Feb 29, 2012

"The Interrupters" most popular doc of 2011 with awards, festivals, critics

The Interrupters topped the P.O.V. blog's exhaustive list of the best documentaries of the past year, based on lists from critical acclaim, documentary festivals, industry organizations and online voting. The Kartemquin Films production, which  recently ran on Frontline, tells the stories of three individuals in Chicago who literally interrupt situations on the streets that are brewing into violent confrontations. Don't miss the blog's cool graphic tracking dozens of films.

Feb 28, 2012

AOL and PBS partner to launch "Makers: Women Who Make America" online

AOL and PBS today launched the multiplatform project "Makers: Women Who Make America" to showcase "hundreds of compelling stories from women of today and tomorrow," as the site says. Tim Armstrong, AOL c.e.o., told Bloomberg News, "Women’s content is a major strategic focus for us."

"Makers" filmmaker Dyllan McGee called the online-first approach "the future of documentaries." The 59 interviews on the site so far include Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, tennis great Billy Jean King, newswoman Barbara Walters, entertainment icon Oprah Winfrey and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. In 2013, PBS will premiere a related three-hour documentary telling the story of the women's movement over the last 50 years. WETA in Arlington, Va., will develop national outreach.

Butler of APTS reflects on year's successes, but notes more work ahead

"What a difference a year makes," Patrick Butler, president of the Association of Public Television Stations, told the crowd at the group's Public Media Summit on Monday (Feb. 27) in Arlington, Va. Last year at this time, Butler notes, the House of Representatives had just voted to eliminate all federal funding for public broadcasting. But since then pubcasters have notched several victories, including resurrecting the fiscal 2011 appropriation for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting from zero to $445 million.

"Washington wisdom has it that we are likely to bump along this year with a series of stop-gap funding measures through the election; and that the mother of all lame-duck Congresses will come back after the elections to deal with a host of pressing tax and spending issues," Butler said. "Uncertain as these prospects may be, we can take great confidence in the fact that we have earned the support of some of the most powerful Republicans and Democrats in this city. And we have made ourselves a force to be reckoned with in Washington, D.C."

His full speech to pubcasters is online here.

Today (Feb. 28), participants travel to Capitol Hill to meet with legislators, where they'll be greeted by a pep talk from pubTV documentarian Ken Burns.

Feb 27, 2012

Native applicant loses permit to start new radio station

The FCC has denied the request of a Native American college in New Mexico for more time to build a new noncommercial FM station. (PDF of decision.)

Navajo Technical College in Crownpoint, N.M., had run into a number of setbacks as it worked toward getting its new station on the air. To start with, the school blew past its FCC-imposed deadline for starting the station due to a misunderstanding. It then revealed to the FCC that it couldn’t build the station at the location it had initially proposed because the solar-powered facility at the site would produce too little power. NTC blamed this error on a consultant who has since been fired.

The college was able to find an alternate location but found that a station at the new site would reach a smaller audience than had initially been promised to the FCC. That nullified its permit, which was given on the condition that the larger audience would be served.

NTC now has the option of appealing the decision, or it may be able to start over with a new application, according to an FCC spokesperson.

Ramsey on diaries vs. PPM, from the ad buyer's POV

On his blog, media strategist Mark Ramsey argues that the old Arbitron diaries were better at showing which stations a listener actually values and engages with, as opposed to PPM, which doesn’t depend on a listener’s impressions to record and deliver data. Check out his video.

If Ramsey is right, what are the implications for public radio? Are stations that have abandoned diaries missing out on valuable information, and, if so, how to recover it?

Hawaii, Detroit stations win EDGE Awards; Stevens gets advocacy honor from APTS

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Association of Public Television Stations today (Feb. 27) presented two EDGE Awards (Excellence in Digital Transition, Groundbreaking Partnerships and Educational Technologies), and its David J. Brugger Grassroots Advocacy Award, named for its former president and c.e.o., at the APTS Public Media Summit here.

EDGE winners are Detroit Public Television for its Great Lakes Now coverage (Current, Oct. 17, 2011), and PBS Hawaii for Hiki Nō (“Can do”), its news production project with dozens of the state’s schools. The Brugger Award went to Catherine Ann Stevens, a former longtime WETA Board member and wife of the late pubcasting champion Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

In Detroit, for the first time, six major entities focused on issues concerning the Great Lakes — the International Joint Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Areas of Concern Program, the Great Lakes Commission, The Healing Our Waters/Great Lakes Coalition and Environment Canada — hosted events in the same city during the same week. DPTV delivered on-air, online and on-demand coverage Oct. 11-14, 2011, distributed to 22 broadcast partners in 23 markets including Canada, reaching some 300,000 viewers, listeners and web users. In accepting the award, station President Rich Homberg said the production “was one of the most complex Detroit Public Television has ever put together,” with an HD uplink, 14 HD cameras and crew of more than 30.

Leslie Wilcox, president of PBS Hawaii, and Robert Pennybacker, v.p. of creative services, accepted that station’s honors for Hiki Nō, which launched in January 2010. Wilcox said 73 middle and high schools across six islands now participate, and the numbers are growing; two elementary schools are also involved in the “enormously labor intensive project.” Station staffers mentor teachers in journalism and video production and students create content that has grown into a weekly primetime program, 52 weeks a year. Pennybacker said “most people thought we were crazy,” when the station announced the project, “and I guess we were, but it works. Every Thursday Hawaii gets to see the future of media and it looks pretty good.”

APTS President Pat Butler called Catherine Ann Stevens a “stalwart support” of public broadcasting, on Capitol Hill as well as in Alaska, who “volunteered for special duty” during the most recent federal funding crisis, adding that her honor is “richly deserved.” Stevens said, “I’m so enthused to see so many people here, this is what it’s all about,” and wished the participants luck during their visits to the Hill on Tuesday.

Rosen gives thumbs-up to NPR's new ethics handbook

Media critic Jay Rosen takes a look at NPR’s new ethics handbook, released last week, and likes what he sees, particularly the handbook’s guidance regarding balance and fairness in reporting. “At all times, we report for our readers and listeners, not our sources,” the guide says. “So our primary consideration when presenting the news is that we are fair to the truth.”

“With these words, NPR commits itself as an organization to avoid the worst excesses of ‘he said, she said’ journalism,” Rosen writes on his PressThink blog. “It says to itself that a report characterized by false balance is a false report. It introduces a new and potentially powerful concept of fairness: being ‘fair to the truth,’ which as we know is not always evenly distributed among the sides in a public dispute.”

Rosen’s post also includes a brief Q&A with Matt Thompson, an editorial product manager at NPR, who co-wrote the new handbook.

Feb 26, 2012

APTS trustees approve new membership dues formula based on CSG

ARLINGTON, Va. – After holding membership dues flat for several years because of the recession, and researching numerous possible revamps of dues calculations, the Association of Public Television Stations will return to its original dues formula, based on a percentage of each pubTV station’s Community Service Grant, beginning with fiscal 2013. The APTS Board of Trustees today (Feb. 26) voted unanimously to adopt a formula based on 2 percent of the CSG, with a phase-in period during which no station will pay $2,000 more or less than its current dues. APTS is asking its three largest member stations, WNET in New York City, WGBH in Boston and WETA in Arlington, to continue to pay their current rate for the time being, said trustee John Harris, president of Prairie Public Broadcasting in Fargo, N.D., who headed work on the dues formula, which began in November 2010. APTS President Pat Butler told the board that WNET and WETA have agreed, and WGBH appears likely to do so. Butler said one of the objectives of the dues review was to do away with complicated special arrangements, such as multiple-station membership deals for California and Pennsylvania. “We wanted to get back to a dues formula that is simple, transparent and defensible,” he said.

Three new board members participated in the meeting: Dr. Roger Gose, board chair of Central Wyoming Community College in Riverton, Wyoming PBS’s licensee; Allan Pizzato, executive director of Alabama Public Television in Birmingham; and Landri Taylor, lay trustee, Rocky Mountain PBS in Denver.

Feb 25, 2012

"Downton" Emmy category switch may prompt "TV awards smackdown"

The hit Edwardian costume drama Downton Abbey from Masterpiece Classic is switching Emmy categories from mini-series to drama, "thereby setting up a fierce TV awards smackdown," according to awards news site Gold Derby, in an exclusive report by Tom O'Neil, author of the books Movie Awards, The Emmys and The Grammys. Last year, O'Neil writes, Downton's Season 1 won best miniseries "over widespread complaints" that it was a drama series "masquerading" as a mini-series in order to avoid competing with Emmy heavy hitter Mad Men. Season 1 of Downton had four episodes; Season 2, seven — exceeding the six that generally define a regular series.

O'Neil points out that the after another PBS Brit hit, Upstairs, Downstairs, won best drama series twice, in 1974 and '75, the TV academy moved it to the best limited series category so it wouldn't compete against favorite American shows like The Waltons and Kojak. "But Upstairs, Downstairs triggered a new outcry when it beat the hugely popular mini Rich Man, Poor Man," O'Neil notes.

The 2012 Emmy Awards will be broadcast Sept. 23.

Feb 24, 2012

At NPR, Wilson promoted to chief content officer, Low Smith to senior news v.p.

NPR President Gary Knell has restructured the news organization's top ranks, elevating digital chief Kinsey Wilson to executive v.p. and chief content officer, and appointing Margaret Low Smith as senior v.p. of news, a job she took on an interim basis last year.

When Wilson joined NPR as senior v.p. and general manager of digital media in 2008, the position was parallel to the senior news exec post then held by Ellen Weiss. Knell's restructuring elevates Wilson in NPR's organization chart to supervise all of NPR's content areas — news, programming and digital media.

"In Kinsey and Margaret, we have two journalists, strategists and leaders with a keen understanding of the craft that distinguishes NPR — and how we continue to innovate and evolve," Knell said in a news release.

In an interview with NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik, Knell described his objective to create "a unified and strategic approach" to providing news, cultural programming and other content across radio, online and mobile platforms, according to Mark Memmott, blogger/reporter for NPR's The Two Way. "Radio is not going away, radio is going everywhere," Knell reportedly said.

Additional changes in NPR's executive ranks to take effect immediately:

Eric Nuzum, acting v.p. of programming, takes the job permanently, succeeding Smith as she officially takes over as news chief;

Keith Woods, v.p. of diversity in news and operations, expands his collaborative work with NPR stations to bring greater diversity to public radio's audiences. He now reports directly to Knell.

Joyce McDonald, v.p. for membership and audience partnership, also directly reports to Knell.

Knell adopted the new reporting structure for Woods and McDonald to ensure that he has "a direct line into NPR's work with its community of stations."

Feb 23, 2012

Oscar nominee "If a Tree Falls" now streaming on P.O.V. website

The full-length Academy Award-nominated documentary If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, which premiered on P.O.V. last year, is now streaming on the show's website through March 4. The film, exploring environmentalism and terrorism, is up for the documentary feature Oscar this Sunday (Feb. 26). It's a co-production of ITVS, directed by Marshall Curry, and won best documentary editing at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

Some 5.4 million viewers watched "Downton" finale, PBS says

Ratings for the Season 2 finale of Downton Abbey on Masterpiece Classic are in, and the Feb. 19 episode scored the highest numbers for a PBS program since the premiere of Ken Burns’s National Parks in September 2009. An average audience of 5.4 million viewers (a 3.5 Nielsen household rating) watched, not including those viewing through station replays, DVRs or online streaming. On the web, full episodes of Season 2 received 4.8 million views on the PBS Video Portal, an increase of more than 400 percent over Season 1. Downton content accounted for more than 9 million streams from 1.5 million unique visitors across all platforms since the Season 2 premiere on Jan. 8, and has contributed to the "highest days of traffic ever seen" on the Masterpiece website, PBS said.

This Keillor-hosted fundraiser isn't helping public radio

Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor has never tried to hide his liberal political leanings, but his decision to host a private fundraiser this week for President Obama's reelection campaign has worked the conservative blogosphere into a lather about NPR's political bias.

The trouble is, NPR has no control over Keillor or his nationally syndicated weekly program. Neither does Minnesota-based American Public Media Group, which distributes Prairie Home Companion to public radio stations. Prairie Home Companion is not a news program -- it's an entertainment show -- and Keillor's own production company is responsible for its content.

"Mr. Keillor's political opinions and activities are his own, and do not reflect the views of APMG or its affiliated companies," said Bill Gray, spokesman. APM's ethical policies prohibit those who work in news and public affairs programming from participating in partisan political activities, but "Mr. Keillor is not a journalist, and thus his political opinions and activities do not have an impact on how news is presented to listeners."

NPR has spent more than a year updating its ethical standards to withstand the white-hot scrutiny that came after the firing of news analyst Juan Williams, and public radio and TV have just adopted an industry-wide code of editorial integrity, yet the field can't get around the glee that political foes will take in bashing public radio when given the opportunity.

Michigan Radio News Director Vincent Duffy sees nothing unethical with Keillor's decision to host the fundraiser, but he describes it as "a bone headed move."

Keillor "is certainly aware that most of America probably thinks he has an office down the hall from Terry Gross and the Car Talk guys," Duffy writes on his blog. "He also must be aware that a large crowd in America enjoys pointing fingers at NPR and screaming, “Liberals!” and working to cut the ever dwindling amount of public tax dollars that stations receive."

Duffy faults Keillor for failing to consider how his political activism affects the local stations that carry his program. Stations take heat from angry listeners who write or call them and, in some cases, cancel the membership donations that make it possible for them to acquire and broadcast Prairie Home Companion.

APM understands the difficulty that Keillor's activities have caused for stations, but it remains focused "solely on the programs that his production company produces for us," Gray said. "We trust that audiences clearly understand the difference between news programming and entertainment programming."

NETA, Coca-Cola Bottlers partnering on insurance for pubcasting stations

The National Educational Telecommunications Association today (Feb. 23) announced that it is offering group health insurance coverage plans to pubcasters, a project it has been working on for several years. So far, 70 licensees, both television and radio, representing nearly 2,900 individuals, are participating in the new initiative. NETA is partnering with the Coca-Cola Bottlers Association to provide the coverage, through that company's Alliance of Professional Service Organizations (APSO) subsidiary. The partnership marks "the beginning of significant savings and improved insurance coverage opportunities for those who participate," NETA President Skip Hinton said in the announcement. APSO currently serves nearly 300 employers, including the majority of the soft-drink bottlers and more than 200 others, representing nearly 25,000 individuals. The financial benefit to pubcasting stations and related organizations "will be immediate and substantial," Hinton said. In addition to cost savings, participants gain access to comprehensive coverage; wellness and care management; information and consultation on health care reform, contribution strategies and coverage questions; streamlined administration of eligibility, billing, enrollment, and reduced stop loss premiums. Anita Sims, NETA v.p. for finance and business development, headed the initiative, along with NETA's Business Center. "The captive is our largest initiative to date and one that will benefit many stations right now,” Sims said. “Looking ahead, I foresee exponential savings in a budget line that is a great concern to public broadcasters everywhere.”

Feb 22, 2012

Final choices set for U.S. pubmedia selections to INPUT in Sydney

Official selections have been finalized for the United States public broadcasting content to be screened at INPUT, the annual weeklong international public media showcase, coming in May in Australia. Screening in Sydney May 7-12 will be “Flawed,” the story of a woman’s long-distance relationship with a plastic surgeon, from POV; “More Than a Month,” about the history of Black History Month, from Independent Lens; “Southern Belle,” which went inside a Civil War historical-reenactment summer camp for girls, from Nashville Public Television and MakeWright Films; “Wham! Bam! Islam!,” on the man behind a comic book of Muslim superheroes, from Independent Lens, and “Worker Drone,” part of the online Futurestates project from ITVS. Pre-selection took place Nov. 16-20 in Charleston, S.C.; final choices were made by an international panel of 14 INPUT “Shopstewards.” Supervising the initial selection process was US INPUT National Coordinator Amy Shumaker of South Carolina ETV.

PBS's first Online Film Festival premiering on Feb. 27

PBS kicks off its first-ever Online Film Festival on Feb. 27, showcasing 20 short pubmedia films from and YouTube over five weeks. Partnering in the project are organizations that make up the pubmedia minority consortia — the Center for Asian American Media, Latino Public Broadcasting, Native American Public Telecommunications, the National Black Programming Consortium and Pacific Islanders Consortium — as well as the Independent Television Service and P.O.V. The festival will be available on, and also marks the debut of the redesigned PBS YouTube channel. Viewers may vote for favorites online for a People’s Choice festival award. PBS will Tweet from #PBSolff during the five-week run.

Asendio resigned over ethics dispute with WAMU brass

Jim Asendio's sudden departure as news director of WAMU in Washington, D.C., was triggered by an internal dispute over his reporters' participation in private meetings with major donors.

Asendio objected when he and two journalists from his newsroom were required to participate in a "Meet the Producers" breakfast and panel discussion, which the station hosted this morning (Feb. 22). Involving WAMU reporters in the meeting was an unethical breech of the station's editorial firewall, Asendio said in an interview with Current, and the sort of interaction that he forbid during his six-year tenure as news chief.

"I maintain a strict firewall between the working journalists in the newsroom and the funders who fund the station," Asendio said. "It's my responsibility to keep them separate." Donor-only events involving reporters are especially problematic, he said. "Journalists should not participate in those events."

Asendio challenged Program Director Mark McDonald about the meeting and later took his objections to General Manager Caryn Mathes, who gave him an ultimatum. "She said that by not participating in a major station event I would be making a 'permanent and irreversible statement about whether I was part of her management team,'" Asendio recalled.

"I could either not show up and be in trouble, or show up and violate my ethics, so I tendered my resignation," Asendio said.

In a statement, WAMU said the donor meeting had been structured to prevent one-on-one contact between reporters and donors. Nine WAMU reporters and producers participated in the panel talk, which McDonald moderated, discussing the process of producing news reports and talk programming and taking questions from the audience.

"Allowing people to see the impact that their investment makes in our work is completely appropriate," the WAMU statement said. "However, the station does not permit crossing the line between a funder seeing that impact and a funder being allowed input into the planning process for coverage."

Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple, who broke the story of Asendio's resignation on Feb. 21, believes that Asendio may have over-reacted to the donor meeting. "Holding a panel discussion exclusively for donors to discuss the station’s mission and approach to the news — that seems like a fair way to keep your funders feeling appreciated while at the same time preventing the corruption of your news product," Wemple wrote. "Asendio appears to believe that the alarm should sound whenever a WAMU journo gets close enough to a WAMU donor to smell her breath. Too often such encounters are genuinely innocent social exchanges."

"A bona fide breach of Asendio’s firewall takes place when donors exert pressure on the newsroom’s story choices and execution," Wemple wrote.

A veteran of CBS Radio who led WAMU's news room through a dramatic expansion, Asendio had become increasingly uncomfortable with efforts within public radio to reel in big gifts by introducing donors to journalists, he told Current. He recalled a recent meeting with development staff from NPR and WAMU in which he was told: "'Major donors expect access.'"

"I said, 'I don't do that. They can have access to me, but not my reporter. I'd rather not have the money.'"

WAMU officials declined requests for interviews.

Disclosure: WAMU is licensed to American University, which manages Current as a separate journalism unit within its School of Communication. This post has been updated.

WFYI denies any link to TV production company approaching local nonprofits

WFYI in Indianapolis is warning local organizations that it has no ties to Vision Media Television, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based company that says it can produce informational segments about the groups to appear on public television, reports the Indianapolis Business Journal.

On its website, Vision Media Television references its relationship with Joan Lunden, but Lunden has posted a warning distancing herself from similar firms on her own website. PBS also includes a warning on its website, and cites Vision Media Television among various entities claiming to produce content for broadcast on  national public television for a fee.

In Indianapolis, several nonprofits have been contacted by the company, which asks for up to $26,000 to cover production costs, and claims the content will run on public television. The New York Times covered the firm's pitch as far back as 2008, when Vision Media was using retired broadcaster Hugh Downs' name, and Current wrote in 2004 about a Boca Raton firm using a similar approach and dropping the names of veteran newsmen Morley Safer and Walter Cronkite.

"Downton" helps PBS SoCal reach beyond typical PBS audience

The massive popularity of Downton Abbey on Masterpiece Classic "couldn't have come at a better time" for KOCE, the new PBS primary station in the Los Angeles market now known as PBS SoCal, writes TV Guide's Michael Schneider at his blog, Franklin Avenue.

"Downton Abbey enabled us to reach audiences that are not just the typical PBS audience, including younger people, and gave us a chance to establish ourselves as the area's PBS station," Mel Rogers, station president, told Schneider. Downton's season finale on Sunday (Feb. 19) scored a 2.3 rating and 4 share in the Los Angeles market.

Remembering WJWJ

The recent announcement that South Carolina ETV was closing WJWJ in Beaufort County due to budget woes prompted this rich reminiscence in the Beaufort Gazette by the paper's former longtime editor, Pete Pillow, who also spent five years as a producer and anchor on WJWJ's weeknight newscast, from 1978 to 1983.

"There was no high-def television or satellite reception back then," he recalls. "A special antenna was needed to even get WJWJ's signal. One of our initial tasks was teaching viewers how to avoid a snowy picture by manually fine-tuning their sets for Channel 16. A safecracker's dexterity would have helped."

As for production, "field reports were videotaped," he writes, "but the nightly newscast was live — television at its most daring and mistake-prone. Slips of the tongue could render one (or both) anchors helpless with mirth. Nothing to do but laugh out loud when one of us referred to septuagenarian Strom Thurmond as 'South Carolina's senior citizen' rather than — correctly — the state's 'senior senator' in Washington."

"No story was too large or small for our newscast," Pillow says. "We profiled candidates seeking city, town and county seats. We forecast nonprofit fundraisers. We encouraged pet adoptions from the animal shelter. We beat the drum for downtown revitalization. We celebrated the history of Decoration Day at the Beaufort National Cemetery. We tracked Hurricane David's winds and rains until the storm knocked out our power. We covered the Heritage links and the Family Circle Cup tennis courts."

"Against commercial TV odds," he notes, "we somehow gained a core constituency of everyday people so engaged in what we did that they committed extra time and effort to welcome us into their lives, into their homes, on a regular basis. And were proud to tell us about it. That's a WJWJ legacy that even today's budget-cutters in Columbia can't take away."

Feb 21, 2012

News Director Jim Asendio gone from WAMU, staffers told in memo

WAMU News Director Jim Asendio has left the station, according to an internal station memo posted by the Washington Post. Mark McDonald, program director at the American University licensee in Washington, D.C., told staffers: "Jim has left WAMU. We wish him well in his future endeavors. Meymo Lyons is Acting News Director with immediate effect, and she and I will be working with the newsroom staff to find a replacement for Jim in the coming days and weeks."

UPDATE: Journalist Dave Hughes, who runs DCRTV, an independent website about radio and television in the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore area, reports that Asendio told him: "I resigned as news director at WAMU because I did not agree with an upper management decision to have reporters meet with donors at a donor-only station-sponsored event. It is my long held and oft-stated belief that working journalists should not be subjected to the real or perceived influence of the individuals and/or foundations who fund the work of the newsroom."

New Hampshire town starting new PEG channel

While the Alliance for Community Media fights to keep PEG (public, educational and government) channels on the air, there are local bright spots emerging, such as in Exeter, N.H., which is starting a new public-access channel, according to the Exeter News-Letter in Portsmouth. "I think of it as an opportunity for people to be more of a part of their community and to know what is going on," Doug York, the Exeter Public Television coordinator, told the paper. "It can also be a way for people to express themselves artistically." Supporters of the public-access channel have spent the past few years working on the project.

First-ever Prize for Civility in Public Life goes to Brooks and Shields of "PBS NewsHour"

The inaugural Prize for Civility in Public Life, presented by Allegheny College, a small liberal arts school in Meadville, Pa., goes to PBS NewsHour political commentators David Brooks and Mark Shields. In a column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, college President James H. Mullen Jr. said the school is "launching a quest" to reverse the "rise of incivility in our democracy" with the award, presented today (Feb. 21) at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Jim Lehrer, PBS NewsHour executive editor, said in a statement, "Mark Shields and David Brooks deserve this and all other awards there are or ever will be for civility. They live it and practice it ways that are truly unique.”

"Incivility threatens the long-term health of our democracy," Mullen writes in the Post-Gazette. "But the harsh truth is, we're not doing anything serious to change it. Instead, incivility is too often rewarded. And civility is usually taken for granted or ignored. If we're serious about enhancing civility, we must shine a bright light on the unsung heroes of democracy today — the many women and men who practice partisan politics passionately but with civility, each and every day. Civility will become a norm only when rewards for civility become a norm."

Mullen has high praise for the Friday evening on-air dynamic between Brooks and Shields, which the show has dubbed "Political conversation, not a shouting match." "Every week Mr. Brooks and Mr. Shields come together on PBS NewsHour to vigorously debate the issues of the day, respecting each other as they do so," he writes. "They demonstrate that civility does not require one to be tepid. Mr. Brooks proudly argues from the right; Mr. Shields from the left. But they advocate their views with steadfast civility."

Mullen concluded: "Civility is a choice. We must help public servants and candidates make that choice. Until we do so, we are part of the incivility problem — no matter how politely we sit on the sidelines."

UPDATE: Video of the presentation is now online here.

Feb 20, 2012

CPB-backed collaborators release Code of Editorial Integrity for pubmedia

The Editorial Integrity for Public Media Project has released its Code of Editorial Integrity for Local Public Media Organizations, a set of guidelines intended to serve as an ethical compass for TV and radio stations throughout the system. The Code stems from a joint effort of public TV’s Affinity Group Coalition, which began work on the guidelines two years ago, and public radio’s Station Resource Group, and it draws on guidance from a wide range of stakeholders in public media. “We think public media organizations will find much in the Code that affirms current work and makes us proud of the principles for which we stand,” wrote SRG’s Tom Thomas and Byron Knight, emeritus director of Wisconsin Public Broadcasting, in an email accompanying the release of the Code. “We know most of us will also find areas that we can address more closely.” Aspects of station activities that are covered by the guidelines include journalism, selection of programs, management, partnerships, and fundraising. Stations are encouraged to adopt the guidelines and promote their involvement on their websites.

"Frontline" takes home all four Writers Guild documentary/news awards

Frontline swept the documentary and news categories of the Writers Guild Awards Sunday (Feb. 19) in Los Angeles, winning all four honors. "Top Secret America," written by Michael Kirk and Mike Wiser, claimed the documentary — current events award; "Wiki Secrets," by Marcela Gaviria and Martin Smith, documentary — other than current events; "Educating Sergeant Pantzke," by John Maggio and Martin Smith, news — regularly scheduled, bulletin or breaking report; and "Doctor Hotspot," by Thomas Jennings, news — analysis, feature or commentary. The WGAs were presented in Los Angeles by the Writers Guild of America, West. Here's a complete list of winners.

"Downton Abbey" shouldn't "go on and on forever," its creator says

Now that the second season of Downton Abbey on Masterpiece Classic has wrapped up, creator Julian Fellowes took time for a question-and-answer session with the New York Times in which he reveals a few of his fave American TV shows (Mad Man, Sex and the City, Glee) and addresses what all Downton fans are wondering: Just how long will the hit Edwardian costume drama keep going? "Sufficient unto the day," Fellowes said, laughing. "I feel that one can’t really think much beyond that. Although I agree, I do not think it should just go on and on forever."

Ira Glass, California Watch reporters win George Polk Awards

Ira Glass of This American Life is a recipient of a prestigious George Polk Award, announced today (Feb. 20) by Long Island University. Glass won for his reporting on "Very Tough Love," an hour-long piece that showed "alarmingly severe" punishments by a county drug court judge in Georgia, LIU said in a press release. "Drug courts were set up to emphasize rehabilitation instead of incarceration, but Glass’ investigation revealed that Judge Amanda Williams strayed far from the principles and philosophy by routinely piling on jail sentences for relapses,"  it said. Williams ultimately stepped down from the bench. (For the back story on Glass's reporting, see Current's June 13, 2011, coverage).

Journalists from another public media news organization, California Watch, also won a Polk for medical reporting for "Decoding Prime." Lance Williams, Christina Jewett and Stephen K. Doig wrote a yearlong series of articles showing how a California hospital chain increased its Medicare reimbursements by classifying patients as suffering from rare medical conditions. "The stories, which appeared in newspapers across California, offered a glimpse into the broader problem of waste, fraud and abuse within the nation’s $2.5-trillion health care system," LIU said.

Honors will be presented at a luncheon April 5 in New York City. The awards have been administered by LIU since 1949, memorializing CBS correspondent George W. Polk, who was slain covering the civil war in Greece in 1948.

Pubradio manager and advocate Tim Emmons dies; was a co-founder of MEGS

Northern Public Radio General Manager Tim Emmons, a passionate pubradio advocate and mentor, and a driving force behind the Morning Edition Grad School, died Feb. 18 at home after a long battle with cancer. He was 53. He headed the five stations in DeKalb, Ill., for 15 years.

The NPR Board observed a moment of silence for Emmons at its Feb. 24 meeting in Washington, D.C., and adopted a resolution marking his passing. “The words used to describe Tim by colleagues across the country,” it reads in part, “are ‘genuine,’ ‘inspirational,’ ‘wise,’ ‘modest,’ ‘intelligent,’ ‘tireless,’ a ‘quiet giant,’ a ‘champion for public radio’ and — over and over again — ‘courageous,’ in his career, in his life, and facing death.”

Emmons arrived in 1988 as program director at WNIU, licensed to Northern Illinois University, and was instrumental in the creation of WNIJ in 1991. As p.d., he hired and supervised a WNIJ news team that won 32 national, regional and state news awards. He left to be program director at St. Louis Public Radio; during his three years there, that news team won nearly 20 awards. Emmons returned to Northern Public Radio in 1995 as station manager. Two years later, he became director and general manager. “Over that time,” the station said in a statement, “the stations experienced unprecedented growth in audience, membership and underwriting revenue.”

He was a co-founder of Morning Edition Grad School (MEGS), a national best-practice effort “aimed at assuring peak performance for Morning Edition on local stations,” funded by NPR’s Local News Initiative.

In 2009, Emmons received the Don Otto Award from the Public Radio Program Directors Association and Audience Research Analysis, honoring “public radio originals.” In a university press release about the honor, Emmons said: “Really, the best thing for me is when I see the light go on in somebody else. It’s a big thing for me when I can pass on something that I’ve learned.”

Emmons was a vocal advocate for the pubradio system, and wrote several Thinking pieces for Current over the years. In 1999, he noted the need for a program director at NPR (published Jan. 25, 1999); 10 years later, he was still tenaciously pushing the point (Feb. 2, 2009). He also wrote about what Morning Edition needed after host Bob Edwards’ departure (April 12, 2004).

In May 2005, he presented a resolution at NPR’s annual Members Meeting regarding CPB’s journalistic firewall, in the wake of the news coverage about CPB activities promoting conservative programming on public TV.

Over the past year Emmons formulated a succession plan for the stations. Staci Hoste, development director, will serve as interim general manager. “He and I prepared for this transition and feel strongly that we will preserve Tim’s legacy at Northern Public Radio, its mission, and its service to the community,” Hoste said in a statement.

Peter Dominowski and Scott Williams, longtime friends of Emmons and business associates with him in Strategic Programming Partners, which developed MEGS, are planning the Tim Emmons Memorial Mentoring Scholarship for “a fairly new program director, or someone aspiring to that position,” Dominowski told Current. The two envision selecting one candidate to mentor each year, and will provide their personal expertise to serve as a resource for the up-and-coming p.d. They expect to have an announcement with details on the national scholarship program by mid-March.

Emmons was born June 18, 1958, in Champaign, to Robert and Peggy Emmons. He graduated in 1976 from University High School in Normal, Ill., where he was a state finalist in forensics his senior year in radio speaking. He attended Moody Bible Institute for two years, and graduated from Illinois State University in Normal.

He was a past-president of the Illinois Public Broadcasting Council, and served on several advisory committees for NPR.

Emmons is survived by his wife of 33 years, Charlene, son Daniel and daughter Jordan, as well as his mother, sister Amy Bradford, in-laws Joyce Theobald and George and Mona Lohnes, three nephews and and two great-nephews.

A memorial service took place Feb. 25 at Christ Community Church in DeKalb. Emmons asked that in lieu of flowers, donations benefit his children’s education. Checks may be made to Timothy Emmons Memorial and mailed to P.O. Box 66, Elburn, Ill., 60119.

Feb 19, 2012

"Freedom Riders" wins Eddie Award from ACE

The American Experience film Freedom Riders won for best edited documentary at the Eddie Awards presented by American Cinema Editors Saturday night (Feb. 18) in Los Angeles. Here's a complete list of nominees, which also included Downton Abbey from Masterpiece Classic.

WUIS classical host retiring after 30 years

Karl Scroggin, classical music host at WUIS in Springfield, Ill., is retiring after a 30-year career that included, according to the State Journal-Register, assisting mezzo-soprano opera singer Marilyn Horne claim $600 in slot-machine winnings. Yes, you read that correctly. Years ago at an Association of Music Personnel in Public Radio conference in Las Vegas, Scroggin came across Horne at the Golden Nugget. "I said, ‘Marilyn, did you win some money?’ She said, ‘Yes, I won $600 on this slot machine. How do I cash it in?’ I said, ‘Well, I’ll show you how to do it.’” After collecting the cash, Horne began waving it around and singing "The Gambler."

“I thought, ‘This is great,'" Scoggin recalls. "Here I am, standing in the lobby of the Golden Nugget with the great Marilyn Horne, and she’s singing Kenny Rogers to me.’”

The station is hosting a retirement event March 29 at its studio at University of Illinois Springfield.

Feb 18, 2012

Chicago News Cooperative reportedly folding on Feb. 26

The Chicago News Cooperative will cease publishing content on Feb. 26, the Chicago Reader reports, due in part to a delay in a crucial MacArthur Foundation grant. The Internal Revenue Service has yet to decide if CNC and similar web news operations are 501(c)(3) nonprofits; CNC has been receiving funding via its fiscal agent, pubstation WTTW. But recently a MacArthur staff attorney advised the foundation that until the IRS ruled, MacArthur grants should go to specific programs instead of generally sustaining the co-op — that meant a different approval process and a longer wait for the money to arrive, the Reader notes. The CNC had been producing local pages twice weekly for the New York Times but the newspaper realized that CNC's financial position was "precarious," the Reader said, and on Thursday (Feb. 16) canceled that arrangement. James O'Shea, former managing editor at the Chicago Tribune and founder and editor of the CNC, informed the staff of the shutdown Friday afternoon.

UPDATE: Dan Sinker, who leads the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership for Mozilla and wrote a piece for the Huffington Post when CNC launched, writes on his blog that "CNC’s web presence was too little too late," and its social media activities were "too little too little."

UPDATE: O'Shea posted a letter to CNC readers Feb. 20 confirming the closure. "Unlike similar start-up efforts like the Texas Tribune in Austin, the Bay Citizen in San Francisco and ProPublica in New York, we never recruited the kind of seven figure donations from people of means concerned about the declining quality of news coverage around the country," he wrote. "As a result, CNC never raised the resources to make investments in the business side of our operation that would have generated the revenue we needed to achieve our original goal — a self-sustaining news operation within five years. CNC always has been an experiment in trying to figure out a way to finance accountability journalism, the kind of reporting that many news organizations are abandoning as they struggle with a deteriorating business model and financial problems."

"In the coming days and weeks," O'Shea added, "we will be examining our potential to see if we can identify an alternative path and preserve some of the journalistic assets we have developed."

APTS pleased with spectrum legislation, but challenges loom

There’s good news for pubcasters in the legislation giving the FCC spectrum auction authority that passed this week in Congress — but many questions remain, and serious technical challenges lie ahead as spectrum is reallocated and repacked to provide more bandwidth for wireless devices. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law.

“Overall, we’re feeling pretty good about how it came out,” Lonna Thompson, c.o.o. of the Association of Public Television Stations, told Current. “We got nearly all of the precautions we wanted in the legislation to protect stations.” Original Senate legislation contained an estimate of $1 billion to repack the entire spectrum following an auction; APTS and other organizations were able to push that to $1.75 billion in the final bill. Also, the auction is officially voluntary, and no stations will be forced to move from UHF to VHF. Cable carriage rights for pubTV stations are safe.

However, Thompson said, “some of the questions that stations still want answers to, such as what their spectrum is worth and the specific rules of the auctions, aren’t specified” in the bill, which will use auction proceeds to help pay for a payroll tax break and unemployment benefits, as well as support a public safety network for emergency responders.

And from a technical standpoint, the repacking “is going to be very disruptive,” Thompson said. “With the digital transition [in June 2009], stations had at least two channels, analog and digital. They could get ready and when the switch came, they just closed the analog channel.” This isn’t case with repacking: Stations will need to close down one channel first, and then move to another, not an easy task. “We’ve heard from engineers that it’s very problematic, and stations could be off the air for a significant period of time during the switch,” she said.

Developing auction rules and conducting the auctions will take two to three years minimum, Thompson estimated, with repacking occurring after that.

Here is a PDF of the legislation; the section on the spectrum auction begins on page 118.

More about the spectrum auctions and related issues in the next Current, Feb. 27.

Kerger: PBS looking at "some aspects" of reality programming

The Hollywood Reporter sat down with PBS President Paula Kerger for a wide-ranging interview posted Feb. 17. Highlights:

On the potential for reality shows on PBS: "Colonial House and [2002's] Frontier House are different types of reality. They're experiential history programs. Moving forward, we'll look at those types of things. To get younger people engaged in history, you have to really look closely at the formats. And since reality has taken over, I think there are some aspects of it that we can do."

On GOP hopeful Mitt Romney's remarks on commercializing PBS: "When Mitt Romney says, we're not going to kill Big Bird, we're just going to make him take commercials, it's frustrating because it shows a lack of truly understanding the impact we have."

On her management style: "It's very different from running a network because I have 350 stations that all have different ideas of what public media should be, and I can't do anything by fiat. That's a huge piece of my job, making sure everyone stays on the same page and everyone is really committed."

Feb 17, 2012

Congress gives FCC go-ahead to conduct spectrum auctions

Congress today (Feb. 17) approved legislation providing the FCC with the ability to reclaim and auction broadcast spectrum to help pay for a payroll tax break and unemployment benefits, according to Broadcasting & Cable. The House passed the bill 293 to 132; the Senate, 60-36. House Communications Chairman Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said auctions will be voluntary and protect broadcasters and their viewers. "Bill language requires the FCC to make best efforts to protect the coverage areas and interference protections of the broadcasters who don't give up spectrum," B&C said. Auctions are still several years off; the legislation sets a 10-year deadline.

Debate at Oregon Public Broadcasting still on, despite other cancellations

A Republican presidential debate on March 19 in Portland, to be produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting and carried live on pubcasting stations, is still on, despite GOP hopefuls Mitt Romney and Ron Paul pulling out of a debate March 1 in Atlanta, the Oregonian is reporting. Another debate on March 5 on MSNBC also has been cancelled. Greg Leo, chief of staff of the Oregon Republican Party, cosponsoring the March 19 event with OPB, PBS, NPR and the Washington Times, said the Portland debate is attractive to the candidates for several reasons, including that it will be carried by public broadcasting and thus reach households that don't have cable.

Queen Curley reigns over creative kingdom in NPT award nomination photo

Nashville Public Television was a finalist for a local Bowtie Award for Best Workplace Environment, the Arts and Business Council of Greater Nashville announced this week. The honor recognizes "a business that integrates arts and creativity into the business culture to build morale and foster employee creativity and innovation." The council said that NPT has "transformed its building into the NPT Arts Center — a modern day, nonprofit arts commune that houses NPT, the Nashville Shakespeare Festival, TN Rep and Nashville Film Festival. The creative collaboration greatly enhances each organization, which benefits our entire community." Also in the building is Book’em, a nonprofit children's literacy organization, and NATAS (the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences) Midsouth Chapter.

Although NPT didn't win, it sure had fun creating a photo (above) as part of the nomination process. Joe Pagetta, NPT director of media relations, brainstormed with Denice Hicks and Nicole Sibilski of the Nashville Shakespeare Festival on a picture to capture their shared workplace. They began with NPT's recognizable pledge set and built from there. "There is someone from each of the organizations represented, holding something associated with what they do," Pagetta told Current. And, yes, that's NPT President Beth Curley as the queen, reigning over the creative chaos.  "I positioned everyone, Jim DeMarco from NPT lit it, and I basically just told everyone to act crazy several times," Pagetta said. "And that’s how we got it. It was hilarious!"

Former PBS station WDSC to become college Center of Interactive Media

The Daytona (Fla.) State College Board of Trustees on Thursday (Feb. 16) unanimously approved changing WDSC, its former PBS member station, into an educational Center of Interactive Media. Mike Vitale, senior vice president of academic affairs, told the Daytona Beach News-Journal that administrators are reviewing existing contracts with the television station. Fourteen employees have already been notified that their jobs are ending and they may apply for positions at the new station or elsewhere at the college. Locally produced live shows in the studio "will probably not continue," Vitale said. The school continues to hold the license so it retains the option of returning to PBS. WDSC dropped PBS membership last June after state and federal budget cuts.

Oklahoma bill to kill pubcasting funding withdrawn

A bill that would have ended funding to public broadcasting in Oklahoma failed to make it out of a House subcommittee and was withdrawn Thursday (Feb. 16), reports the Oklahoman. Republican Rep. Leslie Osborn said she has no plans to reintroduce the legislation this session. The bill would have reduced the roughly $4 million support by 20 percent annually over five years.

No blatant self-inflation on this premise, please

Randy Cohen, an Emmy-winning comedy writer and past author of “The Ethicist” column in the New York Times Magazine, starts a monthly public radio series today that invites famous people to talk about something other than themselves. Amazingly, people have been willing to come on the show anyway.

Person Place Thing — those are the other topics that Cohen will let guests discuss ­— debuts with a famed interviewer as guest, TV talker Dick Cavett, devoting his attention to a phenomenal thing called Bob Hope. The second guest in the hourlong show is novelist Jane Smiley. Ian Pickus of Northeast Public Radio (WAMC) in Albany produces the show, and the New York Council for the Humanities pays for production of the first season.

The program is syndicated without charge through Public Radio Exchange and public radio’s Content Depot as well as FTP downloads.

Cohen has done enough installments that he can happily assure people that the format works with guests including Roger Bannister, the original four-minute-mile runner of 1954. “Plus,” Cohen says in the news release, “I had the pleasure of uttering more than one sentence I never thought I'd have occasion to use in my lifetime, like, ‘So, Sir Roger, what is your thing?’”

After Cavett and Smiley, the pairs of guests are queued up this way:
 comedian Susie Essman and basketball coach Dave Cowens,
 journalists Michael Pollan and John Hockenberry,
 singer Rickie Lee Jones and all-time-classic political personality Ed Koch,
 Daily Show performer Samantha Bee and Goosebumps writer R.L. Stine, and sex columnist 
Dan Savage with Sir Roger. This week Cohen interviewed This American Life essayist David Rakoff in a live event at the 92nd Street Y in Tribeca.

Cohen has written for David Letterman, Rosie O’Donnell and Michael Moore, winning four Emmys, plus a fifth Emmy that he got “as a result of a clerical error,” the news release discloses ethically, "and he kept it.”

Feb 16, 2012

There's good and bad news in indie online journalism, J-Lab reports

J-Lab, which advocates for new approaches to journalism, has posted an update on independent online news efforts. "We're entering a period where the pendulum is swinging sharply both ways ­— delivering shakeouts as some sites go belly up and expansion as other sites open satellite operations in the indy news space," it says.

The Moth, and Center for Investigative Reporting, win MacArthur grants

Two public media entities are recipients of MacArthur Foundation Awards for Creative and Effective Institutions, announced today (Feb. 16). The Center for Investigative Reporting at University of California, Berkeley, will use its $1 million award to "create a venture fund for new projects, strengthen its fundraising capacity, upgrade its technology infrastructure, and establish a reserve fund for legal defense." And the Moth, the nonprofit behind the storytelling Moth Radio Hour, will spend its $750,000 to "expand its radio program into a regular, weekly Radio Hour, create a radio archive to distribute past content, and create a cash reserve to support better planning and organizational stability." The show came to public radio via a five-episode pilot series from PRX nearly three years ago (Current, Sept. 8, 2009).

Feb 15, 2012

First tablet launch for NPR Music? The iPad, of course!

The latest app from NPR's digital team brings NPR Music to Apple's iPad, and it's now available for free download from the iTunes App Store. Designers created "a true multimedia music magazine," NPR said in a news release, merging original NPR Music content such Tiny Desk Concert performances with its own 24/7 music stream and the live streams of public radio stations. "I think it shows off the flood of amazing stories about music that makes its way to our site from our member stations and our staff," writes Bob Boilen, All Songs Considered host, in a blog post unveiling the site.

To introduce more iPad users to the NPR Music experience, NPR will produce an exclusive in-app concert on March 7 with The Shins, a Portland-based indie-rock band that's about to release its first album in five years, Port of Morrow.

When Apple first launched the iPad in 2010, NPR was among the top news organizations to create a killer app for the new device.

Michigan city official can't sell LPFM license on eBay

A city official in Benton Harbor, Mich., has abandoned his efforts to sell the license to the city’s low-power FM radio station on eBay after observers pointed out that FCC approval would be needed. Joseph Harris has shut down the station and tried to sell the license for $5,000, but pulled it off eBay after getting three bids, reports Laura Conaway on the blog for MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. Harris shut down the station in January to save money, according to the local ABC 57 News, and city commissioners are protesting the move to sell WBHC-LP’s license and equipment. Public Radio Capital, the nonprofit consultancy that works to expand public media, is working to find local nonprofits that would be interested in acquiring the license and continuing the service.

Public radio listeners more satisfied with stations than most, study finds

A phone survey of radio listeners in the U.S. this month found that public radio listeners are more satisfied with their stations than the average listener. Research firm Mark Kassof & Co. called 649 radio listeners to ask how satisfied they were with the stations they listened to most (P1 stations, in radio parlance). Forty-eight percent overall said they were 100 percent satisfied with their P1 stations, but 61 percent of public radio listeners reported total satisfaction. That was topped only by Christian radio listeners, 77 percent of whom were completely satisfied.

Aereo to offer online subscriptions to over-the-air signals, including PBS

In 2010, a Seattle start-up called ivi attempted to sell online access to 28 encrypted broadcast signals, including public TV stations, without informing the stations (Current, Oct. 4, 2010). It was stopped by a federal judge in New York last February and is currently trying to raise money for its ongoing legal fight.

Now, a firm backed by media giant Barry Diller, Aereo, is doing much the same thing — except it's using "proprietary remote antenna and DVR" technology "that consumers can use to access network television on web-enabled devices." Aereo has installed miniature antennae throughout the New York City market that pull in over-the-air signals from all local broadcasters, including PBS member station WNET. Starting in March, subscribers, at $12 a month, each get a single antenna with a remote personal video recorder attached, accessible through their broadband connection.

“Aereo is the first potentially transformative technology that has the chance to give people access to broadcast television delivered over the Internet to any device, large or small, they desire," Diller, who just joined Aereo's Board of Directors, said in a release Tuesday (Feb. 14). "No wires, no new boxes or remotes, portable everywhere there’s an Internet connection in the world — truly a revolutionary product." Diller, who founded Fox Broadcasting, is current chairman of InterActiveCorp (IAC), an Internet company that began as a subsidiary of the Home Shopping Network and now owns 50 websites including Newsweek/Daily Beast,, and Vimeo. IAC has invested $20.5 million in Aereo.

According to ZDNet, assigning a separate antenna to each subscriber is how Aereo hopes to get around legal issues. "Legally, that’s not supposed to be any different from having the antenna in your own house," ZDNet notes. "It’s just one long cord."

Aereo is formerly Bamboom Labs, a self-proclaimed "a big, bold new technology" focused on the notion that "free over-the-air broadcast TV should be available to anyone within the service area 
of a channel," it says.

Feb 14, 2012

KUSC producer travels to Venezuela with L.A. Philharmonic, blogging all the way

Brian Lauritzen, producer and host at Los Angeles classical music pubradio giant KUSC-FM, is venturing far and wide in order to cover the classical beat — more than 3,600 miles, in fact.  Lauritzen is accompanying conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra on their historic trip to Dudamel's native Venezuela, producing radio pieces and blog posts for KUSC from Caracas, Venezuela's capital. The orchestra preformed Mahler's Ninth Symphony on Feb. 11 to a sold-out crowd of 2,400 at the Teatro Teresa Carreño, South America's second-largest theater. You can see rehearsal video clips, photos, and Lauritzen's accounting of the performance in his Feb. 12 blog post.

KCET launches arts series, adds eight "Land of Sunshine" local bloggers

KCET is launching a new arts series next month, Open Call, hosted by international operatic mezzo-soprano Suzanna Guzmàn, showcasing cultural institutions and other groups in Southern California. The station's program Live @ the Ford will be folded into the new series, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The station also announced on Tuesday (Feb. 14) that its local documentary series Departures is adding eight new bloggers to its Land of Sunshine blog, "dedicated to uncovering the rich diversity of Angelinos throughout time," and based on the late 19th century journal with the same title, distributed nationwide "to promote Southern California life to tourists and potential residents." Bloggers will focus on topics including disparities in civil and human rights issues, L.A.'s literary landscape, the bicycle culture and "the public art policy and politics of the mural aesthetic in the Los Angeles region."

Classical South Florida to extend its signal west

Miami-based Classical South Florida is expanding its service to the state's western coast with the $4.35 million purchase of WAYJ 88.7 FM, a 75,000-watt station that broadcasts to a potential audience of nearly 1 million listeners in Fort Myers and beyond.

The purchase, announced today, is part of a three-way transaction with seller WAY Media, a religious broadcast network that's moving its Christian pop music service to 100,000-watt WSRX 89.5 FM in Naples. When the sale closes, Way Media will retain the WAYJ call letters and format for its new station.

Though WSRX broadcasts at a higher Effective Radiated Power (ERP) than WAYJ, Classical South Florida is buying the better of the two channels. WSRX's signal is on a shorter tower than WAYJ and reaches a much smaller potential audience, according to Tom Kigin, executive v.p. for Minnesota-based American Public Media and its Sunshine state affiliate, Classical South Florida. "It has only 340,913 people under coverage, whereas WAYJ has 991,520 under coverage, almost three times as many," he wrote in an email.

The deal marks the second signal expansion in a year for Classical South Florida, a locally-controlled APM affiliate. It purchased WXEL 90.7 FM in West Palm Beach last spring and converted it to an all-classical station broadcasting under the call letters WPBI. An all-news station airs on WPBI's second HD Radio channel and on an analog FM translator on 101.9 FM.

The purchase will please classical music lovers in Fort Myers by bringing a full-time music service to the market's analog airwaves, according to Jason Hughes, Classical South Florida spokesperson.

Local pubcaster WGCU-FM, a university-owned outlet that also operates a public TV station, dropped music for an an all-news format several years ago. It continues to program an all-classical HD Radio stream.

Editor's note: This post has been revised from its original version, which overstated the power of WSRX's signal.

WPR host develops one-man show on image of Native Americans

Richie Plass, one of two hosts of Kalihwiyo'se on Wisconsin Public Radio, has developed a unique one-man show on the image of Native Americans, "An Indian ... One Block East of Broadway," which he's presenting next week at the Neville Public Museum of Brown County in Green Bay, Wisc. According to the local Press-Gazette, it features "humor, music, videos and education — with a positive spin." As Plass said, "Native American humor has many faces. I am always trying to address stereotypes, stories and/or image concerns relating to our history and even modern awareness."

Reid returns with another healthcare doc

Journalist T.R. Reid, who parted ways with Frontline following a very public dustup over a controversial healthcare documentary nearly three years ago (Current, April 27, 2009), returns to PBS this week with a new film, "U.S. Health Care: The Good News." In an interview with Healthcare Finance News, Reid said, "I think the film shows that in big towns and in small communities and urban centers you can provide high quality care at way below the national average costs. It’s definitely being done. So why don’t others do the same and therefore bring down our cost levels? That’s the question."

President proposes $445 million for 2015 for CPB, zero-out of RUS cash for pubstations

President Barack Obama released his fiscal 2013 budget Monday (Feb. 13), which contains $445 million in advance funding for fiscal 2015 for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He also proposes consolidating pubTV's Ready to Learn, an ongoing funder of PBS Kids programming, with other education efforts, and wants to zero out the $3 million Rural Utilities Service Public Television Digital Transition Grant Program, which provides capital funding to stations. The budget slightly boosts, from $1.501 billion to $1.576 billion, funding to cultural organizations that support pubcasting, including the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities.

“We are grateful to the president for providing level funding for CPB and for continuing the advance funding mechanism so important to our stations and producers,” said Patrick Butler, president of the Association of Public Television Stations, in a statement. “Public television did not expect immunity from the budget cuts that been required across the government, and the overall federal investment in public television has been reduced by more than 10 percent in the past two years. Within these necessary constraints, we will continue working toward our goal of a well-educated, well-informed, cultured and civil society, and again we are most grateful for the Administration’s endorsement of our work."

Patricia Harrison, president of CPB, said in a statement, "The president’s request reflects the value of public media’s in-depth news reporting, our commitment to children, and initiatives such as American Graduate, which focuses on public media’s core value of education. The request also reflects the unique and powerful service that public media provides for free to listeners and viewers.We appreciate the president’s support. His request reaffirms that federal funding for public media is a vital investment — one that continues to deliver proven value and service to our country.”

The entire budget may be accessed online at the Office of Management and Budget website.

Feb 13, 2012

Former MPR exec Lutman to start consulting business

Sarah Lutman, former s.v.p. of content and media at Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media, is departing her current position as president of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra to start an independent consulting practice, effective March 1. Lutman said in the local Star Tribune that she'd wanted to establish a consulting business for years. "With my adult children both due to complete post-graduate education this year," she said, "and having been able to help the SPCO chart a clear strategic direction and plan, the timing seemed right for me to make this move."

Attention RSSers: Pubcasting state funding cuts story

Don't miss Current's latest roundup of five states facing cuts to public broadcasting funding.

Feb 12, 2012

Pubcasters raise issue with vulgarity in Newsweek

Three pubcasting stations have complained to the Pledge Partner Magazine Premium Program that Newsweek, one of several magazines offered as a gift in exchange for donations, has been using more vulgarities since its merger with the Daily Beast website, reports the New York Times. Zunk Buker, founder of Pledge Partner, describes it as a "minor firestorm."

Bill Sanford, g.m. of Lakeland Public Television in Bemidji, Minn., told station execs in a recent e-mail that a major donor had complained. Sanford agreed, and said he wanted the station “to offer premiums that reflect our values."

Stephen Colvin, chief executive of the Newsweek Daily Beast Co., told the Times in an e-mail: “We are very proud of our partnership with public broadcasting stations.” Justine Rosenthal, executive editor of Newsweek, said, “We do not use profanity unless within a quote or in the context of a story and care is taken to ensure it is never used gratuitously.”

The Pledge Partner program has made some $375 million for pubstations since its inception in 1991, according to Buker; since 1996 when it was first offered, Newsweek brings in about 90 percent of the money.

Feb 11, 2012

NPR Digital and KPLU discover Facebook geotagging "a powerful journalism tool"

Here's a look from the Nieman Journalism Lab at what geotagging on NPR's Facebook page did for KPLU in Seattle. In October 2011, NPR Digital Services and Digital Media launched an experiment with the member station, sharing certain content on NPR’s 2.3-million fan Facebook page, but making it visible only to Facebook users in the Seattle region. "Four months into this experiment, we’ve made some unexpected discoveries around Facebook communities and the power of localization on a national platform," write Eric Athas and Keith Hopper of NPR Digital. The test drove KPLU's site to record traffic for a single day (January 19), second-highest traffic for a single month (October 2011) and the highest traffic for a single month (January). And Seattle stories had a higher engagement rate (likes, shares and comments) too. "We’re curious if this can be replicated in other markets and are exploring options for scaling it to more member stations," the two write. "Some questions about this test will be answered when the experiment grows — something we’re looking to pursue. Although we’re still analyzing the results, we’re confident about the potential of this as a powerful journalism tool."

Feb 10, 2012

NPR's Richard Harris back on the air, after vocal fold paralysis

NPR Science Correspondent Richard Harris is suffering from unilateral vocal fold paralysis, probably due to a virus, he reveals in a post on Shots, NPR's health blog. "It turns out this disorder is common enough that there's a line of medical products to address it," he writes. His specialist at Johns Hopkins used an injection of water, gelatin and sodium carboxymethylcellulose — "yes, cellulose as in the indigestible fiber that tree trunks and paper are made of" — to help align Harris's paralyzed vocal cord with his functioning one. "Over the next six to 10 weeks, the carboxymethylcellulose will degrade in my gullet," Harris writes. "That will buy time for the nerve to heal, which it often does. And in the meantime, I'm back on the air."

Feb 9, 2012

He's a fan, by George

Who loves NPR? George Clooney, reveals this photo posted by Tanya Ballard Brown, an editor at, currently ricocheting around the Internets.

UPDATE: Fishbowl LA reports that Clooney was at NPR West — surrounded by female staffers — to record a segment on All Things Considered.

Coeur d'Alene Tribe's KWIS-FM now on the air

KWIS-FM, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe's radio station, is now on the air from Plummer, Idaho, one of more than two dozen Native stations that received FCC construction permits in 2008. KWIS, pronounced "kwee-ss," means "to be called" in the Coeur d'Alene language, according to the Coeur d'Alene Press.

Kansas House committee turns down $800,000 extra for pubcasting

The Republican Kansas House Appropriations Committee chairman broke a 10-10 vote deadlock to reject a request for an additional $800,000 for public broadcasting, the Lawrence Journal-World reported Thursday (Feb. 9). Gov. Sam Brownback's budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 included $600,000 for public broadcasting, down from $2 million; a House budget subcommittee added $800,000, bringing the total to $1.2 million. Rep. Marc Rhoades (R-Newton) cast the deciding vote.

CPB to present Community Lifeline Awards for station response during disasters

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting has established a Community Lifeline Award (PDF) to recognize pubcasting stations "that have provided exceptionally exemplary service to their communities" during "local emergencies, natural disasters, and other urgent situations." Any station that receives a Community Service Grant may apply. The station must have provided information and updates in close coordination with government agencies and first responders, presented extensive coverage of the situation, and station staff "demonstrated strong personal commitment" during the crisis through long hours or "calmness under pressure." The number of recipients of the award will vary; CPB estimates presenting two to three annually.

Knight "evolves" its News Challenge grants program

The Knight Foundation is revamping its Knight News Challenge for 2012, "evolving the challenge to be more nimble and more focused," it announced Thursday (Feb. 9), with three distinct application rounds. The first concentrates on networks, and ways entities might use existing platforms to drive innovation in media and journalism; applications open Feb. 27 and close March 17. Subsequent rounds will be an open competition, "looking for new ideas broadly," the foundation said, and a third on a specific topic. First-round winners will be announced in June. The Knight News Challenge is part of  the Foundation’s $100 million Media Innovation Initiative, working to identify new ways to meet community information needs in the digital age. Over its first five years, the foundation reviewed more than 12,000 applications and funded 76 projects, including in pubmedia, for $27 million.

Contributions, grants to KCET fall 41 percent in first year away from PBS, paper reports

Contributions and grants to KCET have plunged 41 percent since its departure from PBS membership in January 2011, according to the Los Angeles Times, including corporate as well as individual giving. But the station also received $28.8 million from the sale of its historic studio to the Church of Scientology; the newspaper noted that while the purchase price was $45 million, the station temporarily leased back the property). KCET also "sharply trimmed its spending on programming and production," the paper said, down 37 percent to $21 million. "We saw an uptick in the fourth quarter 2011," Al Jerome, the station's president and chief executive, told the Times in an email. "We're hopeful this trend continues through 2012."

Feb 8, 2012

CPB ombudsman criticizes redactions in IG audit of WQED

Joel Kaplan, ombudsman for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, writes in a column Wednesday (Feb. 8) that information redacted from a recent CPB Inspector General's report on Pittsburgh's WQED, "is inconsistent with CPB's pledge of transparency."

Kenneth Konz, the inspector general, conducted an audit of WQED Multimedia, released in December 2011, that determined that because WQED did not comply with certain CPB guidelines for reporting nonfederal financial support, CPB made improper Community Service Grants to the station in excess of $798,000.

"If you read the audit report," Kaplan writes, "you will find that it is filled with redactions about specific monetary expenditures at the heart of the audit report." Kaplan said a reporter contacted him asking why the redactions were allowed, especially because CPB noted in its latest business plan that it has "engaged in a continuous process of improving its own transparency."

The redacted figures concerned WQED's sale several years ago of Pittsburgh Magazine, a for-profit publication. George Hazimanolis, WQED spokesman, told Kaplan that the CPB inspector general's office "offered WQED the opportunity to redact anything that was proprietary and harmful to WQED's business, which we understood to be normal procedure. WQED responded very broadly to that offer." Konz told Kaplan that the removal of proprietary information from reports is mandated by federal and state laws.

"I continue to believe that it was wrong for most of this information to be redacted and it is inconsistent with CPB's pledge of transparency," Kaplan writes. "It becomes even more problematic when the names of donors are redacted since it does not allow the public to make an independent determination about whether any undue or improper influence is being used in determining what types of materials are run over the public broadcasting airwaves."

"Given that the Community Service Grants are provided to public broadcasting stations by CPB," he concludes, "I am hopeful that the CPB Board of Directors will in the future make such funding contingent on a recipient station's willingness to be transparent in all of its operations."

Attention RSSers: Public Media Futures stories now online

Current has posted a package of articles on Public Media Futures, in conjunction with a two-year series of quarterly forums beginning this month. The forums are co-sponsored by USC Annenberg’s Center on Communication Leadership and Policy and American University’s School of Communication, which publishes Current. Both the articles and the accompanying forums are planned to amplify and contribute to conversations already under way in the field about serious issues facing public service media organizations in the 21st century.

KCET announces new spring shows, including first series from $50 million production deal

KCET in Los Angeles will premiere several new programs beginning in March, including a four-part original documentary series on caregiving, Your Turn to Care, hosted by actress Holly Robinson Peete. A companion website officially launches Feb. 15, with tips for coping with aging family members from guest experts, including best-selling author Gail Sheehy.

Classic Cool Theater premieres March 10, the first project in a $50 million production collaboration with Eyetronics Media & Studios (Current, Aug. 16, 2011). Each episode of the weekly two-hour series will include a retro cartoon, feature film, newsreel, and musical short, each from the 1930s to 1960s.

The station, which left PBS membership in January 2011, also will kick off a weeklong series of interview specials bringing back L.A. Tonight with Roy Firestone, including tennis great Andre Agassi, legendary composer Burt Bacharach; Grammy-winning trumpeter Chris Botti and acclaimed jazz vocalist Steve Tyrell.

Also debuting is George Gently, distributed by Executive Program Services, a BBC series set in the 1960s based on the Inspector Gently novels by Alan Hunter.

Gerald Poulsen, a.k.a. WAMU bluegrass host Jerry Gray, dies at 78

Gerald Poulsen, known on the WAMU airwaves as bluegrass host Jerry Gray, died Feb. 2 in Roanoke, Va. He was 78.

His son Mark Poulsen told the Washington Post that his father had complications from a heart transplant that he received after suffering a heart attack on the air in 1989.

Poulsen started in 1971 at WAMU, the pubstation licensed to American University. He spent 30 years as host of The Jerry Gray Show on Saturday afternoons, featuring traditional country music such as Gene Autry, Tex Ritter, Roy Rogers and Patsy Montana. In 1978, he began co-hosting  Bluegrass Country, a weekday drive-time show, and later became its host."Mr. Poulsen carried each day’s selections to the studio with him, drawn from his personal collection of more than 12,000 records," the Post noted.

In 2001, when the station went to news and public affairs format, Poulsen retired to Hardy, Va.

He was born Oct. 9, 1933, in Washington, D.C. He graduated in 1951 from McKinley Technical High School, served in the Army, attended American University and studied at a local private radio training academy.

Survivors include his wife of 52 years, Louise “Kay” Gregory Poulsen of Hardy; five children: Donna Catron, Jon Poulsen, Lora Whitehurst, Mark Poulsen and Kathryn Dorshimer; his mother, Vesta Poulsen; one sister; nine grandchildren; and one great-grandson.

Elliott Mitchell dies at 67; pubcasting staffer, public access advocate

Elliott Mitchell III, who worked in public broadcasting in Florida, New York and Tennessee, died Feb. 1 in Nashville. He was 67.

His obituary in the Paducah (Ky.) Sun said that during his career he produced Today in the Legislature, a statewide program from Florida Public Broadcasting in Tallahassee, as well as At The Top and other music programs at WXXI television in Rochester, N.Y. He was a member of the WPLN-FM community advisory board in Nashville, and a national and regional board member of the Alliance for Community Media, which advocates for Public, Educational and Governmental (PEG) channels. He was also a founding member of the Education Access Corporation, which programs Nashville public-access channels.

Survivors include his wife, Marie Fagen, and their son, William; brother Rick and his wife, Linda, and several nieces, nephews and cousins. There will be no service at Mitchell's request. The family suggests donations to WPLN, Nashville Public Radio, Dept. 22, P.O. Box 305172, Nashville, Tenn., 37230-5172.

Feb 6, 2012

In case you missed it ...

Here's a link to get you caught up on the posts thus far at "The Babes of NPR" on Tumblr, which the New York Observer calls "oddly funny, moderately creepy." Here's a typical post on the faces behind the voices: "Sure, Bob Edwards left NPR for XM Radio but how could you stay mad at someone with a hero chin and male model hair? HOT."

WFMT to offer annual Immersion Day as a live online stream for $20

Classical WFMT in Chicago is conducting an experiment with its third annual in-studio Immersion Day on Feb. 11, said Steve Robinson, e.v.p. for radio and project development. The popular event, where fans pay $150 to attend a daylong seminar on a specific aspect of classical music, mingle and share lunch, this time also will be streamed live. Henry Fogel, former president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and a leading expert on opera singers, will discuss how those vocal performances have changed over the past 100 years.

Participants attending the seminar will receive full access to the stream, which will be archived online for a year, Robinson told Current. Fans elsewhere pay $20 to listen in that day, and also get archival access.

"This is an experiment in niche streaming," said Robinson, who got the idea when he heard about YouTube investing $100 million in targeted original content. The YouTube work, he said, "is being done on a macro scale — it signifies that streaming as we know it, what it can do and mean, is being reshaped."

On a local level, Robinson said, "this could be of significance for other public radio or public TV stations, any kind of small organization that feels it has content of value. If you pardon the pun, it could be a second revenue stream."

So far 50 participants have signed up for this weekend's event, which runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday Central time. "Our goal is 150 for this one," Robinson said. "We hope for the next one we'll have 500, and the next — 10,000."

Mike deGruy, cinematographer for several "Nature" docs, dies in crash

Mike deGruy, an acclaimed cinematographer with a love of the sea who created several Nature documentaries on PBS, was killed in a helicopter crash in Australia on Feb. 4. He was 60.

His employer, National Geographic, said that deGruy and Australian television writer-producer Andrew Wight crashed after takeoff near Nowra, 97 miles north of Sydney. Australia’s ABC News reported that Wight was piloting the helicopter.

Fred Kaufman, executive director of Nature at WNET in New York City, told Current that he still remembers his first meeting with deGruy. "Twenty years ago, when I became the executive producer of Nature, Mike’s film, Incredible Suckers was my first commission," he said, "and I learned something very valuable from my initial conversation with Mike — bring your ‘A’ game because Mike was smart, persuasive and quick. He had an answer for every question, he did his homework and if you had an opinion you’d better be prepared to defend it."

Kaufman met deGruy at the first Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival in 1991 to discuss Incredible Suckers. "Mike never talked softly," Kaufman said, "and sitting in the lobby of the Snow King Resort he was all energy and optimism, a Mike deGruy trademark we would all come to know and admire. He was good-looking, charismatic, passionate and persuasive. It was no wonder that he went from marine biologist to award-winning filmmaker to successful on-camera presenter."

DeGruy worked on several films over the years for Nature, including Lost World of the Medusa, Hawaii: Island of the Fire Goddess, The Octopus Show and Live from the Abyss. "The one thing these films all had in common was Mike’s love of the deep and his passion to share it," Kaufman said. "In fact, remembering Mike, I cannot think of anyone else who so loved the life they were living. He had a wonderful wife and partner in Mimi. Their two terrific kids, Max and Frances, had the coolest dad ever. He got to travel the world and speak on behalf of the issues facing our oceans — and he piloted submersibles and explored the seas with a boyish enthusiasm that captured our hearts."

DeGruy, who lived with his family in Santa Barbara, Calif.., won multiple Emmy and BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) awards for cinematography. He was an accomplished diver and submersible pilot, and director of undersea photography for James Cameron's 2005 documentary Last Mysteries of the Titanic.

"Mike was the bright light that pierced the inky darkness of the deep," Kaufman said. "He was our leader into the abyss. I will think of him often and remember him always."