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."