Mar 31, 2011

"Need to Know" drops anchor Meacham

Jon Meacham is leaving the co-anchor's chair at Need to Know, and Alison Stewart will be the solo host, according to MediaBistro's TV Newser blog. Meacham is staying on with producing station WNET to lead a new series, Perspectives, to air on TV and online. “I love Alison and the Need to Know team, but I don’t think the broadcast needs me as a co-anchor,” Meacham said.

Moyers may return to PBS in "Something Different"

Newsman Bill Moyers could be be returning to PBS, the New York Times is reporting. The Carnegie Corporation of New York's board apparently approved a grant to Moyers' production company of $2 million for a show titled Something Different With Bill Moyers — but then Moyers' name was removed from the announcement on the Carnegie website. Moyers confirmed to the Times that his production company is in talks on a series. “But,” he said, the announcement “is premature because we are in conversations with other funders which take time to conclude. We have discussed various possibilities with PBS as one potential source of distribution, but have no idea about a possible airdate, if in fact we proceed.”

PubTV, radio rake in Peabody Awards

Pubcasters won 18 of the 39 George Foster Peabody Awards announced this morning by the University of Georgia. PBS led the field of 2010 Peabody winners with ten awards — two of which were presented to American Masters, the documentary series produced by New York's WNET.

Four Peabodys awarded to NPR honor international and investigative reporting, including a collaboration with Youth Radio and the Huffington Post. Three additional winners for pubradio were RadioLab, The Promised Land, and The Moth Radio Hour.

Two docs produced by or in collaboration with local stations — "Lucia's Letter" from WGCU-FM in Fort Myers, Fla., and "The Lord is Not on Trial Here Today," by Jay Rosenstein Productions and WILL-TV in Urbana, Ill. — also earned Peabody distinction.

The University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication presents the annual Peabody Awards, one of the oldest and most prestigious prizes in electronic media.

Layoffs, program cutbacks loom at South Dakota Public Broadcasting

South Dakota Public Broadcasting will reduce local programming and educational services and lay off seven of 57 employees as a result of budget cuts exceeding $750,000, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Decisions are still being made, and details cannot be released until staff members are told about layoffs, SDPB Executive Director Julie Andersen said Wednesday (March 30). In the fiscal year beginning July 1, SDPB faces losses of more than $537,000 in state funds and $220,000 in other support, mostly money it has received from the Education Department to run overnight educational programs.

Mar 30, 2011

KCET reportedly in talks to sell studio property to Church of Scientology

KCET is in negotiations to sell its Sunset Boulevard studios to the Church of Scientology, the Los Angeles Times is reporting. Real estate brokers tell the newspaper that the station plans to move to a smaller location, and officials have been touring potential sites. The historic 4.5 acre site has been assessed at $14.1 million. Both KCET and Scientology officials declined comment to the paper.

KCET's lot is at 4401 W. Sunset Blvd.; the Church of Scientology Los Angeles is four blocks away, at 4810.

Meanwhile, LA Weekly's Media blog quotes a KCET insider as saying that its top execs are "going to leave the station burning and destroyed and walk away with money falling out of their pockets ... It's a scandal ... They only thing they're not dismantling is their own salaries ... this is really sad."

KCET dropped its PBS membership as of Jan. 1, in a dispute with the network over dues and overlap issues, and is now the largest independent pubTV station in the country. It continues to struggle with sinking ratings and fundraising numbers.

South Dakota Public Broadcasting shoots (video) and scores!

A South Dakota Public Broadcasting video has gone viral with more than half a million views, thanks to a spectacular heave-ho, half-court basketball shot during a fifth-place playoff game between Pierre and Sturgis high schools last week. Yahoo! Sports proclaims that it deserves consideration for "basket of the year" honors.

Latino Public Broadcasting hires Sandie Viquez Pedlow as new director

Sandie Viquez Pedlow takes over as executive director of Latino Public Broadcasting on July 6, according to an announcement today (March 30). In February, Patricia Boero, who led the group for three years, announced she needed to return home to Uruguay this month.

Pedlow has been director of station relations for PBS Education since 2004, leading the training of pubTV station staff in the promotion and marketing of PBS online and digital media products and services. She also worked at CPB for 10 years, as director of programming strategies; associate director of cultural, drama and arts programming; and senior program officer. Pedlow was a member of the CPB team that managed the founding of LPB in the 1990s.

She’ll direct operations of public media’s largest Latino-focused content developer and funder, providing programming to public television stations, multicast channels and other media platforms. One major project: She’ll be LPB’s executive producer for the upcoming six-hour series “The Latino Americans,” with WETA.

Luis Ortiz, LPB’s managing director, will oversee LPB during the transition period. He will continue to manage the day-to-day operations in Los Angeles and maintain the West Coast presence for group.

Economist editorial: NPR may be better off without federal funding

The debate over federal funding to public radio isn't really about how the money is distributed, and how much local stations depend on it, as so many of public radio's own reporters have recently explained, according to this unsigned editorial by the Economist. It's a targeted partisan attack that capitalizes on conservatives' long running campaign to discredit mainstream media.

Red Green rolls on

How'd pubcasting fave Red Green come up with that name, anyway? "I was making fun of a guy who had a TV show in Canada, Red Fisher," Green's creator Steve Smith tells the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "Green seemed like the dumbest last name to go with Red. Now they tell me I'm a genius because every stoplight's a promo." Green is still selling out stops on his latest tour, promoting his book, How to Do Everything. And when he's not touring, he's tinkering. His most recent project: "I put in an outside electrical outlet," he said. "It's functional, it's crooked and it's on the side of the house my wife never walks by, so everybody's happy." Green's weekend performance in Minneapolis is a fundraiser for Twin Cities Public Television.

Meanwhile, Growing Bolder Media — producers of The Growing Bolder TV Show on WMFE in Orlando and WEDU in Tampa, as well as The Growing Bolder Radio Show on WMFE-FM — recently posted this online interview with the always colorful character.

WQXR's Limor Tomer departing for post at Metropolitan Museum of Art

Limor Tomer, executive producer for music at New York Public Radio's classical station WQXR, is leaving to head up the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Concerts & Lectures series, the Met announced Tuesday (March 29). In addition to her work at WQXR, Tomer also serves as adjunct curator for performing arts at the Whitney Museum. She takes up her new duties on May 1.

During her time at the public radio station, she oversaw the transition to fully digital music broadcasting and the launch of Q2, an all-digital radio stream devoted to the music of living composers. She also served on the transition team during the acquisition of WQXR by WNYC (now operated jointly as New York Public Radio).

Tomer also is a classically trained pianist, with her bachelor's and master's degrees from the Juilliard School. She spent a decade performing professionally in solo and orchestral performances throughout the United States and Europe.

Mar 29, 2011

MacNeil returns to NewsHour for special reports on autism

Robert MacNeil, co-founder of PBS NewsHour, is returning to the show to present Autism Today, a six-part series on the disorder that affects 1 in 110 children. MacNeil's 6-year-old grandson, Nick, has been diagnosed with autism. “I’ve been a reporter on and off for 50 years, but I’ve never brought my family into a story — until Nick, because he moves me deeply,” MacNeil said in a statement today (March 29). MacNeil and producer Caren Zucker, who has a 16-year-old son with the disorder, introduce the series on April 18.

In the first episode, MacNeil brings viewers to meet his daughter and grandson in Cambridge, Mass., to see how autism involves the whole family, including Nick's 10-year-old sister, Neely. Nick's autism hinders not only his brain development but also produces physical ailments affecting his whole body. Subsequent reports, which run through April 26, focus on topics including causes, treatment and adults with autism.

After each night’s broadcast there'll be online activities including live chats. Twitter users can hashtag #autismtoday to join in the conversation.

Got videos?

OK, so your station has some cool videos online. Now what? Get ideas for using them to pull in more eyeballs during a National Center for Media Engagement webinar at 1 p.m. Eastern Wednesday (March 30). Your electronic hosts will be Kevin Dando, PBS's head of digital and education communications and YouTube channel guru, and Greg Jarboe, president of SEO-PR, an expert in search engine optimization. Register online here.

NPR halts search for news exec to focus on top post

NPR is suspending its search for a senior vice president for news until it hires a permanent c.e.o., according to an email obtained by The Hill newspaper Monday (March 28). In the memo, NPR interim chief exec Joyce Slocum told staff that the decision was made to stop the search for Ellen Weiss's replacement after consulting with members of the search advisory committee. Weiss was forced to resign in January over her role in the firing of senior correspondent Juan Williams (Current, March 9). NPR President Vivian Schiller resigned after conservative activist James O'Keefe's undercover video sting of network fundraiser Ron Schiller (Current, March 21).

Slocum said several candidates for the senior news position have indicated interest in the top position. "It’s only fair that the c.e.o. have a key role in selecting the [senior vice president] News and that the [senior vice president] News know who his or her long-term boss will be when coming into the position," she said.

"I know that we all want to fill these roles as quickly as possible with permanent leadership. At the same time, I think we all want to follow the best possible process for each of these enormously important hiring decisions. This approach will help accomplish both objectives."

NPR runs Frontline reporting segment on WikiLeak soldier

Frontline today (March 29) provided NPR's Morning Edition portions of its reporting on the private life of Army Pfc. Bradley E. Manning, the soldier who stands accused of leaking the largest cache of classified documents in U.S. history to the WikiLeaks website. It's part of the newsmag's ongoing collaborative efforts to provide breaking news to a wider audience through pubmedia partners.

Portions of Frontline correspondent Martin Smith's exclusive interview with Manning's father that ran on PBS NewsHour on March 10 sparked national headlines, when the elder Manning alleged his son was being mistreated in detention.

“That strategic public media partnership allowed both Frontline and PBS NewsHour to benefit from the immediate release of breaking news,” Frontline senior series producer Raney Aronson-Rath told Current in a statement. Linda Winslow, NewsHour e.p., said such collaborations "strengthen public media’s presence in the news and public affairs landscape more than ever."

In today's report on Morning Edition, Manning's father recalled past pivotal incidents, including pushing his reluctant son to join the Army. The segment includes audio of a 911 call in which Bradley Manning allegedly threatens his stepmother with a knife.

Mar 28, 2011

Ken Burns, Lynn Novick working on major Vietnam series for PBS

PBS today (March 28) announced that documentarians Ken Burns and Lynn Novick will produce and direct a 10- to 12-hour series about the Vietnam War, to be aired on PBS in 2016. Burns said the series "will shed light both on the history of the war, and on our inability to find common ground about it." The project will also include a website, a  multi-platform educational initiative, community engagement grants for station outreach and a companion book to be published by Alfred A. Knopf. In an interview with Current in October 2009, when Burns was just beginning research on the project, he termed it "a major, major history" of the conflict in Southeast Asia.

South Carolina ETV educating all-new pubcasting commission

New South Carolina ETV President Linda O’Bryon (formerly of KQED and Nightly Business Report) tells the Anderson Independent Mail that she's simultaneously working to develop ETV’s revenue base and content initiatives as well as educate the state's entirely new public broadcasting commission on the value of the network.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley recently announced the replacement of every member of the ETV Commission. The move came after her State of the State speech, during which she also urged lawmakers to cut all funding to the network, about $9.6 million.

The paper notes that the network has earned $10 million for the state from a 30-year, $142 million spectrum lease to two national companies inked in 2009.

KPCC trying techniques "rarely employed" in pubradio to double audience

Bloomberg Businessweek is reporting that Southern California Public Radio executives are using business tactics "rarely employed in the tame world of local public radio to create a megastation they hope will one day beam its signal from Santa Barbara to San Diego." SCPR's stations currently reach 14 million listeners, but its board hopes to nearly double that to 25 million. "If we can buy a station, we will," says Gordon Crawford, chairman of SCPR's board of directors. "Where we can't, we'll build translators to boost our signal. This is a new business model for public radio." KPCC was a struggling Pasadena City College station a decade ago, the story notes; now, its 24 directors include "such media heavy hitters" as Jarl Mohn, former chief executive officer of E! Entertainment Television; Fox Sports TV Chairman David Hill; and Louise Bryson, a former Lifetime Movie Network executive.

Mar 26, 2011

Vivian Schiller says she'll stay in journalism; "I'm not done yet"

The International Women's Media Foundation has posted its exclusive interview with former NPR President Vivian Schiller, reportedly her first in-depth public discussion of her recent resignation (Current, March 9, 2011). As for her career, "I’m not done," she said. "I certainly plan to stay in journalism. I feel passionate about it." She added: "I will be back in some position at some point in the not too distant future."

Mar 25, 2011

Los Angeles area station collaboration efforts to get governance expert from CPB

CPB is looking for a governance expert for the collaboration/merger work taking place among Los Angeles-area stations PBS SoCal/KOCE, KVCR and KLCS (Current, Aug. 9, 2010). The market underwent a major shift when longtime primary PBS affiliate KCET dropped its membership and became independent on Jan. 1 (Current, Oct. 18, 2010).

OPB announcer dies in head-on collision on interstate

Heidi Tauber Esping, 52, an Oregon Public Broadcasting announcer, died in a head-on collision on Wednesday (March 23) night on Interstate 405, according to the Oregonian. Lynne Clendenin, OPB's v.p. of radio programming, told the paper she hired Esping in 2009 because of her warm tone and news savvy. "The two combined made for a very nice OPB announcer, and I thought she was wonderful on the air," Clendenin said. "She was welcoming always in her manner. You could hear her smiling." Esping worked in local radio for several decades, including stints at KPAM, KINK, KEX and KPOJ.

Mar 24, 2011

Democratic unity in the House on NPR bill sends strong signal, analyst says

Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University, has good news for NPR in Wednesday's (March 23) The Hill. The fact that all 185 voting Democrats last week rejected H.R. 1076, which would have banned federal funding to NPR, sends "a very powerful signal to the Senate and the White House," he says. "Anything that brings together Heath Shuler and Maxine Waters," Baker says, will gain notice from other Democratic leaders. Baker is referring to the centrist North Carolinian and liberal from California, respectively. The Hill said Republicans may take another stab at defunding pubcasting in an amendment to other measures, and similar language is included in a bill the House passed that would fund the government through September — a proposal Republican leaders want reconsidered when Congress returns next week, the paper noted.

Annenberg's Neon Tommy reflects "new reality" for journalists, LA Times says

"A generation ago," notes Los Angeles Times media columnist James Rainey, "journalists wrote their stories and moved on to the next thing, with someone else worrying about delivery of the end product. In today's digital world, journalists must not only create the stories but make sure they get to readers." The Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism's Neon Tommy is a laboratory for those practices. Its reports by USC student journos focus on everything from the Egyptian revolution to a standing feature on food called Neon Tummy. Reporters collaborate with other news entities, and each makes sure that content is electronically disseminated as widely as possible. "We are learning all the way around," Annenberg Dean (and CPB Chairman) Ernest Wilson told the Times. "We and other journalism schools, like Columbia and Medill, are part of an ecosystem that is changing and broadening out in ways we never would have anticipated a few years ago."

Former KNME associate g.m. files suit alleging her firing was tied to whistleblowing

Joanne Bachmann, former associate general manager at KNME in Albuquerque, N.M., has filed suit against the University of New Mexico, claiming she was fired for complaining that the university took more than $2 million that should have gone to the station. Co-defendant in the suit is Polly Anderson, current station g.m., who allegedly told Bachmann to "drop the matter," according to Bachmann's March 14 filing in Bernalillo County Court.

The suit says that Bachmann was hired at KNME in February 2001 for digital transition fundraising. She was promoted to associate g.m. in 2005. Anderson came on as general manager in September 2008. Bachmann was told her position was eliminated in October 2009 for budgetary reasons, according to the filing.

Among Bachmann's allegations:

— That the university had kept interest earned on KMNE's community service grants from CPB for about 10 years and although it discontinued the practice in 2004, the university never reimbursed the station;

— That a $2.3 million bond award in November 2004 to KNME for digital upgrades was "redistributed" by the university in 2006 for the "political benefit of UNM," forcing the university to dip into a KNME endowment to cover digital equipment purchases the station already made;

— That when Bachmann and station board members protested, the university removed three KNME board members.

Bachmann is claiming breach of contract as well as violation of the New Mexico Whistleblower Protection Act. She's asking for damages, court costs and reinstatement to her position.

New distribution path for "American Routes"

American Routes, the New Orleans-based public radio music series hosted and produced by Nick Spitzer, is moving from American Public Media to Public Radio Exchange distribution as of July 1. Spitzer has retained pubradio veteran Ken Mills to manage the transition and "help plan a new independent future for American Routes," he said in a statement. Spitzer and Judy McAlpine, APM senior v.p. of national content, described the split as amicable. PRX picked up distribution of Sound Opinions, the weekly rock music show from WBEZ in Chicago, last July.

What happens with financial returns from pubradio's biggest shows?

As discussions of public radio's federal funding continue, AOL's DailyFinanceblog looks at the finances and talent compensation for top national shows such as Morning Edition, and Fresh Air, This American Life. Net earnings from each of the programs, all of which are produced by nonprofit public media companies, may be reinvested in the show itself or redirected to other operations, AOL's Jonathan Beer reports. For two years during recession, for example, revenues from This American Life covered other operating losses at producing station WBEZ Chicago, spokesman Daniel Ash explains. "However, moving forward, there is no expectation that TAL revenues will underwrite any other...initiative."

Inskeep: NPR News isn't biased, it's "honest and honorable"

It's not his job to address questions about federal funding of public radio, but Morning Edition co-host Steve Inskeep takes on complaints about "perceived bias" in NPR News programs in today's Wall Street Journal . The "recent tempests," he writes, "have nothing to do with what NPR puts on the air."

Mar 23, 2011

Journalism panel to discuss myths about news media

Tom Rosenstiel of the Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism will discuss the latest State of the News Media report during a panel discussion to be webcast live at 1 p.m. on Thursday, March 24. His talk will focus on "myths" about contemporary media, drawing on PEJ's research and insights from a panel of media experts, including Alberto Ibargüen of the Knight Foundation, Jane McDonnell of the Online Journalism Association, and Matthew Hindman of George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs, which is hosting the event. Broadcast journalist Frank Sesno, director of the school and host of PBS's Planet Forward, will moderate.

WNET's first 3D series, with DirecTV, premiering this weekend

WNET in New York City and DirecTV are announcing the premiere U.S. broadcast of their "Treasure Houses of Britain in 3D," WNET's first 3D project. The five-part series debuts Saturday (March 26) on DirecTV's n3D channel. Producer-Director is Alastair Layzell of Colonial Pictures, cinematographer is Richard Hall. Executives in charge for WNET are Gillian Rose and Stephen Segaller. Neal Shapiro, WNET president, said in a statement that the "Treasure Houses" 3D series "showcases public media’s continued journey toward the future of television programming, which our viewers have come to expect.”

Need to transport turkey chicks? Call North County Public Radio

Ellen Rocco, station manager at North County Public Radio in Canton, N.Y., writes today (March 23) on the station's blog about how staffers helped an errant shipment of turkey chicks find their way home to her farm. Well, one did manage to escape down a station hallway. But fear not: Program Director Jackie Sauter made it a little nest while Rocco was on the air with her blues show, Blue Note.

Loss of federal aid will stifle diversity, innovation in public media

As the political battle over federal aid to public broadcasting focuses narrowly on NPR, two public media leaders describe what's most vulnerable to funding cuts: diversity and innovation in content.

"[W]hat bothers me about this debate is the lack of true understanding in the public eye about just what public media is," writes Jacquie Jones of the National Black Programming Consortium for the Huffington Post. "Despite NPR's and PBS's enormous contributions to the media universe -- their bedrock news and information services and their role in the documentation of American life, history, culture and experience -- public media is a whole lot more than NPR and PBS. . . ."

"Public media is a tapestry of independently produced media that represents the full range of experiences in our society -- from the very good to the very bad," Jones writes. "Are there redundancies? Yes. Are there areas for improvement? Absolutely. But it is in public media that you'll find some of the most culturally diverse, substantive and provocative content."

Jessica Clark of American University's Center for Social Media points to the field's recent progress in launching innovative digital news projects and cross-platform content distribution and writes that these efforts would be strangled by funding cuts and prompt an exodus of talent and private sources of support.

"It is exactly public media's mandate to inform and involve the whole public -- not just targeted partisan clusters or market niches -- that drives such content innovation," Clark writes for MediaShift. "Beloved shows such as Sesame Street and This American Life broke new ground in terms of voice, aesthetics and inclusion of differing perspectives. They served new waves of users, influencing commercial formats in the process." The new generation of innovative public media content -- public radio's Snap Judgment, the Public Insight Network, and the Public Media Corps -- could be lost before their full potential for creativity and innovation in media is realized.

Clark writes: "Such losses could mean sure and slow (or maybe not-so-slow) death for the sector. They'll drive a brain-drain of younger, more creative and wired staffers just at the point when Boomers are beginning to retire in droves out of stations and national networks. They'll choke off funding for independent radio, film and online producers. They'll disgust foundations and major donors who have poured millions into trying to jump-start the shift from public broadcasting into public media 2.0. What's more, they'll render public media mute in a national conversation that is increasingly 24-7 and cross-platform."

Without getting into specifics, Clark describes CPB's direct annual appropriation for digital initiatives as a cornerstone of public media innovation. This is one of several lines in the federal budget that are vulnerable to budget cuts beyond CPB's forward-funded appropriation of $460 million for fiscal 2013.

Congress provided $36 million to CPB Digital in 2010. President Obama has proposed cutting it to $6 million.

Why does Gowalla matter?

The National Center for Media Engagement explains why today (March 23), in its first of five postings exploring the use of social media by public media. Today's post discusses location-based social network sites. Writes Bryce Kirchoff, "Imagine: A mobile user checks into your city’s art museum on Gowalla and they’re offered a clip your station produced about the institution’s Picasso exhibit. Or, a high school student visits Washington D.C.’s Vietnam War Memorial and is prompted to stream a preview of a Ken Burns film. Both are potential parts of public media’s future."

Beyond brand, editorial narrative important in era of paywall news, Bole says

Pubmedia thought leader Rob Bole has posted on his Public Purpose Media blog his presentation for Media Future Now on new forms and formats of digital storytelling, from the D.C. group's meeting Tuesday (March 22). One point: "In the seemingly coming era of paywalls (or the final, sad collapse of mainstream journalism), it is not just brand that carries the day, but quality, unique, relevant content that has editorial narrative ... and this might be supplied, in part, by new forms of digital journalism."

Mar 22, 2011

Regional WAMC raises $188K for Japan disaster relief

In a special one-day fund drive, WAMC Northeast Public Radio raised more than $188,000 for disaster relief in Japan. The station, based in Albany, N.Y., but heard through 22 transmitters in several states, asked for and received an FCC waiver from the rule that noncommercial stations ordinarily can raise funds only for their own operations. WAMC organized the drive in cooperation with American Red Cross of Northeastern New York, and the proceeds went directly to the Japanese Red Cross. "There wasn’t a moment the phones weren’t ringing, and the empathy and love for those in need came roaring through," said station President Alan Chartock. In 2005, the station raised more than $500,000 in a one-day drive for victims of Hurricane Katrina.A more recent drive, including a performance by James Taylor, raised more than $200,000 for earthquake relief in Haiti.

See also this roundup of disaster relief resources from the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

University of Alabama buys WHIL-FM for $1.1 million

The University of Alabama purchased WHIL-FM from Spring Hill College on Monday (March 21) for $1.1 million, pending federal approval, reports the Press-Register. Spring Hill College, in Mobile, had lost $160,000 in fiscal 2010 on the station. The university will transmit WHIL programming from Tuscaloosa. The university already operates WUAL Alabama Public Radio.

NPR's Twitter connections "left of center," Duke data shows

An analysis of NPR’s connections on Twitter "shows it has the sort of network you’d expect to see from a left-of-center person or institution," reports Forbes today (March 22). The mag cites data from a Duke University study examining whether Twitter could be used to plot ideological affiliations of political candidates. As part of that study, researchers looked at the Twitter networks of individuals and brands in the media. 

Forbes asked Duke researcher David B. Sparks where NPR's Twitter connections fell on the study's conservative-to-liberal curve (right). He said somewhat to the left of center, but further to the right than CBS News anchor Katie Couric, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times or NBC News anchor Brian Williams.

Of course the results don’t directly reveal the ideologies of the entities, only the makeup of the networks that surround them, Forbes noted. “However, for the purposes of our paper and possibly for thinking about the media, perceptions may be what is actually important,” Sparks said.

Forget local when shooting for national distribution, filmmaker says

PubTV station relations consultant Jennifer Owensby Sanza, who produced "The Teachings of Jon" about her brother and his challenges with Down syndrome, has advice for first-time filmmakers aiming to see their work on PBS. "Many producers make the mistake of rushing to their local PBS station, begging them to air their program," she writes on The Independent. "STOP RIGHT THERE! Yes, it is important to find out if you have the support of your local station — you may want to partner with them as a presenting station down the road. But don’t air the program anywhere until you have exhausted EVERY national opportunity first (and there are several). Airing locally may disqualify your program for national broadcast."

She also says that getting her doc onto pubTV "felt like walking through a minefield, blindfolded."

Pubcasters advise FCC to "carefully evaluate" any channel-sharing proposals

The G4 — the Association of Public Television Stations, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Public Television Service and National Public Radio — on March 18 filed a 19-page document with the Federal Communications Commission commenting on its notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on spectrum allocation. In it, the orgs say that pubcasting would support "certain goals" by the FCC to maximize efficient use of spectrum (Current, Feb. 8, 2010), "but is concerned with the potential ramifications of a number of proposals."

One topic of talk among stations: Channel sharing. The FCC is pondering letting two or more TV stations — commercial and noncommercial — share a single six-megahertz channel, "thereby fostering efficient use of the U/V Bands," as it said in the NPRM. The public broadcasters said they may support that, "in certain circumstances."

"The reservation of spectrum exclusively for noncommercial and educational use, which dates back to the earliest days of FM and television regulation, serves a vital public interest and has been critical to the growth of public broadcasting," they say in the filing. "Any de-reservation of TV channels would be an extraordinary step that must be carefully evaluated." The groups advised that channel sharing should be totally voluntary, could not result in loss of universal pubTV service, and should permit the pubTV station to continue to support its local public service mission. Also, there should be a guarantee that, "at all times, there will be a continuing place on the reserved channel" for noncoms.

In related news, according to a March 2 FCC filing, APTS President Patrick Butler and Lonna Thompson, APTS e.v.p. and c.o.o., met with FCC officials to discuss channel sharing and related issues in the NPRM.

"Civil War" April rebroadcast will premiere on mobile media

The first episode of "The Civil War" by Ken Burns will debut on the free PBS for iPad and PBS App for iPhone and iPod Touch on Thursday (March 24), 10 days before the entire film is shown on the air. The rebroadcast honors the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. The series will air nationally on PBS from 8 to 10 p.m. Eastern April 3-7 (check local listings). The first episode will also be streamed on, April 4-10. The Civil War attracted an audience of 40 million during its premiere in September 1990, and established Burns as a star documentarian.

No comment on KSMQ president's departure; board announces search for replacement

The board of directors for Austin, Minn.-based KSMQ Public Television announced today (March 21) that they are looking a new station president to replace Marianne Potter. The Austin Daily Herald is reporting that Potter, who had been with the station about two and a half years, left two weeks ago. "A KSMQ spokesperson would not comment on the circumstances regarding Potter’s departure," the paper said. NETA Consulting is assisting in the search.

Detroit PTV opening second studio in heart of city

Detroit Public Television is opening a satellite studio in the heart of Detroit, in the historic Maccabees Building — former home to the Lone Ranger radio show when it debuted in 1933, and Soupy Sales program in the 1950s, according to webmag Model D. The project builds on the partnership between DPTV and Wayne State University, which has already invested $100,000 in renovations. "We're going to back up our high-definition mobile television production truck behind the studio and start producing television right away," said station President Rich Homburg, while rehab work continues. "The good news is, we can immediately start to produce there, with an eye towards expanding the footprint and really expanding the service of that studio to Detroit."

Mar 21, 2011

Who will be affected, and by how much, in House bill to defund pubradio programming

An analysis of HR 1076, the bill to prohibit federal funding for National Public Radio that won House approval on a March 17 party line vote, details which congressional districts have the most on the line if the legislation is enacted.

Alaska Republican Don Young, whose at-large district encompasses 26 public radio stations, has the most at stake -- more than $5 million in CPB grants from 2009. Young was one of 11 members of Congress, seven of whom were Democrats, who did not vote on the bill, according to the official tally of the roll call.

Minority staff of the House Energy and Commerce Committee crunched the numbers to assess the legislation's impact and found that 414 stations with listeners in 280 congressional districts would be affected. These stations provide about 7,800 jobs, according to the analysis.

HR 1076 won't actually cut off CPB funding to local public radio stations, but it would prohibit these stations from spending any federal dollars on NPR dues or other national programming. It also prohibits NPR itself from receiving federal grants and eliminates CPB's grant programs backing national services for minority audiences, such as Radio Bilingüe and Native Voice One networks, and special initiatives such as the StoryCorps oral history project, which produces regular features for NPR's Morning Edition.

Three of the Republican lawmakers who crossed party lines to vote against the measure represent districts that received six-figure sums of federal pubcasting aid in 2009. Reps. Patrick Tiberi of Ohio, whose two local stations qualified for nearly $472,000 in CPB aid; David Reichert of Washington State, with one CPB grantee receiving more than $126,000; and Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, also with one station receiving nearly $118,000. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, the one GOP member who voted "present," represents a district with two pubradio stations backed by CPB grants that totaled more than $172,000.

Correction: An earlier version of this post erroneously reported that Alaska's Rep. Don Young voted for HR 1076.

Vivian Schiller will speak at U-Texas online journalism event

Former NPR chief exec Vivian Schiller will keep her April 1 speaking engagement at the University of Texas's international symposium on online journalism, even though she accepted the invitation prior to her March 9 resignation. U-Texas J-School professor Rosental Alves, organizer of the annual conference, reached out to Schiller after her abrupt departure and asked her to discuss her vision for online journalism, based on her experiences at NPR and “The most important work that she has done was moving NPR into the digital age,” Alves tells The Daily Texan, UT's student newspaper. “That experience alone would be very relevant for us who are concerned with the future of journalism in this country.”

Additional keynoters are Meredith Artley of, Madanmohan Rao of the Asia Pacific Internet Handbook, and Warren Webster of Patch Media. Full schedule here. Links to a live stream of the event will be posted here.

House Labor/HHS subcommittee hearing on pubcasting funding alternatives canceled

The Capitol Hill hearing on alternative means to fund public broadcasting, which had been announced for April 6, has been canceled due to scheduling issues, House Appropriations Committee spokesperson Jennifer Hing tells Current.

Many different takes on the fight over public radio funding

After last week's House vote on federal funding for public radio, the debate continued to rage on op-ed pages and blogs. Here's a sampling from pubcasting veterans and other observers with special insights:

William Drummond, a founding editor of Morning Edition who teaches at the University of California at Berkeley's J-School, remakes his case for policymakers to forcibly "wean public broadcasting off the federal dole." [Drummond mentions his 1993 commentary in Current.]

Fox News pundit and former NPR news analyst Juan Williams agrees that pubcasting should lose its federal aid, but for different reasons. In today's edition of The Hill he writes of "the culture of elitism that has corroded NPR’s leadership."

Native Public Media's Loris Ann Taylor outlines what federal funding means to the 39 Native-owned stations broadcasting to "vast stretches of tribal lands" unserved by any other media. "Politicians are quick and generous when it comes to paying platitudes to rural America," Taylor writes on the New America Foundation's blog. With sweeping statements that "[roll] together any community outside the suburbs into some great, sepia-tone mass of byways and farmland," lawmakers leave out any practical understanding of how their policy decisions affect real people. "The actual concerns of those in rural communities are often neglected; those in tribal lands are often ignored."

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank contrasts the phoniness of House Republicans' "emergency" legislation to defund public radio with the Democrats' "trivial pursuit" of a bill to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan by year's end. "The lack of grown-up behavior" by political leaders "is driving Americans to despair, " he reports. "In a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, only 26 percent said that they were optimistic about the future when 'thinking about our system of government and how well it works.' That’s less than half the level of optimism felt in 1974, during Watergate."

Meanwhile, both Stephen Hill of Hearts of Space and Mike Henry of Paragon Media Strategies have laid out separate proposals for reforming public broadcasting.

Jessica Clark of American University's Center for Social Media surveyed coverage of the public media funding fight last week and posted this comprehensive round-up of links.

Meet the Cardozos, a public-media family

"New Public Media Networks: What's Becoming and What Might Be" is a new animated video from American University's Center for Social Media that touts the importance of public broadcasting by focusing on one household. In it, members of the Cardozo family — Jenna and Jose, their 10-year-old daughter Liv and twins Max and Carla, 17 — each use pubmedia in very different but beneficial ways, from having fun on PBS Kids to addressing community issues through involvement in the "Not in Our Town" outreach. Max even creates an app that spreads worldwide via his local pubcasting station. The eight-minute film was created by Jessica Clark, director of the Future of Public Media Project at the center, and Ellen Goodman, law professor and co-director of the Rutgers Institute for Information Policy and Law.

WNET soon to launch local news program

WNET/Thirteen in New York City is launching a local news show, MetroFocus, on Memorial Day, the New York Times is reporting. “One of the futures of public television is making local connections,” station President Neal Shapiro told the paper. “We’ve done a great job of being a national producer; we can do a much better job of being a local producer.” It'll launch as a website, then a 30-minute monthly or weekly show, then a mobile app.

Mar 20, 2011

SRG assesses latest audience gains against 10-year goals

How much progress has public radio made toward its goal of growing its audience by 50 percent by 2020? There are bright spots in the first follow-up to Station Resource Group's 2010 report that laid out aspirational goals and tactics for increasing the use, reach and diversity of public radio listenership, but also some set-backs.

"In 2010 more people tuned in a public radio station in a typical week and more people used public media’s online services than ever before," write Terry Clifford and Tom Thomas, SRG co-directors and co-authors of the CPB-backed research project. "But the amount of listening – the average audience at any one time – declined significantly, principally due to changes in measurement methodology. Compared to 2008, the percentage of Black listeners in the average audience declined and the percentage of Hispanic listeners grew." Download their first progress report here.

The switch to Arbitron's portable people meters make apples-to-apples ratings comparisons difficult, but in the top 30 metro markets where radio listening was measured by PPM in both fall 2009 and fall 2010, the average audience grew 5.2 percent to 559,100, a gain that exceeds the annual growth rate needed to meet the 10-year goal.

Latest Nightly Business Report owner mulling options, including selling the show

Mykalai Kontilai, whose controversial past stoked headlines when he bought Nightly Business Report last August, has hired Paramount Media Advisors to explore options "from selling a minority stake up to selling the entire company," the New York Times is reporting. Sources familiar with the situation says Kontilai's company, NBR Worldwide, is exploring a strategic alliance with a bigger partner through a minority investment, although a sale of Nightly Business Report "would also be considered."

Media writer Howard Kurtz ponders if NPR is actually its own worst enemy

Is NPR's "complete lack of a strategy to save itself" in the current crisis what's actually doing the most damage to the network? Media analyst Howard Kurtz explores that possibility for Newsweek today (Sunday March 20). He said that NPR staffers flown in for a recent meeting in Washington "groaned when executives said it would be too risky for them to aggressively defend NPR, and that perhaps they should get media training for Joyce Slocum, who took over on an interim basis after the firing of CEO Vivian Schiller" (Current, March 9).

This American Life host Ira Glass also criticized NPR's reaction — or, rather, the lack of it. "Public radio is being hit with a barrage of criticism that it’s left-wing media — biased, reprehensible — and we’re doing nothing to stand up for our brand,” he said. “They’re not responding like a multimedia organization that’s actually growing and superpopular.”

One bit of good news from Patrick Butler, head of the Association of Public Television Stations and its new offshoot partnership with NPR, the Public Media Association. Butler said he is "encouraged by the fact that our friends are still our friends” in Congress, adding, "people are not deserting me in droves as I might have feared.”

Difference between public and commercial radio? Just take a listen

Bob Davis, editor of the Anniston (Ala.) Star, undertook an experiment to determine if the "enlightened" broadcasting content that President Lyndon Johnson envisioned when he signed the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 is being provided by commercial radio, thus eliminating the need for NPR. "Friday morning, I probed this idea by randomly scanning the radio dial, something my family can attest is a specialty of mine," Davis said. What he found may not be surprising, but it is amusing.

S.C. governor replaces entire pubcasting oversight board, prompting concerns

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's decision last week to replace the entire seven-member Educational Television Commission has pubcasting supporters worried, reports The State newspaper. "What worries me is if people go in there thinking they know what ETV means, thinking it's just Masterpiece Theater, and they make decisions without being educated," Caroline Whitson, president of Columbia College and the fundraising ETV Endowment Board, told the paper. "They could make decisions that long-term have very detrimental effects on this state without realizing what they've done." ETV, created in 1960, operates a statewide network of 11 television stations, eight radio stations and a closed-circuit telecommunications system used by schools, government agencies and businesses, the paper said.

Mar 18, 2011

NPR Music, where it's at

A stream on NPR Music "carries as much cultural weight as an appearance on Saturday Night Live or the cover of Rolling Stone," according to today's (March 18) Washington Post. Bertis Downs, manager of R.E.M., told the paper, “When we sit around thinking, ‘How do we get attention?’ — they’re at the top of the list.” Downs recently helped the legendary alt-rockers get their new album streamed on the site. “We know that’s where the audience is,” he said. Traffic on NPR Music has quadrupled since it launched in 2007, the Post notes, and it currently accounts for about 14 percent of the eyeballs visiting

Brackets, a la public broadcasting

March Madness? Bah. Here's Masterpiece Madness, in honor of the PBS icon's 40th anniversary. Yes, brackets pitting popular characters against one another. New matches will appear daily for three weeks, voting lasts 24 hours per match. One first-round throwdown: Inspector Lewis vs. Kurt Wallander? Whew, this is tougher than we thought.

Nova hires production company for "Japan's Killer Quake," to air March 30

Nova and Channel 4 in the U.K. are commissioning London's Pioneer Productions to produce "Japan’s Killer Quake," an original one-hour documentary on the ongoing disaster Japan, to air at 9 p.m. Eastern on March 30. The production company also produced "Emergency Mine Rescue," another quick turnaround project, on last year's Chilean mine disaster. Nigel Henbest will produce the film. Howard Swartz, Nova executive producer, will oversee the project for WGBH/Nova; commissioning editor for Channel 4 is David Glover.

Public Radio International, American Public Media react to passage of H.R. 1076

In addition to banning use of federal funding for NPR programming, H.R. 1076, which passed the House Thursday (March 17), also prohibits stations from using that money to purchase shows from other distributors, including Public Radio International and American Public Media. Here are their statements in reaction to the bill's passage.

From Public Radio International

Public Radio International is appalled by the passage of H.R. 1076. Not only will this bill inhibit stations’ ability to serve local audiences and stifle producers’ development of new content, it will also limit public access to global news and information that US citizens demand. By being prohibited from using federal funds to purchase content from PRI, millions of listeners will no longer have access to BBC World Service, PRI’s The World, Studio 360, This American Life and dozens of other programs that offer a diversity of perspectives on and insights into our increasingly connected global society.”

From American Public Media

We believe that American Public Media would indeed be affected by H.R.1076, most directly via the stipulation barring stations from using federal funds to acquire any public radio program content. The bill would affect the entire public radio system, and not just NPR as it is being presented.

Pubcasters should tout value of their "vital role" in news coverage, authors say

 Len Downie Jr. and Robert Kaiser "are concerned that, in the heat of the debate, members of Congress may not realize the changing role that public radio stations, working with NPR, play in informing citizens in their communities," the two write in today's (March 18) Washington Post. Downie, a former Post editor, and Kaiser, an associate editor at the paper, are also co-authors of  The News About The News: American Journalism in Peril. The two detail the growing importance of the pubcasting system in reporting local news, citing CPB's local journalism centers (Current, April 5, 2010). "The public broadcasting community has appeared flustered by the ferocity of its critics’ attacks," they write, "some of which are ideologically motivated. But most members of Congress are sent to Washington by communities with NPR member stations, which could do a better job of selling their increasingly vital role in news reporting."

H.R. 1076 "unlikely" to find traction in Senate; Majority Leader praises NPR

The House bill approved Thursday (March 17) to keep pubradio stations from spending federal money for NPR dues and programming are "unlikely" to go anywhere in the Senate, the National Journal reports. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the White House are both opposed.

"I listen to NPR every day,” Reid said in a statement National Journal Daily. “Like many Americans, my children and I have benefited from the educational and news programs public radio provides every day of the year. Public radio and the top-notch journalists it employs are valuable resources to people of all ages across the country and I can't understand why Republicans would want to take that away from them."

Latest sting video from O'Keefe "reveals" Soros foundation supports NPR

Conservative muckraking videographer James O'Keefe has released a third video from his recent NPR sting, which Media Matters for America notes "instantly falls apart." On his Project Veritas website, O'Keefe says "the public will learn for the first time that George Soros's Open Society Foundation has donated to NPR in the past, starting as many as 15 years ago." As Media Matters points out, that's long been public information — because NPR has issued press releases about the grants. Plus, they're all listed on NPR's tax documents.

Mar 17, 2011

NPR speaks out on House bill

NPR issued this statement after the House voted today (March 17) to keep stations from spending federal money on dues or programming:

Today, NPR expressed grave concern about the impact of the approval of H.R. 1076 on the entire public radio system – hundreds of stations, dozens of program producers and the communities that rely on them every week. The bill is a direct effort to weaken public radio that would ultimately choke local stations’ ability to serve their audiences.

Many small-budget stations would be placed in a serious financial bind. They would no longer be allowed to purchase any programming with federal funds. The communities they serve would be unable to provide sufficient support to fill that gap, leaving these stations no options for maintaining service.

“At a time when other news organizations are cutting back and the voices of pundits are drowning out fact-based reporting and thoughtful analysis, NPR and public radio stations are delivering in-depth news and information respectfully and with civility. It would be a tragedy for America to lose this national treasure,” said Joyce Slocum, interim CEO.

The bill stunts the growth of new, diverse programming and threatens the continuation of existing efforts to serve diverse audiences by clamping down on CPB’s Program Fund. That fund has supported the work of Native American (Koahnik Public Media Native Voice 1), Latino (Radio Bilingue) and independent producers (This I Believe, StoryCorps).

The bill also prohibits the use of federal funds to develop new programs. Nearly every nationally distributed public radio program has received a CPB grant, usually at start-up. (Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Marketplace, This American Life, and Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! to name a few). Without that seed money, programs that nearly 38 million public radio listeners rely on each week would never have launched.

The legislation precludes NPR from competing for federal grants that provide for investments in technology and disability access. These grants, administered by NPR on behalf of public radio, have propelled public radio’s progress in digital media, and in systems for emergency communications during disasters and for the issuance of Amber Alerts.

The ban on federal funding threatens the Public Radio Satellite System (PRSS), the distribution hub for all of public radio programming to audiences all across America. PRSS would be deprived of funds for future capital improvement projects, which are essential to maintain this fundamental broadcast infrastructure.

Finally, the bill limits collaboration among stations that today are sharing newsgathering and programming, forcing these stations into isolation and limiting their ability to work together in the public interest.

White House statement on bill defunding NPR

The president's Executive Office of Management and Budget just issued this statement on the House's decision to ban use of federal funds for NPR dues and programming:

The Administration strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 1076, which would unacceptably prohibit Federal funding of National Public Radio (NPR) and the use of Federal funds by public radio stations to acquire radio content. As part of the President’s commitment to cut spending, the President’s Budget proposed targeted reductions in funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which provides a small amount of funding for NPR, and the Administration has expressed openness to other spending reductions that are reasonable. However, CPB serves an important public purpose in supporting public radio, television, and related online and mobile services. The vast majority of CPB’s funding for public radio goes to more than 700 stations across the country, many of them local stations serving communities that rely on them for access to news and public safety information. Undercutting funding for these radio stations, notably ones in rural areas where such outlets are already scarce, would result in communities losing valuable programming, and some stations could be forced to shut down altogether.

CPB, PMA statements on House NPR defunding

Here are statements that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting just released on today's (March 17) House vote to prohibit federal funding for NPR dues and programming:

From CPB:

Today, the House passed a bill that would significantly restrict public broadcasting stations’ ability to acquire programming that they feel best serves the needs of their communities.

Every day, these stations serve the informational and educational needs of the public with programming that contributes to the health and well-being of the country in a way that would not be possible without federal support. The American people overwhelmingly agree that public broadcasting is a service worthy of the federal investment.

At a time when international events, such as the recent uprisings in Libya and the earthquake in Japan, have a direct and immediate impact on this country, public media serves as a trusted source for informative, in-depth coverage of international, national and local news. Rather than penalize public broadcasting, the debate should focus on strengthening and supporting this valuable national asset.

From the Public Media Association, the new entity created by the Association of Public Television Stations and NPR:

This legislation, which would destroy a public radio system that has served the American people well for 40 years, has been passed by the House without the benefit of a single hearing on the subject.

While it is portrayed as a deficit-reduction measure, the legislation has been preliminarily scored by the Congressional Budget Office as saving not a single penny.

While it has been portrayed as responding to the will of the American people, the legislation in fact defies the will of the overwhelming majority of Americans, who have consistently said they support continued funding of public broadcasting and view it as the second-best use of tax dollars, exceeded only by national defense.

Public radio provides an essential public service — covering local, national and international news more comprehensively than any other news medium, preserving and promoting American music and culture as no other medium will do, and considering public affairs in a civil, dispassionate and highly trusted manner that helps insure that a well-informed citizenry is well-equipped for the responsibilities of self-government in a complicated and dangerous world.

And it does all this for pennies per taxpayer, reaching Americans everywhere for free. While improvements in this successful system are a constant topic of conversation within our industry, and would be a welcome topic for consideration with our federal representatives, the dismantling of the system — which is the real effect of this legislation — makes such improvements impossible.

The only result would be the loss of thousands of jobs in this industry, the closing or severe restriction of hundreds of local stations serving small-town and rural America which depend on federal funds for 30 to 100 percent of their annual budgets, including program acquisition, and the loss of vital information for millions of Americans.

This cannot be the way the Congress of the United States wants to make public policy. It is certainly not what the American people expect of their elected representatives. We call upon the United States Senate to reject this most unwise and unworthy legislation.”

Attention RSSers

Don't miss Current's breaking news coverage of the House approval of H.R. 1076, to ban use of federal funding on NPR programming and dues.

NPR defunding bill passes

H.R. 1076, to prohibit federal funding for station dues or NPR programming, has passed the House by a vote of 228-192.

“This bill is insidious,” pubcasting champion Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) told Current Wednesday (March 16). “This is a fascinating metaphor for what is going on with new Republican majority. This isn’t about cutting budgets, it’s very much ideologically driven and pretty diametrically at variance with where most of the American public is.”

NPR House update, vote set for this afternoon

Debate is now set to begin later today on H.R. 1076, which would prohibit federal funding to NPR.

During morning discussions, some of which focused on a procedural rule associated with the bill, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) reported that he offered an amendment that would "prohibit federal funds — taxpayer dollars — from being used for advertising on the partisan, political platform of Fox News." According to a Rand Study, he said, the Department of Defense spent $6 million in advertising in 2007; he called for the Government Accountability Office to study "how and where this money is being spent."

His effort to amend the bill was defeated in the House Rules Committee during an emergency meeting Wednesday (March 16).

Some discussion this morning focused on the speed that brought the bill to the floor. Last July, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) promised that a Republican House majority in the 112th Congress would ensure that all bills will be posted online 72 hours before a vote. Several Democrats noted that H.R. 1076 was posted at 1:42 p.m. Tuesday, which would make it eligible for a vote at 1:42 p.m. on Friday. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), speaker pro tem, said the rule "means three calendar days," drawing sustained boo's from Democrats. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) shouted over the ruckus, "For clarity in the House, did this bill age 72 hours?" to which Poe replied, "The chair will not respond to hypothetical questions" — bringing more loud booing.

Other highlights of the morning's discussion:

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) — “The Republican legislation attacking National Public Radio would drive Car Talk off the road and would wipe Lake Wobegon right off the map. It would close down Marketplace and tell  Wait, Wait ... Don’t Tell Me to take a hike. This misguided bill would snuff out stations from coast-to-coast, many in rural areas where the public radio station is the primary source of news and information."

Rep. David Drier (R-Calif.) — "If we don’t take on the $14 trillion national debt and $1.6 trillion annual deficit we’re not going to be implementing pro-growth economic policies. ... I'm proud to support three local stations, KPCC and KCRW, and WAMU, and I participate in pledge drives. I believe in voluntary contributions. ... In fact, when NPR is successfully weaned away from compulsory taxpayer dollars, I personally will increase my level of contributions."

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) — "We need to go back to basic principles here." In 1934, when the Federal Communications Commission was established, "people were given broadcast licenses to serve the public interest, convenience and necessity. The public owns the airwaves. ... This is about a basic public right, and if you take that right away, what you’ve done is totally capitulate to corporate interests in America."

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) — "We're not here to debate content, but we have to deal with fiscal reality. Every time we turn around, nobody wants to cut anything. Every time we make a decision about spending, we're talking about, should we go into somebody’s pocket, pull money out and give it to somebody else? We’re not only doing that, we’re borrowing money to do it. NPR is wildly successful, listenership is rising. That gives a lot of us belief that we're really moving toward a model where they can sustain themselves rather than relying on taxpayers. ... We don’t have any money, we’re broke."

House to consider NPR defunding bill today; vote expected at 10:15

In what the New York Times is editorializing as "the latest example of House Republicans pursuing a longstanding ideological goal in the false name of fiscal prudence," the House today (March 17) votes on H.R. 1076, sponsored by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), which would prohibit federal funds to be spent on NPR dues or programming.

According to today's Majority Whip schedule, debate on the bill will begin at 9 a.m., with a vote expected at 10:15 a.m. C-SPAN has live coverage.

The bill would eliminate the Radio Program fund, which makes possible initiatives including Radio Bilingüe’s national program service and Native Voice One, the Native American radio service. Production grants to independent producers also would be affected.

The Station Resource Group told its members that it believes the bill, if passed, would "eviscerate public radio’s capacity to address program innovation, minority programming concerns, and program collaboration among station, producing, and distribution organizations."

"The public radio system will be a significantly weaker service five years from now if H.R. 1076 were to become law — that that will have a negative impact of every public broadcasting organization."

With members shying away, House Public Broadcasting caucus collapses

The House bipartisan Public Broadcasting Caucus, formed in April 2001 to educate lawmakers and defend pubcasting from funding attacks, has disbanded — at least for now. It is not registered as a Congressional Member Organization for the current House session, according to this month’s list from the Committee on House Administration, which is required. Co-Chairman Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a founding member, tells Current he is “just letting it go” as he focuses on the current fight for federal support.

“The whole purpose of the caucus was to provide a neutral forum to talk about public broadcasting issues and give people a way to support it,” he said. But given the bitterly partisan funding wars over public broadcasting, “some members feel it’s too awkward for them” to belong, Blumenauer said. “Some have been told confidentially it’s not good for them to be identified with it.”

The latest incarnation of the caucus during the last Congress had 116 members, up from 69 in 2001. But on March 10, one day after NPR President Vivian Schiller resigned in the wake of the video sting controversy, Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas) — a former co-chair — announced he was dropping out. "As a father of five children, I have been supportive of PBS children's programming in the past," he said in a statement. "However, the recent events involving NPR undermine their claims of objectivity in their reporting. Because NPR has crossed the line to political bias, I will no longer serve on the caucus." An aide to another GOP member, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), told Current he was no longer a member but did not elaborate.

Blumenauer hopes to reconstruct the caucus at some point, he said, but probably not this year.

More in the next issue of Current.

Mar 16, 2011

WGBH employees march against implementation of final contract offer

About 100 WGBH employees demonstrated outside its headquarters Tuesday (March 15) as managers implemented a contract rejected by its largest union, reports the Boston Globe. The union last weekend voted to reject the final contract offer from management, which calls for allowing the station to assign individual employees to work across various platforms — radio, television, and the Web — and outsource work without negotiating. “We are at an impasse," station spokesperson Jeanne Hopkins told the paper, "and we are implementing our best and final offer. This new contract provides wage increases, for the fourth consecutive year, only for AEEF/CWA members that no other union, nonunion, or management employees will be receiving.’’

Man faces federal charges for alleged threats to All Things Considered hosts

A Maine man is in jail on federal charges that he threatened to kill or harm Melissa Block and Guy Raz, hosts of NPR's All Things Considered, the Smoking Gun website is reporting. According to an FBI affidavit, John Crosby sent more than 20 bizarre and often threatening messages to NPR through its “Contact Us” website form. NPR contacted the FBI on Jan. 17 after Crosby allegedly described Block in a message as "an annoying [expletive] who is helping to destroy me to use me as a human sacrifice. She will be raped, beaten, tortured, and murdered very soon.” A Jan. 23 message traced to Crosby targeted Raz for violence and used a racial epithet. Crosby is charged with two counts of transmitting threatening communications in interstate commerce, as well as unlawful possession of a firearm. He was arrested late in January.

Joyce Slocum, NPR's interim president, sent a memo to staff today (March 16) saying in part: "Our top concern is the safety of our staff and visitors. Given the sensitive nature of this situation, federal officials advised us to not draw public or staff attention to the matter. This is standard protocol in situations such as this."

House Rules Committee approves NPR bill for vote

On a party-line vote, the House Committee on Rules today (March 16) voted 6-5 to allow H.R. 1076, which would ban federal funding to be used for NPR programming, to proceed to a floor vote on Thursday. No amendments are allowed. Members will have one hour for debate, controlled by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

Garrison Keillor retiring in spring 2013

A Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor, 68, has announced that he plans to retire in the spring of 2013. He tells the AARP Bulletin that he must find his replacement first. "I'm pushing forward, and also I'm in denial," he says. "It's an interesting time of life." Keillor created the show in 1974 in Minnesota. It is now distributed by American Public Media to 590 public radio stations across the country, and heard by more than 4 million people each week.

As for his legacy, "I just want people in St. Paul and Minneapolis to feel that I was some sort of community asset and not a big embarrassment. It may be a close call."

Minnesota Public Radio chief Bill Kling, who brought Prairie Home into national distribution, downplayed the announcement as a publicity stunt, intended to tease Keillor's fans and bring new contributors into the Prairie Home Companion talent mix. "He throws things out there to see what the reaction would be," Kling told Current.

Keillor welcomed musician Sara Watkins on as his first-ever guest host in January and still participated in writing and performing on the show. "That's who he is — he can't not be part of a show that he loves doing," Kling said.

"I think what you'll find is he needs to have some kind of process" for working with new performers and writers," Kling said. "A lot of the show hinges on his writing."

As soon as the AARP story broke, APM sent a memo reassuring its client stations. "Garrison has been open in talking about his own future and in working out ways for A Prairie Home Companion to continue for many years to come," the memo said.. "Both Garrison Keillor and APM are very committed to the success of the program now and to planning and preparing for the next phase of APHC. APM is supportive of Garrison's plans for the program in the near and longer term and we will keep stations informed as planning unfolds. We know this is important to you. APHC is continuing in its present form for the foreseeable future."

Keillor, who made the announcement to AARP before heading off on vacation, suffered a minor stroke in September 2009 but soon dived back into his schedule of weekly shows and book- and column-writing. That month he mentioned retirement in an interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune  — prompting the paper to estimate the "ripple effects" that his retirement would have on the Minnesota's economy. Answer: " ... Enormous for businesses, from Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) to the Minnesota State Fair."

The State Fair? "A live appearance by Keillor is almost always a draw," the paper says. "Crowds of between 7,000 and 11,000 have shown up during the last six years when Prairie Home has been booked at the Minnesota State Fair grandstand."

He was the subject of an American Masters documentary (Current, July 6, 2009), "Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes."

Juan Williams criticizes "self-righteous thinking" atop NPR, backs defunding

Juan Williams, writing on the Fox News website, wants to see NPR defunded. What NPR exec Ron Schiller said in the recent video sting "is just an open microphone on what I've been hearing from NPR top executives and editors for years. They are willing to do anything in service to any liberal with money and then they will turn around and in self-righteous indignation claim that they have cleaner hands than anybody in the news business who accepts advertising or expresses a point of view."

"The work of NPR's many outstanding journalists is barely an afterthought to leadership with this mindset and obsessed with funding," he says. "NPR has many, very good journalists. But they are caught in a game where they are trying to please a leadership that doesn't want to hear stories that contradict the official point of view. I'm not just talking about conservatives but also the far-left, the poor, anybody who didn't fit into leadership's design of NPR as the official voice of comfortable, liberal-leaning upper-income America."

"I'm still an NPR fan," he notes, "but I'm no fan of the self-serving, self-righteous thinking that is at the top level of NPR in Washington and that has corrupted a once great brand."

NPR turmoil has "upside," writer says: Better public understanding of the system

Peter Osnos of the progressive Century Foundation has discovered an upside in all the recent NPR turmoil. It's "the likelihood that, for the first time, many more people among NPR and public radio’s devoted audience of over 34 million across the country will have a clearer understanding of how the system works." Osnos, writing today (March 16), is a senior fellow at Century who focuses on media coverage of politics and policy.

Does NPR "have the right board"?

Rick Moyers, writing in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, says in the wake of NPR President Vivian Schiller's resignation, the NPR Board needs to ask itself two questions: Are we clear about our mission? And, given our mission, do we have the right board? "All nonprofit organizations need different boards at different stages of their growth and development and need clarity about their missions," Moyers writes. "Failure to answer these questions head-on leads to organizations that are hard to govern and difficult to lead. Just ask Vivian Schiller." Moyers is vice president of programs and communications at the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation in Washington, and co-author of A Snapshot of America's Nonprofit Boards.

NPR video stinger O'Keefe may have trouble getting nonprofit status, paper says

Conservative video muckracker James O'Keefe, who caught NPR execs in an undercover sting last week, is seeking nonprofit status for his Project Veritas, "but it is certain that his application is not clear-cut, tax lawyers say," according to today's (March 16) Chronicle of Philanthropy. The main problem: O’Keefe pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor after he and three others entered the New Orleans office of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) last year pretending to be telephone repairmen. O’Keefe later stated that he would do it again, albeit “differently," the paper notes. Marc Owens, a Washington tax lawyer who formerly oversaw the IRS division that monitors tax-exempt groups, noted: "If he is proposing to do something that is, in fact, illegal, can the IRS believe, with any degree of credibility, what he is saying?”

"Renaissance man" and Kansas Public Radio opera host Jim Seaver dies at 92

Jim Seaver, host of one of radio's longest-running shows, Opera is My Hobby, on Kansas Public Radio, died March 14 in Lawrence, Kan. He was 92.

The show’s debut was Sept. 19, 1952, just four days after KANU (now Kansas Public Radio) signed on the air. Seaver produced his last show a week ago and was thinking of the program up until the day he died, KPR general manager Janet Campbell told the Lawrence Journal World. “It was more than a hobby, even though that is what he called it,” she said. He continued to produce the show as a volunteer until his hospitalization on March 11. The newspaper noted the show's success "was largely based on his extensive collection of one-of-a-kind opera recordings, many of which he kept in his attic."

Seaver was a professor of Western civilization and ancient history at the University of Kansas until his retirement in the 1980's. He was considered an expert on opera as well as Greek and Roman history. “He was closest to a Renaissance man as I could think of,” his friend Lois Clark told the paper. She'd met Seaver 53 years ago when her husband arrived at KU as a graduate student. “They just don’t make them like that anymore.”

Seaver, a California native, arrived at the university in 1947 as a history professor. He had been captain of the tennis team at Stanford University and later coached the KU men’s team to a Big Seven Championship.

Survivors include his wife and three sons, Richard, Leawood, Kan; William, Lawrence, Kan; and Robert, who lives in Italy. Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver is his nephew.

The family is working with KU to arrange funeral services.

Detroit's WDET-FM taking on illegal truckers

The National Center for Community Engagement is highlighting an interesting outreach project today (March 16) on its blog. Since last summer, WDET-FM's Truck Stop has been encouraging citizens to help use anonymous text messaging to report illegal truck driving in low income and marginalized communities. The station is also partnering with a local community action group to fight blight in the city.

Mar 15, 2011

PBS, NPR need to "start biting back" at funding foes, Free Press head says

Craig Aaron, new managing director of the Free Press media reform organization, posted a column on Huffington Post after presenting 1.2 million signatures collected by his group, and CREDO Action, on Cap Hill today (March 15). "Unfortunately," he wrote, "there are those out there, even inside public media's institutions, who tell organizations like and Free Press to keep it down. They would rather we stayed below the radar. They seem to think they can appease their attackers by lying low or even offering up a few 'scalps' (to quote one insider involved in the dismissal of NPR's Vivian Schiller). They persist in this doomed strategy even though every time they back down, the attacks and the nasty rhetoric from the other side heats up."

"PBS and NPR have been kicked in the teeth for decades — now it's time for them to start biting back," he said. "This is not the end of efforts by Free Press and our allies to rally public support for our media. This is just the start. Our members are going to be standing up and standing strong, here in Washington and in local communities across the country."

1.2 million signatures supporting pubcasting arrive on Capitol Hill

Sesame Street actors joined members of Congress and activists in a rally on Cap Hill today (March 15) where advocacy groups presented 1.2 million signatures to save public broadcasting funding. Cast members from the iconic children's show described how the made a personal impact on their lives — and livelihood. “It has changed all of us and has given us as artists a place to work with such pride,” said Roscoe Orman, who has portrayed Gordon Robinson since 1973.

Yahoo! News blog editor heading to Frontline

Frontline has hired former Yahoo! News blog editor Andrew Golis as its director of digital media/senior editor. He'll oversee integration of the Frontline broadcast, Web and new media initiatives. At Yahoo! News, Golis built a network of nonpartisan reporting blogs, including the Upshot, which received 100 million page views after just six months in operation.

Rep. Blumenauer issues "Dear Colleague" letter on NPR video sting

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) sent a "Dear Colleague" letter today (March 15) alerting members of Congress to press coverage that last week's undercover video sting of NPR executives was edited in a misleading manner, citing stories from the Associated Press and on conservative TV host Glenn Beck's website.

"Recently, members of the media and Congress have paid great attention to a hidden-camera video taken of National Public Radio (NPR) fundraisers by activists working for James O’Keefe," the letter reads. "I wanted to bring to your attention analysis conducted by experts in video editing and journalistic ethics, as well as a broad range of conservative media figures.. . . It is our obligation as lawmakers to act only when we have the most accurate information possible. In this instance, any rush to pull federal funding for NPR based on James O’Keefe’s deceptively edited video would be wrong."

Rep. Lamborn introduces revamped bill to defund NPR

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) today (March 15) introduced H.R. 1076 (PDF), an updated version of his previous bill to ban federal funds from being used on public radio programming. The latest bill now specifically prohibits "funding of National Public Radio and radio content acquisition," and also bans using any federal funds to pay NPR dues.

The House Rules Committee also just announced an emergency meeting for 3 p.m. Wednesday to consider the bill; that must take place before any floor action on Thursday.

Beth Kirsch moves from WGBH to HITN

Beth Kirsch is the new vice president and executive producer of digital media content for the Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network (HITN). She'll oversee the $30 Million 2010 Ready to Learn Project LAMP (Learning Apps Media Partnership), recently awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to the network and two partners. Kirsch joins HITN from WGBH in Boston, where she's worked since 1999 on shows including Between the Lions and Martha Speaks. "With more than 20 years of experience in public television, Kirsch brings expertise in educational media, animation, writing, editing, outreach and fundraising," HITN said in a statement. "During her time at WGBH, Kirsch raised many millions in funds for television production and outreach initiatives focusing on literacy, science, literature, social issues, and health."

Nader weighs in on "ludicrous corporatist right-wing" charges against pubcasting

"Public Broadcasting's Cowardly Executives" is the headline Ralph Nader's column on CounterPunch, a self-described "bi-weekly muckraking newsletter."

"The tumultuous managerial shakeup at National Public Radio headquarters for trivial verbal miscues once again has highlighted the ludicrous corporatist right-wing charge that public radio and public TV are replete with left-leaning or leftist programming," he writes. He goes on to furnish numbers for conservative vs. liberal guests on Charlie Rose (far more conservatives, by his count), and points out that Nader himself as appeared "not once on the hostile Terri Gross radio show."

"Here is a solution that will avoid any need for Congressional contributions to CPB," Nader writers. "The people own the public airwaves. They are the landlords. The commercial radio and TV stations are the tenants that pay nothing for their 24 hour use of this public property."

"Why not charge these profitable businesses rent for use of the public airwaves and direct some of the ample proceeds to nonprofit public radio and public TV as well as an assortment of audience controlled TV and radio channels that could broadcast what is going on in our country locally, regionally, nationally and internationally?" — an idea he's been promoting since 1988.

Ira Glass's dialogue on liberal bias now live online

Since his appearance on On the Media last weekend, This American Life host Ira Glass has received "very thoughtful emails" from conservative listeners about the liberal bias they hear in public radio's programming, he writes on the TAL blog. Glass invites listeners to join the conversation on TAL's Facebook page and on On The Media's website.

Look beyond the cost savings to value of pubcasting, say three conservative writers

Is the dialogue among conservatives regarding funding for public broadcasting becoming more nuanced? On the Weekly Standard's blog, writer Philip Terzian embraces the conservative viewpoint that federal funding should be killed, but he also notes: "The fact is that the kind of radio and television I like — classic jazz and classical music, arcane documentaries on history, literature, and science — is nearly nonexistent on the air, except on PBS and NPR."

In a response to that commentary in the New American, published by the ultra-right John Birch Society, writer Beverly Eakman, an education policy analyst and former speechwriter for the late Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, says that conservatives need to become more involved with pubcasting. "In the present political climate, where even children’s programming is rife with leftist messages, junk science, and psychobabble, however subdued, it is probably a mistake to support CPB with taxpayer dollars," she says. "However, if the culture is ever to be turned around, conservative traditionalists need to step up to the plate and get on the boards of organizations that will present the kinds of high-culture programs that PBS does."

And Mary Kate Cary, a former White House speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush and a  contributor to NPR's Tell Me More, points out in U.S.News & World Report that CPB has a board comprised of six presidentially-appointed members, three Republicans and three Democrats.And CPB is legally charged with “strict adherence to objectivity and balance in all programs or series of programs of a controversial nature.”

". . . Congress should support continued funding for all perspectives to be heard on public radio," she writes. "According to the public broadcasting corporation, 'diversity in programming' is one way that it ensures a wide range of perspectives is available to PBS viewers and NPR listeners. If federal funding ends, presumably having that wide range of perspectives will end too, because there won’t be a federal mandate for diverse programming anymore."