 p.m. The two minutes of air time will be subtracted from the NPR newscasts that precede them," the Chronicle reports. The expanded news service launched this morning; a blog reporting breaking news, News Fix, rolls out next month.

Jul 16, 2010

PBS responds to criticism over Schultz bio "Turmoil and Triumph"

Several hundred e-mails landed in PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler's in-box regarding the three-part doc "Turmoil and Triumph: The George Schultz Years," running this month on PBS (image, PBS). Viewers raised many of the same issues that media watchdog FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) did regarding the laudatory tone of the film as well as funding closely linked to the former Secretary of State — particularly by the Bechtel Foundation, where Schultz was president for seven years.

In response, PBS told Gelter in part: "No PBS funder is permitted to exercise editorial control over content. This is the most important consideration in our underwriting policies. . . . It was determined that Shultz's role in the Bechtel Corporation — which is disclosed in the program — did not preclude funding from the related family foundation under the circumstances since subject matter of the program was Shultz's role as Secretary of State in the Reagan administration, not his role in the corporation."

Producer David DeVries told Getler that during the three years of production, "I was completely unaware of who the funders were," and he was "never pressured" to present Schultz in a good light. "The overall positive tone of my portrait of George Shultz was arrived at through my own research and an extensive interview process. It is positive because I legitimately came to believe Shultz has been a dedicated public servant and a great Secretary of State."

Jesse Thorn bans himself on principle

Jesse Thorn, host and creator of The Sound of Young America, speaks up for humor on public radio by announcing that Mississippi Public Broadcasting can't air his program unless and until it resumes broadcasts of Fresh Air, the NPR talk show that MPB Radio dumped because of "gratuitous discussions on issues of an explicit sexual nature." Fresh Air is "one of the best radio shows in the world," Thorn writes, and its editorial standards have been acknowledged with Peabody and Murrow awards.

"This incident is of particular concern to us here at The Sound of Young America not just because we create a show with a format similar to Fresh Air's, or because Terry Gross is a personal hero of mine, but also because much of our show is focused on humor, and that seems to be the real target of the ban," Thorn writes. Comedian Louis CK, whose recent appearance on Fresh Air reportedly spurred MPB's cancellation, "is, in my professional opinion, the single most insightful, 'meaningful' comic working today, and he is no less insightful and 'meaningful' in an interview context." By dissing Louis CK, MPB perpetuates the "age-old falsehood that the work of a comedian, because it's funny, doesn't 'contribute to or meaningfully enhance serious-minded public discourse.'"

The Sound of Young America, a weekly interview-based radio series distributed by Public Radio International, airs on about 25 public radio stations, and MPB Radio isn't among them. Thorn acknowledges that the statewide radio net probably wasn't even considering carrying his show, "but that won't stop us from snipping any potential consideration of carriage that might occur in the bud, should it happen to unexpectedly appear. WE'RE JUST THAT PRINCIPLED."

Thorn created a Facebook page, "I'm banning myself from Mississippi Public Radio," which has garnered 93 fans since it launched today.

Alcoa files request for docs from UNC-TV

Citing North Carolina's Open Records laws, Alcoa Aluminum Inc. wants UNC-TV -- licensed to the University of North Carolina -- to turn over all reporting documents relating to its North Carolina Now segments titled, "Alcoa and the Yadkin River." UNC-TV spokesman Steve Volstad told Current that station attorneys will "abide by the letter of the law," and are still researching the request. There's a great deal of information at stake, including anything related to reporter Eszter Vajda's research into Alcoa's request for a new 50-year lease of four hydroelectric dams in the state.

UNC-TV earlier this month (July 6) provided that information to its state legislature as part of its investigation into the dam lease renewal. UNC-TV attorneys decided that state law required public agencies to turn over information sought by any legislative committee, and they didn't think the request fell under the state's 1999 press shield law that protects journalists from having to disclose information not yet disseminated.

In a July 9 press release, Alcoa President Rick Bowen said, "We don't have any desire to enter into the editorial process or challenge the freedom of the press, but UNC-TV has openly acknowledged that it is a state agency. Given the story's inherent bias, the inclusion of undocumented claims against Alcoa, the fact that the segment aired with a disclaimer at the beginning and end acknowledging that for the first time ever the station abandoned its customary editorial review process, along with UNC-TV's decision to permit Sen. Fletcher Hartsell to use its unpublished video as a blatant political tool, we want to learn more about how this story was developed and who influenced the content."

The release says the request covers "all video footage as well as all unedited, edited and final versions, photographs, compilations, and related materials as well as all communications and/or correspondence sent or received by Eszter Vajda or any other employee or representative of UNC-TV since January 1, 2008."

"Tenth Inning" debuts today at Dartmouth

Documentarian and baseball fan Ken Burns will premiere his latest film, "The Tenth Inning," today (July 16) at Dartmouth College's Hopkins Center for the Arts, reports The Dartmouth newspaper. The original 1994 “Baseball” series ran nine episodes and covered the history of the sport from the Civil War to 1992. The sequel, produced with filmmaker Lynn Novick (both above), focuses on recent developments in the sport. It'll have its broadcast premiere Sept. 28 on PBS.

MPB listeners, blogosphere want to know: What's inappropriate about 'Fresh Air'?

Why did Mississippi Public Broadcasting drop Fresh Air from its radio schedule? The blog "A Unitarian Universalist Minister in the South" set off a blogosphere chain reaction yesterday by speculating that the "recurring inappropriate content" cited by MPB Radio Director Kevin Farrell must be the show's willingness to treat homosexuals as normal people, not the "evil incarnate bent on destroying the American dream, baseball and apple pie, too."

MPB Executive Director Dr. Judith Lewis didn't get into the details in a statement issued late yesterday, after Gawker and the Huffington Post had picked up on the story. "Too often Fresh Air's interviews include gratuitous discussions on issues of an explicit sexual nature. We believe that most of these discussions do not contribute to or meaningfully enhance serious-minded public discourse on sexual issues," she said.

Fresh Air
didn't receive any specific complaints from MPB prior to the cancellation, according to Danny Miller, e.p. "Of course, we are following the speculation on different blogs, but to comment further would just be speculation on our part. In any event, we hope we are back on MPB soon."

The Maddow Blog put former NPR staffer Laura Conaway on the story, and she reported that host Terry Gross's recent interview with Louis C.K. prompted the cancellation. Gross asked the comedian whether he always had sex with his shirt on. A complaint about the exchange came not from an MPB listener, but a caller who heard the show over the phone system of the Mississippi state college and university system, after they had been placed on hold, according to the story.

MPB posted a link to the Maddow Blog report on its Facebook page early this morning, with this blurb: "Here's the article explaining why MPB removed Fresh Air from our line-up." An overwhelming majority of MPB listeners who have reacted to the decision on Facebook have objected.

CLARIFICATION: The July 7 edition of Fresh Air, which included Terry Gross's interview with Louis CK, was the last to air on MPB Radio, but it wasn't the first program to prompt objections, according to an MPB statement issued this afternoon. "Complaints from listeners about Fresh Air have built up over time, so following complaints about [the July 7] show, MPB’s Executive Director made the decision that it was best for MPB to stop carrying the program."

Jul 15, 2010

PBS once again tops News and Documentary Emmy nominations

The Los Angeles Times said that PBS "flexed its usual strength" when the News and Documentary Emmy nods were announced today (July 15) and the network received 37. Frontline scored four and Frontline/World, three; Nova and P.O.V. each had four; and Bill Moyers Journal, which ended this year, received three. "Mosque at Morgantown," one of the "America at a Crossroads" series funded by CPB, also is in the running. The 2010 lifetime achievement award goes to noted documentarian Frederick Wiseman, perhaps best known for his groundbreaking 1967 cinema verite "Titicut Follies." Several of his 30 films ran on PBS, including "Domestic Violence" and "High School." For a full list of Emmy nominations, visit the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences website (PDF).

UPDATE: Here's an interesting Emmy factoid. The two nominations for the Frontline/World doc, "Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground" (at top, image: PBS) are a first for any Canadian university. Ten students from the University of British Columbia's international reporting class worked on the film, reports the Vancouver Sun. Former 60 Minutes producer and UBC associate professor Peter Klein supervised the students as they traced the path of electronic waste -- such as old computers and cellphones -- around the globe. "There, buried among smoldering heaps of burning plastics and metals, they discovered health, human rights and national security concerns," the paper said. The two nods are in the outstanding investigative journalism and outstanding research categories.

Online nonprofit donations are up

Online donations to nonprofs are up 23 percent this March, April and May over the same time last year, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports. The Blackbaud Index of Online Giving keeps tabs on nearly 1,800 nonprofit organizations with combined donations of $400 million annually. It found that groups with annual budgets of more than $10 million saw Internet donations grow 28 percent during that period compared to last year; those with budgets of $1 million to $10 million rose 21.3 percent; and those with budgets of less than $1 million grew 13.1 percent.

National Press Club Awards for pubcasters

NPR's David Folkenflik, State of the Re:Union creator Al Letson, and PBS's Frontline are public broadcasting's winners in this year's National Press Club Awards. The Press Club honored Folkenflik for press criticism in "Why GQ Doesn't Want Russians to Read its Story"; Letson for "Brooklyn: Change Happens," an episode of the series spawned by via CPB's Public Radio Talent Quest initiative; and Frontline for consumer journalism in The Card Game, a documentary reported by Lowell Bergman and coproduced with the New York Times.

"Prison Valley" documentary starts on innovative website

A unique nonfiction film that its producers call "a road movie on the web" is getting attention within the indie production world, according to the Independent, a news site for media makers. Viewers interested in "Prison Valley" sign into Twitter, Facebook, or create an account on the film’s site. Then the movie, from French producers David Dufresne and Philippe Brault, begins in a car driving along Skyline Drive in CaƱon City, Colo., heading toward an area that's home to 13 prisons. There are opportunities to take detours into additional interactive content, and visitors see the names of others who are watching. Some 1,000 people tuned in its first day online. A funding grant came from the committee of the New Media, Film and Television Project Development Fund awards, which filmmakers used for the website. Arte TV, one of the film’s producers, then offered a distribution deal. "In the end, `Prison Valley' was able to secure a mainstream form of distribution not in spite of but because of its pioneering usage of the web as an arena for marketing and community-building," the Independent's Courtney Sheehan writes. "Combine that with impeccable journalism and a beautifully-shot film, and you’ve got a multimedia model that offers filmmakers new insights into telling a story in many different mediums at once."

FCC spectrum inventory now under way

An inventory of "existing spectrum allocation, assignment and utilization" is already under way, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a letter to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.). Broadcasting & Cable reports that a bill mandating the inventory by the FCC and National Telecommunications and Information Administration has passed the House and is awaiting action in the Senate. The FCC soon will vote on a proposal to free spectrum in the mobile satellite services band for terrestrial broadband. Then, probably sometime during the next few months, will begin reclaiming 120 MHz of broadcast spectrum for that broadband.

BBC ramps up online news service for American audiences

BBC Worldwide is about to launch a news website for American audiences, BBC.com, according to Advertising Age. The site, produced by a staff of ten journalists based in Washington, D.C., will cover politics and general news, and is expected to go live today. "[T]his latest effort is part of the company's ambitions to nab more U.S. online media dollars, and the inception of BBC.com underscores the importance of original content to that strategy," Ad Age reports.

Noncom and com media should join for international service, author says

America needs one news service to broadcast internationally, drawing on the strengths of both public and commercial media, writes Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University, in today's (July 14) Wall Street Journal. America's broadcast news industry was designed to have private owners operating within public regulations. Currently, "American journalism is not just the product of the free market, but of a hybrid system of private enterprise and public support," he writes. In today's globalized world, other countries have strong national media: The BBC in Britain, China's CCTV and Xinhua news, and Qatar's Al Jazeera. But news broadcast internationally from the United States originates from Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty -- developed during war "as tools of our anticommunist foreign policy," Bollinger said. So American news "needs to be revised and its resources consolidated and augmented with those of NPR and PBS to create an American World Service that can compete with the BBC and other global broadcasters. The goal would be an American broadcasting system with full journalistic independence that can provide the news we need." Bollinger's new book is Uninhibited, Robust, and Wide-Open: A Free Press for a New Century (Oxford University Press).

Jul 14, 2010

WNET online game brings Revolutionary Boston to teens

WNET/Thirteen will launch on Sept. 21 "Mission U.S.," the first in a series of educational online games targeting "teens and tweens" nationwide, according to a press release. It's part of CPB's $20 million American History and Civics initiative, which was announced in 2005 and funded seven grantees in 2007 (Current, July 9, 2007). The first of 10 "missions" is “For Crown or Colony?,” which takes place just before the American Revolution in Boston. Players follow Nathaniel Wheeler, a 14-year-old printer's apprentice. According to the release, "Nat’s fate rests in players’ hands: Should he complete his apprenticeship and support the Patriots’ cause, remain loyal to the crown, or leave Boston, taking a new job at sea?" The game may be played at home or in school, individually or collaboratively. CPB currently is seeking a consultant to evaluate the American History and Civics project thus far and to help select more grantees.

McCartney disses President Bush during taping of "In Performance" concert

The Washington Post's Reliable Sources columnists are reporting that a cutting remark rocker Paul McCartney made during the taping of a PBS "In Performance at the White House" concert was omitted from the program. His comment came near the end of the June 2 performance, after he received his Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song from President Obama (above, PBS image). After one more song, McCartney told the crowd, "After the last eight years, it's good to have a president that knows what a library is." The Huffington Post said a rep for producing station WETA explained that McCartney's comment came after the program had officially concluded. "Celebrating the Music of Paul McCartney" airs July 28.

Former CPB president joins InterMedia

Robert Coonrod, CPB president from 1997 to 2004, has been chosen CEO of media and communications company InterMedia, the firm said in a press release. The appointment was announced by Richard Carlson, chairman of the InterMedia Board, who served as president of CPB from 1992 to 1997; Coonrod had worked under him there for many years. InterMedia provides cloud communications services to small- and mid-sized businesses. He joins InterMedia from his post as COO of the nonprofit Meridian International Center.

Rhode Island PBS president dies

Robert Fish, president of Rhode Island PBS, died July 9 at his home in Snug Harbor, Rhode Island. He was 65.

He was a member of the Rhode Island Telecommunications Authority, and president of the Rhode Island Broadcasters Association since 2008.

Michael Isaacs, chairman of the telecom authority, said Fish could "turn adversity into advantage. He brought that kind of thinking and leadership to the public television station here in Rhode Island. It was a new perspective from someone who had broadcasting experience in a different arena. Bob knew a lot of people and touched a lot of lives."

His career included serving as g.m. of WRKO talk radio in Boston; chairman of the U.S. Broadcast Group, overseeing seven TV stations; president of G&C Broadcasting, which operated radio stations in Phoenix, Ariz.; and CEO of Federal Communications Corp., which owned and operated stations including Rhode Island’s talk radio WHJJ and rock station WHJY.

Fish was a 1968 graduate of what is now Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I.

He is survived by wife, Jane Fish; two brothers, Kenneth Fish of Warwick, R.I., and Larry Fish of South Kingstown, R.I.; two sons, Brett and Blair Fish; and five grandchildren. Preceding him in death were his parents, Kenneth and Ruth Fish of Warwick, R.I.

Funeral services took place July 13.

Jul 13, 2010

CPB selects NFCB affiliate as its liaison with black pubradio

CPB is backing the National Federation of Community Broadcasters as its service provider for African American public radio stations. The decision, announced after a meeting of African American station reps at NFCB’s Community Radio Conference last month, adds a third ethnic radio group to NFCB’s roster — African American Public Radio Stations (AAPRS).

This is a new group — not the preexisting, similarly named African American Public Radio Consortium led by Loretta Rucker, which applied unsuccessfully for the grant.

NFCB already provides an organizational umbrella for Native Public Media and Latino Public Radio. “We have experience and a track record of dealing with the diversity of our industry,” said new NFCB President Maxie Jackson, who forged strong relationships with many African American station execs during his previous jobs as a station programmer and consultant.

The federation will hire a project manager and assemble a group of station advisors to help the stations with fundraising, programming, professional development, institutional positioning and community engagement. Development Exchange Inc., the National Center for Media Engagement, public TV’s National Black Programming Consortium, and Public Radio Exchange have signed on as partners with the project, Jackson said.

As the group develops, NFCB will study the feasibility of creating fundraising hubs for African American stations. “The African American stations need to do a much better job in aggregating financial resources,” Jackson said. Groups of up to five stations would improve fundraising results by sharing fundraising staffs, expertise and equipment.

CPB’s one-year grant of $300,000 is renewable, subject to an evaluation of NFCB’s progress in meeting stations’ needs.

Earlier in June, CPB discussed the pending RFP with African American station reps in St. Paul, Minn. “We wanted to hear what people had to say, and the meeting reinforced our selection,” said Bruce Theriault, senior v.p. of radio. “They confirmed the issues, priorities and things they wanted to deal with.”

CPB’s selection of NFCB for the role complicates the future of the African American Public Radio Consortium led by Loretta Rucker. The consortium, which was NPR’s partner in creating a series of talk shows targeting black listeners — Tavis Smiley to News and Notes and Tell Me More, lost Michael Eric Dyson as host of a new talk show after a short run last spring. CPB backed a new Dyson show, now in production at Baltimore’s WEAA, but declined a funding proposal for Upfront with Tony Cox, the consortium’s successor to its broadcast with Dyson. Upfront ceased production in May.

Rucker recently said the consortium would welcome CPB’s assistance to African American stations, no matter who won the grant.

Was George Schultz doc funding too closely linked to former Secretary of State?

The funding of a documentary on former Secretary of State George Schultz is coming under scrutiny by The New York Times as well as FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting). It's a three-part series titled "Turmoil and Triumph" that began on PBS Monday (July 12) and runs the next two Mondays, produced by Free to Choose Media.

Sources for financial backing for what the Times dubs "this tribute" include the Stephen Bechtel Fund (where Schultz was president for seven years, as well as a board member), and Charles Schwab (Schultz was a board member on the Charles Schwab Corp.). FAIR points out that this means the doc was "partially sponsored by corporations linked to Shultz's corporate career." And it cites several reviewers who commented that they thought the doc was overwhelmingly positive.

John Wilson, PBS programming chief, told the Times that PBS evaluates programs on their merits. "PBS has a vivid track record of covering this administration’s key players. It goes without saying this is not our first look at the Reagan White House and not the last."

FAIR, meanwhile, posted PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler's contact info and urged readers to call or e-mail him with their concerns.

Maryland candidate protests MPT online interview vs. broadcast

When Maryland Public Television invited candidates to do interviews for its website, one literally replied, "Go to hell" -- because he feels that public broadcasting is on television, not on the Web.

Larry Unger, MPT's chief operating officer, said the station has done televised debates for some statewide offices in the past. This year, it is conducting short interviews with statewide and Congressional candidates to be posted on its website. "People don’t want to sit through a program and watch interviews with all of the candidates," Unger said. "That would take a really long time. This way, they can do what they want, and all of the interviews will be available to them."

Invitations to participate went out to 48 candidates last week; seven or eight candidates have already made appointments for their interviews, Unger said. But Blaine Taylor, a Democrat challenging incumbent U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski in the primary, wrote his scathing response to the invitation e-mail from MPT.

"I think it’s foolish, outrageous and insulting,” Taylor said in an interview with MarylandReporter.com. MPT receives state taxpayer funding, so it should be doing a public service by broadcasting the interviews on television, Taylor said. He insisted he wasn't concerned about the audience numbers, but rather the principle. "The two key words are 'public broadcasting,'" he said. "You paid for it, I paid for it, all taxpayers paid for it. It’s what they should be doing."

Jul 12, 2010

Indiana pubcaster's new home more than triples its space

WNIT staffers are no doubt pretty thrilled about their new digs in South Bend, Ind.,considering their old offices were in "a cluster of manufactured homes," points out local CBS affiliate WSBT. The Michiana (that's Michigan/Indiana, to you non-Midwesterners) pubcaster is moving into WSBT's former studios, complete with two massive screens broadcasting to the street from a glass corner of the building. WNIT President Mary Pruess said, "It’s the kind of public television station this region deserves, a true community resource.” The station is going from 8,500 square feet to 30,000. Schurz Communications, which owns WSBT and the South Bend Tribune, donated the property and some equipment.

Catholic multichannel programming plan falls through in Texas

KMBH, owned by the Catholic archdiocese in Harlingen, Texas, won't get permanent all-Catholic programming on one of its digital channels after all -- a deal it had been planning for years (Current, April 21, 2008). The Brownsville Herald reports that the agreement between the station and GospaTV, which began broadcasting on a KMBH multichannel in June 2009, has fallen apart and its broadcasts probably will end July 24. The paper said that GospaTV missed two $60,000 payments to the station, most recently on June 1. GospaTV's owner Fiat Communications counters that KMBH didn't provide certain benefits and services as stated in the contract. Fiat and RGV Educational Services, parent of KMBH, came to a mutual agreement to terminate GospaTV. It's the latest in a long list of problems (Current, March 16, 2009) at the station, including the unexplained ouster of several board members, a CPB audit and the removal of the station's controversial general manager in April.

Jul 9, 2010

Writer's Guild suggests big-media funding for pubTV public affairs programs

The Writers Guild of America East (WGAE) has put forth an interesting idea: If the FCC allows more big media company mergers, it should require the companies to pay for public affairs programming on pubTV. The suggestion was part of WGAE's comments to the commission Thursday (July 8) during its quadrennial review of media ownership rules, according to Broadcasting & Cable. "[I]f media conglomerates insist on being permitted to consolidate their hold on the media marketplace, in exchange they can be required to contribute assets to public programming," said WGAE. The Guild represents thousands of TV writers, editors and producers in entertainment and news.

WAMU starts up broadcast as WRAU in Ocean City, Md.

WAMU, 88.5 FM in Washington, D.C., last week began broadcasting in Ocean City, Md., as WRAU 88.3 FM, Ocean City Today reported today (July 9). The new channel will carry WAMU's programming as well as local news, traffic and weather. Caryn Mathes, WAMU g.m., called WRAU "a great opportunity to build and grow the audience.”

Jul 8, 2010

APTS interim CEO meets with FCC officials to discuss spectrum

The board chairman and the interim head of the Association of Public Television Stations met with the FCC Wednesday (July 7) to talk spectrum. In an interview with Broadcasting & Cable, Lonna Thompson, APTS temporary CEO and general counsel, said she told officials that pubcasters were "open to ideas" and dialogue about maximizing the use of the spectrum, but not at the expense of the service stations provide. "[M]erely saying 'let's transition them all to broadband' isn't the answer because many of the audiences we serve don't have access to broadband," she said. APTS Board Chairman Rod Bates, g.m. of Nebraska Educational TV, "provided a first-hand pitch on the value of his spectrum," B&C said.

NPR's Nina Totenberg wins this year's Murrow Award

NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg is the recipient of this year's prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award, CPB announced today (July 8). CPB has presented the honor since 1977 to individuals who "foster public radio's quality and service and shape its direction." It's named for the legendary newsman who championed high-quality journalism during his three-decade career. Totenberg has been with NPR for 35 years. Her reports air regularly on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition. And no doubt she's the only Murrow Award winner with a carry-all named after her: The Nina Totin' Bag. ("Due to extremely high demand ... now in its second edition!" points out the online NPR shop.)

UNC-TV turns over subpoenaed footage, data and records to state Senate

About a dozen North Carolina Senators on Tuesday (July 6) watched unaired news footage that the state's public TV network had been ordered to provide, reports Bloomberg Business Week. The subpoena from the Senate Judiciary Committee was part of its ongoing investigation into Alocoa's efforts to secure a new federal license for hydroelectric dams. UNC-TV on July 5 turned over news report footage, data and records on the issue, prior to broadcast. Steve Volstad, a spokesman for UNC-TV, told local TV station WRAL that the network decided not to fight the subpoena because state law requires public agencies to turn over information sought by any legislative committee, and UNC-TV attorneys weren't sure the footage would fall under the state's 1999 press shield law. The move to subpoena UNC-TV -- as well as the network's response -- was widely criticized locally, including editorials in the Winston-Salem Journal and the News & Record, as well as a column in the News & Observer.

PRX/WBUR local station app now on iTunes

The local pubcasting station iPhone app, announced in January, has been okayed by Apple and is now available in its iTunes store, says the Nieman Journalism Lab. It's a free download from PRX and WBUR in Boston. One cool feature: There’s also an alarm clock that will play WBUR to wake you up. That idea was suggested by a listener. Although this one is WBUR-centric, its developers hope other stations develop similar apps using its open-source license. Here's more info from PRX.

PBS earns 32 Primetime Emmy Award nominations; "Cranford" scores seven

Primetime Emmy nods are out and PBS was the fifth most-honored network with 32. Topping the list was HBO with 101, then ABC with 63, CBS with 57 and NBC with 48. Masterpiece's "Return to Cranford" (above) received seven nominations, The National Parks: America's Best Idea from Ken Burns had five, and "Emma" on Masterpiece scored four. A total of 512 nominations were announced early today (July 8). Visit the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences site for this complete list (PDF).

National Public Radio is no more

Well, it's official. National Public Radio is now just NPR, reports the Washington Post. "Much like the corporate names KFC or AT&T, the initials now stand for the initials," the paper notes. NPR hasn't formally announced the rebranding but has told its staff and affiliates to use only the initials on the air or online. NPR President Vivian Schiller first publicly mentioned the change in June at D8, the Wall Street Journal's All Things Digital conference.

Jul 7, 2010

City of Green Bay mulls paying costs for LZ Lambeau pubTV outreach

The Green Bay (Wisc.) City Council continues its debate on assisting Wisconsin Public Television with its $350,000 deficit left over from the massive LZ Lambeau Outreach in May (Current, June 8, 2010). Members of the council's finance committee voted July 6 to provide WPT $25,000; the issue returns to the full council July 20, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette. The council is trying to decide whether the city should donate part or all of its $48,665 in expenses for police protection and other services during the tribute to Vietnam veterans, which drew some 70,000 visitors to the city May 21-23. LZ Lambeau organizers said they could pay all the costs, but were offering Green Bay a chance to support the effort as a co-sponsor.

NPR selects new chief financial officer

Deborah A. Cowan is the new chief financial officer at NPR, the network announced today (July 7). Cowan is currently senior v.p. of finance at Radio One Inc., the nation's largest radio broadcaster targeting African-American and urban audiences. Before joining Radio One in 2001, she held financial positions with IBM and Coopers & Lybrand. She succeeds Jim Elder, who came on as CFO in 2000. Cowan's first day is Aug. 2. She'll report to Debra Delman, senior v.p.of strategic operations and finance.

Jul 6, 2010

Hughes to depart leadership of Public Interactive next month

After what she termed a "difficult deliberation," NPR v.p. Debra May Hughes is leaving the network and her post at the top of Public Interactive, which offers website development services to the pubcasting community. Her departure is effective Aug. 31.

Hughes said in a letter to colleagues that "the time is right to step down from the helm of Public Interactive and chart a new course," but didn't mention what that would be. Hughes began her pubcasting career 14 years ago by launching Car Talk's site and steered PI through transitions to new parent companies Public Radio International and NPR. Hughes headed PI since 2005, as president and COO and then as an NPR vice president. She was an executive in PI’s predecessor company, New Market Network in Boston, from 1996, and involved in the founding of PI in 1999. "Of course, my stilettos will be difficult ones to fill, but I’m confident the transition will be smooth prior and during the appointment of a new vice president, which is likely to occur early this fall," she added.

In an accompanying note, Kinsey Wilson, senior v.p. and g.m. of NPR Digital Media, said a job description for interested applicants will be posted soon.

PBS to partner on upcoming package of Documentaries On-Demand

Documentaries On-Demand, featuring PBS programming, will begin this autumn, reports Multichannel News. It's a partnership with content distributor Gravitas Ventures. The package will offer 30 hours of PBS-distributed docs and indie titles including those from American Experience and Independent Lens. Some will debut on VOD ahead of their PBS broadcasts and before DVD release. No word on pricing.

Nigerian Sesame Street to feature Muppet with HIV

An HIV-positive Muppet will be a co-host of the new Nigerian Sesame Street, reports the international entertainment news site C21Media.com. The show is a coproduction of Sesame Workshop and Nigeria's Ileke Media. It'll be a three-year run funded by a grant from the United States Agency for International Development. A portion of the money also will go to outreach for the nation's 25 million preschool children. One host of the 30-minute show will be an HIV-positive girl named Kami. The other is a boy Muppet whose name will be chosen through a national text-message vote. "It is our hope that the series will make a strong impact among Nigerian children and their families, addressing relevant social issues, as well as providing them with a strong foundation of basic literacy and numeracy that will instill an interest in and lifelong love of learning," said Sesame Street Nigeria exec producer and director of business development Yemisi Ilo.

Meanwhile, in France . . .

In international pubcasting news, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has selected a new head of France's pubTV network -- after changing a law to do so, according to Expatica.com. He named Remy Pflimlin, 56, of the press distribution company Presstalis, to lead France Televisions. The move aggravated several lawmakers. "The naming of the president of public television by the chairman of the republic is the crowning of a process of putting France Televisions under political and financial control," Socialist Senator David Assouline said. Previous leaders of France Televisions were selected by an independent regulator; last year, Sarkozy passed a reform allowing the president to choose pubmedia execs. Radio France, headed by a Sarkozy appointment, has drawn criticism in recent weeks for firing two comedians who had lampooned various French political figures -- including the president.

Pennsylvania's WVIA turns around budget after 18 percent state cut

After losing 18 percent of its budget in state funding cuts last year, WVIA in Pittston, Pa., ended its fiscal year 2010 on June 30 with a surplus, reports the Times-Leader newspaper. “We’ve got a better station today than we had a year ago,” President and CEO Bill Kelly told the paper. “If you had told me that a year ago, I’d have told you you were nuts.” It hasn't been an easy journey, however. More than seven positions were eliminated and the remaining 38 full-time staffers took a 5 percent pay cut and furloughs. Kelly took a 15 percent salary reduction and management took 12 percent. On the programming side, The Ballroom Dancing Show and Pennsylvania Polka ended, as well as the station's Pennsylvania Independent Film Festival. Some $35,000 in revenue came from a new “video for hire” service. Listeners stepped up donations, particularly on the radio side, nearly offsetting the funding drop by contributing $718,000. Of the experience, Kelly said: “It was a culture change, of which we had no choice.”

Jul 5, 2010

Dish Network sues FCC over noncom HD carriage mandate

Dish Network is suing the Federal Communication Commission over the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act, which requires the satTV provider to deliver noncom stations' HD signals by next year, reports Broadcasting & Cable. The suit, filed last week (July 1) in Las Vegas where Dish is incorporated, seeks a temporary restraining order and injunction against the FCC's enforcement of the Act. "This is not a case about whether PBS provides important and worthwhile programming or should receive funding from the government," Dish said in a statement. "Dish highly values PBS programming ... This case is about who gets to make the editorial judgment whether to carry local PBS stations in HD -- Dish or the government." Dish and the Association of Public Television Stations have been negotiating for more than three years for a carriage deal; APTS already has a deal with DirecTV.

UPDATE: APTS "expressed disappointment, but not surprise," at Dish Network's suit in a statement today (July 9). APTS noted it has been trying for years to reach a private carriage agreement on behalf of pubTV with the satellite carrier. "Dish subscribers should be permitted to access local public televisions’ informational and educational programming, and Dish is fully capable of providing this content.” said Lonna Thompson, APTS interim president. APTS will file an amicus brief with the Justice Department addressing the need for the STELA provision in order to prevent further discrimination by Dish against pubTV HD programming. A court date is set for July 22.

Growing multicast channels may be big factor in PBS ratings mystery

Stirrings of audience life in multicast channels may the big reason why the national Nielsen ratings acquired by PBS have been rising even though local Nielsen numbers are still generally slipping. Audience analyst Judith LeRoy, co-director of TRAC Media Services, told Current that Nielsen includes multicast channels’ viewers in national PBS numbers, which are network-oriented, while they are counted as separate channels in local data, which are more strictly channel-oriented.

Multicast channels such as Create, World, V-me and some locally packaged channels tend to have no measurable audience or a fraction as many viewers as the largest PBS channel in town, but small increments from two or three additional channels per market could mount up quietly, given that most stations don’t see the data because they’d have to pay extra to Nielsen.

Back in November, when only about six stations were buying ratings for their multicast channels, they were adding an average of 28 percent to the main channel’s weekly cume, TRAC calculated.

The gain is good news for public TV if — like Discovery and other big multichannel cable programmers — PBS can recapture some of their viewers who are dispersing to other channels.

Another factor could be that, according to PBS, Nielsen’s national figures benefit from backup monitoring to count PBS viewing even when stations don’t encode their signals to identify them — a problem that has worried the network. Local station data, in comparison, would be at a disadvantage when many stations don't encode their signals; the local books don't count viewers unless Nielsen can identify which particular PBS station was being watched.

In May, PBS officials surprised station programmers unaccustomed to good news, reporting that PBS primetime ratings were up nearly 10 percent and PBS Kids audiences were up 19 percent, compared to 2009.

PBS said public TV’s monthly full-day cume now showed 118 million PBS viewers in a month, compared with 109 million in the previous season. The primetime average rating was up from 1.1 to 1.2. Kids’ daytime ratings were up 19 percent from 1.6 to 1.9. The new series Dinosaur Train helped by getting a 4.2 rating among kids ages 2-5.

Jul 4, 2010

Vocalo cuts five jobs, will emphasize building the broadcast

To advance Vocalo, its radio/web experiment in reaching a younger, more diverse audience, Chicago Public Media (formerly Chicago Public Radio) said Friday that it’s shifting its emphasis to the broadcast side to create “a dynamic broadcast that draws a sizeable audience.” Vocalo is dropping the jobs of five training and outreach employees. Seven Vocalo staffers remain, writes Vocalo blogger Robert Feder. This fiscal year, the licensee will have to operate without $312,000 that the state government contributed in fiscal 2010, the Chicago Tribune reported. WTTW public television earlier said it would cut 12 percent of its staff after losing $1.25 million from Illinois.

Jul 1, 2010

Police officer hit her during May Day violence, pubradio reporter testifies

A pubradio reporter testified Wednesday (June 30) about being hit by a police officer during a violent May Day event three years ago, according to Courthouse News Service, a nationwide news service for lawyers and the media based in Pasadena, Calif. Patricia Nazario of KPCC in Pasadena told the court she had hidden behind a tree to call her editor when a police officer stabbed his baton to the right side of her back. Nazario asked him why he did so, the officer said, "Shut up, move!" then hit her just above her knee, knocking her down, she testified. She said the cellphone she was using to talk to her boss went flying over her head. In a later video deposition, former LAPD Chief William Bratton said the police officers violated the LAPD media policy and used unreasonable force toward the reporters. The judge told the jury the trial should be concluded by the July 4 holiday.