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Aug 2, 2012

Current.org relaunched, though with a hiccup

Last night's relaunch of Current.org took off splendidly, though somehow it left behind the links to many older stories not yet ingested into its database.

Technicians are laboring to restore proper connections at this moment!

With the new combined site at at Current.org, breaking-news items previously seen at this Blogger address are now integrated with our longer reported stories into a comprehensive RSS feed. They're also seen on the same home page, though the less momentous short items are found under the Quick Takes heading in the left column.

Aug 1, 2012

Exclusive interview: Alabama Public Television COO Grantham resigns

Charles Grantham, chief operating officer of Alabama Public Television, has resigned, effective Aug. 31.

Grantham told Current that the “additional stress and frustrations” at the station in the wake of the controversial terminations in June of Executive Director Allan Pizzato and his deputy, Pauline Howland, have taken a toll on him.

Since the firings by the Alabama Educational Television Commission, Grantham had been publicly voicing his concerns about the future of the station. “I’m glad I’ve been able to be a spokesman and make some of the staff feelings known to the commission and others during all this turmoil,” he said. He also sent a letter July 19 to Gov. Robert Bentley saying that the commissioners "have their own agendas, which may or may not have been in the best interest of APT."

Commission meeting minutes show that Pizzato was under pressure from members to run programs from religious activist historian David Barton. The commission also overhauled the station’s longtime mission statement, removing all references to the state network's commitment to diversity.

On July 26, Grantham accepted 114,000 signatures at the station from Faithful America asking APT to ban Barton’s programming. Grantham brought the petitions to a commission meeting Tuesday, but declined to speak with a reporter. “I have been advised by Commission Chair Ferris Stephens that I cannot utilize my First Amendment Rights and speak to the media,” he said.

Grantham started working at the station in 1974 as a television technician. He progressed to director of engineering, then c.o.o.

“It’s been a long and — until the past few weeks — for the most part a very pleasant and rewarding work experience,” he said. “This staff is more of a family to me. It’s with a lot of sadness that I make this decision at this time.”

Grantham said he'll finish up several projects before departing.

WBHM-FM in Birmingham has posted a copy of Grantham's resignation letter.

Alabama ETV commission hires law firm for defense against Pizzato complaint

In a special meeting Tuesday, the Alabama Educational Television Commission voted to hire a Birmingham law firm to defend it against a complaint filed by the former head of Alabama Public Television, Allan Pizzato, whom they fired in June.

Commissioners, meeting in a conference room at APT headquarters in Birmingham, entered into executive session to discuss the issue, filing past portraits of nine lay leaders from APT's fundraising organizations that still hang on the walls despite their resignations in protest of Pizzato’s termination.

The Commission returned to vote 6-0 vote to retain the Birmingham law firm of Wallace, Jordan, Ratliff & Brandt, then promptly adjourned.

After the meeting, Chair Ferris Stephens said the commission feels that Pizzato’s lawsuit is “without merit.” In the complaint, Pizzato’s attorneys allege that because he is a state employee, commissioners violated the state's Open Meetings Act by discussing his job performance in a closed executive session. The civil suit also seeks to remove Stephens, and void all decisions by the commission since his arrival in 2010, because, it alleges, he is ineligible to serve in that capacity as an employee of the Alabama Attorney General’s office.

Stephens said that the board’s decision to remove Pizzato was not related to earlier reports regarding the controversy to air documentary series by Texas-based evangelical Christian activist David Barton. Stephens said that overall, the commissioners “wanted a fresh and innovative approach to where the station is going.”

Throughout the meeting and executive session, Charles Grantham, Alabama Public Television c.o.o, remained at a table with a large box of petitions in front of him. Some 114,000 signatures asking the station to ban Barton’s programming were delivered to the station July 26 by Faithful America, a social-issue advocacy organization. When asked by a reporter if he could take questions, Grantham responded, “I have been advised by Commission Chair Ferris Stephens that I cannot utilize my First Amendment Rights and speak to the media.”

In related news, Pizzato’s attorneys at White Arnold & Dowd in Birmingham announced on Tuesday that they are now also representing Pauline Howland. She had served as APT’s chief financial officer and Pizzato’s deputy before she was fired with him on June 12. Howland was rehired soon after on a temporary basis, working off-site. — William Dahlberg

Jul 31, 2012

We've got something new in store for you: a blog that's integrated into Current.org

Our news blog is moving on Wednesday, Aug. 1 to the new Current.org, where it will reside on the left-hand side of the homepage under a new column headed Quick Takes. It's part of a major upgrade of Current's web service, a redesign that gives readers more tools for keeping current with public media news that fits their needs and interests. If you read our blog through an RSS feed, you'll have many more options from which to choose, or you can subscribe to a feed of everything that's posted on the site.

Thanks for your support of our blog. The growth in readership has helped build our reach and engagement with more of the people who work in and care about public service media. Monthly pageviews have grown from 18,115 in July 2008 to 50,510 in July 2012.

We hope to provide an improved and more integrated online reading experience to you through the new Current.org, and look forward to your feedback and, as always, news tips.

Former associates announce first Tim Emmons scholarship

Applications are now being accepted for the first Tim Emmons Memorial Mentoring Scholarship.

Emmons, former program director and general manager of Northern Public Radio, died in February after a long battle with cancer. The scholarship was announced today by Peter Dominowski and Scott Williams, longtime friends of Emmons and business associates with him in Strategic Programming Partners.

The recipient, a current or aspiring public radio program director, will work directly with Williams and Dominowski for one year. Mentoring will include major aspects of successful programming, such as program scheduling, effective promotion, understanding audience data and air checking. "Any area that will help them become a more knowledgeable and successful PD," the two said in the announcement.

"Tim was a teacher and mentor to so many people," Williams said. "We can think of no better way to honor and continue his legacy than by mentoring a program director and helping them increase the quality of service to listeners."

"Scott and I are pleased to donate 100 percent of our professional services to make this scholarship possible," Dominowski said. He also thanked members of the scholarship advisory board, Craig Oliver of Craig Oliver Consulting, and Tamar Charney, program director of Michigan Radio.

Deadline for applications is Aug. 24.

Individuals and organizations wishing to fund site visits, job shadowing and other scholarship expenses may send checks to Strategic Programming Partners (Box 115, Matheson, Colo., 80830) specifying that the funds are to support the Emmons scholarship.

Radiolab producers don't believe Lehrer's contributions to be "compromised"

WNYC, the producer of public radio’s Radiolab, has found “no reason to believe” that frequent contributor Jonah Lehrer's appearances on the show are "compromised." Lehrer resigned from The New Yorker Sunday after Tablet magazine revealed that he had made up quotes attributed to Bob Dylan in his book Imagine: How Creativity Works.

Here’s the full statement from WNYC:
Jonah Lehrer has been a regular contributor to Radiolab as an “explainer,” making technical science more accessible and bringing much needed meaning to new scientific research. He has been a lively and compelling voice and has helped make the history of science come alive for listeners. We are deeply saddened by the news this week about such a talented and valued colleague.
Radiolab has not used Jonah as a standalone authority on any topic within an episode. Rather, he has brought new research to the attention of the program and the producers in turn have interviewed primary sources and researchers, weaving the voices together as part of a choir — a style of reporting that defines Radiolab. Since Jonah has not been in the role of reporter for Radiolab and we have employed standard practices of journalism in producing the episodes, we have no reason to believe his work with Radiolab is compromised. But we will review the work as needed.
A WNYC spokesperson would not elaborate when asked how Radiolab’s producers will determine the need for review.

Lehrer first came under scrutiny last month when media watcher Jim Romenesko pointed out that the writer had recycled some of his own pieces for multiple publications. The ensuing controversy over Lehrer's "self-plagiarism" prompted Radiolab’s Jad Abumrad to write a blog post in Lehrer’s defense. “The notion that Jonah is a ‘plagiarist’ is beyond ridiculous,” Abumrad wrote on June 22. “And the way in which some journalists are jumping up and down, claiming he’s no longer a ‘writer’ but an ‘idea man’ or an example of ‘male arrogance’…that’s just plain ugly.” As of that writing, Lehrer had appeared on Radiolab 17 times.

In March, This American Life took down (for a second time) several stories by reporter Stephen Glass, who in 1998 was found to have concocted parts of articles he’d written for national publications.

Jul 30, 2012

Ford Foundation backs second for-profit newsroom: The Washington Post

The Ford Foundation, a frequent backer of pubmedia, has awarded another grant to a for-profit media company. Ford will give $500,000 to The Washington Post to support reporting on accountability in state and local government, according to a Post memo to staff posted on Poynter.org. The Post will use the funds to hire four new staffers.

In May, Ford awarded the Los Angeles Times $1.04 million to cover new beats including immigration and the California prison system. At the time, pubcasting analysts told Current that a growing trend of foundations backing for-profit operations could lead to increased competition for financial support. The Post grant comes from the foundation's Freedom of Expression program, which also supports NPR, ProPublica and other pubmedia outlets.

The Post and Times grants remain small change, however, compared to the foundation's recently completed five-year, $50 million pubmedia funding initiative, as well as its support of new coverage areas in nonprofit newsrooms such as Marketplace and ProPublica.

Moyers celebrates 100,000 Facebook fans with online message

Veteran newsman Bill Moyers posted a special video message on the Moyers and Company Facebook page on Monday, to mark a milestone. "In just a few months, we've acquired 100,000 Facebook fans," Moyers said. "I know because I counted each and every one of you myself." Moyers said he and his team are proud and "deeply grateful" for the support of the online community "dedicated to truth-telling and democracy."

Jacobs Media shares findings from annual tech survey

Jacobs Media has shared some data from its fourth annual Public Radio Tech Survey. Among the statistics:
  • The number of respondents using tablets such as Apple’s iPad increased 407 percent over last year. Use of smartphones continues to grow as well.
  • Nearly half of public radio members have been members for five years or less.
  • Four of 10 listeners do most of their radio listening in cars.
  • One in 10 owns a vehicle with a “digital dashboard” such as the Ford SYNC.
  • Texting and use of social networks has continued to grow from year to year.
Jacobs Media will present the full study in a keynote address Sept. 13 at the Public Radio Program Directors conference in Las Vegas.

GPB laying off staffers as it outsources station master-control operations

Georgia Public Broadcasting is laying off eight full-time employees and nine part-timers as it outsources its master-control operations over the next 90 to 120 days, station spokesperson Nancy Zintak told Current.

Transitioning its master control to Encompass Digital Media in Atlanta will save the state network around $300,000 annually, Zintak said.

Zintak said GPB “looked very carefully” at the two CPB-backed public-broadcasting centralcasters, the Jacksonville Digital Convergence Alliance that serves seven stations from Florida, and Centralcast LLC, running controls for 13 stations in New York and New Jersey. A “huge part” of the decision, Zintak said, was that Encompass is an Atlanta-based company. “And, Encompass is up and running now,” she said. The digital media services firm has facilities in the United States, United Kingdom and Asia. Its clients include A&E Networks, CBS, Disney/ABC, BBC Worldwide, and Discovery Networks, according to TVNewsCheck — which calls the Encompass Atlanta operation "huge, complex and the first of its kind in American broadcasting."

GPB runs one main HD channel and two digital channels, GPB Kids and GBP Knowledge, which is a hybrid of the pub-affairs/documentary World channel and educational programming. GPB's main channel feeds nine stations covering 98 percent of the state.

Zintak said an employment consultant is working with affected employees, and Encompass is interviewing some for possible positions there.

Jul 27, 2012

New Orleans journalism venture won't compete with T-P, Wilson says

The new nonprofit newsroom that NPR and WWNO announced today will not compete directly with the Times-Picayne, NPR's Kinsey Wilson told Current in an interview.

The Wall Street Journal, which first reported on plans for a hybrid radio-digital news operation covering New Orleans, played up the potential for competition between the news outlets, but Wilson sees it differently. "I wouldn't characterize it as a competitor," said NPR's chief content officer and digital strategist. "Frankly I don't think that's how anybody locally [sees it], and certainly not how we're looking at it."

WWNO and various New Orleans community leaders attempted to rally behind the T-P when cutbacks were announced in June, Wilson said. He cited efforts to convince Advance Publications, the newspaper's owner, to reconsider its decision to suspend daily publication or to sell the paper. Discussions of an alternative news service began after it became clear that Advance was proceeding in its plan to scale back T-P's publishing to three print editions per week.

"They don't want to go head-to-head with the Times-Picayune on every different type of coverage," Wilson said, referring to those who developed plans for NewOrleansReporter.org. "They want to focus on those areas that may not get the full attention of the newspaper," Wilson said.

The new newsroom with be staffed by 10 to 20 journalists, and will produce multiplatform reporting for radio and online audiences.

NPR will provide training and technical assistance for both the broadcast and digital sides of the operation, according to Wilson, who noted that WWNO currently has such a small news footprint that the NewOrleansReporter.org will have to be built from the ground up in time for its launch by the end of the year.

NPR will provide funding from a Knight Foundation grant awarded in December 2011 for digital expansion of member stations, and it will work to help secure other grants for the project. The exact amount NPR will be contributing is currently unknown. "It's literally coming together as we speak," Wilson said.

NPR, WWNO launching new nonprofit newsroom in New Orleans

NPR is launching a new nonprofit newsroom in New Orleans in conjunction with WWNO, the local public radio station owned by the University of New Orleans, the Wall Street Journal reports. The partners announced the changes today.

The new venture, which will include a revamped, local-news–focused WWNO lineup as well as the website NewOrleansReporter.org, is a response to the declining resources of the city’s daily for-profit newspaper, the Times-Picayune. On June 12 the owners of the T-P announced plans to cut 201 personnel, nearly a third of its staff, and cut back print operations to three days a week beginning in the fall.

“This is an exciting opportunity to converge digital, mobile and broadcast together in a multiplatform newsroom for New Orleans,” Paul Maassen, g.m. of WWNO, said in an accompanying press release. “We are grateful for the support the community has shown for this initiative.”

Maassen will oversee the new shared newsroom and coordinate both digital and broadcast content.

According to the release, the content on NewOrleansReporter.org will be "open source" and available free of charge to any local or national news outlet. The topics reporters will cover will include "public accountability and government, business, education, criminal justice, the environment, and arts and culture".

The new nonprofit will operate out of UNO’s campus, according to NOLA.com, the online arm of the T-P. The project will be funded annually by upwards of $2 million in memberships, donations and sponsorships, with major support coming from Greater New Orleans Inc., the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, the Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region, and the Great New Orleans Foundation.

WWNO’s new news-oriented schedule went into effect on Monday.

This story has been updated. 

Alum group "implores" NPR's Cokie Roberts to consider heading up Louisiana State U

Several Louisiana State University alums are attempting to persuade NPR contributor and former congressional correspondent Cokie Roberts to become its next leader, reports LSU's Daily Reveille. Chancellor Mike Martin is leaving for Colorado State in August, and former LSU System President John Lombardi was fired in April.

There's even a Facebook page, Cokie Roberts for LSU.

Alum Kyle Alagood, leading the effort to draft Roberts, said her “independent clout” would be valuable. Roberts, a New Orleans native, is "someone who is recognized as a leader, removed from the political process and removed from the state, but still with a tie to it.”

Alagood said has emailed Roberts, telling her it is “imperative that the new leader or leaders be prominent Louisianans with experience and reputations beyond the state’s borders. We implore you to consider submitting your name as Louisiana State University’s next chancellor or system president.”

There’s been no response yet, Alagood said.

PBS Kids apps: "learning moments on-the-go"

Sara DeWitt, vice president of PBS Kids Interactive, discusses PBS's approach in the mobile realm for children's educational content in an interview on Wired. "PBS has assembled two advisory boards to help us make sure we’re being thoughtful, purposeful and appropriate as we develop on these new platforms," DeWitt said. "Advisory board members include academics, teachers, organizations that advocate for children, and digital content experts." DeWitt said there's currently 17 PBS Kids apps available on the App Store, one Android app, "and many more projects in the pipeline."

Jul 26, 2012

Pacifica Foundation Board won't renew contracts for two top executives

The national board of the Pacifica Foundation voted Sunday (July 22) to begin a search for two new top executives. The board will not renew contracts for Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt and Chief Financial Officer LaVarn Williams, which both expire Nov. 30. The two were invited to apply for new terms in their positions.

The action was reported in an email to the SaveKPFA listserv and confirmed by Margy Wilkinson, chair of the local station board at KPFA, Pacifica's Berkeley station, who attended the meeting.

In a separate, related action, budget cuts totaling $1 million at Pacifica’s five radio stations, ordered by Engelhardt in the wake of an auditor’s report, were put on hold (Current, July 9). A motion passed on Monday (July 23) by the board ordered the stations to assess their upcoming income and expenses and submit plans to deal with any projected shortfalls. “It requires the local stations to take responsibility for their own problems,” instead of submitting to across-the-board cuts, said Wilkinson, noting that Pacifica’s two California stations, KPFA and Los Angeles’ KPFK, are both in relatively good financial shape. The plans are due July 30. — Elizabeth Jensen

WGBH, the top producer of PBS programs, now owns Public Radio International

In a move signalling its ambitions to extend its clout and influence in public radio, Boston's WGBH has acquired Public Radio International, the Minnesota-based program distributor of radio programs such as This American Life, The World and The Takeaway.

Financial terms of the deal have not been disclosed, but the sale will help to stabilize the nonprofit program distributor PRI, which ran an operating deficit of $2 million in 2011, according to PRI spokesperson Julia Yager.

"This is a deal borne out of shared visions," Yager said in an interview with Current. PRI began examining its options last year as its leadership considered the implications of various funding scenarios for public media.

PRI looked for partners to help it continue distributing radio programming and found that WGBH was best aligned with its own mission and values. The sale was not triggered by the BBC World Service's decision to end its distribution contract with PRI, Yager said.

WGBH, the leading producer of PBS programs, is repositioning itself within the public radio system with the purchase. The Boston pubcaster has significantly expanded its radio footprint with local audiences over the past few years, and it's now poised to play a bigger role in production and distribution of national radio programs. WGBH produces PRI's The World and is an editorial partner with The Takeaway, the morning drivetime show that's being revamped as a midday program as grant funding winds down. New York's WNYC co-produces the Takeaway with PRI and other editorial partners.

The sale transaction, which closed today, establishes PRI as an independent nonprofit affiliate of WGBH. By remaining operationally independent, PRI is able to maintain its existing relationships with program producers and affiliate stations, Yager said.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this post cited PRI's 2010 tax form in reporting that the program distributor ran operating deficits of $3.6 million and more during the recession.The losses on PRI's IRS Form 990 for 2010, $3.6 million for the fiscal year that ended in July 2010 and $4 million in 2011, were changes in net assets and covered in part by temporarily restricted grants, according to Yager. PRI's operating deficits for those two tax years were $335,000 in 2010 and $2 million in 2011.

Piven to star in Masterpiece/ITV's "Mr. Selfridge" next year

Masterpiece and Britain's ITV Studios have inked a deal for Mr. Selfridge, a period drama starring Jeremy Piven, according to Hollywood Reporter. Piven is best known for his role as the excitable Hollywood super-agent Ari Gold in the HBO hit Entourage.

The co-production centers on American Harry Gordon Selfridge — nicknamed Mile a Minute Harry — who founded the London department store Selfridges in 1909. His mission was "to make shopping as thrilling as sex," according to an ITV description. "Pioneering and reckless, with an almost manic energy, he created a theater of retail where any topic or trend that was new, exciting, entertaining — or sometimes just eccentric — was showcased."

Creator is Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice, Bleak House). The show is set to debut early in 2013.

Former APT head Pizzato addresses "bigger issue" of his termination

Former Alabama Public Television Executive Director Allan Pizzato spoke with CPB Ombudsman Joel Kaplan in a column posted today (July 26). The interview provides Pizzato's first detailed statements since his termination by the Alabama Educational Television Commission on June 12, under pressure from the commission to run shows from conservative activist David Barton.

"The programming decisions of what is put on the air and what is said on the air," Pizzato told Kaplan, "is the responsibility of the management, executive management and the programmers of that station. It is not the responsibility of the board."

"That to me is the biggest issue because this is bigger than Alabama Public Television and much bigger than Allan Pizzato," he said. "This is an issue that I know has managers worried all over the system. If there is a governmental agency that is responsible for the license of the station those entities keep an arm's length distance from that board making programming decisions. And my feeling was this was a direct violation of that. It's something that commissioners in the past had agreed to. This commission had not agreed to it. This was my way of trying to get them to see here is the reasoning . . . we never got to that discussion."

Kaplan weighed in: "The demand by some political appointees of the Alabama Educational Television Commission that APT staff broadcast tapes by David Barton's Wallbuilders group was improper, unethical, and outrageous."

Spokane School District okays negotiations to turn over KSPS license

The board of the Spokane Public Schools voted unanimously Wednesday (July 25) to explore severing ties with its KSPS public television station, according to the local Spokesman-Review. If the KSPS board agrees at its meeting tonight (July 26), it would signal the end of a 45-year relationship. The license would be held by the nonprofit Friends of KSPS.

“As we get more and more budget and funding challenges, it got to a point where we asked: Should we really be in the public television business?" said Mark Anderson, associate superintendent. "Our primary mission is K-12; we need to focus on that."

The newspaper reported that an analysis by Public Radio Capital determined that by 2023, KSPS on its own could generate $400,000 more in positive cash flow.

Bob Ross, remixed

PBS Digital Studios has released the second in its "Icons Remixed" series. This time, it's the "happy little clouds" painter Bob Ross. The first video in the series, posted in June, featured Fred Rogers and went viral with more than 5 million views.

UPDATE: As of Monday morning July 30, the Bob Ross video has received 1,657,150 views.

Sesame Workshop launches educational franchise business in India

Sesame Workshop is getting into the for-profit educational franchise business, starting with India, where it's launching Sesame Schoolhouse preschools and after-school clubs, reports the Wall Street Journal's India Real Time blog.

The Workshop has had a presence in the country since 2006 with Galli Galli Sim Sim, the Hindi version of Sesame Street. Sesame Workshop India also takes the show on mobile screens into slum communities in five cities.

Sesame Workshop aims to have 20 franchised schools open by March 2013, with plans for 382 within five years, according to the report. So far, one has opened in Jaipur, the capital and largest city in the northwest Indian state of Rajasthan.

Franchisees must provide a building with at least 2,000 square feet of covered, carpeted space and adequate outdoor space for the play equipment. A three-year license fee costs 150,000 rupees ($2,700). Sesame Schoolhouse, based in India, oversees the enterprise as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sesame Workshop India and takes 15 percent to 20 percent royalties from a school’s earnings, the newspaper said. Parents will pay between 25,000 rupees and 60,000 rupees a year.

Profits support Sesame’s other ventures in the country, said Sashwati Banerjee, managing director of Sesame Workshop India.

More details at Franchise India.

Group to present 100,000 signatures to APT to keep "Religious Right propaganda" off air

Faithful America, an online, multi-faith, social-issue advocacy organization, will deliver petitions with more than 100,000 signatures to Alabama Public Television headquarters in Birmingham at 11:15 a.m. Central today (July 26). The petitions from Faithful America and CREDO Action, a progressive advocacy group, demand that the network "keep Religious Right propaganda off their stations." APT Executive Director Allan Pizzato and his deputy, Pauline Howland, were fired by the Alabama Educational Television Commission on June 12, after Pizzato resisted running programs by conservative activist David Barton (Current, April 25).

"We need a strong turnout to show that people of faith are appalled by this attempted right-wing takeover of public television," an announcement of the Faithful America event says.

UPDATE: Faithful America said several Birmingham faith leaders took part in the event this morning as well as Mark Potok (right, at the station), senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. "David Barton is an extremist propagandist who regularly propagates known falsehoods, defames gay people, Muslims and others he doesn't like, and doesn't believe that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. deserves a place in our high school textbooks," Potok told the gathering. "He is a man without integrity who is pursuing a radical-right agenda while trying to bamboozle the country into believing he is an objective commentator. And that is why he has no place on Alabama Public Television, which is meant to be an educational resource for all people, not just ideologues like David Barton."

And the Rev. Darryl Kiehl, a local Lutheran clergyman, said, “As a Christian and a pastor I have always trusted public television as a source of reliable information about history and culture. I’m disappointed that APT is even considering broadcasting David Barton’s slanted, misinformed history of America. Since our nation’s founding, Christians have fought for justice, equality and the common good, and Barton's work appears to ignore that. His revisionist history is unworthy of public television.” 

Pubradio WBHM reports that Charles Grantham, station c.o.o., accepted the petitions (right). Of some 114,000 names, around 3,500 came from within Alabama, the station reported. Grantham thanked the representatives for their support, and said the signatures would be delivered to the commission. Grantham also said there are no plans to run the Barton content.

Grantham sent a letter to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley protesting the termination of Pizzato and his deputy, Pauline Howland, last week. (Photos: Faithful America.)

Jul 25, 2012

OPB Radio overhauls schedule; drops six shows, adds seven

Oregon Public Broadcasting is making major changes to its broadcast radio lineup as of Aug. 6, reports The Oregonian.

"All the long-form music programs are going away from OPB radio," John Bell, director of member communications for OPB, told the newspaper. Gone are The Thistle and Shamrock, the Celtic music show the station has carried since the 1980s; the local In House and American Routes are moving to opbmusic.org and HD radio.

The variety show eTown is canceled, as are the comedy program Michael Feldman's Whad'Ya Know? and Garrison Keillor's daily literary short, The Writer's Almanac.

"There's not any program that's not popular with some audience," Bell said. "There just are so many other shows, and we've found with shows like Radio Lab and The Moth, there's a wealth of great programs out there that we think deserve a spot on the radio. As our audience has changed, we've found that they're coming to us more for news and information than music. There's just so many hours in a day."

Among seven new shows coming to OPB Radio: America's Test Kitchen, Moyers & Company, the Ask Me Another quiz show and Back Fence PDX, what Bell describes as a local version of The Moth storytelling hour.

Also, OPB Radio will continue airing Car Talk after its hosts retire in October. "It's still the most-popular show we have," Bell said. "We're going to leave it on the schedule and evaluate what happens, whether we think the quality suffers or we hear from people that they're tired of the show and want something new."

Blumenauer hits back at Rubio for pubcasting funding comments

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) is defending federal support of public broadcasting in a column on the Huffington Post. Blumenauer mainly addresses The Diane Rehm Show appearance of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) last week, during which Rubio — on a talk show on NPR — spoke about how NPR should be defunded.

Rubio told Rehm that "plenty of other commercial outlets" would run her show. "I beg to differ," Blumenauer writes. "If there were a strong market in commercial radio for programs like The Diane Rehm Show, wouldn't we see them all over the country? We don't see them because commercial demand does not exist. That's why NPR and its member stations remain the sole source of this type of content. More troubling, this attitude shows a fundamental inability to understand that commercializing PBS programming would drastically change its essential nature. Why turn the nation's best forum for sustained public discourse into a carbon copy of all the other programming? People turn to public broadcasting because they already have 500 channels with nothing to watch."

Jul 24, 2012

Make the most of YouTube with these tips

Kevin Dando, PBS's director of digital marketing and communications, recently attended a "Partners Summit" during which YouTube staffers "walked us through a number of strategies and tactics for ensuring that our YouTube videos are seen by as many people as possible." He shares tips for stations here.

Chief operating officer of Alabama PTV protests firings in letter to governor

In a letter to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, Alabama Public Television's chief operating officer says "a shadow is being cast over APT by its own directors," following their sudden terminations on June 12 of longtime Executive Director Allan Pizzato and his deputy, Pauline Howland (Current, June 25). The firings sparked an ongoing public controversy, and exposed an internal struggle over the commission's push to schedule programs from the religious right for APT broadcast and revise the network's mission statement.

Charles Grantham, who has been with the station since 1978, writes that several members of the governing Alabama Educational Television Commission "have their own agendas, which may or may not have been in the best interest of APT." He said one commissioner has suggested dropping PBS programming.

"On programming and other issues," Gratham states, "at times the commissioners did not want to hear the advice of the management team — a team made up of Pauline and Allan and myself, who just between us three have nearly one hundred years combined broadcasting experience."

He also notes: "Our commissioners have caused literally thousands of dollars in private support to be pulled from the organization. Each day more and more of the citizens of Alabama, along with businesses, are pulling their support based on the actions and perceived future actions of the AETC."

Grantham told Current that the station has lost at least $25,000 in membership funds, and several major donors — "$25,000 to $50,000 a year underwriters," he said — are holding off on finalizing those agreements due to the uncertainty over APT's direction following the firings.

Read the entire letter here.

Station executives finalize WXEL-TV sale

It's finally official: WXEL Public Broadcasting Corp., a nonprofit set up by the TV station’s executives, paid nearly $1.5 million Friday (July 20) to Barry University for WXEL-TV in West Palm Beach, Fla., reports the Palm Beach Post.

The local group, headed by station President Don Sussman, CEO Bernie Henneberg and Development Vice President Debra Tornaben, received a loan from the nonprofit Foundation of Philanthropic Funds, due in five years.

The sale was finalized on the station's 30-year anniversary.

The deal has been a long time coming.  The dual-licensee went up for sale eight years ago (Current, Nov. 29, 2004). The station was nearly sold to New York City's WNET five years ago (Current, March 6, 2006) and, more recently, another local community group and school district.

WXEL-FM was sold to Classical South Florida last year for $3.85 million.

Noncom groups file comments on FCC's third-party fundraising proposal

NPR, PBS and the Association of Public Television Stations are among broadcast organizations weighing in with the FCC on its April proposal for a change in policy to allow pubcasters to raise money for charities and other nonprofits on the air without first obtaining a waiver. All three are opposed.

Other pubcasters filing comments include New England Public Radio and the University Station Alliance, which also oppose the change, and North Carolina's UNC-TV, which "generally supports" the change. Several religious organizations, including the National Religious Broadcasters, also back the proposal.

Joint comments from PBS and APTS, filed Monday (July 23), urge the FCC to limit any rule change to licensees that do not receive a CPB community service grant. "CPB-qualified stations have a unique statutory mission of public service," the filing said, "that could be undermined by a rule change allowing on-air interruptions to fundraise for third parties outside of the waiver process." That waiver process "has worked satisfactorily for decades," it added. Public TV stations "have a mission to serve all segments of a community, specifically those that are less influential, rather than select third-party organizations."

NPR's comments said that changing the rules "raises serious concerns and may negatively impact stations’ abilities to serve their communities." Removing the ban "would create the potential for stations to be inundated with requests from local nonprofits, jeopardizing relationships with potential programming partners and imposing an administrative burden on station staff." The FCC's proposed change "may also undermine stations’ ability to raise funds from their members, who are vital to stations’ economic well-being."

In supporting the proposed change, UNC-TV noted it believes that the FCC "should leave to individual [noncommercial educational] stations the decisions concerning whether or not a station participates in this activity at all, how much of its programming time will be allotted to this activity in specific situations and in the aggregate, and whether or not it merely produces and airs fundraising programs and activities or also collects and remits funds deriving from such programming and activities."

Jul 23, 2012

St. Louis nonprofit news orgs come together to launch election-year website

Three nonprofit news organizations in St. Louis are collaborating on a website and voters' guide for the 2012 election campaign. BeyondNovember.org offers news stories, audio and video from St. Louis Public Radio, Nine Network of Public Media and the St. Louis Beacon. The project is funded by the St. Louis-based Deer Creek Foundation. The site debuted on July 20.

"Beyond November is so named," said St. Louis Beacon Managing Editor Richard H. Weiss, "because it focuses not just on the horse-race aspect of politics but on the words, deeds and positions candidates take that will have an impact well beyond the November election. A major focus will be on the influence of money in politics and key issues, including immigration, health care, the environment and the economy."

"Frontline's" Fanning promotes successor Aronson

Raney Aronson, series senior producer for Frontline, has been promoted to deputy executive producer. The move is widely seen as an indication that she will succeed David Fanning as executive producer of the PBS's investigative news centerpiece.

Aronson has produced for Frontline since 2001, and joined its staff in 2007. Previously she had worked at ABC News. She also was the 2005 recipient of the prestigious Peter S. McGhee Fellowship from WGBH, named for its longtime v.p. of national programming. Here's her bio.

Here is the memo Fanning sent to staffers on Saturday (July 21) announcing the promotion:

"I am pleased to announce that Raney Aronson has agreed to take on the title of Deputy Executive Producer of Frontline. In many ways this is less a promotion than a confirmation of the job she has been doing with such success since she joined the Frontline staff five years ago.

"As Series Senior Producer she actively took on managing the widest array of editorial and structural tasks, from supervising films and getting deep into the editing room to shape their style and content; to wrestling with tough investigative journalism challenges (and tough individuals!); as well as managing the core staff and the series' relationship with our colleagues at PBS, CPB and WGBH.

"As everyone knows who has worked with her, she has done it all with intelligence, grace and humor, and shown herself to be an inspiring leader, and a terrific collaborator. In fact, at a time when Frontline has increasingly come to rely on complex partnerships with other journalistic entities and broadcasters, Raney has been the driving force behind making those work, and invariably the one to keep them on track. She has been indefatigable at keeping up with an increased workload, as the series took on a year-round schedule.

"This is all the more gratifying because Raney has come to this position of leadership after a career as a Frontline producer in her own right, producing significant films like "The Jesus Factor," "The Soldier's Heart," "The Last Abortion Clinic" and "News War: Secrets, Sources and Spin." Her fuller bio gives a sense of her wide range of interests — and how her career as a journalist took a path from working for a newspaper in Taiwan, to Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, the Wall Street Journal, and ABC News, before her passion for long-form documentary brought her to Frontline.

"The title Deputy means someone appointed and empowered to act on behalf of another. It's my pleasure to have her agree to do so on my behalf, and share the responsibility and privilege of guiding Frontline's present and future." (Photo: Frontline.)

Jul 20, 2012

WNIN's David Dial announces June 2013 retirement

David Dial, whose pubcasting career dates to 1970 and who serves as the current Affinity Group Coalition chair, is retiring as president of WNIN in Evansville, Ind., next June.

The Evansville Courier & Press reports that Dial informed the station's board of directors this week. "The station is financially healthy," he said. "We have a good operation, a talented staff, there are no crises and the equipment is all sound."

In 1970, Dial became the first full-time employee of NPR member station WUSF-FM in Tampa. In 1974 he went to WXXI in Rochester, N.Y., and also spent a year at WXEL-TV in West Palm Beach, Fla., before arriving at WNIN in 1983 as director of broadcasting.

He has served on the PBS Board of Directors, and was vice chair of its Interconnection Committee. Dial is a founding member and past head of the Small Station Association, and in 1994 helped develop PBS Ready To Learn.

Blumenauer defends pubcasting funding, while GOP politicians speak out against

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) took to the House floor Thursday (July 19) to defend federal funding for public broadcasting in the wake of a House Appropriation subcommittee's passage of a spending bill that would slash upcoming money for CPB and defund it totally in fiscal 2015.

Blumenauer said in the nearly five-minute statement that GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and his party "listen to a tiny fraction of the American public that is even a minority in their own party. Polls show that two-thirds of Republicans surveyed would either keep federal funding for public broadcasting as it is, or increase it. But what resonates with Republican primary voters is not what America wants, needs or believes."

Blumenauer noted that Romney has singled out public broadcasting as one of five projects that he would eliminate if elected president.

Meanwhile, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), who sponsored legislation last year to defund NPR (Current, March 21, 2011) that passed the House but not the Senate, issued a statement Thursday praising the current bill.

"This would put public broadcasters on a glide path to independence," Lamborn said, "and finally get Big Bird out of the nest! I believe public broadcasters are perfectly capable of making it without government subsidies. While many Americans are making sacrifices around the country to make ends meet, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has been unwilling to do the same. Even as media and information have become more accessible than ever, funding for CPB has exploded. Over the last decade, CPB's funding has increased nearly 31 percent, from $340 [million] to $441 million."

Also on Thursday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), widely considered a contender to be Romney's running mate, appeared on The Diane Rehm Show on NPR — and said he opposed government support for NPR.

"I think today there is no shortage of broadcasting options available to people," Rubio said. "I think this is an excellent program, for example, and I can guarantee you that if NPR was unable to function because of it — there are plenty of other commercial outlets that would love to have The Diane Rehm Show . . . I think we're in a different era now than we were 50 or 60 years ago where maybe the importance of public broadcasting was heightened."

Rehm pointed out that without federal support, "an awful lot of those smaller stations across the country would go dark."

"This is a new issue for me," Rubio admitted. "We didn't really confront this issue in the state legislature. But my general feeling about it is, at least my initial impression on it is that at a time when there are so many broadcast options available, I mean, I have 300 stations on my satellite radio. Does the federal government need to be involved in the broadcasting business? So you may have a good answer as to why we should be, and I'm always willing to listen to those arguments."

A full transcript of the conversation is here.

Jul 19, 2012

Marketplace bureau chief riffed in APM downsizing

Ten employees of American Public Media will lose their jobs in a strategic reorganization announced this afternoon, according to an internal memo provided to Current.

Layoffs extend across the Minnesota-based pubcaster and into its news operation in Washington, D.C., where Marketplace Bureau Chief John Dimsdale received a pink slip.

In more than 20 years with APM, Dimsdale has covered regulatory hearings, budget battles and presidential elections "with reliability and great credibility," according to the memo, which was co-authored by four of APM's top managers. 

APM also released employees who work behind the scenes on Marketplace Tech Report, local broadcasts of Morning Edition, and the classical music series Pipedreams, which will continue broadcasting but on a "less-demanding" production timetable. Host Michael Barone remains on the show and will take on a "more visible regional role with Minnesota audiences."

Staff positions were also eliminated in APM's marketing and communications and creative services divisions.

In a statement provided by email, APM chief Jon McTaggart said the changes position the public media company "for future audience opportunities" by reorganizing in two key areas, "content and development."

"We are aligning our priorities to focus on two main divisions that create value for our audiences and cultivate vital relationships with our members, donors and funders," McTaggart said. "The result is a more streamlined organization that gives us a strong footing as we look ahead."

The memo announcing the downsizing was co-signed by Brian Newhouse, managing director of classical; Mary Pat Ladner, v.p. of marketing and communications; Nick Kereakos, v.p. of technology and operations; and J.J. Yore, v.p. and g.m. of Marketplace. "We are saddened to see these members of our APM family leave the organization," they said. "As difficult as these decisions have been, we are confident that the new organizational structure is a solid footing to support our path forward."

Five reporters continue to work out of APM's D.C. news bureau, according to Mardi Larson, spokesperson. The journalists report for KPCC in Pasadena, an APM news station that's branded as Southern California Public Radio; Minnesota Public Radio, the APM flagship in St. Paul; and Marketplace, APM's most widely distributed news program.

This is the second round of layoffs at APM in four months. Digital innovation chief Joaquin Alvarado and his California-based software development team were let go in March. 

This post has been updated to include McTaggart's statement and details about APM's D.C.-based news operation.

BREAKING: Willard out, Walberg in as "Market Warriors" host


Current has just learned that, effective immediately, Fred Willard no longer will be involved with the Market Warriors series, according to Jeanne Hopkins, spokesperson for WGBH.

According to Hopkins, Antiques Roadshow host Mark Walberg will re-voice the episodes Fred Willard had done.

As documented in a Current blog post earlier today, Willard, 78, was arrested Wednesday night (July 17) at an adult theater in Hollywood and charged with lewd conduct, the TMZ website and the Los Angeles Times are reporting.

During a random walk-through of the Tiki Theater, undercover officers with the Los Angeles Police Department found Willard allegedly engaged in a lewd act, according to TMZ and the Times. He was booked around 8:45 p.m. and released a short time later.

PBS announced the series, originally titled Market Wars, in January, from Antiques Roadshow Executive Producer Marsha Bemko. The show, later retitled Market Warriors, premiered Monday night (July 16). Willard is pictured at the show's luncheon in Denver at the PBS Annual Meeting in May.

Public radio repeats: worthwhile or creepy?

A Wall Street Journal article takes a different angle on the looming demise of Car Talk as we know it, examining how several stations have handled the ongoing broadcast of shows with retired or departed hosts. Phil Redo, managing director of WGBH, tells the paper about a fan letter sent to a jazz host who has passed away. “Do I just write back and say ‘thanks so much for your note,’ and let it go at that?” Redo asked. “Or do I say ‘thanks for your note, but you ought to know that Ray has been dead for two years.’”

While Redo and others defend airing repeats of years-old shows, Rich Conaty, a host on WFUV in New York, argues that the practice moves “into the zip code of Creepy-ville.” “If the station is committed to the music, keep it going but get a new host,” Conaty says.

CIR, Youth Speaks will pair journalists with young poets

The Center for Investigative Reporting unveiled a partnership with Youth Speaks, a nonprofit group that promotes written and oral expression among young people. The two Bay Area-based groups will match CIR's experienced journalists with young poets "to create new opportunities for 21st-century storytelling," according to the July 19 news release.

Focusing on topics like immigration, education, health care and the environment, the organizations aim to engage young audiences in discussions of current events while allowing reporters to connect on a more personal level with the perspectives of youth.

"We want to hear directly from young people so that we can better understand the challenges they face in life," said Robert Rosenthal, CIR executive director, in the announcement. "We will use that intelligence to inform and evolve our reporting so that young audiences will value investigative journalism and understand the role it can have in shaping their future."

James Kass, the founder and executive director of Youth Speaks, said the group is always on the lookout for new avenues to encourage youth to be actively engaged in community life.

CIR's reporting has been co-produced or presented on both public and commercial news media outlets, including NPR News, PBS's Frontline, CBS's 60 Minutes and The Washington Post. Earlier this year CIR merged operations with Bay Citizen, a Bay Area-based nonprofit journalism outlet focused on local news reporting.

The new partnership will be formally announced at a town hall Friday during Youth Speaks' Brave New Voices Festival in Berkeley, Calif.

"Market Warriors" host arrested, charged with lewd conduct

Fred Willard, 78, host of PBS's new primetime show Market Warriors, was arrested Wednesday night (July 17) at an adult theater in Hollywood and charged with lewd conduct, the TMZ website and the Los Angeles Times are reporting.

During a random walk-through of the Tiki Theater, undercover officers with the Los Angeles Police Department found Willard allegedly engaged in a lewd act, according to TMZ and the Times. He was booked around 8:45 p.m. and released a short time later.

PBS announced the series, originally titled Market Wars, in January, from Antiques Roadshow Executive Producer Marsha Bemko. The show, later retitled Market Warriors, premiered Monday night (July 16). Willard is pictured at the show's luncheon in Denver at the PBS Annual Meeting in May.

PBS gets 58 primetime Emmy nods

Programs on PBS received 58 Emmy nominations during the early-morning announcement Thursday (July 18) in Los Angeles. The public broadcaster was topped in noncable networks only by CBS with 60 nods, and followed by NBC with 51, ABC with 48 and Fox with 26. Among cable outlets, HBO scored 81 nominations.

PubTV shows with multiple nominations include Downton Abbey on Masterpiece Classic with 16; Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia on Masterpiece Mystery, 13; Great Expectations on Masterpiece Classic, five; Great Performances, five; American Masters, four; Ken Burns' Prohibition, three; Masterpiece Contemporary's Page Eight, two; and Sesame Street, two.

As expected, Downton Abbey switched from miniseries to the more competitive drama category.

Last year, PBS had 43 nominations and 14 wins.

Here is a complete list of all Emmy nominations, as well as a breakdown by network.

The 64th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards show will broadcast live starting at 7 p.m. Eastern Sept. 23 on ABC.

Sesame Workshop announces two Chinese series for American audiences

Starting this week, Sesame Workshop is bringing two Mandarin-language programs to American viewers: The Chinese-produced Sesame Street's Big Bird Looks at the World, and a new series, Fun Fun Elmo. Both will premiere on SinoVision, a Chinese-language broadcaster serving New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Long Island and sections of Pennsylvania.

Sesame Street’s Big Bird Looks at the World focuses on children’s curiosity about nature and science. Episodes explore questions from the Muppet characters: “Where does the sun go at night?” “What are seashells?” The series, developed in China, first debuted in December 2010 on the HaHa Channel from Shanghai Toonmax Media, and on national broadcaster CCTV's Children’s Channel. 

Fun Fun Elmo introduces viewers to Mandarin through animation and live action shot in China. Segments follow local children to encourage Mandarin language exposure, with each episode introducing a Chinese tone, word and stroke order for writing characters.

H. Melvin Ming, president of Sesame Workshop, said the content is "the first step in the Workshop’s developing language-learning initiative in the U.S. as we continue to address the diverse needs of our young fans.”

Attorneys for former APT exec director Pizzato file suit against Alabama ETV Commission

Current has learned that attorneys for Allan Pizzato, the former head of Alabama Public Television, have filed a civil suit against the Alabama Educational Television Commission, which unexpectedly fired him and his deputy, Pauline Howland, on June 12.

The complaint, filed Wednesday (July 18) by the Birmingham law firm of White Arnold & Dowd in the 10th Judicial Circuit in Jefferson County, alleges that commissioners violated the state's Open Meetings Act by discussing Pizzato's job performance during a closed executive session. "Because Pizzato is classified as a public employee who is required to file a statement of economic interests with the Alabama Ethics Commission," the suit says, "such a discussion of Pizzato's job performance was prohibited by the Opening Meetings Act."

The suit also reveals that Pizzato's attorneys have been unable to obtain from the commission's attorneys audio recordings and other related materials from the March and June commission meetings. During those meetings, disagreements between Pizzato and commissioners surfaced over religious programming, and commission members imposed a new mission statement for the station. "As a result of our ongoing investigation, we have discovered that commissioners are giving conflicting versions of what happened during the March and June AETC meetings," the document says.

And the complaint seeks to remove commission Chair Ferris Stephens, and void all decisions by the commission since his arrival in 2010, because, it alleges, he is ineligible to serve in that capacity. The suit cites the statue governing the commission, which states that ". . . no member of the commission shall hold any other office . . . " Stephens is an assistant attorney general.

Click here to read the entire complaint.

Jul 18, 2012

House subcom passes Labor HHS bill; Rep. Dicks speaks out against NPR rider

A House panel today (July 18) voted 8-6 to pass to the full Appropriations Committee proposed legislation that would cut $6.3 billion from current spending levels, and includes zeroing out CPB in fiscal 2015. The mainly  party-line vote saw one Republican, Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake, joining Democrats in opposition — but because he wanted even deeper cuts, according to The Hill.

Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Washington) spoke out during the packed meeting on Capitol Hill against the 40-some policy riders that had been placed on the bill, which included language banning pubradio stations from using federal funds for NPR dues or programming.

"Now, with certain minor exceptions the only way funds in this bill find their way to NPR is when the Corporation for Public Broadcasting makes grants to local public radio stations and they use some of that money to acquire programs like All Things Considered," Dicks said. "With this rider, we’re just getting into the middle of our local radio stations’ programming decisions — telling them it’s okay to get programs from, say, American Public Media, but not from NPR. What possible basis do we have for making that distinction?"

"We should be trying to find a path for getting our work done and getting bills enacted," Dicks said, "not erecting new obstacles by bringing in all sorts of contentious policy issues that stand little chance with the Senate and none with the White House."

The bill proceeds to the full committee next week. The Senate won't be considering any spending bills before the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30. The Senate Appropriations Committee has recommended level funding of $445 million for CPB, with President Obama proposing the same figure in his budget.

Will "Call the Midwife" on PBS prove too gory for refined "Downton Abbey" fans?

In a column in London's Daily Telegraph, writer Glenda Cooper wonders whether American viewers of the upcoming presentation of Call the Midwife "may be in for a bit of a shock — despite PBS’s carefully describing the drama as 'colourful' (as in blood-drenched)." Cooper says the adaptation of a young East End midwife's life features "graphic descriptions of Fifties obstetrics — which left its British audience spending half their time soaked in tears of joy, and the other half-hiding behind the sofa."

Will the series inspire Downton Abbey's passion among fans, who took to throwing highbrow Downton-themed parties? That's tough to tell, Cooper says. "After all, it’s hard to plan a dinner party around a series that begins with two women (one heavily pregnant) beating each other up, before segueing into a graphic description of the effects of syphilis."

iQ Kids Radio coming from WQED, "Saturday Light Brigade" producers

WQED and the Pittsburgh production company behind the long-running Saturday Light Brigade pubradio show are partnering on an upcoming streaming channel, iQ Kids Radio. The partners just secured three years of support from the Junior League of Pittsburgh to kick-start the project, set to launch in 2013.

iQ Kids Radio will blend children’s content from WQED, PBS and SLB Radio Productions covering multiple disciplines — language, science, music appreciation, geography and more — into a streaming-audio format, as well as individual programs for podcasts and national distribution aimed at kids up to age 12 and their parents.

Programming also will include youth-created music, storytelling and news and commentary based on listener submissions at iQkidsradio.org and SLB’s work with more than 8,000 children annually on The Saturday Light Brigade, a kids’ radio show with music, live performances and interviews.

In 2004, supported by broadcasters, foundations, corporations and individuals, SLB Radio Productions opened a $250,000 broadcast studio and training complex in the expanded Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

The Junior League of Pittsburgh is providing administrative and volunteer support as well as $45,000 for the launch. Junior League members will help with business planning and design and run events related to the project.

Grant to ProPublica will support development of news apps

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has awarded ProPublica a $1.9 million grant to support the nonprofit’s work with news applications, the organizations announced today. In addition to app development, the grant will support paid news-app fellowships for journalists at ProPublica’s headquarters, as well as training seminars at journalism conferences.

“We think this is a really rich area,” said Michael Maness, v.p. of journalism and innovation at the Knight foundation. Scott Klein, ProPublica’s news apps editor, told the Nieman Journalism Lab that ProPublica will be developing more news apps focused on campaign financing as the election approaches.

Jul 17, 2012

House Labor HHS proposal would slash pubcasting funding, zero it out in FY15

A Republican House Appropriations Committee funding bill heading for subcommittee mark up Wednesday (July 18) contains deep cuts in federal support for public broadcasting in the next two years and complete defunding in fiscal 2015.

The Labor, Health and Human Services bill proposed by Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) would rescind $111.3 million, or 25 percent, of CPB's FY13 advance appropriation, and $222.5 million, about 50 percent, of its FY14 support. (Complete bill text here, and a summary from the Appropriations Committee here.)

The bill also bans FY13 funding "to pay dues to, acquire programs from, or otherwise support National Public Radio." That's the same language used in a bill last year that attempted to defund NPR, which passed the House but not the Senate (Current, March 21, 2011).

Overall, the proposal would cut funding under lawmakers’ direct control by 4 percent to $150 billion, reports the Washington Post, which also calls it a "controversial spending bill" that "is dead on arrival with Democrats but contains many provisions to please tea party conservatives."

The four major public broadcasting national organizations issued reactions:

CPB President Pat Harrison said the bill "would clearly begin the elimination of CPB funding. This action is in stark contrast to the overwhelming trust and value the American people place in our country’s public broadcasting service. . . . Without the federal investment in public broadcasting, the high-quality content, universal service, and accountability that federal funding has fostered and ensured for the last 45 years would end. The issue of federal funding, and the recommendations in this bill, go directly to whether the United States should have a public broadcasting system." (Full statement here.)

Association of Public Television Stations President Patrick Butler said the proposal "flies in the face of the will of the American people, who routinely rank public broadcasting as one of the best investments the federal government makes and who overwhelmingly support our work and our public service mission, across the ideological spectrum." Butler also said APTS is "grateful" that the Senate Appropriations Committee "has already recommended level funding of $445 million for public broadcasting, and that the President has made the same recommendation in his current budget proposal." (Full statement here.)

PBS President Paula Kerger said, “While we understand the many difficult decisions appropriators must make and that the nation is facing challenging economic times, if enacted, such drastic cuts in federal funding could have a devastating effect on public television stations, especially those in rural areas. Last year, a study conducted by the bipartisan research team of Hart/American Viewpoint found overwhelming public opposition to the elimination of government funding of public broadcasting, with nearly 70 percent of voters — across the political spectrum — opposing such a cut. We urge members of Congress to listen to the American public, which consistently support the federal investment in public broadcasting.”

NPR President Gary Knell said, "We are disappointed and troubled by these proposals and we and our member stations are actively engaging with members of Congress to explain the damage it would do to public radio and television stations if enacted. . . . By prohibiting stations from using CPB funds to pay for NPR programming like Morning Edition and Car Talk, the Subcommittee is overlooking the big role that our programs play in helping stations to raise private sector funds from listeners and businesses in their communities. This provision would undercut stations' ongoing efforts to raise funds locally to support expanded local news, information and cultural programming." (Full statement here.)

Rocky Mountain PBS to create Tim Gill Center for Public Media with building donation

The Gill Foundation, a Colorado-based advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, has donated its building in Colorado Springs to Rocky Mountain PBS, which will create the Tim Gill Center for Public Media, the station announced Tuesday (July 17).

The $1.3 million gift will allow RMPBS to establish the center as a 21-organization collaborative to create cross-platform content and train college students in new-media skills. Partners include the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs; Colorado College and its NPR member station, KRCC; Pikes Peak Community College; Pikes Peak Library District; and the Rocky Mountain Community Radio group, which represents 16 public and community radio stations statewide.

“This catalytic investment is the largest private donation in our 56-year history,” said Doug Price, Rocky Mountain PBS president.

The Gill Foundation has backed pubcasting in the state since 1996 through its Gay and Lesbian Fund. “I have long been a supporter of public broadcasting as an avenue to promote greater community awareness and encourage diverse ideas and healthy public dialogue,” said Tim Gill, founder and board chair of the Foundation. “With the changing media landscape, it’s more important than ever to find innovative business models.”

The foundation recently consolidated operations in Denver, leaving the Colorado Springs building available for sale or donation. Multiple organizations approached the foundation with proposals. The RMPBS proposal “was selected because of the potential impact the Tim Gill Center for Public Media will have in Colorado and nationally,” a statement from the station said.

A public celebration and ribbon-cutting event will take place in September when the center opens.

Jul 16, 2012

Pew notes "complex, symbiotic relationship" between citizens, news orgs on YouTube

The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism examined 15 months' worth of the most popular news videos on YouTube, which revealed "that a complex, symbiotic relationship has developed between citizens and news organizations on YouTube, a relationship that comes close to the continuous journalistic 'dialogue' many observers predicted would become the new journalism online."

Pew analyzed some 260 videos between January 2011 and March 2012, identifying and tracking the five most viewed each week on the site's news and politics channel, noting the nature of the videos, topics viewed most often and who produced and posted each.

Pew reports that news organizations "are taking advantage of citizen content and incorporating it into their journalism. Consumers, in turn, seem to be embracing the interplay in what they watch and share, creating a new kind of television news. At the same time, clear ethical standards have not developed on how to attribute the video content moving through the synergistic sharing loop."

"For the news industry," Pew noted, "the growth of YouTube and other video sharing sites represent a significant opportunity and also a challenge. News producers can use the site to grow their audience, find citizen-created videos, build their brand and generate revenue. At the same time, video-sharing sites are yet another platform they must understand — and to which they must adapt."

Reviewers weigh in on "Market Warriors"

Tonight (July 16) marks the premiere of Market Warriors, the much-anticipated companion program to WGBH's longtime pubTV fave Antiques Roadshow. A few reviews:

From the Boston Globe: "The formula may not be exactly new — the BBC has been doing something similar for more than 20 years with Bargain Hunt, and History is debuting a similar offering this week with Picked Off — but Market Warriors promises to be as addictive as Antiques Roadshow."

The San Francisco Chronicle: "If it wasn't kind of boring because it's too long, Market Warriors might seem like a Saturday Night Live sketch about what would happen if PBS started doing dumb reality shows."

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "Market Warriors is likely to appeal to Antiques Roadshow fans, but it's also a calculated effort to compete with more popular offerings on cable, which undercuts arguments that PBS offers TV shows you can't find elsewhere."

The Deseret News, Salt Lake City, Utah: ". . . buffs of antique and collectibles who have made Antiques Roadshow a success will get a kick out of this spin-off. Like its predecessor, Market Warriors has an educational element that proves to be just as enjoyable."

Radio Ambulante tells stories from Latin America

The Nieman Journalism Lab profiles Radio Ambulante, a new, bimonthly Spanish-language show for radio and online that features narrative journalism from Latin America. The show has raised $46,000 via Kickstarter, and its producers hope it will be aired on stations in Latin America starting next year. “Latin America is a continent of narrators and storytellers, and for us it was obvious to put such oral tradition together with radio, and adding journalistic rigor to the mix,” says Daniel Alarc√≥n, a writer and one of the show’s founders. You can hear Radio Ambulante’s first episode here.

Jul 13, 2012

Ford-backed marketing campaign aims to boost pubradio listening

SEATTLE — The Ford Foundation will provide a $750,000 grant to NPR in support of a new marketing campaign designed to build awareness and listenership of local stations.

The grant, announced by NPR President Gary Knell during a Friday (July 13) luncheon at the Public Media Development and Marketing Conference, will help NPR respond to recent research findings that measured high trust rankings for NPR among news consumers, yet also revealed that a sizable portion of the potential audience — 25 percent ­— isn’t aware that NPR exists.

Four stations to participate in the campaign have already been identified: KERA, Dallas; WFYI, Indianapolis; WMFE, Orlando; and KPBS, San Diego.

Harris Interactive conducted the national brand study in late 2011 with 2,500 adults aged 18 and older, according to Dana Davis Rehm, NPR’s chief spokesperson. News consumers who knew of NPR rated it very highly among other top news brands, including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and cable news outlets CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, she said. Only the BBC had higher trust rankings.

“But the downside was our visibility,” Rehm said. “If 25 percent of adults do not know who we are, we’ve got work to do.”

The Harris study’s findings echoed those of earlier audience research — the 2010 Audience Opportunity Study — which found that millions of news consumers who shared the same values as public radio listeners were not aware of NPR.

To test the effectiveness of the campaign on a national scale, NPR chose stations for geographic diversity, Rehm said. It also sought stations that with no public radio news competitors in their markets.

The marketing campaign has not yet been created, but will be designed to increase the cumulative audience of each participating station as measured by Arbitron, as well as the numbers of people listening to the station’s web stream. The campaign will place billboard and digital ads in each market.

NPR has solicited proposals from ad agencies and is in the process of deciding which will win the contract, Rehm said. The campaign launch is set for later this fall.

CJR eyes Center for Public Integrity's recent unsuccessful foray into daily journalism

Columbia Journalism Review takes an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity's recent unsuccessful effort to remake itself as a daily destination news site instead of concentrating on its specialty, long-form journalism. The plan was to post 10 or more stories per day, to drive website traffic and boost underwriting support.

Now, CJR notes, while the center "will continue to publish a handful of original stories each week, the focus will return to partnering with outside news organizations to produce in-depth investigations."

“We took our general operating support and invested it in the new business model, expecting it would bring a financial return,” said the center’s executive director, pubradio veteran Bill Buzenberg. “That hasn’t happened.”

Last December, the center announced a $2 million budget shortfall, cut more than a third of its staff and exhausted $1.4 million of its reserves, according to CJR.

The center is also home to several other pubradio broadcasters, including former NPR News chief Ellen Weiss.

George Stoney dies at 96; documentarian and founder of public access television

George Stoney, a pioneer documentary filmmaker who is also widely recognized as the founder of public access television, died Thursday (July 12) at his home in New York City. He had celebrated his 96th birthday on July 1.

A posting on the website of the Center for Media & Democracy, a Vermont public access TV incubator, called Stoney an "unflagging champion of free speech, open media and opportunity for all."

As he said in an interview Documentary magazine with last winter: "It's like writing. We have professional journalists, and we have novelists, and we have volunteer poets. There's no reason why we should restrict the cameras to professionals, and at the same time, there's no reason why professionals can't do a very good job."  

At the time of his death, Stoney was a professor emeritus of film and television at New York University. There, in 1971, Stoney and Red Burns founded the Alternate Media Center to train citizens in video production techniques for the fledgling public access television, and lobbied Congress for its support. He was instrumental in persuading the FCC to mandate that cable operators to fund equipment, training, and airtime, according to Massachusetts Community Media Inc.

Stoney was an active member of the board of directors for the Alliance for Community Media. That advocacy organization presents its annual George Stoney-Dirk Koning Award to "an organization or individual who has made an outstanding contribution to championing the growth and experience of humanistic community communications," the group said in a statement.

In a 2005 interview with Democracy Now!, Stoney spoke of the importance of citizen involvement in media, saying that supporters "look on cable as a way of encouraging public action, not just access. Social change comes with a combination of use of media and people getting out on the streets or getting involved. And we find that if people make programs together and put them on the local channel, that gets them involved."

As a filmmaker, Stoney directed several influential documentaries, including 1953's All My Babies: A Midwife's Own Story, a training film, and The Uprising of '34, a 1995 film about a nationwide textile strike of some half-million workers.

Colorado broadcasters team up for wildfire relief fundraiser

Fox, CBS, ABC, NBC, Univision, CPT12 and Rocky Mountain PBS all broadcast from RMPBS's studios. (Photo by Tom Torgove, RMPBS.)

Colorado's major broadcasters, both public and commercial, participated in a massive fundraiser to support the Colorado Chapters of the American Red Cross and the Colorado Professional Fire Fighters Foundation from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday (July 11). The fundraiser netted more than $220,000, with all proceeds going to the organizations.

Rocky Mountain PBS and Colorado Public Television partnered with public media organizations Aspen Public Radio, KUVO, KUNC and KRCC as well as eight commercial stations (9NEWS, 7NEWS, Azteca Colorado, CBS4, KDVR, KWGN, Noticias Univision and KDEN Telemundo Denver) to host a live phone bank to benefit the two organizations. Rocky Mountain PBS hosted the event in its Denver studios, providing 42 phones and 300 phone lines that Red Cross volunteers answered all evening. All of the participating stations featured breaks in regularly scheduled programming to promote the phone bank throughout the evening.

“This was truly a unique collaboration of Colorado broadcasters," said Doug Price, president and c.e.o. of Rocky Mountain PBS. "Many of these stations are commonly seen as competitors in this market, but we unified as a team — swiftly and enthusiastically — to provide impressive collective impact for our statewide audience in a time of need. I am overwhelmed with pride for Colorado’s media and its audiences.”

According to Elizabeth Mayer, director of communications at RMPBS, the Red Cross chapters received $156,397, and those donations will immediately help fund the organization’s response to recent wildfires as well as flooding and other disasters that occur in Colorado. The Fire Fighters Foundation received $63,603, and will allocate that to assist professional and volunteer firefighters adversely affected by the recent wildfires, such as those whose own homes were damaged or destroyed. Any remaining funds will be dedicated to fulfilling the foundation’s mission of helping firefighters and their families who are victims of tragedy.

The morning of the fundraiser, the relief effort received a surprise commitment from an anonymous Colorado organization promising to match donations up to $40,000. Beginning at 4 p.m., individual viewers called in at a consistent pace, keeping the phone lines ringing all evening and contributing about 75 percent of the total funds raised. Major donations came from the Colorado Broadcasters Association ($5,000) and KMGH presented $10,000 from the Scripps Howard Foundation.

“The phone bank was a powerful example of what public broadcasting can, and should, do in a community," said Wick Rowland, president and c.e.o. of Colorado Public Television. "Coming together to provide relief to our neighbors is what true community engagement is about."

To contribute to relief efforts, visit the Help Colorado Now website.

Phone bank volunteers hard at work. (Photo: Tom Torgove, RMPBS.)

Jul 12, 2012

NPR Digital looks to geo-targeting, ad injection to raise online revenue

SEATTLE — A  push for more locally targeted content and ads may be the answer for attracting more web users and listeners to public radio stations' digital content, NPR Digital representatives said during a sponsor showcase on July 12 during the 2012 Public Media Development and Marketing Conference.

"Trying to be all things to all people might not get it done in terms of building a digital audience," NPR Digital g.m. Bob Kempf said, emphasizing the need to free stations to focus on local content.

The digital team demonstrated a new geo-targeting feature they've incorporated into NPR's Facebook page. It allows the social media site to sense where users are clicking from and highlight content based on their location. In a four-month pilot program, NPR.org visitors who resided in Seattle saw a total of 60 locally focused stories produced by KPLU, the news and jazz station serving Seattle and Tacoma. The resulting click-throughs drew more than 50,000 additional visits to KPLU's site, driving usage that set new records for online traffic in a day and month, as well as a spurt in the story engagement rate among Seattle users. The story engagement metric, which is measured through "Likes," comments and shares, was more than six times that of the global engagement rate.

NPR Digital is rolling out geo-targeting to four additional stations and plans to expand the program in the fall.

Additionally, the digital team is testing a "local news" box, a small section on the NPR.org homepage that uses IP addresses to detect a user's station and automatically generate localized content from the station's website. They've seen an 18-percent success rate from NPR.org visitors in the select markets where the box is being tested.

Bryan Moffett, v.p. of digital strategy and operations for National Public Media, shared estimates of the growth in aggregate values of digital sponsorship credits of public media stations. Some categories, namely web banners, are projected to grow exponentially in value by 2015 — to $10.5 million from $4,200 in 2010. The inventory of mobile banner credits is valued at more than $6.7 million, up from $450,000. Credits attached to station audio streams would grow to $44.1 million by 2015,  more than triple their value of $12.5 million in 2010.

To automate the online credits and ads, NPR Digital is developing a new technology called Ad Injector that allows stations to insert localized credits in audio streams, replacing the spots that run on broadcast. This sponsorship program will be made available to all member stations following a 90-day alpha pilot.

Kempf dismissed concerns that Ad Injector would interfere with stations' blanket licensing agreements for streaming national content: "We've determined that injecting an ad is not altering the national [agreement]," he said.

Editor's note: Earlier versions of this post misinterpreted a slide that Moffet presented on the values of public media stations' digital credit inventories in 2010 and 2015.