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Jan 31, 2011

Ebert's new show finally arrives in Seattle

PBS member station KBTC in Seattle/Tacoma is picking up the new Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies. Why is that news? Because some local viewers were mightily peeved that Seattle's KCTS decided not to run it – one of the few pubTV stations that passed on the popular critic's latest program. KCTS programmer Randy Brinson told a Seattle Times blogger that the decision not to carry the show was based on "scheduling logistics and financial reality." In another word, pledge. It would "get pre-empted on a regular basis, as a normal course of events due to our occasional pledge programming." Which would annoy viewers, Brinson said, because the movie reviews are time-sensitive.

Al Jazeera English still on in U.S. despite Egyptian turmoil, distributor MHz reports

MHz Networks is alerting its 31 pubcasting affiliates nationwide that the shutdown by the Egyptian government of Al Jazeera's bureau there does not affect broadcast of Al Jazeera English programming on Worldview. Some media were erroneously reporting that Al Jazeera English's shows in the United States were also blacked out.

If you didn't attend Sundance, "storyfication" is the next-best thing. Sort of.

Did you miss the Sundance Film Festival Jan. 20-30 in Park City, Utah? Yeah, us too. Fear not, ITVS social media wizard Jonathan Archer "storified" the Tweets and other posts of ITVS-related events and adventures at the famous fest. One featured Tweet: "Glazed. Chocolate chipolte. Powdered. Plain. Homemade donuts. Great food at HBO party." Oh fine, rub it in.

Guam PBS audit by government agency sets goal of transferring to community licensee

Guam's Office of Public Accountabilty has released an audit of PBS Guam (PDF) that sets a longterm goal of converting it to a community licensee "to alleviate dependency on the government of Guam." Government of Guam appropriations, 38 percent of station revenues, increased from $596,000 in fiscal 2009 to $610,000 in FY10.

The audit shows a revenue decline of $2.6 million due primarily to a one-time $2.5 million grant to purchase and install a digital tower in 2009. The station also ended FY10 with a decrease in net assets of $204,000.

Tony Geiss dies at 86; longtime Muppet composer, lyricist and creator

Tony Geiss, composer and lyricist for Sesame Street for almost 40 years as well as a creator of several Muppets, died Jan. 21 in New York City of complications from a fall. He was 86.

He's at left in the photo, speaking with fellow Sesame Street writer Lou Berger and Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente on the set. (Image: Sesame Workshop)

Geiss won 22 Emmys for scriptwriting and songwriting. He created the Honkers Muppets and, most recently, Abby Cadabby. He was a co-creator of Sesame's "Elmo's World" segment, composing its theme song (which has been viewed more than 25 million times on YouTube). He also co-wrote the feature film "Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird," in addition to several other films.

His writing credits include working with David Frost, Bill Cosby and Groucho Marx.

A post on the Sesame Workshop blog called Geiss "a major force on the Sesame Street writing team for 40 years."

Nicholas Anthony Geiss was born in New York City on Nov. 16, 1924, and grew up in the West Village. His wife of 60 years, the former Phyllis Eisen, preceded him in death in December 2009. His New York Times obituary lists survivors including an extended family as well as "admirers of all ages, who joyfully sang along with his songs without knowing their author, nourished by his creative brilliance."

A memorial service took place Jan. 27 at Riverside Memorial Chapel in New York City.

See a 2004 interview with Geiss for the Archive of American Television here.

Signal expansion delays and disappointment in Tampa

Problems with signal interference from the U.S. Coast Guard's emergency communications system has stymied launch of Tampa's new full-time classical music service, according to the St. Petersburg Times. Since purchasing the license to 89.1 FM in Sarasota last fall, pubcaster WUSF-TV/FM has been broadcasting its new classical service WSMR at 30 percent power; the signal doesn't reach far beyond Sarasota, disappointing expectant music lovers in Tampa. "The Coast Guard is huge and we don't want to get in the way of a life being saved," says JoAnn Urofsky, g.m. "But I'm still not sure why this stalemate happened."

Future of "Need to Know" uncertain; PBS says it's "evaluating the series carefully"

PBS has not yet decided whether to renew WNET's newsmag Need to Know, which replaced Bill Moyers Journal in May 2010 (Current, March 22, 2010). PBS said in a statement to the New York Times that the show runs through June 2011, and it is currently "evaluating the series carefully."

Stephen Segaller, station v.p. for content, and Shelley Lewis, Need to Know e.p., sent an email to programmers December 3 thanking them for their feedback on the show. Apparently some of those comments had zeroed in on co-hosts Alison Stewart and Jon Meacham. The note, obtained by Current, said in part: "It’s fair to say (as some of you have) that Alison is far more comfortable in the anchor role than Jon, and Jon is a far more comfortable guest on other programs than he was (at first) as anchor on his own. We continue to work on ways to make 'that Jon' the Jon who appears in our studio every week." The email noted that Meacham is a "unique asset," adding, "He’s in the Skip Gates category as a public intellectual, and who else on the PBS roster is?"

Timing has also created challenges for the show. "The launch of the show in late Spring, followed by two pledge periods in four months, was a huge handicap. In hindsight, we would all probably have been smarter to launch in September. But happily, the past two months have seen the audience build back steadily."

"In sum," the message concludes, "we are working flat out to make NTK the new current affairs show that PBS, we and all of you need it to be. And happily, viewer reaction is getting ever better. By late summer, we were no longer receiving angry e-mails about Bill – or very few."

In a review of the show, longtime pubcasting producer Louis Barbash wrote in Current: "Based on the evidence of its first four episodes, Need to Know can be too deferential to big names, disinclined to probe and press them. ...  But Need to Know is also capable of compelling storytelling, able to spot and focus on the small story that illuminates the big one, and capable, too, of thoughtfulness, insight and tolerance."

Exclusive content deal for Center for Public Integrity

The Center for Public Integrity, the nonprofit investigative news center helmed by public radio veteran Bill Buzenberg, has a new contract to provide exclusive stories to Newsweek and The Daily Beast. A feature on the effectiveness of digital mammography, featured in today's Web and print editions of Newsweek, is the first CPI investigation to be published under the editorial partnership. “The value of incisive investigative reporting is going up," says Buzenberg, executive director of the center, in a news release. "This is a tremendous opportunity for us to provide quality journalism to a new audience and to get paid for our work.”

Jan 29, 2011

UPDATE: Pubcasting travel show hosts caught in Egypt leading group of tourists

The hosts of WTTW's nationally syndicated Grannies on Safari are in the midst of the chaos in Egypt, where protestors demanding the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak have been rioting for days.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Regina Fraser and Pat Johnson (right, image: Grannies on Safari via AP) arrived with their group on Jan. 26 and are hoping to leave before their intended departure date of Feb. 4. At one point, their driver had to drop the group two blocks from the hotel because the bus couldn’t get through all the protestors. “We had to circumnavigate around the hotel because the crowds were massing up,” Fraser said. They made it in just before the hotel locked its doors.

The cameraman for their show, Julio Martinez, was briefly detained by authorities.

The Associated Press did not report how many persons are in the group, which includes travelers from five states and the District of Columbia.

SUNDAY UPDATE: CNN is reporting that Fraser called the U.S. Embassy in Egypt several times, with no answer. Finally someone at the embassy picked up the phone today (Jan. 30) and transferred her to a recording advising callers to visit the U.S. government website – but Internet access had been blocked by the government days ago. "How could I find out information if the internet is not working?" Fraser said. She told CNN the group is in the country for a Nile cruise. Fraser also spoke by phone with an ABC reporter, see the video here.

Jan 28, 2011

Weiss's departure from NPR, reexamined

Why exactly did NPR President Vivian Schiller tell her Senior News V.P. Ellen Weiss to resign or be fired? According to the Washington Post's account of the circumstances leading up to Weiss's sudden departure on Jan. 6, Weiss's management style as news chief, and her account of the decision to fire longtime news analyst Juan Williams last October, undercut support for her within NPR's newsroom and leadership ranks.

The Post's Paul Farhi interviews NPR News insiders and points to internal rifts over Weiss's record and leadership style: "While several employees acknowledged her role in building NPR into a radio-news powerhouse and emerging digital-news player, they also questioned her methods....More damning was the suggestion - hotly disputed by people close to Weiss - that Weiss had preempted her boss, Schiller, in telling Williams that he had to go."

Weiss tells the Post she'd received no warning from Schiller that her job was in jeopardy nor an explanation of why she was being forced out. An anonymous defender within NPR News says Weiss's ouster was "merely a smoke screen that helped Schiller keep her job and appease critics inside and outside NPR." NPR communications chief Dana Davis Rehm declines to elaborate on "internal conversations" that led up to Weiss's resignation.

Former NPR host and correspondent Alex Chadwick is one of few sources who talks on-the-record, drawing parallels between how Weiss informed him that his job was being eliminated in 2008, and her cell phone firing of Juan Williams last Oct. 20.

"Damn good schedule" at KCET, President Al Jerome says

KCET President Al Jerome continues to explain the station's Jan. 1 departure from the PBS system. In the latest interview, in today's (Jan. 28) Santa Barbara Independent, he describes KCET's exit and subsequent programming revamp like "changing the tires going 90 miles per hour." He adds that he considers the new lineup "a damn good schedule."

Old "Electric Company" clip may just power up your sleepy Friday

It's Friday afternoon, and you deserve a video break. Today's feature is brought to you by BestWeekEver.TV, which serves up an Electric Company episode from waaaay back, when actor Morgan Freeman played a vampire caught in Spiderman's (very fake rope) web. (Actually, the "Kitten Attacking a Spider" video underneath is pretty good too ... )

More pubcasting producers vote to join Writers Guild of America, East

Producers for History Detectives and America Revealed on PBS are among new members of the Writers Guild of America, East, the union said today (Jan. 28). The Guild also welcomed nonfiction TV producers for Discovery Network and MTV. Guild President Michael Winship said in a statement: "As a writer for public television myself, I know how valuable Guild membership has been for my colleagues and me." Winship is a former senior writer for Bill Moyers Journal.

California Watch launches state investigative news network

California Watch, a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting, today (Jan. 28) announced its new California Watch Media Network, which includes many of the state's major news organizations.

Participating outlets will receive stories and daily postings from the Center for Investigative Reporting, and collaborate with the center on news projects. The initial members are the San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee, San Diego Union Tribune, Orange County Register, Bakersfield Californian, and the Fresno Bee.

“This new network represents a step forward in terms of how we market and distribute our content,” said California Watch Editorial Director Mark Katches. The center hopes to add editorial partners. Membership fees depend on circulation and audience reach; for broadcast outlets, rates are based on market size.

The center also will continue its news relationship with pubcaster KQED Public Radio in San Francisco; the two have partnered since November 2009 on various projects.

Jan 27, 2011

Influential Ohio pubcaster Robert Smith Jr. dies; former "Washington Week" producer

Robert D. Smith Jr., a longtime public broadcaster who was an early producer of Washington Week in Review and oversaw the creation of two Ohio public radio stations, died Jan. 20 in Oberlin, Ohio, after battling cancer. He was 81.

His son, Stephen Smith, host and executive editor of American RadioWorks, told the Toledo Blade: "He really believed in the public purpose of public broadcasting, and so do I – the obligation to serve the audience with stuff that's meaningful and of high quality and can't be found elsewhere."

In 1967, as programming director at WETA, he produced the station's new public affairs show, Washington Week in Review, which remains on the air as Washington Week. He was hired in 1974 to run WGTE-TV, Channel 30, in Toledo. In 1976, as president and general manager of the Public Broadcasting Foundation of Northwest Ohio, he helped create WGTE-FM and, in 1981, WGLE-FM in Lima.

Smith retired in 1988 due to the lingering effects of an auto accident, his son said.

"He was passionate about public television and public radio," said Tom Paine, WGTE radio program manager, who was hired by Smith in 1975. "He would say WGTE brings Toledo thoughtful programs which are cherished by viewers and listeners. The 'cherished' is a Bob word. He loved our public service mission, and it was something that energized him every single day."

Smith was born March 29, 1929, in Dayton. He was a 1951 graduate of the College of Wooster, where he founded the campus radio station. He served stateside in the Air Force during the Korean War, making instructional films. He had a master's degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Beekeeping was his hobby, and he created videos for beekeepers.

Survivors include his wife, Janet Evans Smith; daughters, Janna Eversmeyer and Lisa Goss; son, Stephen Smith; sister, Robin Ellinor, and six grandchildren.

Memorial services will be at 3 p.m. Feb. 12 at Kendal at Oberlin in Oberlin, Ohio. The family suggests tributes to WGTE Public Media or the Way Public Library, Perrysburg, Ohio.

FCC chooses nine firms to oversee spectrum white-space database

A database of open channels, or "white spaces," opening on the television spectrum for use by unlicensed devices, will be managed by nine companies, Television Broadcast reports today (Jan. 27). The companies, selected by the FCC, will oversee a database that will track white spaces within the TV spectrum and communicate those channels to unlicensed devices. It will be the sole source of interference protection for TV signals and wireless microphones, the industry publication said.

PubTV systemwide initiative aims to invigorate station fundraising

CPB and WGBH today (Jan. 27) announced a two-year, $754,000 project to help stations improve their fundraising capabilities. The Contributor Development Partnership will include the first-ever systemwide contributor data reference file to provide analyses of the best in pubTV fundraising. Michal Heiplik, former director of membership at HoustonPBS, will oversee the project. CPB is contributing $504,000, and WGBH, $250,000.

Helping shape the initiative is a 12-member station advisory group: Don Derheim, KQED (Northern California); Becky Chinn, OPB (Oregon); Mary Kay Phelps, WETA (Washington, D.C.); Kelly McCullough, KAET (Arizona); David Preston, TPT (Minnesota); Ellen Sinkinson, WNET (New York); Anne Gleason, WTTW (Chicago); Jack Galmiche, KETC (St. Louis); Joe Krushinsky, MPT (Maryland); Michael Zeller, KCPT (Kansas City, Mo.); Deanna Mackey, KPBS (San Diego); and Susan Dwyer, WGBH (Boston).

Jan 26, 2011

Twelve journalists receive reporting grants from the Fund for Investigative Journalism

The Fund for Investigative Journalism, through the Gannett Foundation and the Green Park Foundation, has awarded 12 grants to journalists for travel and other reporting expenses to cover abuse of power, environmental degredation and corruption here as well as in Asia, Africa and South America. Recipients include reporters from newspapers, websites, specialized reporting centers and freelancers. Their topics are confidential until completed. The fund has supported investigative journalism by independent journalists since 1969.

Spectrum auction bill could come back up today

Broadcasting and Cable reports that Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) is expected to reintroduce – possibly as early as today (Jan. 26) – a bill to authorize auctions to pay broadcasters for voluntarily giving up their spectrum for wireless broadband use. B and C notes that the bill "would make it clear that the reclamation needs to be truly voluntary."

KUSF supporters rally at San Francisco City Hall

San Francisco Weekly reports that KUSF DJs, fans and Ross Mirkarimi, a San Francisco supervisor, rallied in front of City Hall yesterday (Jan. 25), chanting "Whose station?" "Our station!" and "Shame on USF!" A week ago University of San Francisco officials literally pulled the plug on the station, which has been around since 1977, and soon after announced it would be sold to classical music channel KDFC. KUSF would continue online. After the rally, Mirkarimi introduced a resolution urging the university to reconsider the sale of the station.

APTS hires GOP lobbyists for pubcasting funding fight

The Association for Public Television Stations has hired two GOP lobbyists from Quinn Gillespie and Associates to help fend off proposals for public broadcasting funding cuts, according to the Hill. Marc Lampkin was general counsel for John Boehner (Ohio) when the Speaker was House Republican Conference chairman; John Feehery managed communications for former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and ex-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

“What I am facing here are 96 new members of Congress and 20 new senators that don’t know us yet,” said APTS Patrick Butler. “We read the papers like everyone else and we keep hearing about cuts to public television. I want to make sure we are telling our story to everybody who needs to hear it."

Jan 25, 2011

Idaho Public TV's Morrill talks numbers with state lawmakers

Idaho PTV g.m. Peter Morrill appeared before state legislators today (Jan. 25) to detail what would happen if the governor's proposed 6.4 percent funding reduction is approved: Three IPTV positions would disappear, a $97,200 cut from last year would become permanent, and $1.3 million in capital replacements – including some mandated by federal law – could not be done.

"Waste Land" gets Oscar nod

The ITVS-supported doc "Waste Land," by Lucy Walker and Angus Aynsley, scored an Academy Award nomination today (Jan. 25) for feature documentary. Last month it received the International Documentary Association Pare Lorentz Award at the IDI Documentary Awards ceremonies. A full list of nominees here.

Steve Miller band, downtown party to open new Austin City Limits venue

KLRU is inaugurating its new Austin City Limits theater with a big bash on Feb. 26 in Austin's 2nd Street District. The 2nd St. Soundcheck event will culminate with the first ACL taping in its new, $2.5 million Moody Theater, named for the Moody Foundation backer of the massive project. First up: A 90-minute performance by the Steve Miller Band.

It's half a century on the air for Eight/Arizona PBS

Eight/Arizona PBS is celebrating its 50th anniversary of going live on Jan. 30, 1961; by 1964 it had its first Emmy Award for 400 hours of local programming. Viewers are sharing their memories of the station, and there's a cool retro video that includes its first moments of broadcast. Is your station or network marking an important anniversary this year? Let us know!

KCET continues ratings slide – except for British programming block

Although it's mainly bad news for KCET in its latest ratings, there is one bright spot: Ratings for its Saturday block of British faves such as MI-5 and Keeping Up Appearances are up 33 percent over this time last year, the Los Angeles Times reports. Overall, the first three weeks of its independence from PBS show a 38 percent plunge. Over its entire broadcast day, KCET lost half its viewers compared with last year. The station now averages 10,000 households a day, "a figure that suggests the station's potential donor pool will be considerably reduced," the paper notes.

Jan 24, 2011

Weekend breaking news coverage would need a "NewsHour approach," Lehrer says

In an interview with Baltimore Sun TV columnist David Zurawik, PBS NewsHour anchor Jim Lehrer said although it would be "possible" to cover breaking news on the weekends, "we just don't have the resources right now."

Lehrer also noted: "... We've got to keep in mind, it's got to be more than just the headlines. The headlines are already available in other places. We've got to take a NewsHour approach on Saturday and Sunday, just like we do Monday through Friday, or it is not working."

And, once again, Lehrer addressed his inevitable retirement. "Well, as you know I have stepped back a little, and I am going to continue to do that," he said. "I am very keen on the idea of a team approach to this rather than a big-time anchorperson approach. So, there will come a time and maybe some day after I've been gone for five years, someone will say, 'Whatever happened to that guy who talked like he was from Kansas or Texas or some goddamn place? What happened to him?'"

Marcotte weighs in on editorial integrity of university-owned pubradio stations

Public radio news veteran Michael Marcotte acknowledges feeling conflicted by the proposal by Minnesota Public Radio founder Bill Kling to cut institutional ties between universities and public radio stations. As a former news director, reporter, anchor for more than one university-owned NPR outlet, Marcotte writes in a blog post that he understands the simplicity of Kling's argument – "Universities have different missions than public radio stations, so their goals clash."

"I have spent many an hour working on heat-shield policies, ethics statements, codes of editorial independence, etc. toward fortifying journalism at university licensees. This is because Kling’s point has its basis and I’ve [known] many news directors who needed back-up. ... At the end of the day, I refuse to believe that university licensees are structurally compromised in their editorial integrity. And I believe Mr. Kling has some self-interest in play — hoping to pick off a few more stations for his empire."

Marcotte wrote his critique as a contributor to Carnival of Journalism, a revived blog that relaunched this month with a discussion of the role of universities as journalism hubs.

Cutting NPR's funding won't eliminate the deficit, Powell says

During an appearance on CNN's State of the Union yesterday, former Secretary of State Colin Powell dismissed congressional Republicans' proposal to cut the deficit by defunding public broadcasting.

Congress won't be able to balance the budget without going after the "real money" that's spent on entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, Powell told host Candy Crowley.

"You can't fix the deficit or the national debt by killing NPR or National Endowment for the Humanities or the Arts. Nice political chatter, but that doesn't do it. And I'm very put off when people just say let's go back and freeze to the level two years ago.....That usually is a very inefficient way of doing it. Tell me what you're going to cut, and nobody up there yet is being very, very candid about what they are going to cut to fix this problem."

Links: Huffington Post, CNN video and transcript.

Cable glitch drops KCET from some Time Warner viewers

KCET continues to weather challenges following its departure from the PBS system on Jan. 1. The latest is a cable glitch, according to the Los Angeles Times. Time Warner was supposed to convert KCET to an all-digital signal last week, according to station programming chief Mare Mazur. The switch "should not have affected any subscribers with digital boxes, which according to Time Warner represents about 90 percent of their customers," Mazur said. But  KCET received complaints from viewers. The outlet has since been working with Time Warner to try to resolve the situation. The LA Times could not reach a representative for Time Warner Cable for comment.

Jan 23, 2011

Burns calls pubcasting "a dividend we can't do without"

In an interview with John Diaz, editorial page editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, PBS documentarian Ken Burns says: "I think we ought to just take pause and reflect on what this extra-marketplace programming means to us." He also points out that the relatively small investment in public broadcasting produces "a dividend we can't do without, especially in this commercial era." Diaz agrees, noting in the column today (Jan. 23) that "Americans who want a depth of programming that doesn't necessarily produce celebrity hosts or big ratings or high profits will now have to fight to keep Congress from cutting off funds to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting."

The Hub seeks university-linked news orgs

The Nonprofit Journalism Hub, a recent project of the Voice of San Diego, is looking for nonprof university-sponsored news organizations for its growing list. It's aiming to "bring together myriad resources to help communities create their own successful nonprofit news organizations." Interested? Submit your organization for inclusion here.

Jan 21, 2011

ivi TV loses first round in battle over TV signals – including public broadcasters'

A district court judge in Seattle has refused to grant a declaratory ruling that ivi TV's service does not violate broadcast copyright protection, Broadcasting & Cable is reporting. The suit, filed in September, was a “a preemptive move to discourage needless litigation from big media," according to ivi founder and c.e.o. Todd Weaver  (Current, Oct. 4, 2010). Soon after that suit was filed, PBS, WNET.org, WGBH and 22 other plaintiffs asked the U.S. District Court in New York to keep ivi from selling their TV signals online. That action is still pending.

The Seattle-based ivi captures and encrypts TV stations’ signals and distributes them through a web app to subscribers who pay it $4.99 a month. The company says it’s following the same law that allows cable systems to retransmit broadcast signals and pay a negotiated rights fee. Rights owners will be compensated via the Licensing Division of the U.S. Copyright Office after they file a payment request, ivi maintains.

KLRN launches new public affairs program

KLRN in San Antonio premiered Texas Week With Rick Casey on Thursday (Jan. 20). Casey, a longtime columnist with the local News-Express as well as the Houston Chronicle, said the public affairs show will offer “a quieter discussion about important issues.” The show's blog provides a look behind the scenes as the program was developed.

University of Houston to merge its PBS and NPR member stations

The University of Houston is merging its HoustonPBS/Channel 8 with its NPR station KUHF-FM/88.7 into one organization called Houston Public Media. The city's CultureMap arts news website is reporting that TV and radio staffers were told in a meeting Thursday (Jan. 20).

Jan 20, 2011

Pubcasters selected as Peter Jennings Project fellows

Four public broadcasters are among the 2011 fellows for the Peter Jennings Project for Journalists and the Constitution March 4-6 in Philadelphia. The announcement of the 36 professional and six student fellows coincides with today’s (Jan. 20) posthumous induction of the longtime ABC News anchor into the Academy of Television Arts and Science Hall of Fame.

Fellows include Carrie Johnson, Justice Department correspondent for NPR; Angela McKenzie, Initiative Radio; Amy Radil, KUOW Puget Sound Public Radio; and Paula Wissel, KPLU-FM.

The annual conference allows journalists to explore constitutional issues.

Ebert keeps his chin up, with a new one

Legendary movie critic Roger Ebert will wear a prosthetic chin on his new show, he revealed in his blog Wednesday (Jan. 19). "That's not to fool anyone, because my appearance is widely known," Ebert wrote, referencing his facial disfigurement from several surgeries following thyroid cancer. "It will be used in a medium shot of me working in my office, and will be a pleasant reminder of the person I was for 64 years." The fitting and creation of the new chin took two years. "Two original models were too stiff, so that my head held upright reminded me of Erich von Stroheim in 'Grand Illusion,' " he quipped. His Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies is set to debut Friday on nearly 200 stations nationwide.

Governor proposes zeroing out South Carolina Educational Television support

South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley wants to cut $20 million out of the state's budget, and $9.5 million of that would be funding to South Carolina Educational Television, according to The State newspaper. Haley announced the proposed reductions in her state of the state address Wednesday (Jan. 19). State money is about half of SCETV's $19.8 million budget. South Carolina faces a budget gap of more than $800 million.

Public broadcasting backer elected to House Communications Subcommittee post

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), a longtime pubcasting supporter, is the new ranking member of the House Communications Subcommittee, the first woman to hold the title. The vote was 14 to nine among committee Democrats. She's a co-chair of the Public Broadcasting Caucus.

GOP group's "Spending Reduction Act" would end CPB, NEH, NEA support

Conservative House Republicans today (Jan. 20) presented a proposal to cut $2.5 trillion in federal funding over the next 10 years. The "Spending Reduction Act of 2011" would slash money to 55 agencies and programs, including zeroing out CPB, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. "House leaders are unlikely to adopt such radical cuts," according to the Washington Post.

Blumenauer: Pubcasting is "very cost effective"

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) has come to public broadcasting's defense in a piece on the Hill's Congress Blog today (Jan. 20). "National public broadcasting is very cost effective and an excellent example of a public-private partnership maximizing value for the taxpayer," he writes. "The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) annually receives around .0001% of the federal budget. Cutting CPB's funding would save Americans less than half a cent a day," and would result in the loss of of PBS, "considered by the public to be the second-best use of taxpayer dollars, outranked only by defense spending."

Jan 19, 2011

Did you miss the NETA conference?

Here's the next best thing to being there: NETA has posted videos of many of the sessions.

New Masterpiece Trust donations include portion for stations

Details are out on the new Masterpiece Trust, a funding initiative to mark the 40th anniversary of the PBS icon series. For $25,000, donors receive on-screen recognition on at least three programs, and part of their gift goes to their local PBS station. That part of the donation "would be determined jointly between the station and WGBH," Masterpiece spokesperson Ellen Dockser told Current, "by considering the station’s involvement, the donor’s intent, and the goal of generating additional support for Masterpiece content." More than $200,000 has been raised so far. The program is aiming for 40 donors, one for each year.

Ford Foundation invests $50 million in social-issue filmmakers' projects

The Ford Foundation today (Jan. 19) announced a five-year, $50 million project to help fund social-issue filmmakers. JustFilms will invest $10 million a year over the next five years to back movie makers who often lack funding, the foundation said in a release. Heading up JustFilms will be respected documentarian Orlando Bagwell. Partnering are the CPB-backed ITVS and the Sundance Institute. The institute's Sundance Film Festival kicks off Thursday.

“With JustFilms, the Ford Foundation is mapping out new ways to connect the dots between storytelling, technology, and change," ITVS President Sally Fifer told Current in a statement. "ITVS looks forward to continuing our work with Ford and independent filmmakers to inspire and connect people through television, new media and innovative outreach.”

Triple play for music lovers of Ohio and Kentucky

WNKU, a Triple A public radio station broadcasting into Cincinnati on 89.7 FM, will triple its potential audience with the purchase of two commercial country stations in Ohio, WPFB in Middletown and WPAY, Portsmouth. The $6.75 million deal was signed today, according to Public Radio Capital's Erik Langner, who brokered the deal for WNKU. The sale will be financed through tax-exempt bonds to be issued by WNKU licensee Northern Kentucky University.

"Year after year, the number one complaint we hear is in regards to signal strength and reach," said Chuck Miller, g.m. "WNKU will no longer be Greater Cincinnati's best kept secret." While FCC approval of the license transfer is pending, WNKU will begin programming the stations on Feb. 1 under a local management agreement. [Coverage map of new service area.]

S.F. classical FM goes nonprofit in multistation trade

Classical Public Radio Network, based at KUSC in Los Angeles, has organized a new pubradio nonprofit to operate San Francisco’s 60-year-old classical stalwart, formerly commercial KDFC. In the multistation deal announced yesterday, KDFC maintains its air personalities and relationships with the San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Opera. It moves to two new frequencies, while its former owner, Entercom Communications, redeploys its old 102.1 MHz signal to simulcast its classic rock station, KUFX in San Jose, which will move to S.F.

The Los Angeles station acquired two frequencies for the new nonprofit — 90.3 MHz, formerly college station KUSF at the private University of San Francisco, and 89.9 MHz, formerly Christian music outlet KNDL, from Howell Mountain Broadcasting Co. After FCC approval of the deals, the classical station’s top priority will be to extend the reach of its new signals, which will be weaker, especially in the South Bay, Program Director Bill Lueth told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Volunteers and staffers working at KUSF were surprised to learn of the sale yesterday. Edna Barron, a board operator, told Current the university had not offered student groups an opportunity to buy the channel. California Watch reported that the university locked out the music station’s staff soon after telling them the station would be sold. A news release from the school and Entercom said KUSF will continue to operate online.

Brenda Barnes, KUSC president, said in the release that the Los Angeles station had observed the ongoing move of classical stations to noncommercial operation and asked Entercom “if they were willing to work with us on a managed transition.” Entercom was willing.

Kansas budget cuts will hit pubcasters hard

The "massive cuts" proposed to Kansas public broadcasting will hit Smoky Hills Public TV and High Plains Public Radio the worst, reports the Hays Daily News. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback proposed the reductions when in his 2012 budget last week. The state is facing a $550 million revenue shortfall. He wants to eliminate some $1.6 million in state aid typically budgeted pubcasting. The two stations in western Kansas receive a total of $750,000. High Plains would see its budget cut 20 percent; Smokey Hills, 23 percent.

Nonprofit news heads pleased with Comcast-NBC deal to provide partnerships; PEG channels also spared

It's official: As part of the Comcast-NBC merger approved yesterday (Jan. 18), some NBC stations will enter into cooperative arrangements with locally focused nonprofit news organizations, as Comcast had promised in December. By next January, at least five of the 10 owned-and-operated NBC stations will have inked cooperative arrangements with locally focused nonprofit news orgs, to be known as Online News Partners, that will provide reporting on issues of concern to each station’s market or region . On Jim Romenesko's Poynter blog today, several heads of nonprof journalism ventures say this will validate their efforts, and, they hope, prompt more funding. The FCC said in a release that Comcast has voluntarily agreed to "safeguard the continued accessibility and signal quality of PEG [public, educational and governmental] channels on its cable television systems and introduce new on demand and online platforms for PEG content." That's a big victory for public access channels, which have been struggling to remain operating in recent years as local cable funding contracts expired.

NPR's mistake causes real pain, loss of trust

Tucson-based NPR correspondent Ted Robbins and Scott Simon, host of Weekend Edition Saturday, recall their reactions to erroneous NPR newscasts reporting the death of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Jan. 8. Both NPR journalists heard directly from friends and family members of the Arizona lawmaker, they tell Ombudsman Alicia Shepard, and had to explain on what basis NPR was reporting her death. The newscasts were based on inadequate sourcing; both Robbins and Simon testify to the "real, excruciating pain" caused by the mistake.

When he learned the report was wrong, Simon called the Giffords family member who reached out to him. “But I made no attempt to defend NPR,” he tells Shepard. “Someone believed for a moment that she had died. In fact, more than one person did. The mistake NPR made was reprehensible.

Jan 18, 2011

New Hampshire Public TV faces total state funding cut

New Hampshire Public Television's funding will be debated Wednesday (Jan. 19) in a legislative hearing, the Foster's Daily Democrat reports. A bill has been introduced that would ban the state's university system from using state money to fund public TV. NHPTV President Peter Frid said 31 percent of its $8.8 million budget comes to it via that funding. Without that state support, Frid said, it would be impossible for the channel to function.

Berkman Center to examine mobile giving in first-ever study

The impact of digital tools on charitable giving and the outlook for future mobile giving will be studied by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, it announced today (Jan. 18). The research, the first of its kind, will survey persons who gave to Haiti earthquake relief efforts to determine how mobile donors differ from general donors. It also will examine how social media spread the mobile-giving campaigns. Partners in the study are the mGive Foundation and the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project; it's supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Current reported on the mobile donation efforts of public broadcasters, which so far is limited (March 22, 2010) but holds potential (April 19, 2010).

Access channel advocacy group announces website

Public access channels nationwide are intensifying their ongoing fight to stay on the air with today's (Jan. 18) launch of a new website from the Public Television Industry Corporation. The channels across the country are being threatened with shutdowns as longtime funding contracts expire. The site links to a 10-minute video that says public access TV is "being murdered by a cabal of cable and telecom industries."

"Marmalade Gypsy" looks back at NETA

Here are some cool photos from the NETA convention, and a little wrapup, from the Marmalade Gypsy blogger. One of the pics captures two Current staffers, reporter Dru Sefton (on the right, with the scarf) and Kathleen Unwin, marketing director, at Lucky Table 13. Give yourself extra points if you can figure out the identity of the writer, an anonymous pubcaster. (Hints: Jeanie in Michigan.)

Jan 17, 2011

More on PBS member stations and Tucson memorial coverage

David Brauer, local media reporter for MinnPost, complains in a column today (Jan. 17) that Twin Cities Public Television viewers weren't given the opportunity to see the Jan. 12 memorial service for the recent Tucson shootings.TPT spokesperson Lorena Duarte said the station was told that commercial networks would cover the entire service – which they didn't, opting instead to only run President Obama's remarks. "We also received word from PBS that they would not be providing coverage of the memorial event," Duarte said. "This changed late in the afternoon, which would have made it very difficult for us to put it on [main channel] TPT 2 (and at that point we still thought the networks would be carrying it)." PBS told Michael Getler, the PBS ombudsman, that "member stations had the option of carrying the Tucson memorial ... in its entirety."

WAMU-FM to drop Capitol News Connection for its own Hill coverage

WAMU-FM will not renew its contract with Capitol News Connection when it expires April 30, the Washington Post is reporting today (Jan. 17). The Post had written last fall (Current, Sept. 9, 2010) that CNC is owned by the wife of one of the station's top managers, which presented a potential conflict of interest at the pubradio station. CNC's Power Breakfast and This Week in Congress have aired on WAMU since late 2007, and the production company also provides spot news coverage of Capitol Hill activities.

In a Jan. 14 e-mail to staff, station News Director Jim Asendio said WAMU's newsroom is now sufficiently staffed to provide that coverage in-house. He did not cite the controversy. But CNC founder and owner Melinda Wittstock, wife of WAMU programmer Mark McDonald, told the newspaper that its contract discussions with WAMU are continuing, so comment would be inappropriate. "We hope to find a way forward," she added.

KCET's board chairman says break from PBS is a suspension; it's willing to return to membership

In an interview in today's (Jan. 17) Broadcasting & Cable, KCET Board Chairman Gordon Bava insists the station has not "terminated" its relationship with PBS, but "we have suspended it indefinitely. We aren’t sure PBS is willing to accept that distinction, but that is our express intention. So that when the dust settles and we see maybe in a couple of years what the future of PBS holds and its role will be, we certainly would be open to returning on a reasonable and sustainable basis."

He also calls the system of PBS member stations "vulnerable" since it has been losing money for years. Also, if government funding dried up, "I think that the system would be reduced by at least half. I think a lot of those stations would probably go out of business."

Broadcasting authority approves $3.4 million, three-month budget for NJN

The newly convened New Jersey Public Broadcasting Authority last Friday (Jan. 14) okayed a three-month budget of $3.4 million to preserve New Jersey Network, according to the Star-Ledger. That figure includes $2.1 million in new state aid and $1.3 million in lottery revenue and current leases. Authority Chairman and State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff said he expects the state to have a partner secured by April 1 to run the network, which the governor is attempting to wean from state support (Current, July 6, 2010). The Treasurer's office has hired Public Radio Capital to help draft a request for proposals for the operation of the network’s television and radio stations. No decisions have been made about whether to separate the radio and television operations, or give the entire network to a partner.

Jan 16, 2011

Kansas governor proposes ending state funding to pubcasters

Public broadcasters in Kansas are the latest in the crosshairs for state budget cuts. In his budget proposal, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback wants to end all state money to public television and radio, amounting to $1.6 million. According to the Kansas City Star, "Federal stimulus funds totaling $450 million helped the state limp through the recession, but the money is set to expire later this year. And that’s ripping big holes in the state’s budget as it struggles to recover from years of slumping revenue and budget cuts."

Jan 15, 2011

KALW gets $200,000 loan from San Francisco Unified School District

In an unprecedented move, the San Francisco School Board voted unanimously to extend a line of credit up to $200,000 to KALW, "even as the district faces its own financial woes and major cutbacks," reports the San Francisco Chronicle today (Jan. 15). The 70-year-old NPR affiliate is licensed to the district but operates independently.

The station has been losing money for three years and currently is some $120,000 in debt, said KALW general manager Matt Martin. "We have not taken cash (from the district) for nearly 20 years," he said. "That's not what we want here. We want a loan we can pay back with interest." The district gave the station 18 months to repay the principal and about 1.5 percent in interest.

In 1992, the station cut financial ties with the school system. The district continues to provide accounting and other administrative services and a free place to broadcast at Burton High School. In total, the aid is worth about $236,000 annually, according to station financial statements.



Read more:

Jan 14, 2011

Get your station SAFER via NCME webinar

The National Center for Media Engagement is sponsoring a webinar at 1 p.m. Eastern Wednesday (Jan. 19) on the CPB-funded SAFER (Station Action for Emergency Readiness) initiative. It aims to help pubcasters in TV and radio become reliable sources of public information during an emergency. Also participating will be folks from KPBS in San Diego, Calif., and Mississippi Public Broadcasting. Register here.

PBS ombudsman ponders lack of weekend breaking news on the network

In the wake of the Tucson shootings on Jan. 8, PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler is wondering why PBS doesn't have some way to bring breaking news to its viewers on weekends. "There are no doubt impressive-sounding reasons, financial or otherwise, why there is no PBS NewsHour, or something similar, on Saturday and Sunday evenings," he writes in his latest Mailbag. "But it has always seemed to me like an abdication of duty that also has the side effect of sending regular PBS viewers to other networks." Also in the mailbag this week: Why didn't PBS carry the Tucson memorial service? (Stations had that option, PBS responds). Also, complaints about two men kissing on Masterpiece's "Downton Abbey" (more on the history of that kiss here).

WYEP, Public Radio Capital forge joint venture to purchase Pittsburgh's WDUQ

Pittsburgh's NPR News and jazz music station WDUQ is to be sold for $6 million to a joint partnership of WYEP and Public Media Company, a new local ownership and operating entity established by Public Radio Capital.

The sales contract is half the price that the license-holder Duquesne University sought to earn when it put WDUQ on the market last year. "It’s a market issue," said Dr. Charles Dougherty, president, during a Jan. 14 news conference. The university started with the "highest possible asking price," as any seller would do.

The final deal, approved by an executive committee of the Duquesne University board, strikes a balance between providing cash to invest in the university's academic programs and preserving the station and its 60-year history as a community service, Dougherty said. [News release]

The aspiring licensee is Essential Public Media, a partnership between WYEP and PRC's new nonprofit, Public Media Company. It intends to expand the news offerings of WDUQ, which now splits its broadcast day between news and music.

The deal provides some accommodation for jazz music lovers, but officials at the news conference said programming decisions are yet to be made. "The framework is set, but specific format details haven’t been resolved," said Marco Cardomone, chair of the WYEP Board. His station will retain and even "beef up" its Triple A music format, he said.

The contract establishes an employment and internship program for Duquesne students at the new station, but WDUQ managers and staff will lose their jobs when the sale closes. "We’ve informed them of this decision and are counting on their history of professionalism to see us through the transition," Dougherty said, referring to the station's staff.

Public Radio Capital, a Colorado-based consultancy and broker for public media stations, describes Public Media Company as "a natural outgrowth" of its work to help local stations acquire new outlets and strengthen their services. The nonprofit will be led by managing director Ken Ikeda, who is stepping down as head of the Bay Area Video Coalition to take the job.

Editor's note: This blog post has been corrected to describe the relationship between Essential Public Media, the licensee bidding for WDUQ, and the Public Media Company established by PRC.

Local underwriting time available Feb. 1 on MHz Worldview

Lots of stuff going on at international programmer MHz Networks. Spokesperson Stephanie Misar was on hand at NETA in Nashville Thursday (Jan. 13) to announce that starting Feb. 1, spot time will be available for local promos or underwriting on its MHz Worldview channel.

Also, its 31 affiliates soon may feed their local programs back to MHz for worldwide distribution as the MHz America channel, which is nearing launch. International broadcasters are hungry for quality local content from America, Misar said, and so far eight affiliates are involved.

And MHz is in early talks with commercial broadcasters to carry its content.

And it's ramping up its kids and world affairs content.

And it's working with the Open Mobile Video Coalition to put Worldview on mobile DTV devices.

And the newly independent KCET became MHz's latest affiliate on Jan. 1. MHz now reaches some 36 million households with its channels, which are free to pubcasters. Most shows are produced overseas in English; others are subtitled.

"There's a need for international programming out there," Misar said. "The demographics are changing, and what viewers want is changing. We're building on the tradition of public TV. Stations can take their brand to a different level by providing something that's never before been seen in the market."

Laura Hunter from Utah Educational Network introduced Misar and spoke about viewer reaction in that state, which has been quite positive. Folks quite often call the station during broadcast of Aussie rules football  to ask for more information about the sport. "We send them to its Wikipedia page," Hunter quipped.

Misar added that international mysteries on Sundays and Tuesdays also have a "cult following," with affiliates hosting viewing parties for the fanatical fans.

Pubcasting exellence honored at NETA; KET gets innovation award

Twenty-three pubcasters took home 31 trophies from the annual NETA awards Thursday (Jan. 13) in Nashville. The luncheon presentations kicked off with the special NETA Education Board's Enterprise and Innovation Award, which went to KET’s Executive Director Shae Hopkins and the KET education division for their "exemplary success in delivering education services to generations of students, teachers, parents, and care providers throughout the state of Kentucky," even in the midst of a tight budget. KET also scored a win for its instructional media. In addition to that category, honors are presented for content production, promotion and community engagement. There's a list of all the honorees on the NETA confab blog. Also, if you couldn't attend or were there but missed a session, the blog offers a good, detailed rundown of all the action.

Who loses if Congress defunds NPR or CPB?

Two takes on the congressional push to end federal aid to public broadcasting:

Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam explores to what extent hometown stations WBUR-FM and WGBH-TV/FM depend on their CPB grants. Not so much, he discovers, except for TV production grants that WGBH relies on to create shows such as Between the Lions: it's the little stations serving rural communities whose futures hang in the balance. "Public broadcasters — and especially prosperous stations like Boston’s WGBH and WBUR — might be better off without the government’s money."

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) tells the Washington Examiner that he's waited a long time for his legislation to defund NPR and CPB to gain political traction. "Before the Juan Williams issue came up, it really wasn't on a lot of people's radar screens," he says. A "well-connected House GOP aide" says that Lamborn's bill is "not a top priority, like repealing Obamacare," but its prospects for House passage are "pretty good."

In a statement issued this week, NPR blasted Lamborn's bills as "an intrusion into the programming decision-making of America’s public radio stations."

Jan 13, 2011

NPR emerges as powerhouse for music sales

National Public Radio has become an "incredibly effective" outlet for music promoters, according to the Hollywood Reporter, in a feature that doesn't dwell on the distinctions between public radio stations like Santa Monica's KCRW, music features presented on NPR's national programs, and NPR Music, the website that features exclusive preview streams of new releases. "NPR moves more albums and downloads proportionately than the commercial big boys, yet labels spend millions trying to penetrate those markets," Shirley Halperin reports. "Call it 'Yindie Rock,' as in yuppie indie rock, modern music for boomers with loads of disposable income."

CJR unveils its News Frontier Database, with information on 50 digital journalism sites

The Columbia Journalism Review has launched the News Frontier Database with profiles of an initial 50 prominent digital news sites. The database "is a searchable, living, and ongoing documentation of digital news outlets across the country," the industry mag said. "Featuring originally reported profiles and extensive data sets on each outlet, the NFDB is a tool for those who study or pursue online journalism, a window into that world for the uninitiated, and, like any journalistic product, a means by which to shed light on an important topic." CJR aims to make the database "the most comprehensive resource of its kind."

Dues review committee still considering system input, Kerger says

The recommendations of the PBS membership dues review committee are not a done deal, PBS President Paula Kerger told NETA attendees in Nashville. "It's not a case of the train has left the station and is gone." And Kerger noted that PBS and the committee are aware of concerns in the system, particularly regarding the older population figures used in the dues formula. The committee is meeting Friday (Jan. 14) in Washington, D.C. to examine the station feedback, and there will be another opportunity for comment as the process moves ahead. And whatever is decided, she added, will be phased in over a number of years to minimize the effect on stations.

CPB President Pat Harrison also addressed the breakfast crowd. Particularly in these time of devisive, often overheated political discussion, pubcasting offers "content that inspires and does not incite ... that informs but does not propogandize ... where people of goodwill can come together to discuss and debate."

And new APTS President Pat Butler girded the audience for the upcoming challenges on Capitol Hill as both parties "look at every option of reducing the cost of government," including pubcasting. Butler also mentioned that APTS is talking with the Department of Labor to explore how public TV might assist the country in the area of employment.

Today at NETA is brought to you by the letter "P"

The NETA crowd at the national confab in Nashville is joking that the top pubcasting orgs collectively known in the system as the G4 – CPB, PBS, APTS and NPR – are slowly morphing into the P4: Leaders Pat Harrison, Paula Kerger, Pat Butler ... oh, wait, Vivian Schiller needs to get onboard with this.

Elvis Mitchell joins Movieline

Elvis Mitchell, host of the KCRW pubradio program The Treatment, has landed a film reviewing gig at the Movieline website after mysteriously departing Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies. When Movieline issued its press release Wednesday (Jan. 12), Ebert Tweeted: "Must every story about Elvis mention our TV show? We like him, we admire him, and there's no big story about how we didn't come to agreement." Oops. Sorry Roger.

House Commerce chair says spectrum legislation "likely" will include auction

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said Wednesday (Jan. 12) said he sees freeing up spectrum a "priority," and any legislation will "likely include voluntary incentive auctions," which will require Congress to authorize paying broadcasters to give up their spectrum. Also on Wednesday, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said at the Brookings Institution that he was hopeful, but not sure, Congress would approve that authority.

Jan 12, 2011

It's NPR vs. Lamborn, Round 1

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), who reintroduced two bills to defund public broadcasting last week, is engaging in a war of words with NPR.

The Hill reports that in an e-mailed response to his legislation, NPR called Lamborn's goal misguided and said it would insert the federal government into news decisions at local stations. "It seems ironic that Congressman Lamborn, who seeks to withdraw federal support for public radio, wants federal legislators in turn to assert control over how local public radio stations can make use of programming funds," NPR said.

Then Lamborn e-mailed a statement to the conservative Daily Caller website to disagree. “Within NPR, some bizarrely claim that my efforts are aimed at controlling and influencing the editorial content of NPR," he said. "Nothing could be further from the truth. I believe removing federal funding from NPR would give the news organization greater, not less, editorial freedom than they currently enjoy.”

And now, from the American Archive: Edward R. Murrow extolling the wonders of "new" educational TV

Sure, she was snowed in. But WGBH's media archivist Karen Cariani in Boston was still able to interact with the audience in Nashville via the wonder of technology for the American Archive session today (Jan. 12) at NETA's national conference. ("It's not snowing anymore, but still blowing," she reported.) That's e.p. Amy Shumaker of South Carolina ETV to the left of Cariani, and Matthew White at the podium, he's the executive director of the ambitious project to identify, digitize and organize countless hours of historic pubcasting content.

Before updating attendees (don't forget, Jan. 31 is deadline for inventory grants), White showed an American Archive promo that brought a delighted round of applause: It contained a grainy, black and white recording of legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow, cigarette in hand, talking about that day's launch of a service called "educational television." Addressing the viewer on Sept. 16, 1962, he intones, "Commercial television did not completely fill the promise of this medium. That's why educational television was conceived ... If occasionally it brings laughter to your lips, I trust that on occasion it will bring a tear to your eye."

"If newness be its vice," he said of this brand-new network, "then boldness be its virtue."

Director of "Last Train Home," on P.O.V. this year, scores Directors Guild nod

The Directors Guild of America has announced its nominations for best documentary directors for 2010, and Lixin Fan is on the list. His film, "Last Train Home," airs on P.O.V. this year. It's the latest in a long line of nominations and awards for the film, which follows migrant workers as they travel from Chinese cities to their home villages for the New Year’s holiday.

Inadequate sourcing led to NPR's misreporting on Giffords

How did NPR News make such a huge and serious error in misreporting that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had been killed during the Jan. 8 shooting in Tucson? NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard reports that information fed to the newscast unit by KJZZ News Director Mark Moran and NPR Correspondent Audie Cornish was from anonymous sources and and neither provided accurate, first-hand accounts.

"Typically, in a big, fast-breaking news story like this, senior editors should have been consulted before going on air with devastating news based on sources NPR would not name," Shepard writes. "But that didn’t happen."

Andy Carvin, NPR senior social media strategist, posted the erroneous news on two NPR twitter accounts, but opted not to delete the tweets. He explains in this Lost Remote comment thread: "I posted that she had been killed because that is what we were reporting, and as soon as I saw we were backing off from that assertion, I posted the followup noting that as well. I very briefly considered deleting the incorrect tweet, but concluded it was both pointless and inappropriate....I can imagine if I had deleted it, we'd be reading news stories and blog posts today about NPR trying to cover our tracks on Twitter."

Dick Meyer, NPR News executive editor, acknowledged and apologized for the error on Jan. 9.

CPB looking for station hubs for its $12 million "Operation Graduation"

CPB announced at the NETA conference that within the next two weeks, it will issue a request for proposals for its $12 million Public Media Project 12: Operation Graduation. Nine Network of Public Media in St. Louis and WNET/Thirteen in New York City are partners in the project, which aims to raise awareness nationwide of the high-school dropout crisis and develop innovative local solutions.

Twelve stations will be selected as community hubs, based on the severity of the dropout rate in its market, existing educational partner relationships, and station capacity to sustain the initiative for at least 18 months.

Also, the National Center for Community Engagement will provide grants to any CPB-funded licensee to participate in the work. NCME expects to award 30 to 40, with an average of $10,000.

CPB President Pat Harrison discussed the dropout problem onstage by Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia; and Juan Sepulveda, director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, at today's (Jan. 12) luncheon session at the conference in Nashville, which continues through Thursday.

FCC considering noncom-commercial channel sharing

Think the DTV transition complicated life at your station? Just wait for the FCC's spectrum repacking and stacking.

In a crowded session at the NETA conference today (Jan. 12), CPB, APTS and PBS reps detailed the challenges that await pubcasters. "All stations will be impacted," even those that don't participate in an anticipated spectrum auction (Current, Feb. 8, 2010), said Mark Erstling, CPB's v.p. for system development and media strategy. The shift in channels "will have a cascading effect" on channels nationwide, he said. As John McCoskey, head of PBS technology, added, "It'll be a big turn of the crank that will shuffle stations across country."

The FCC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in November requesting comments on its ideas to free up spectrum for mobile devices. Of the 294 MHz used by broadcasters, the FCC would like stations to voluntarily return 102 MHz. It wants to repack (remove and shift) as well as stack (facilitate sharing) channels.

One of its ideas is for stations to share channels – even allowing commercial and noncoms to do so. It's looking at how much loss of universal service might occur if shared channels are allowed. And what would a shared channel do to the quality of digital services and HD? Does this imply the elimination of multicast channels? What happens at those stations that made promises to provide certain services on those multicast channels in return for DTV funding? What about PBS requirements on signal quality, or CPB rules on full service? "These are big-picture questions," Erstling said.

The NPRM has yet to be published in the Federal Register, which triggers the deadline for comments to be filed.

CPB is on the block in first spending-cut bill of the year

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) has proposed the first series of spending cuts in this year's newly GOP-controlled House – and eliminating CPB funding on the list. As the Washington Post's Federal Eye blog points out, "Brady chairs the Joint Economic Committee and is a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee – perches likely to put him at the center of the Congress's forthcoming debate on government spending and deficits." Brady calls his bill the Cut Unsustainable and Top-heavy Spending, or the CUTS Act.

Jan 11, 2011

Final reports nearing in Editorial Integrity for Public Media project

There were more questions than answers in today's (Jan. 11) NETA session on the Editorial Integrity for Public Media project. Ted Krichels, director of Penn State Public Broadcasting, and Tom Thomas, co-c.e.o. of the Station Resource Group, updated attendees in Nashville on the public TV and radio work to develop a framework of principles, policies and practices for a pubcasting system facing increasingly complex ethical challenges.

What are appropriate boundaries between funders and subject matter? Is it acceptable for a funder to be an editorial partner? Do funding standards differ between news and non-news programming? How can a station ensure that a collaborative, multiplatform project is handled ethically when it is just one partner in the work?
One way to preserve the trust that viewers and listeners place in public media is to be transparent when working through such quandaries. Stations might consider publishing the amount and contractual obligations of  a grant, or explaining specific criteria for the funding. "In today's media environment, transparency could become public media's calling card," Krichels noted.

A 20-member steering committee and smaller working groups have been facing down such issues and are now preparing final reports for feedback. It's the first project to establish comprehensive guidelines since the 1984 Wingspread Conference (PDF).

The work is headed up by the pubTV Affinity Group Coalition and the pubradio Station Resource Group. NETA is providing organizational support and funding is coming from CPB.

More reactions to the shake up at NPR News

The exit of Ellen Weiss as NPR's top news exec -- a departure linked to the hasty and controversial firing of long-time news analyst Juan Williams -- stirred up lots of opinion last week. Here's a sampling:

NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard: "Any damage that Williams may have caused NPR with his occasional intemperate remarks on Fox — which was definitely a problem for NPR —was infinitesimal to the damage NPR management did to the company with its ungracious firing."

David Carr of the New York Times: The entire incident leaves NPR President Vivian Schiller "leading a divided organization into a critical budget battle."

James Rainey of the Los Angeles Times: "NPR would be wise to do more than just give lip service to some of the reforms it proposed Thursday."

Kelly McBride, ethics expert at the Poynter Institute: NPR isn't the only organization struggling with outdated standards and a star system rife with conflicts.

John Sutton, public radio marketing consultant: It was Ellen Weiss who led "one of the most significant steps in public radio's growth as a national news outlet," the 1995 expansion of All Things Considered.

Head of Bay Area Video Coaltion departing for upcoming project

Ken Ikeda, executive director of the Bay Area Video Coalition, is departing after four years. "I was presented with an opportunity to help build a new organization and considering its objectives, it was something I couldn't walk away from," he said in an online exit interview. "I wish I could share more but I can't right now. It'll be public shortly, and in the end what I'll be doing is not far from the work we do at BAVC." The coalition is a pubmedia pioneer; it's going strong after 35 years.

Who are the lapsed pubTV members? TRAC knows.

TRAC Media Service's primer on "Everything You Should Know About Your Members" was first up today (Jan. 11) in its pre-NETA development workshop in Nashville. Kristen Keubler, director of station research for TRAC, fleshed out its continually updated 2001-03 survey of lapsed pubTV members and talked about the good news (many are longtime, enthusiastic viewers and have "formed a quasi-human relationship" with their station) and bad news (there are "practically no new adult viewers. Everybody has sooner or later sampled the station's programming and decided to view or not to view").

Fear not: There are strategies that work to better connect with local viewers, and bring them along as members. Encourage e-mail and website interaction. Develop on-air viewer and member education campaigns to help them better understand when, how and why to pledge. A biggie: One out of five members has called the station for some reason. Make sure viewer services staffers know how to properly interact. "Don't tell them you took a program off the air 'because no one watching it,'" Kuebler said. "Say, 'Yes, we had number members watching. I loved it too, but we just didn't get enough response.'" That can lead to more conversation.

And don't believe that viewers who lost their jobs will never return. Kuebler recalled interviewing a member in Georgia who lost hers – but went on to marry a wealthy man. "Her annual pledge went from $50 a year to either $2,500 or $5,000, she couldn't remember which," Kuebler said.

Stay tuned for NETA conference coverage

Greetings from chilly Nashville, where even the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel lions need coats. Current is here to cover the annual NETA conference, and will be blogging (and photographing) the action through Thursday (Jan. 13). If you're here, stop by Current's Lucky No. 13 table to say hi and pick up a homemade brownie – and find out why they're called "Darwinians."

" 'Sexiest man' leaves U.S. FCC to join public television series"

Well, that is certainly not a headline you see every day.

Jan 10, 2011

Who needs mini-pies when you have PBS's programs?

No, PBS didn't give each writer at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour a mini-pie like HBO did. But at least one critic was more impressed with the network's actual programming. Todd VanDerWerff writes in today's (Jan. 10) AV Club that "the kind of arts, news, and science programming PBS offers just doesn’t pop up anywhere else. What other network would air Frontline? Or Great Performances? Or Nova?" PBS also featured "fascinating people" on its panels. "Some biologists let us know why it was totally cool for them to get within a few feet of grizzly bears," he writes, "and tried to help a TCA member figure out how to deal with the bear that makes trouble in her backyard."

In other TCA news, PBS is considering ways to make its groundbreaking doc from 1973, "An American Family," available now that HBO is presenting a dramatic take on the film, "Cinema Verite." "American Family" probably won't run on the network. WNET's v.p. for content Stephen Segaller said clearing 12 hours of air for what is essentially a rerun may not make sense. Another possibility is to do a special with highlights of the series and stream full episodes online. And sale of a DVD of the doc, which is considered by many as the first reality show, could benefit the perennially cash-strapped PBS.

NPR news head apologizes for network report that Arizona congresswoman had died

In an editor's note on NPR.org, Dick Meyer, executive editor of NPR News, said the network committed a "serious and grave error" when it reported that U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had been shot to death in Tucson, Ariz.

In its 2:01 p.m. Eastern broadcast on Saturday (Jan. 8), NPR informed listeners that Giffords was dead. That erroneous news also was posted on NPR.org, and sent as an e-mail news alert to subscribers.

But Giffords had survived the shooting, which happened at a mall during a public appearance, and remained hospitalized Sunday night in critical condition after neurosurgery.

"The information we reported came from two different governmental sources, including a source in the Pima County Sheriff's Department," Meyer said. "Nonetheless, in a situation so chaotic and changing so swiftly, we should have been more cautious."

He said that corrections were issued within minutes, along with "properly updated reports."

Jan 9, 2011

"PBS NewsHour" touts its calm, reasoned approach to the news

Emphasizing its non-ideological news coverage, PBS Newshour tried out a new catch phrase today (Jan. 9) at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena: "Brave enough not to take sides, strong enough not to shout."

"We haven't actually used it before today and we thought it might be a good opportunity to kind of roll that out," said Simon Marks, president of MacNeil/Lehrer Productions (left, PBS photo). Marks said that slogan survived scrutiny while others didn't. "At one point, we were looking at 'The original no-spin zone,' but we decided not to go there."

The new phrase is intended to emphasize the difference between PBS news values and those of other news operations. "The environment in which we're operating is filled with organizations that are increasingly taking positions and trying to, in large measure, preach to choirs they've already identified," Marks said.

The calmer PBS approach is gaining favor with more people, particularly online. In a news release, Newshour said the number of daily online visitors to its website had more than tripled in the last year, from 60,000 to more than 200,000. The show melded its on-air and online staffs and coverage a year ago this month (Current, Jan. 11, 2010). While the web traffic increased, the number of broadcast viewers during that time has remained unchanged.

"Masterpiece" is reaching out to enthusiastic fans in two new and unique ways

Now, fans of Masterpiece can become part of the series that's celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. They can join a special trust to help directly fund the program, or literally retrace the footsteps of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple and other characters.

Executive Producer Rebecca Eaton (right, PBS photo) announced yesterday (Jan. 8) at the TV Critics Association Winter Press Tour in Pasadena, Calif., that a "Masterpiece Trust" has been established. That financial support — which would go directly to the show — could go toward replacing some of the funding lost when longtime sponsor ExxonMobil pulled out as of 2005. So far, four couples will be listed as part of the trust in the credits on tonight's presentation of "Downton Abbey" (which, by the way, has been receiving rave reviews: The Los Angeles Times proclaimed the Edwardian drama "possibly the best show of the year").

The trust "is a unique way we have come up with to allow those devoted, loyal Masterpiece fans who want to give money directly to Masterpiece to continue its legacy," Eaton said, adding that further details will be coming later this week. "My feeling is this is the perfect way to acknowledge and tap into people who love Masterpiece and consider it the drama of their lives."

And Masterpiece is betting that those viewers also would like to immerse themselves in the shows by visiting the places where they are shot.

"With so many of our locations, people just yearn to be there and to go there," Eaton said. "So in honor of our 40th anniversary, we are creating the Masterpiece itinerary."

Working with Visit Britain, the official UK tourist agency, the series came up with a tour with 21 stops over a route of 985 miles. In addition, an online contest will send two people on a four-day trip to England in September. Highlights include VIP tours of Highclere Castle ("Jeeves & Wooster") and Blenheim Palace ("The Lost Prince").

By Barry Garron, longtime TV critic and past-president of the Television Critics Association, who is covering the Winter Press Tour for Current. Watch upcoming issues for more.

Jan 8, 2011

It's TCA Winter Press Tour time once again ...

PBS President Paula Kerger today (Jan. 8) told the Television Critics Association crowd that she doesn't anticipate stations to start pulling out of PBS now that KCET has done so. "I don't see any other stations poised to go down the same path as KCET," she said at the annual Winter Press Tour in Pasadena, Calif. "These are difficult times for all our stations. We're particularly focused to really looking at opportunities to help our stations (financially)."

More press tour pubcasting news:

— PBS reunited former Laugh-In cast members Lily Tomlin, Jo Anne Worley, Ruth Buzzi (on stage, right, PBS photo) and announcer Gary Owens, along with producer George Schlatter, for its announcement that it'll carry the legendary comedy show for spring pledge. It's picking up a 1993 NBC special created for the 25th anniversary of the wildly popular (and far-out, man) comedy series.

— Although Tavis Smiley's show is still being produced at KCET studios, it may not be for much longer. "We have been in conversations with AEG Live about possibly moving, a year from now, our studios downtown into some brand new facilities that they have," Smiley said. AEG Live is a subsidiary of Anschutz Etertainment Group, which owns, manages or books dozens of major arenas worldwide.

The Hollywood Reporter got in a dig at PBS in its blog post on Kerger's appearance: "Though PBS hasn't changed its tone — 'they recognize what we do is different,' [Kerger] said of viewers — at least this time it didn't come off as righteous, as it has in the past (which always galls, since it's wrong ... there's much to tout at PBS, but saying nobody else delivers the same quality is absurd in the expanded cable environment)." Ouch.

— Actor Jeff Bridges, subject of the American Masters presentation "Jeff Bridges: The Dude Abides," talked about the odd international fallout following his role as the Dude in "The Big Lebowski": Lebowski Fests. "They have them all over the world now," Bridges said. "They're two-day affairs ... a lot of bowling, a lot of drinking of white Russians, a lot of bowling pins walking around. And hundreds of dudes all dressed up like the Dude." ("The Dude Abides" airs Jan. 12.)

— The network announced that it has expanded its iPad app to the iPhone and iPad Touch. And new to iTunes, an Antiques Roadshow app that allows users to appraise and collect "virtual antiques." That one costs $2.99.

Outcry over Weiss resignation continues

Radio pubcasters are reacting "with shock and anger" at the departure from NPR of news chief Ellen Weiss, reports the Washington Post today (Jan. 8). "We have allowed Fox News to define the debate," wrote Peter Block, a member of the board of Cincinnati Public Radio, on an e-mail group for public radio managers. "I do not think this kind of capitulation [by NPR] assures the future of an independent press. ... Democracy is on the line and NPR is one of the last bastions of its possibility."

The Post also reported on Schiller's compensation last year, including a one-time $112,500 bonus that was negotiated as part of her hiring package. The amount, which supplemented a $450,000 salary, was to have been awarded in January 2010 on Schiller's one-year anniversary as chief exec, according to Dana Davis Rehm, spokeswoman. Schiller asked the board to defer payment until NPR’s financial situation improved, but the board opted to pay it last spring.

It’s not clear how much of a performance bonus Schiller would have been paid for 2010: the disciplinary action on the Williams dismissal preempted any board discussion of additional compensation, according to Rehm.