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Nov 30, 2010

Op-ed writers see "fake populism" in campaign to defund NPR

In a Nov. 23 online op-ed and analysis for the Guardian, media blogger and j-school professor Dan Kennedy describes the political campaign to defund NPR as part of a "culture war being waged by the right."

Kennedy examines the arguments of Republican lawmakers who are calling for an end to federal funding, including the assertion that NPR programming is "liberal," and finds that they don't hold water. Much of NPR's programming, he writes, " exudes a liberal sensibility reflected in cultural references and, to an extent, story selection. But the reporting itself is balanced and, if anything, errs on the side of caution." He finds some exceptions to this in shows that air outside of drive time, such as the "frankly liberal orientation" of On the Media, but adds: "in the main . . . , it's hard to think of a broadcast news operation that plays it straighter than NPR."

"Thus, the right's real goal is to delegitimize NPR, as it has already done with other news organizations," Kennedy writes. "In this mirror image of reality, the New York Times, the nightly network newscasts and NPR are no different from Fox News except that they are liberal. Never mind that Fox barely functions as a journalistic enterprise at all, offering entirely opinion-driven content whose voluminous falsehoods hardly need to be documented here." Kennedy discloses that he is a paid contributor to Boston's WGBH.

Editorials published by two daily newspapers this week come down against House Republicans' recent attempt to cut off NPR's federal funding:

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "The move to defund public radio is the kind of fake populism that is most threatened by the existence of NPR in the first place."

The Buffalo News: "The folks who want to cut it would do so not to . . . narrow the federal budget deficit but because they don’t like what NPR does."

FCC officially starts process to clear TV spectrum

The FCC today (Nov. 30) unanimously approved a three-part rulemaking to begin to free up TV spectrum for wireless devices, TVNewsCheck is reporting. “These actions will lay the groundwork for the goals set in the National Broadband Plan to make available up to 120 MHz from the broadcast television bands for new wireless broadband services,” said Alan Stillwell, the FCC staffer who presented the proposals at the meeting. Pubcasters and other broadcasters will be faced with the decision to give up spectrum for cash, or keep it for future use (Current, Feb. 8).

Nov 29, 2010

CPB's 2011 business plan continues to back mergers and consolidations

The CPB  Board's 2011 business plan, now online (PDF), was approved during its meeting Nov. 15 and 16  in New Orleans. CPB's six priorities for 2011: digital and innovation; diversity; dialogue, engagement and awareness; education; journalism; and core system support.

That plan promotes station mergers and consolidations of functions such as joint master control operations — concepts the corporation has long encouraged (Current, March 1). CPB also will continue working to promote stations' financial stability. "If that proves to be unfeasible" with a particular station, the document notes, "CPB will explore alternatives to maintain public broadcasting service to the affected community."

The plan reports that CPB is assisting the three Los Angeles PBS affiliates "in their efforts to develop a new operating model that will reduce competition, increase content differentiation and improve fundraising capacity" (Current, Aug. 9).

Nov 24, 2010

FCC extends Emergency Alert System deadline

The FCC has extended the deadline for complying with new Emergency Alert System rules, reports Television Broadcast today (Nov. 24). The new deadline for all EAS participants to implement Common Alerting Protocol technology is now Sept. 30, 2011, instead of March 29, 2011.

Good reason to give thanks: NewsHour's TSA Time page

Traveling for Turkey Day? Check out PBS NewsHour's handy TSA Time page, which organizes Tweets by airport. This from O'Hare in Chicago: "OHare super nice. No line, arrived @ perfect time. Now 5 hour wait for flight." Oops.

Let's hope there are cookies in the Green Room . . .

Cookie Monster wants to host Saturday Night Live. (Hey, if octogenarian Betty White can do it . . .) Want to help? Watch Sesame Street's latest soon-to-be-viral video: Cookie Monster's audition tape for Saturday Night Live, then visit the "Cookie Monster should host Saturday Night Live!" Facebook page. As of Wednesday (Nov. 23) morning, more than 44,000 folks have signed up. As one wrote, "OMG!! This will be awesome!!!!!"

Nov 23, 2010

PBS's Reddington shifts from Online Giving Initiative to PBS Foundation work

Brian Reddington, senior v.p., development, has moved from supervision of its Online Giving Initiative to focus solely on the PBS Foundation, Michael Jones, PBS c.o.o, said in a memo today (Nov. 23).

PBS's controversial national online fundraising campaign, set to begin on PBS.org in January, will now be overseen by Jason Seiken's PBS Interactive team. Bob Minai and Kristin Calhoun will head up the effort. Keith Brengle, recently hired as director, online giving, will now report to Minai.

"Jason Seiken clearly has serious online expertise and credibility, and the experience of working with PBS member stations," said longtime development pro Michael Soper, PBS's head development officer, 1978-92, and now a nonprofit consultant.

Jones said the move was made to allow Reddington "to focus on the job he was hired to do – run the PBS Foundation."

"I think Brian Reddington's primary focus has always been on securing significant, major gifts to the PBS Foundation," Soper said. "My sense is this is a positive realignment. Major gifts, up to and including those like Joan Kroc made to NPR, offer substantial opportunities to increase short and long-term income to PBS."

"My expectation is that Jason will work with station managers and fundraising professionals to reconsider and refine the business assumptions behind the initial plan," Soper added. "I would expect that a totally revised plan – version 2.0 – that supports stations' existing online cultivation and fundraising would receive almost universal support."

PBS selects new director of station development services

PBS has hired a director of station development services to plug the hole created in June when laid off four staffers in the development unit (Current, Nov. 1). Valerie Pletcher will be a director of station development services beginning Dec. 1, Joyce Herring, s.v.p. of station services, announced to staff in a memo. Pletcher will work as a liaison with system development professionals on informational and training needs, best practices and the development portion of the Annual Meeting. From 1997 to '99, Pletcher was manager of sponsorships and marketing for the PBS Sponsorship Group; from '94 to '96 she was underwriting manager at WVPT/Virginia Public Television. Most recently Pletcher was major gifts officer at Christiana Care Health System, headquartered in Wilmington, Del.

Feder departing Vocalo; another columnist calls its future "uncertain"

Robert Feder, longtime Chicago media columnist, is departing Chicago Public Media and its Vocalo blog. He said in a post today (Nov. 23) that he'll reveal his new online home soon. "With the recent redesign of the Vocalo blogs and their move to a new site at WBEZ.org, I have decided it’s time for me to leave," he said. Before signing on with Vocalo — a mashup of traditional and new media designed to engage a diverse audience — in November 2009, Feder spent 20 years covering media at the Sun-Times. Phil Rosenthal, Chicago Tribune media columnist, said Vocalo's move to the WBEZ site, "puzzling for its urgency and lack of necessity, has been snarled in technical difficulties." Vocalo launched in June 2007 on a standalone website. "Where Feder's departure leaves Vocalo is uncertain," Rosenthal noted. A CPR strategic plan approved late last year revealed several problems behind the project (Current, Jan. 11), including that “… [M]any listeners, staffers and even several [Chicago Public Radio] Board Members find the content and listening experience of Vocalo to be substandard and unappealing thus far."

WFMT-FM breaks record with fall pledge drive

Chicago's WFMT-FM (98.7) set a record with fall pledge, bringing in $695,000, General Manager Steve Robinson said in a Sun-Times story today (Nov. 23). Then two trustees kicked in to round that up to $700,000. The previous top figure was $620,000. Average contributions increased 17 percent to $199 from last year's $170. Robinson also asked contributors if they wanted to donate CD premiums to local schools, and many did.

Hiki Nō student news project finalizes funding

Hiki Nō, PBS Hawaii's new and innovative student news network, has secured the funding it needs and will launch in February 2011, blogs station President Leslie Wilcox today (Nov. 23). It has raised $1.2 million from local and national funders including the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. CPB and the the Clarence T.C. Ching Foundation provided seed money. Hiki Nō will partner with teachers and middle and high school students from all of Hawaii’s islands to create a collaborative network to deliver community-based news and information to the state via PBS Hawaii’s broadcast and web platforms.

Smiley says it's "unconscionable" he didn't know about producing partner KCET's plans to depart PBS

Tavis Smiley said "it's unthinkable, it's untenable, it's unacceptable," that KCET execs didn't let him know that they were breaking from PBS as of Jan. 1 (Current, Oct. 18). He told the Los Angeles Times in a story today (Nov. 23) that being out of the loop when his show is produced on the lot at the L.A. station is "unconscionable."

"I literally got a phone call as KCET was making the statement publicly, as this story was breaking," he said. "I was traveling, so I wasn't even in the city. I didn't even find out about this until hours after it had been announced."

But wait, that's not all. "What has rubbed me raw for these seven years is that when we started this relationship with KCET it was supposed to be a partnership," Smiley said. "For seven years, KCET has not raised a single dime for this program. I was never supposed to be producer, host, chief marketer and fundraiser."

KCET President Al Jerome denied that Smiley wasn't informed of station negotiations with PBS. He confirmed that the station raised no money for Tavis Smiley, because its fundraising contract was for less than a year and that station officials found it difficult to work with Smiley's in-house fundraiser.

Smiley is finalizing a contract with KCET that will keep him on the lot for at least another year. He said he didn't have time to find another location. His show will be carried on KOCE in Orange County, the new market primary, in the new year.

Nov 22, 2010

Documentaries on PBS short-listed for Oscar nominations

Three PBS documentaries are on the short list for Oscars, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced. "Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould" premieres Dec. 27 on American Masters, "Waste Land” will air on Independent Lens in April 2011, and  “William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe” ran on P.O.V. this June. The Academy Awards nominations will be announced at 8:30 a.m. Eastern on Jan. 25, 2011, live from Los Angeles.

CORRECTION: Make that four PBS docs in the running for the coveted Oscar. Cynthia Lopez notes that P.O.V.'s "Enemies of the People" is also short-listed; that'll air next year.

Fight over NPR funding: is it a "culture war," or principled debate?

What's really at stake in the battle over federal funding to NPR, and how can the field's advocates make the best case for continued support? Public broadcasters began speaking out last week in friendly venues, testing their message points and strategizing about whether and how to mount a more aggressive campaign to enlist broad public support.

At yesterday's Public Media Camp in Washington, D.C., attendees discussed the political attack with Jay Rosen, press critic and j-school professor at New York University, who participated via Skype in a session on the response to the "culture war." Rosen, who described himself as sympathetic to the fight to preserve federal funding, called for a blogger -- one who works independently and outside of NPR and PBS -- to report on the debate, critique press coverage of it, and call out the "most outrageous statements" from the field's partisan critics. "A blogger's job is to intervene in public debate and make it smarter," Rosen said.

It's unclear what role, if any, NPR can play in marshalling support through its social media networks. Ethics guidelines prohibit NPR's social media team from enlisting NPR Facebook fans and Twitter followers to the political cause of preserving federal aid, said Andy Carvin, senior social media strategist, although the network's leadership is reconsidering these rules as part of the broader review of its standards and practices. Carvin moves between NPR's newsroom and its digital media division, and, under the current policy, has to follow NPR's news ethics rules in managing the social media desk. "Everyone realizes we're sitting on a gold mine of support," he said.

Carvin and other pubmedia staffers in the session were mindful of how easily such a manuever could backfire, although no one in the room seemed to remember the drubbing that public broadcasting took in 1999, after revelations that WGBH in Boston had swapped donor lists with the Democratic Party. Others proposed creative and traditional approaches that would be less overtly political and divisive.

"You need a grassroots movement catalyzed by the people," said Peter Corbett, interactive strategist and an organizer of Public Media Camp. Mounting a partisan offense will backfire, he said, proposing an "I ♥ NPR" social media campaign that allows advocates in the audience to identify themselves -- and each other -- and organically builds a network of political support.

Public stations must step up to make the case, as they have in past fights over CPB, said Maxie Jackson, president of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, in part because of the damage already done by NPR's dismissal of former news analyst Juan Williams. "You've got to take NPR off the table," Jackson said. A front-and-center role by NPR would be "poisonous at this point," he said, especially given NPR's bad track record with audience and workforce diversity. Matt Thompson of NPR's Argo Network produced a live blog of the session, which was inspired by a MediaShift article by Jessica Clark of American University's Center for Social Media.

So far, NPR is taking the high road in responding to attacks by Fox News and Republican congressional leaders, observes Los Angeles Times media critic James Rainey, in an analysis of the opening salvo of the political campaign to "defund NPR."

"Moving NPR to the top of the GOP cut list has much more to do with symbolism and bowing to an emboldened political base than with good government, impartial media or serving the average citizen," Rainey writes. "After all, the audience for public radio has grown 60 percent over the last decade. Forty million listeners now tune in each week."

Rainey reports that small, rural stations -- not big-city outlets like KCRW and KPCC in Los Angeles -- will be hardest-hit if the energized GOP delivers on its threat to end federal support of the field, quoting KCRW General Manager Jennifer Ferro: "When they talk about killing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting allocation to NPR, they are talking about taking it away from the people who already have the weakest voice," she says.

In a Nov. 18 speech at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communications, NPR President Vivian Schiller made the case for public radio by describing how NPR's journalists in Baghdad and Afghanistan risk their lives to report from war zones. "I worry it is way too easy to forget the dangers and sacrifices real journalists make at a time when we all refer to news stories as 'content,' when the work of field reporters is sliced and diced into a zillion cyber pieces, when news is something we aggregate, Tweet and blog upon," Schiller said during her Loper Lecture in Public Service Journalism. NPR is among the very few news organizations that continues to invest in "the hard work of boots-on-the-ground reporting while at the same time driving innovation and opening ourselves to new audiences," she said.

"Much of the commercial media is fleeing the reporting business," Schiller said. "Foreign reporting, investigative reporting, arts reporting and expert local reporting are perhaps most in danger. We know this, it isn't new. But in the end, it is what all the debates about economic models are all about."

"We at NPR are doing everything in our power to increase our newsgathering capacity and to help our member stations do the same," Schiller said. "In some ways, that is our most important job right now."

Pubstations need simple apps, too

Public media needs coding collaborators. That's what pubcaster Barrett Golding of Hearing Voices writes in today's (Nov. 22) Hacks/Hackers blog. Large pubradio stations have ambitious Internet projects going, but they also have the staff and cash to do so. Mid-to-small stations and independents need simpler, smaller apps. Golding has two examples of pubmedia-specific API how-tos that could cheaply and immediately help hundreds of sites.

New NBR owner agreed to leave instructional content field in 2000, New York Times reports

In a followup to a Current investigation (Aug. 23 and Sept. 7), the New York Times reports today (Nov. 22) that Mykalai Kontilai, the new owner of Nightly Business Report, agreed to leave the instructional programming business in 2000 and paid $250,000 as part of the settlement of a fraud suit. Kontilai confirms making the payment but denies agreeing to step out of the field.

Ronald Reed, former president of AGC/United Learning, an educational content provider that has since become part of Discovery, told the newspaper: "We felt, from our point of view, that it would be best not to have him in the industry," after discovering "what we considered to be inappropriate business practices." Reed added that he was surprised to learn five years later that Kontilai was still in the business. He declined further comment, citing a privacy agreement.

Atalaya Capital Management, a New York investment company, provided financing for the show's purchase, which Kontilai said was "well over a million dollars." Atalaya's other investments include Creative Loafing, an alternative weekly newspaper chain.

In his more than 10 years of distributing educational video to public television stations," the newspaper added, "Mr. Kontilai, 41, left a trail of ill will and claims of hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid debts. Stations ended contracts early with a company he ran but did not own, citing unfulfilled obligations."

The newspaper cited more than a dozen people who have done business with Kontilai, who each questioned "whether his new endeavors would end with the same sort of problems that plagued his previous public television efforts."

Nov 20, 2010

A look back over a tough week for NPR

The Week, a digest newsmag, has a good gathering of links to last week's coverage of the ongoing attacks on NPR and its government funding. One comment on the post: "Even us conservative southern rednecks love NPR. It should be a sacred cow!" Another, a roundup of opinion columns, is on the Atlantic's site.

NJN's future must move beyond traditional TV, group hears

A group of 40 New Jersey officials and pubcasting leaders met for more than eight hours Friday (Nov. 19) to hear advice from journalists and academics on saving the New Jersey Network after state funding ends soon (Current, July 6, 2010).  Included were State Treasure Andrew Eristoff, an aide to Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Nia Gill (D-Essex) and execs from WHYY in Philadelphia, jazz station WBGO in Newark, and WNYC and WNET/Thirteen in New York City.

Steve Adubato Jr., president of Caucus Educational Corporation, a producer of public affairs, cultural and educational programs for more than 20 years, told the Star-Ledger that the conversation made it clear that the current television-centered pubcasting model is not sufficient.

Thursday night, NJN had reported that the state decided the best option for the network is a collaboration between WNET and Adubato Jr. But an administration official told the newspaper "there are no front runners at this point, as it is still early in the process." And Adubato called the report "premature."

Nov 19, 2010

WBUR's La Camera stepping down as g.m.

WBUR General Manager Paul La Camera is departing his post at the end of the year, he told the staff at a station meeting today (Nov. 19). "I'm going to be 68 next month and I think that’s an appropriate expiration date for someone to be running a dynamic contemporary media entity that increasingly has to surge into the digital world,” La Camera said after making the announcement. "To be frank, I’m more of a traditionalist, and that’s not necessarily my strength.” La Camera was appointed g.m. in October 2005.

Roger Ebert: NPR is "the voice of our better nature"

Leave it to Roger Ebert to pen a love letter to NPR. The movie critic (and prolific blogger) today (Nov. 19) came to the defense of the beleaguered network. "NPR surely is the voice of America — the voice I hope the world is listening to via the internet," Ebert writes. "It is the voice of our better nature. We are not all snarling dogs of Left and Right, feasting on shreds torn from the Body Politic. Some of us (maybe most of us, when the mood is right) are kind, curious, sane. We are interested in other peoples, other lifestyles, other choices. We do not demand that the media tell us over and over again the things we already believe. We are open to new ideas."

"Why is NPR seen a threat and not a national resource?" he continues. "I think it's a threat because it deals in information and not in the trivial. It encourages thoughtfulness. It tries to look at more than one side. It has a way of pointing out errors and drawing obvious conclusions. Its very existence is a rebuke to media outlets that depend on popularizing an ideological party line. Just think it through, if you haven't lost the knack."

Linda O'Bryon new president of South Carolina ETV

South Carolina Educational Television has hired Linda O'Bryon, former chief of content at Northern California Public Broadcasting, as its new president and c.e.o., the San Francisco Chronicle is reporting. She takes the helm Dec. 1. O'Bryon had supervised producers, editors, reporters and tech personnel at pubTV stations in San Francisco, San Jose and Monterey, and two pubradio stations in Sacramento.

Nov 18, 2010

Attention, RSSers, don't miss these . . .

Now playing on Current's home page:

"Knives sharpened for renewed assault on CPB." Bills to defund public broadcasting, or at least any radio network that fired Juan Williams, are beginning to seem like a real threat since the Nov. 2 midterm election gave Republicans a 60-plus majority in theHouse and a mandate to take huge bites out of federal spending.

"Leaders of Obama’s deficit panel advise: Drop CPB by 2015." Among the 58 possible federal budget savings recommended by the vice chairs of the president’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform are the entire appropriations to CPB, the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program and the Agriculture Department’s facilities grants to public stations.

"Soon off to war for APTS: new president, Pat Butler." Patrick Butler, public TV’s new chief lobbyist, wrote speeches for President Gerald Ford, was a founder of the Pew Research Center, and helped provide Ken Burns with funding for his acclaimed Civil War documentary series.

"Under-explained firing makes NPR an issue just in time for election." Top NPR officials may have thought their Oct. 20 decision to dismiss veteran journalist Juan Williams was about journalistic objectivity, but to many outsiders it sounded more like a story of arrogant lefty political correctness.

"Controversial analyst fired for one too many opinionated comments." NPR Correspondent Juan Williams’ simultaneous roles as a Fox commentator and an NPR news analyst had troubled NPR news leaders for much of the decade he was associated with public radio.

"NPR Board hires counsel to probe what went wrong." Reacting to NPR’s abrupt image makeover — from ascendant news organization to partisan punching bag — the network’s board hired an outside firm to investigate the decisions that invited the comedown, the dismissal of news analyst Juan Williams.

And here's that viral video everyone is talking about, "Good Radiation," a rap tribute to NPR.

Nielsen loses accreditation for 154 diary-only markets

The Media Rating Council, which ensures standards of audience measurement, has removed accreditation for Nielsen's measurement of its 154 diary-only markets, retroactive to 2009, according to Broadcasting & Cable. The magazine quotes "insiders" who say that with more folks dropping their land lines for cellphones, Nielsen is using address-based recruiting of ratings homes in its diary markets, instead of selecting by phone number. The new method resulted in sample sizes coming up short in two of the four quarters in 2009. Nielsen said in a letter to station clients that the issue has been resolved, it has requested a new MRC audit, and it expects to be accredited again soon. Nielsen's local people meters took eight years for all markets to secure accreditation.

PBS ombudsman wades into Fey fray

Producers made "a big mistake, one that was virtually certain to come back and bit them and PBS," by editing out Tina Fey's remarks about conservative women during during her acceptance speech for the Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize on Nov. 9, PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler writes in today's (Nov. 18) column. The broadcast on PBS Sunday (Nov. 14) ran 22 minutes long, one of the producer, Peter Kaminsky, told Getler. Producers had only 24 hours to trim the show. "We had no problem with anything she [Fey] said," Kaminsky said. "It was a humor judgment call forced by time."

But several letter writers figured that "excuse" might come up. As one said, "It's your prerogative to choose the programming you air; however, it's not your prerogative to edit out those comments with which you disagree. And please don't quote 'time issues.' Either run it or not."

Reps. Barton, Burgess request probe of NPR funding, Williams firing

Texas Republican Reps. Joe Barton and Michael Burgess have called for a Government Accountability Office investigation of NPR's funding. In a letter to the GAO, first reported Nov. 18 by Broadcasting & Cable, the lawmakers asked government investigators to follow the trail of federal funding in public radio -- including CPB grants awarded to NPR and federal aid to local stations that may be re-directed to NPR.

They pose five questions, including whether any federal funds pay for program production or the salaries of NPR personalities or editors, and whether NPR used federal aid to manage its contractual relationship with former news analyst Juan Williams or to pay for the internal review of his dismissal. They also ask investigators to examine and report details of the ethics code violations that NPR execs cited when they terminated Williams's contract.

The lawmakers write that the Williams dismissal "may reflect a tendency on the part of NPR management to use its ethics rules to silence employees," according to The Hill.

Rep. Barton is top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee with jurisdiction over CPB. Rep. Burgess, who also serves on the committee, chairs its subcommittee on oversight and investigations.

Breaking news: House votes down attempt to kill NPR funding

The House of Representatives today (Nov. 18) voted down a move to defund NPR, in the first Republican-ordered floor vote since the GOP-dominated Midterms on Nov. 2. The vote was 239-171. It was actually a procedural maneuver related to a debate rule on H.R. 1722, the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010. The House vote was to close debate and thus avoid voting on the NPR proposal, which had been put forward by Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.)

Following the vote, the Association of Public Television Stations issued a statement. “APTS stands in solidarity with public radio stations across the country who provide an invaluable service to their local communities,” said APTS Interim President and CEO Lonna Thompson. “Without federal funding, public broadcasting stations, particularly those in rural areas, would be unable to continue to provide our local communities with the unparalleled news and information, and educational programming that we provide today.”

NPR responded to the vote with this statement: "Today, good judgment prevailed as Congress rejected a move to assert government control over the content of news."

"The proposal to prohibit public radio stations from using CPB grants to purchase NPR programming is an unwarranted attempt to interject federal authority into local station program decision-making," the NPR statement continued. "Furthermore, restrictions on the authority of CPB – a congressionally chartered, independent non-profit organization – to make competitive grants to NPR, or any other public broadcasting entity, is misguided."

And Tim Isgitt, s.v.p. of communications and government affairs at CPB, said: "With a new majority in the House and many new members in both the House and Senate, we have a responsibility and an opportunity to educate Congress on the value and importance of public media to an educated and informed civil society. We will work closely with the other national organizations, and we will make sure every member is informed about the public media services that could be endangered without their support."

Vegas PBS reveals specific per-viewer program costs for its new pledge approach

Las Vegas PBS/Channel 10 is handling pledge in a very different way this season. "We are the only station in the U.S. trying this," General Manager Tom Axtell, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. From Nov. 26 through Dec. 12, no more 10-minute begging breaks; now they're three-minute segments. Fundraising is "mostly host-free and lower-key," the newspaper noted, with "Do Your Part" graphics popping up during shows, flashing the per-viewer contribution required to keep it on the air if every viewer contributes. Those figures are the station's costs for acquiring and broadcasting the program, divided by number of viewers based on Nielsen stats. "Quite a few of my colleagues are fascinated by this approach," Axtell noted. Click here for the station video explaining "Do Your Part" to viewers.

Letter writer hopes to rally community to receive PBS programming

In the midst of all the talk of defunding CPB, here's a letter to the editor to boost your spirits. Reader Jon M. Nelson wrote to the Lake County Record-Bee in Lakeport, Calif., asking for public support to bring PBS to the county two hours north of San Francisco. Nelson thinks PBS is an especially important educational source for the children of the county. He said an engineer from PBS affiliate KRCB in Rohnert Park, Calif., about 75 miles away, told him the equipment costs to pick up its signal would be around $25,000. "We need to get together to raise funds for this project of adding public broadcasting into our lives here in Lake County," wrote Nelson, of Lucerne, Calif., population 2,900.

Fox News chief says NPR execs are "Nazis"

In an interview with Howard Kurtz of The Daily Beast, Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes unleashes on those who challenge the rightward partisanship of the cable news channel and provocative rhetoric of Bill O'Reilly, who recently joked about beheading Washington Post political columnist Dana Milbank. Ailes blasts Jon Stewart of The Daily Show for bashing conservatives, but takes his criticism to another level when the subject turns to NPR's dismissal of news analyst Juan Williams.

"They are, of course, Nazis," Ailes said, referring to NPR's leadership. "They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism. These guys don't want any other point of view. They don't feel guilty using tax dollars to spout their propaganda. They are basically Air America with government funding to keep them alive."

Ailes jokes about O'Reilly's remark on beheading Dana Milbank before acknowledging, "Bill knows he probably shouldn’t have said it. He just shot off his mouth.” Milbank responded to O'Reilly's threat in his Nov. 10 column.

FCC calls Tribal Issues Commission meeting for March in D.C.

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, speaking to the National Congress of American Indians Wednesday (Nov. 7) in Albuquerque, announced a Tribal Issues Commission meeting on March 3, 2011, in D.C. This year the commission adopted an order to streamline Native American broadcast radio assignment and allotment procedures. "Even though more than a million Native Americans and Alaska Natives live on over 55 million acres of Tribal lands across the U.S., there are only some 41 radio stations licensed to Native Entities," Copps said. "The new Tribal Priority gives precedence to American Indian Tribes and Alaska Native Villages, or companies controlled by Tribes, that want to set-up new radio stations to serve their local communities." Two years ago this month, the FCC granted construction permits for 29 Tribal pubradio stations (Current, Nov. 24, 2008).

Lyle Lovett helps bid farewell to iconic ACL studio

It's a wrap. After 36 years, Austin City Limits retired its legendary Studio 6A last week (Nov. 8) with a performance by Lyle Lovett, whose first appearance was as a backup singer to Nanci Griffith in 1985. The series will start the 2011 season in the new—and much roomier—Moody Theater in downtown Austin, Texas. Here's a sample of the wide press coverage the event received, including remembrances from Scott Newton, the show's photographer, who started shooting the action in 1978.

Order in the Court 2.0 gets two new staffers

WBUR's Order in the Court 2.0, winner of a Knight News Challenge grant, continues to progress, reports MediaShift Idea Lab. Two new staffers have arrived: Joe Spurr, project director, responsible for the design and development of the Order in the Court 2.0 website, which will provide live streaming of Quincy (Mass.) District Court proceedings. Spurr most recent worked at KPBS in San Diego, where he redesigned its website. Producer Val Wang will oversee the daily stream of written and video content from the court. She's been a freelancer with Here and Now and On Point.

Nov 17, 2010

Noncom religious broadcasters say, what about us?

The National Religious Broadcasters group "suggests that the government turn its attention to the needs of a huge, underappreciated resource: noncommercial religious broadcasters." The NRB released that statement today (Nov. 17) in reaction to the increasingly noisy debate over federal funding of CPB, PBS and NPR.

“These donor-driven broadcasters do not receive a dime of tax money, yet they serve the public interest,” said Greg Parshall, NRB v.p. and general counsel, by spreading news about homeless shelters, reading and school programs, anti-crime groups, crisis pregnancy centers and military support programs.

So noncom religious stations "should be give more latitude to raise funds on-air for other legitimate, nonprofit groups," Parshall said, and need "fewer constraints in seeking program sponsorship from corporate and business underwriters."

The statement also includes a link to download "a 60-second audio actuality" calling on Congress to make the changes — available with or without background music.

GOP will force floor vote on defunding NPR

House Republicans announced today (Nov. 17) that they plan to force a floor vote on defunding NPR, The Hill is reporting. House GOP Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and Rep. Doug Lamborn (Colo.) said the issue received the most votes on Cantor's YouCut site, which allows visitors to advise lawmakers on budget cuts. (The option to vote "no" is not provided.) "When NPR executives made the decision to unfairly terminate [Correspondent] Juan Williams and to then disparage him afterwards, the bias of their organization was exposed," the two said in a statement. "Make no mistake, it is not the role of government to tell news organizations how to operate. What is avoidable, however, is providing taxpayer funds to news organizations that promote a partisan point of view." NPR fired Williams in October after his controversial comments he made about Muslim airline passengers.

Now online: PBS NewsHour Science

PBS NewsHour's new science page went live yesterday (Nov. 16), with original reporting by NewsHour Science Correspondent Miles O’Brien, Digital Correspondent Hari Sreenivasan, Reporter/Producer Jenny Marder and the show's science reporting unit. There's a "Just Ask" feature for viewer questions for scientists and other experts, podcasts and more interesting science, engineering and techie stuff.

More than 100 NJN staffers receive layoff notices, but could survive cuts

The Associated Press is reporting that 130 employees of the New Jersey Network received 45-day layoff notices Tuesday (Nov. 16) as the pubTV and radio network prepares to break from state support (Current, July 6). Another 17 who are paid through a private foundation also are expected to receive pink slips soon. They're part of some 2,200 layoff notifications to state employees.

However, according to the Asbury Park Press, most of the terminations are unlikely to occur. The notices are a state civil service requirement.

"The staff has known for quite a while that they might possibly get these," acting NJN executive director Janice Selinger told Current. "There are instances in which layoff notices are recalled, and that might happen. We don’t know." In October, a task force that researching NJN's future called for a "dramatic reconfiguration" of the network, and rejected Gov. Chris Christie's Jan. 1 deadline.

Selinger said both the legislature and governor's reps have signaled they want the network to survive. Two bills are pending, including one to continue the task force's work.

"This is obviously not easy for the staff," Selinger said. "With all this uncertainty, they're being so professional." Work continues on fundraising and projects including the new NJ Fresh! show, which explores area farmers' markets.

Friday webinar on Public Media Innovation work

CPB's Public Media Innovation (PMI) fund is the topic of Friday's (Nov. 19) webinar sponsored by the National Center for Media Engagement. The grants support station work on emerging media platforms. Representatives from KPBS in San Diego, Maryland Public Television, University of Pennsylvania's WXPN and WKSU at Kent State in Ohio will discuss projects and generating new streams of revenue. Register here for the 1 p.m. Eastern event.

Nov 16, 2010

CPB Board resolution cites its "deep concerns" regarding NPR firing of Juan Williams

CPB's Board of Directors at its meeting today (Nov. 16) in New Orleans approved a resolution expressing its "deep concerns about the consequences of NPR's decisions" in the handling of correspondent Juan Williams' dismissal — a termination that is now undergoing an external review. It says that the public television and radio systems are "highly interdependent," which means the "actions of one public media stakeholder can affect the welfare of the others and the public media system as a whole." The resolution states that public reaction has been "highly critical." And it concludes that the consequences of NPR's actions are "renewed challenges to public media's journalistic integrity, Congressional attempts to reduce or eliminate funding for public media, and the impact such reductions will have on public media's future programming and services."

CPB Board chooses Ramer as chair, Pryor as vice-chair

At its meeting in New Orleans today (Nov. 16), the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting elected Bruce Ramer (left) as its new chairman, and David Pryor as vice-chairman.

Ramer is an attorney and partner at Gang, Tyre, Ramer and Brown in Beverly Hills, Calif., specializing in entertainment and media. He has been active in public television for nearly 20 years, joining the board of KCET in Los Angeles in 1992 and serving as its chair from 2001 to 2003. He was appointed to the CPB board by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the Senate in October 2008.

Pryor, who joined the board in November 2006, is a former U.S. Senator, Representative, and Arkansas governor. He served as dean of the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, and was director of the John F. Kennedy School of Government's Institute of Politics at Harvard University.

Each will serve a one-year term. (Image: Current)

Gov. Barbour proposes end to state aid for Mississippi's MPB

Two-term Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour called for an end to state subsidies for Mississippi Public Broadcasting in a $5.5 billion fiscal 2012 spending proposal released yesterday.

Barbour, who acknowledged at his Nov. 15 news conference that he's considering a bid for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, vowed to close the state's $700 million deficit during his last year as governor, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

The budget proposal [PDF] reduces state spending an average of 8 percent, but targets MPB and the state's arts and library commissions with cuts of 20 percent. Barbour recommends that MPB take a $1.5 million hit in its state appropriation next year, reducing its state aid to just over $6 million.

In a letter to Mississippi lawmakers that accompanied his proposal, Barbour recommended an end to state aid to MPB altogether. "Mississippi taxpayers should not continue subsidizing a television and radio network, so I recommend a sharp reduction in the appropriation for Mississippi Public Broadcasting," he writes. "This decrease should begin a draw down in funding for MPB that will ultimately result in its operating entirely on private donations or revenues, except for educational programming used by and prepared by [the Mississippi Department of Education.]"

MPB received about $8.3 million in state aid in fiscal 2008 and has weathered successive cuts of 5 percent or less over the last several years. In July the state pubcaster was roiled by controversy when then-Executive Director Judith Lewis abruptly canceled Fresh Air, the NPR show produced by Philadelphia's WHYY. Lewis, who cited the "salaciousness" of host Terry Gross in taking the show off the air, later rescheduled the program at 9 p.m. Lewis, a longtime friend of Gov. Barbour, resigned from MPB in September.

FCC chair says current spectrum allocations "still reflect previous era"

"The world has changed, but our spectrum allocations still reflect the previous era," said Federal Communications Chairman Julius Genachowski Monday (Nov. 15) in a speech to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners in Atlanta (full remarks here). He told the audience that by opening spectrum to commercial use in the 20th century, "we made it possible for entrepreneurs to create a large and successful over-the-air broadcast TV industry that in turn helped create our extraordinarily successful U.S. content industry, bringing real benefits to our economy and beyond."

"Fast forward to today," he said. "Less than ten percent of us — down from 100 percent — still get our television programming from over-the-air broadcast transmissions.  Instead, people watch TV through cable or satellite."

His appearance came on the same day that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration released its report setting mid-2013 as the target date to begin spectrum reallocation for wireless broadband. Genachowski issued a statement backing the NTIA's work.

Fey's remarks on conservative women edited from Twain show, paper reports

The Washington Post is reporting that PBS edited out controversial remarks made by Tina Fey (left) during her acceptance speech for the Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize last Tuesday night (Nov. 9). Here's what didn't make it into the Sunday (Nov. 14) broadcast:

"And, you know, politics aside, the success of Sarah Palin and women like her is good for all women — except, of course, those who will end up, you know, like, paying for their own rape 'kit 'n' stuff. But for everybody else, it's a win-win. Unless you're a gay woman who wants to marry your partner of 20 years — whatever. But for most women, the success of conservative women is good for all of us. Unless you believe in evolution. You know — actually, I take it back. The whole thing's a disaster."

Peter Kaminsky, one of the show's executive producers, said the the 90-minute program ran about 19 minutes long. "We took a lot out," he told the paper. "We snipped from everyone." (Image: PBS)

Nov 15, 2010

NTIA sets mid-2013 to begin spectrum reallocation

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) recommended today (Nov. 15) that 115 MHz of spectrum be reallocated for wireless broadband service within the next five years. The Federal Communications Commission will need to identify the spectrum by mid-2011 and begin removing broadcasters by mid-2013, it said in a timetable for identifying and releasing spectrum for wireless broadband. President Barack Obama’s goal is to free up some 500 MHz over the next decade. Public broadcast stations will need to decide whether to participate in the voluntary giveback (Current, Feb. 8). While there was talk about using funds from the spectrum auction to create a public broadcasting trust fund, Obama in June signaled he preferred other uses for the cash.

Former APTS president Lawson to head up Mobile500 Alliance

John Lawson, former president of the Association of Public Television Stations, is the new executive director of the Mobile500 Alliance, the group announced today (Nov. 15). The Alliance is a broadcasting collective working to accelerate availability of mobile digital television, which allows consumers to see live TV on laptops, tablets, smart phones and other mobile devices via a broadcast signal. Lawson will help secure content arrangements and work with electronics manufacturers to enhance device features.

Lawson ran APTS from 2001 to 2008. He was e.v.p. of broadcast company ION Media Networks from 2008 until earlier this year. In April, Lawson re-launched his consulting firm, Convergence Services Inc., which he will continue to run in addition to his new responsibilities. (Image: Current)

Drool on camera first, retire later

Jim Lehrer, the well-anchored anchor of PBS NewsHour, told the Dallas Morning News that he'll have to "start drooling on the air" before he'll retire. Being a journalist, he added, is "a state of mind – some of the youngest people I know in journalism are 76 years old, and some of the oldest are 23. It's little-boy-and-little-girl work. You hear the fire engine, and you want to know where it's going. I still want to know." And, yes, another of his many books is coming out next year, this one called Tension City. It's about Lehrer's experiences moderating presidential debates. The title comes from an interview Lehrer did with President George H.W. Bush, in which he said, "Oh, Jim, those debates. They're tension city."

Nov 12, 2010

NewsWorks from WHYY finds a fan in run-up to launch

Here's early praise for WHYY's NewsWorks from J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism at American University. "I love the whole idea of it," writes J-Lab Executive Director Jan Schaffer on her blog. "The site has more targeted entry points for community involvement than any site that has crossed my radar." There's Snarl, where visitors can complain; Sleuth, for digging into local mysteries; and Sixes, a challenge to sum up news stories in six words or fewer. She also likes its Flickr photostream “Eye on ... ,” and a Watchdog feature that focuses on public officials. The site officially launches Nov. 15.

Mitchell will head NFCB AfAm Radio services

Doug Mitchell, the news producer who staffed NPR’s Next Generation Radio internship and training programs for years, will be project manager for the National Federation of Community Broadcasters’ CPB-funded African American Public Radio Station Services, NFCB President Maxie Jackson announced Wednesday.  After Mitchell lost his job in NPR’s mass layoff in 2009, Public Radio News Directors gave Mitchell its Leo C. Lee Award, recognizing his work encouraging young people, particularly those of color, to get into public radio. CPB documents originally named 28 stations eligible for services under the grant, but the corporation later redefined eligible grantees to comply with recent federal court rulings.

Nov 11, 2010

NPR retains outside firm to lead review of Williams dismissal

After the mediasphere firestorm and political attack over last month's firing of news analyst Juan Williams, critics of the controversial decision by NPR management were no-shows at this morning's public session of the NPR Board at the network's headquarters in Washington, D.C.

NPR, which received a bomb threat after Fox News host Bill O'Reilly denounced the Williams firing and declared that he was taking NPR down, had security guards checking visitors with a metal detector and inspecting their bags. Those who wished to address the board were asked to sign-in, but no one did.

In his last remarks as NPR Board chair, lay director Howard Stevenson said: "Nobody is thankful for where we are, but the past is prologue, and now we have to look to the future. I tend to wish my term had ended two weeks ago."

Milwaukee Public Radio's Dave Edwards succeeded Stevenson as chair in a unanimous vote of the board. "I am very proud to sit as chair of this board at this table," Edwards said, after taking the gavel. "NPR is a very important institution, a vital source of original reporting and cultural programming. Our goal must be to build a stronger public service for our audience."

Edwards quickly got to the agenda item that drew so many new observers to the meeting — NPR's badly handled Oct. 20 dismissal of Williams, a non-staff news analyst who has long appeared as a pundit on Fox News.

The internal review initiated after the firing is being conducted by an outside party, the law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, Edwards announced.

The 20-office multinational law practice, is "highly regarded with considerable expertise in governance issues," Edwards said. Its team will review internal documents, interview everyone involved in the dismissal and "report to the board," he said. The review is underway, but has no set deadline.

The firm has handled many high-stakes jobs for NBC, Universal, Fox, CBS and other media companies, including NBC's purchases of the Lifetime, Oxygen and Weather channels, and the NBC-Comcast merger. Years earlier the firm defended CBS against the Brown & Williamson tobacco company's attempt to subpeona materials used in 60 Minutes' reporting on the company.

Edwards invited public comments, but no one from the standing-room-only audience stepped up to speak, and the board adjourned the open meeting for an executive session. "We appreciate the fact that there is significant interest in what the board is talking about, and is going to be talking about" over the next two days, Edwards said.

Various committees of the NPR Board convene this afternoon, and another public session of the board is scheduled for Friday morning.

NPR finally "useful" to conservatives, columnist writes

In his column today (Nov. 11), Washington Post columnist George Will says that "NPR's self-immolation" in firing Juan Williams for his public comments on Muslims is "icing on conservatism's 2010 cake."

He goes on: "From its inception in 1967, as a filigree on Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which in 1970 begat NPR, has been a solution in search of a problem. Forty-three years later, in the context of today's information cornucopia, 'public' broadcasting — its advocates flinch from candidly calling it government broadcasting — is even sillier than would be a Corporation for Public Newspapers."

"But in 2010," Will added, "NPR became useful. It became a conservative answer to the liberals' challenge, 'Where precisely would you begin cutting government?'"

Nov 10, 2010

Obama's deficit commissioners advise ending all CPB, PTFP support by 2015

The co-chairmen of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, created by President Obama in February to help balance the budget, are recommending an end to CPB funding as of 2015, according to a draft report released today (Nov. 10). The report also advises zeroing out the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program (PTFP) and the Agriculture Department's pubcasting grant program. "The current CPB funding level is the highest it has ever been," the draft says, and cutting it would save nearly $500 million in 2015.

The 50-page explanation of proposals insists that "everything must be on the table" for cuts or elimination.

Commission co-chairs are Erskine Bowles, former President Clinton's chief of staff, and former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming. Bowles, University of North Carolina president, was recently involved in the controversial decision by UNC-TV, licensed to the state university system, to turn over reporting documents to the state legislature (Current, July 26, 2010).

The commission's final report, due Dec. 1, will require the approval of at least 14 of the commission's 18 members. The panel meets monthly when Congress in session; videos of meetings are posted for online viewing.

CPB issued this statement following the draft's release:

As the steward of the federal investment in public media, CPB strongly disagrees with the co-chairmen of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, who propose without justification to completely eliminate funding for CPB and other public broadcasting programs.

American public broadcasting represents a model public-private partnership. The federal investment represents an average of 15 percent of funding for the more than 1,100 public radio and television stations around the country, and stations use this investment to raise funds from the communities they serve. In some cases, especially in rural and low-income areas, public broadcasting serves as a lifeline of content, information and services to the community. Therefore, the percentage of federal funding is higher in these regions. Public television and radio stations deliver free, universally available, non-commercial, high-quality programming and services to communities throughout the country.

Each month, PBS reaches more than 118 million people through television and nearly 21 million people online. Approximately 37 million listen to public radio each week. Public radio programming covers news and public affairs, science, history, education and the arts. For decades public television has served as a safe place for kids to learn — an option more important than ever for parents today. Every month, 5.8 million children access the educational website, PBS Kids Go!. In fact, PBS Kids
is the No. 1 educational media brand, and research shows that PBS content plays an essential role in helping to close the early literacy gap for the most disadvantaged children.

From a yearly federal investment amounting to $1.35 per American, public broadcasting returns six times that amount in programming and services, creating 17,000 jobs in the American economy.

This important investment, through CPB and the other public broadcasting programs, should be supported for the benefit, education and enrichment of all Americans.

NPR's statement:

The National Commission’s proposal to eliminate federal funding for public media would have a profound and detrimental impact on all Americans. Public radio is the last remaining source of independent, non-commercial and thought-provoking broadcast media in the country – and in some small towns and communities, is the only remaining source of free, accessible local, national and international news and information, music and cultural programming. Public radio stations are located in nearly every major city and small town delivering vital and highly trusted news and information to 37 million Americans each week – reaching more citizens than the circulation of the top 120 national newspapers combined.

In a time of media decline, especially in local, international and investigative reporting, public radio’s role in fostering an informed society has never been as critical as it is today. The public radio audience is one of the few in media that has consistently grown – doubling in the last decade alone.

Federal funding has been a central component of public radio stations’ ability to serve audiences across the country. It’s imperative for funding to continue to ensure that this essential tool of democracy survives and thrives well into the future.

Statement from the Association of Public Television Stations:

APTS is deeply troubled by yesterday’s recommendation from the co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform to eliminate funding for public broadcasting programs and services.

“APTS ardently opposes the recommendations of the co-chairs of the Fiscal Commission. Americans depend on programs and services provided by local public television stations to educate their children and stay informed on critical issues in their communities,” said APTS Interim President and CEO Lonna Thompson. “The elimination of federal funding would significantly impact local stations, particularly small rural stations, forcing them to go dark, hurting their communities and eradicating vital services.”

For the seventh consecutive year of the Roper poll, Americans ranked public television as the nation’s most trusted institution, and second in tax value among 20 federally funded services, behind only military defense. The American public believes that federal funding for public television is a wise investment.

Through federal funding, public television stations have created the most effective public/private partnership in our nation. Local stations have enhanced the educational successes of our students at a time when American educational achievement is falling behind other nations. Public television is also delivering critical services around job training, adult education and public safety that would not otherwise be available without the government partnership.

Thompson continued, “The co-chairs of the Commission also recommended eliminating the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program (PTFP) and Rural Utilities Service Public Television Digital Transition Grant Program (RUS Digital), erroneously labeling these programs as duplicative. PTFP and RUS Digital are essential programs to the American people. Funding through these programs serves two compelling government interests: creating and improving infrastructure and new jobs, and ensuring that rural communities are able to share in the fruits of the digital age.”

Thompson concluded, “The investment in public broadcasting by the federal government is an investment in the American people. Americans deserve the valuable programming and services local public television stations provide over-the-air, on-line and on-the-ground to communities across our country.”

Science journalism awards for pubcasting

Pubcasters topped three of four electronic journalism categories in the 2010 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards announced today. NPR won for its reporting on the Gulf Oil spill; Nova ScienceNow, a series produced at WGBH in Boston, for a segment on memory research; and Chedd-Angier-Lewis Productions for their PBS series The Human Spark, produced in association with New York's WNET. Certificates of Merit were awarded to Oregon Public Broadcasting and Chicago's WBEZ. The awards, presented annually by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, honor professional journalists for distinguished reporting for a general audience.

Continuing live election coverage? Count on Alaska's KTOO

KTOO-TV in Juneau, Alaska, is streaming coverage of the state's midterm election recount to determine its next U.S. Senator. Visit the station's 360North live feed page to take a peek at the recount "action" in Anchorage — 15 teams of election officials sitting at tables eying write-in ballots, set to a soundtrack of soothing yet determined vote-counting music. (Right click the image to enlarge.) "While we don't expect much drama or excitement, every Alaskan will be able to watch through our cameras," Bill Legere, KTOO's general manager, said in a statement.

Layoffs hit KPFA, protests go on-air

The fight over staff cuts at Berkeley's KPFA-FM has moved from the streets to the airwaves. A Nov. 8 decision by Pacifica Foundation Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt to dismiss the staff of the KPFA Morning Show -- the local program that earns the most financial support from listeners -- came under immediate fire. Engelhardt proposed to replace the morning news staple with another program from Pacifica's Los Angeles outlet, KPFK.

The KPFA Morning Show team -- Aimee Allison, Brian Edwards-Tiekert, Laura Prives and Esther Manilla -- were ordered off the air after Monday's program, but they managed to mount a "renegade broadcast" on Tuesday Nov. 9 to discuss the lay-offs and the station's financial troubles. (Story and link to show audio here.)

Former KPFA host Larry Bensky, who fought a similar battle to stay on the air more than ten years ago, came out of retirement to publicly challenge the terminations, appearing on both KPFA and KQED, the NPR News station in San Francisco. "I would have loved to stay out of this morass," Bensky said, on this morning's edition of KQED's Forum. "These people, who have an audience and credibility, are among the few journalists left in Pacifica, " he said. The decision to take the Morning Show team off the air was a "short-sighted and foolish thing to do, and against Pacifica's principles."

Engelhardt, who signed on as executive director less than a year ago, said Pacifica had to enforce financial discipline on KPFA, which has burned through its financial reserves and had to borrow money from another station in September to meet its payroll. "There just plain isn't any cash anymore," Engelhardt said on KQED's Forum. Three Pacifica stations are in "pretty severe financial distress," she said. "Everything I'm doing is aimed at my best effort to make sure all five stations stay on the air."

But Engelhardt struggled to defend layoffs of Morning Show staff, who were among seven KPFA employees to lose their jobs. She said the Morning Show team had engaged in "so much one-sided skewing that makes for very bad radio."

KPFA's union workers have alleged the dismissals were retaliatory against staff who were openly critical of Pacifica national leadership. The Communications Workers of America bargaining unit filed a complaint of unfair labor practices against Pacifica management on Nov. 5.

WNED gets cooking with return to live show

WNED’s popular live WNED Cooks is returning after six years, the Buffalo station says. A new show on "Family Favorites" airs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 26, 2011. Viewers submit recipes, and eight will be selected to create the dish in the studio that day. All recipes are compiled in a cookbook. Eileen Koteras Elibol returns as host (Image: WNED). No word yet on whether the episode will grow into a series.

KCET's new programming features old favorites, Asian offerings

KCET in Los Angeles, which is cutting ties to PBS on Jan. 1 (Current, Oct. 18), announced early programming details to its members through a mailing this week. The Los Angeles Times reports that the station is "relying on a programming schedule that is largely available on DVD, and in some cases is decades old," in addition to longtime local faves such as Huell Hower's show and SoCal Connected. There'll be several English-language shows from Japanese broadcaster NHK including NHK Newsline, a daily half-hour Asian news roundup; Asia Biz Forecast; Journeys in Japan and Your Japanese Kitchen. Old faves such as Prime Suspect starring Helen Mirren represents a link to KCET's history as it moves forward, Mary Mazur, KCET's e.v.p. and chief content officer told the paper. Viewers also may remember The Nature of Things, a long-running science program from Canada, and Keeping Up Appearances, a BBC sitcom originally produced from 1990-95. The schedule is a work in progress, KCET officials noted.

Triple-A convo set at new Wilmington branch of World Cafe music hall

Triple-A music's 11th annual NON-COMMvention will be held next May 19-21 in a new branch of the WXPN-FM-affiliated music venue World Cafe Live, to be opened just seven weeks before in Wilmington, Del. World Cafe Live At The Queen will open April 1 after a $25-million renovation of an old downtown movie house called the Queen. WXPN and a partner opened the original World Cafe Live restaurant/bar/music hall in Philadelphia six years ago. The station, co-presenter of the NON-COMMvention (with TheTop22.com), describes the event as "the music industry conference where contemporary, noncommercial radio stations, artists and music industry professionals from all of the country convene to discover new music and discuss current industry trends."

Colorado Public TV's nonprofit news arm gets healthcare reporting grant

Colorado Public News, a nonprofit news project of Colorado Public Television/CPT12 in Denver, has received a $386,250 grant to cover the cost of reporting on healthcare for three years, it announced this week (Nov. 8). The health-oriented Colorado Trust is providing the support, which will cover a full-time health reporter to produce multimedia reports. Colorado Public News supplies weekly coverage to a network of 14 news media on several platforms: television, radio, Internet, print and mobile. Donors fund journalists in particular subject areas, including state government, science, education or the economy.

Nov 9, 2010

Former CPB Board chair suggests how to save funding

Cheryl Halpern, who headed the CPB Board from 2005 to 2007, writes about what she sees as "A last chance to save CPB" in Monday's (Nov. 8) Congress Blog from The Hill, coming at a time of increasing calls to zero out funding for public broadcasting. "The question that Congress needs to address is not whether the national providers of public programming should be shut down," she writes. "It’s how to reform the legislation that created these institutions, given the changing media landscape."

She said Congress should consider amending the authorizing legislation so public broadcasters are "expected to adhere strictly to measurable and definable standards of accuracy and transparency." She feels that legislators need to "delineate what public broadcasters can and cannot do with regard to the ever evolving and expanding digital and online media universe."

Halpern also found herself troubled recently after a visit to a public broadcasting channel's website. She writes that the corporate logo of a sponsor, an international watchmaker, was "prominently displayed" there.

"I clicked on that logo and was brought to the watchmaker’s official marketing site," she writes. "This corporation therefore is realizing public acknowledgment for its sponsoring public broadcasting and at the same time is receiving both the accompanying tax-deduction as well as a corporate commercial link courtesy of its gift to the public station. This isn’t right."

In October 2005, when Halpern took the helm on the CPB Board, Current described her as "an attorney, real estate developer and longtime GOP donor." She replaced the controversial Kenneth Tomlinson.

NTIA report says broadband usage increased sevenfold between '01 and '09

A study released Monday (Nov. 8) of 54,000 American households shows that between 2001 and 2009, broadband Internet use rose sevenfold, from 9 percent to 64 percent. But "Exploring the Digital Nation: Home Broadband Internet Adoption in the United States" also reveals that significant gaps persist along racial, ethnic, and geographic lines, according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Also, nearly a quarter of households did not use the Internet at home, with most of those respondents citing lack of need or interest. The report is here in PDF format. It was compiled by the NTIA and the Department of Commerce's Economics and Statistics Administration.

Mashable tracks social media's possible impact on Nov. 2 races

Here's an interesting roundup on Mashable.com of how various social media sites may have figured into the midterm election results. For instance: Facebook, the world’s largest social network with some 500 million user accounts, reported that in 98 tight races for House seats, 74 percent of candidates with the most Facebook fans won. Looking at 19 Senate races, 81 percent of those with more fans won. The widely read Mashable follows news in social and digital media, technology and web culture.

Nov 8, 2010

Pittsburgh's WQED finally marries off its sister station

After trying for years, WQED Multimedia is succeeding in selling its second TV channel, WQEX, the Post-Gazette reported today. Ion Media Networks will buy it for $3 million, the newspaper said. The buyer, which will now have stations in 60 markets, was selected by the WQED Board from "an extensive list of interested parties," WQED said. Since 2004, the unreserved UHF channel had been leased to Home Shopping Network and then ShopNBC as an outlet for shopping channels; WQED retained three hours a week for the FCC-required children's programming. But WQED's attempts to sell the channel were thwarted repeatedly by economic conditions, an unwilling FCC and other factors. In fiscal year 2009, WQED stayed out of the red by divesting another longtime asset, its 40-year-old offspring, Pittsburgh Magazine, netting more than $800,000. For fiscal 2010, the licensee again managed to show a net surplus — for the 11th straight year. President George L. Miles Jr. retired in September, 16 years after coming to the station to pull it out of an earlier fiscal crisis.

Where in the world is Red Green? Alaska!

Even in far-flung Fairbanks, Alaska, Red Green pulls in the fans. Nearly 200 lined up Sunday (Nov. 7) at Big Ray’s outfitters store for the chance to greet the popular pubcasting character, reports the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. Green, portrayed by actor and writer Steve Smith, continues nationwide on what may be his farewell tour, "Wit and Wisdom 2010." The Fairbanks newspaper noted that Smith "arrived at Big Ray’s in a septic truck, dubbed the Red Green Limousine, which was provided by Glacier Point Pumping and Thawing." If you haven't had a chance to greet Green in person, you can always join the nearly 340,000 fans of his Facebook page.

NPR's Schiller: "We take these calls for defunding very, very seriously"

Today's top story in the Daily Caller, the news website founded by former conservative TV pundit and PBS host Tucker Carlson, is headlined "Feeling the Heat." It reports on NPR President Vivian Schiller's remarks yesterday at a forum on the future of journalism, convened at St. John's Episcopal Church near the White House. Acknowledging that the new Republican House majority may make good its campaign season threats to "defund NPR," Schiller explained that NPR receives very little of the federal aid distributed by CPB. “For small stations, and even for large stations, that’s a big chunk of their revenue,” she said, according to the Daily Caller's account. “It’s been a critical part of keeping those stations vibrant and, so, we take these calls for defunding very, very seriously.” Audience members questioned Schiller about NPR's firing of news analyst Juan Williams, the controversial decision that prompted Fox News host Bill O'Reilly to call for an end to federal support for the field. "We have admitted, I have admitted that there were certain aspects of it that we did not handle very well. In fact, there were certain aspects of this we handled badly.” Schiller reportedly went on to criticize the partisan nature of cable news and praise the NPR audience as more intelligent than that of other media outlets.

New APTS president: Patrick Butler

The Board of Trustees for the Association of Public Television Stations on Sunday (Nov. 7) approved its search committee's selection of board member Patrick Butler, chairman of the Maryland Public Television Foundation, as APTS president and chief executive officer. Butler formerly was a speechwriter for President Gerald R. Ford, and a special assistant to Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (R, Tenn.). He served on the National Council on the the Humanities during the Reagan administration. He chaired the public programs committee of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and recommended funding for projects including Ken Burns’s The Civil War.

Butler retired as senior vice president of the Washington Post Company in December 2008, where for 18 years he had managed public policy, new business development and special corporate projects.

He had earlier served as Washington vice president of Times Mirror, the corporate parent of the Los Angeles Times, and as government relations vice president of RCA, which owned NBC.

Butler takes the helm on Jan. 1, replacing Larry Sidman, who departed April 1 after 14 months in the position (Current, March 14, 2010).

Correction on APTS appointment

This morning's post regarding recently retired PBS Senior Vice President Pat Hunter's appointment as the new APTS president was incorrect. Current is removing the post, and regrets the error.

Nov 5, 2010

Longtime "Washington Week" panelist McDowell dies

Newspaper columnist Charles McDowell Jr., an 18-year panelist on Washington Week in Review and contributor to several documentaries by Ken Burns, died early this morning (Nov. 5) in Virginia Beach, Va. He was 84.

For Burns, McDowell appeared in an interview in The Congress, spoke a character's voice in The Civil War and did voice and consulting work on Baseball.

He was a Washington Week in Review panelist from 1978 to 1996. McDowell also narrated or hosted other PBS programs including Summer of Judgment: The Watergate Hearings, Richmond Memories and For the Record.

A memorial service is set for Nov. 13 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

CPB funding could be reduced, but probably not eliminated: Report

A comprehensive post-election analysis from the powerhouse Washington, D.C., law firm Patton Boggs is cautiously optimistic that public broadcasting funding will not be zeroed out, despite recent calls by conservatives to end that support.

While the furor over the firing of NPR commentator Juan Williams has generated a flurry of demands to end federal financial backing of the pubcasting system, the Patton Boggs analysts expect the controversy won't significantly endanger that support. Also, the Republican takeover of the House and increased presence in the Senate don't necessarily signal a cash catastrophe. " ... [W]e do not expect federal funding for NPR or public broadcasting will be eliminated," especially because the White House strongly opposes those cuts. The last attempts to do so "were not successful because supporters of popular programming rallied to defend the appropriation, and we expect a similar outcome this year."

However, challenging times remain ahead. "While funding for the CPB is not likely to be ended, we do believe that future appropriations for public broadcasting may be reduced from present levels, as they were in the early years of the last Republican Congress." The report, "President Barack Obama and the Closely Divided 112th Congress: An Angry Electorate Has Spoken, Now What?," is available free online (PDF).

It's "Social Media Day" on Poynter; view event online

The Poynter Institute's "Finding the Future of Journalism: Social Media Day" is live streaming until 5 p.m. Eastern today (Nov. 5); watch it here (live blog is directly beneath the schedule, takes a few seconds to load). Matt Thompson, editorial product manager for NPR's Project Argo, speaks from 1:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. on "From Stories to Streams: The Evolution of the Beat."

In other Poynter news, the institute announced today that is will collaborate with the Online News Association for training, events and digital content next year. ONA members will receive discounts on training, and Poynter will work with the association and the Newseum to promote and archive the Online Journalism Awards.

Battle brewing over proposed staff cuts at KPFA

More than 100 people joined a picket outside Pacifica's KPFA-FM in Berkeley yesterday (Nov. 4), protesting staff cuts proposed by Pacifica Foundation Executive Director Arlene Englehardt to help close a reported $1.1 million budget shortfall. “We’re here because we understand there is a plan afoot to cut ¼ of the staff at the station,” Sasha Lilley, protest organizer and KPFA co-host, tells the local news website Berkeleyside. “These are difficult times economically but there are alternatives to cutting staff.” The station has lost more than $500,000 in listener support and other funding over three years, KPFA and Pacifica Foundation board member Tracy Rosenberg told the San Jose Mercury News. KPFA fundraising has brought in $2.5 million this year, far below what's needed to meet is $3.6 million budget, Rosenberg said. In a post on Radio Survivor, Pacifica historian Matthew Lasar writes: "[B]asically Pacifica’s plan appears to be to pretty much let volunteers do the broadcasting."

Update: Lilley is disputing financial details that Pacifica board member Tracy Rosenberg provided to the San Jose Mercury News. KPFA raised more than $3.5 million last fiscal year, "enough to cover its operating expenses (before paying dues to Pacifica)," she wrote in an email. KPFA also cut its personnel costs by 20 percent in fiscal 2010, but the savings have only begun to show up on its balance sheets, she wrote.

End of state funding kills Ready to Learn at KEET

State support for Ready to Learn at KEET-TV in Eureka, Calif., was discontinued last month, ending the program that had been a staple of the station's outreach for 14 years, reports the local Times-Standard. KEET Executive Director Ron Schoenherr told the paper that the cut, which wiped out the vast majority of the program's budget, came as a shock to him. Station staff are scurrying to replace the $30,000 annual state cash with local donations and grants. California Department of Education Child Development Division Director Camille Maben said the cut was part of a line-item veto by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in the $50 million Child Development Block Grant from the federal level. KEET was informed on Oct. 11 that its funding was gone as of Oct. 1, Reynolds said.

Nov 4, 2010

Revived web association IMA sets its conference at SXSW in Austin

After a hiatus and reorganization, Integrated Media Association will hold its 2011 conference on March 10 and 11 at the start of the insanely popular South by Southwest Interactive Festival in the preposterously cool Texas capital, IMA said today. The festival begins Friday, March 11 and runs through Tuesday, March 15. Saturday has been designated Public Media Day. IMA, now based at Public Broadcasting Atlanta and headed by Jeanne Ericson, former head of PBA's Lens on Atlanta portal, which is rebuilding its membership and looking for pubTV webheads to join, is selling IMA/SXSW tickets at a $300 discount to its members through January. In the meantime, IMA expects to have reps at the second annual National Public Media Camp, Saturday, Nov. 20 in Washington, and other meetings.

"Frontline" re-cuts segment with official after complaint from Interior Department

Frontline has re-cut a broadcast interview with an administration official in which one of his responses was used to answer a different question. Every reporter and editor knows that shouldn't be done, writes PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler. "That's just fundamental journalistic ethics," he notes.

Both the broadcast and transcript versions of Frontline's interview with Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, David J. Hayes are online in the latest Ombudsman Column.

After the show on the BP oil disaster, The Spill, ran on Oct. 26, Matt Lee-Ashley, communications director at Interior, complained to Frontline. An excerpt: "The version of the Frontline piece that appeared last night does not accurately reflect the transcript of the interview. Specifically, the piece substitutes one of David Hayes's answers for a different answer to a different question. The result of the editing is to make David Hayes appear evasive and as if he is passing the buck. This is an entirely unfair and inaccurate characterization of the Department's position and David Hayes' answer." 

Getler writes that Frontline Senior Editor Ken Dornstein "at first, had strongly defended Frontline in an initial response on Oct. 29 to Lee-Ashley's charges." But then on Tuesday (Nov. 2) she wrote to Lee-Ashley: "At issue here, we believe, is whether Frontline fairly and accurately represented the views of Deputy Secretary Hayes and the Department of Interior. We maintain that we did. However, in carefully reviewing the editing decisions in this case again, we have now concluded that using the second answer from later in the interview was not consistent with our past practices. So, even if the result was fair to Secretary Hayes, it's not a precedent we want to set. We are going to re-cut this exchange to restore Hayes' original answer to [producer/reporter Martin] Smith's question. We will post this version on our web site, along with an editor's note, and include it in all future broadcasts."

Production ending this season for "The Desert Speaks"

Arizona Public Media's The Desert Speaks, winner of 24 regional and national Emmys and distributed nationwide by American Public Television, is ending production. Tom Kleespie has produced the show since it began in 1989. "We've had a great run with the series, which has lasted longer than most national television series that started around the same time with the exception of The Simpsons," Kleespie told the Arizona Daily Star. The final episode airs in May; reruns will continue for at least four years.

KCET hires editor-in-chief to head up new community blogging operation

KCET is developing a community-based content and blogging operation, and has created a new position to oversee the work, it announced today. Zach Behrens is the new editor-in-chief and will report directly to Mary Mazur, KCET's chief content officer. For the past three years, Behrens has been editor-in-chief of LAist/Gothamist, where he oversaw operations (here's his farewell column) and was the lead writer for LAist.com. Behrens also has served as a communications and marketing consultant to MTV, Nike and the City of Santa Clarita. He begins work on Nov. 10. KCET departs the PBS network of affiliates on Jan. 1, 2011 (Current, Oct. 18).

NBR plans weekly segment on business of sports

Nightly Business Report today (Nov. 4) announced a new weekly feature, "Beyond the $coreboard," that "gives viewers in-depth analysis of the biggest sports stories of the day and what they mean for Wall Street." NBR is partnering with Rick Horrow, author of "Beyond the Box Score: An Insider's Guide to the $750 Billion Business of Sports" and is a visiting expert on sports law at Harvard Law School. His Miama-based Horrow Sports Ventures is a facility development advisor to teams, leagues, universities, government agencies, and nonprofits. Horrow has been a contributor to NBR since the 1980s, the announcement said.

CLARIFICATION: A spokeswoman for Harvard Law School said Horrow last participated in the Sports Law program at the university in 2006, and is not currently active there.