May 15, 2012

Pubcasting support letter in Senate has GOP signatures for first time in six years

DENVER, Colo. — For the first time since 2006, a "Dear Colleague" letter to U.S. Senators requesting continued federal funding for pubcasting has Republican signatures, Pat Butler, president of the Association of Public Television Stations, told attendees at the PBS Annual Meeting.

The letter, addressed to the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), has 39 signatures including three Republicans. On the House side, a similar letter to the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee led by Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) has 116 signatures that include six Republicans.

"We're taking that as a sign of progress in rebuilding a bipartisan consensus for public broadcasting," Butler said. "It's trench warfare. Every hill is hard fought, and hard won."

Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts joined his Republican colleagues from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, in signing the Senate letter. House Republicans expressing support for CPB funding were: Reps. Dave Reichert of Washington State, Howard Coble of North Carolina, Leonard Lance of New Jersey,  Don Young of Alaska, and Chris Gibson and Richard Hanna of New York. 

Butler also said he hopes to meet, possibly as soon as next week, with Republican presidential hopeful and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who said on the campaign trail that public television needs to accept advertising to support itself. "Massachusetts was never a funder of public television," Butler said, so Romney "operates from lack of experience with the public broadcasting system. He's a smart, decent guy, I think he’ll listen to reason. It's important to get the facts in front of him."

Montclair State University to become NJPR News headquarters

New York Public Radio (which comprises WNYC-FM and WQXR-FM), announced today a new partnership with New Jersey's Montclair State University, whose broadcast studios and production facilites will be the new home of New Jersey Public Radio's news division.

The managing editor of NJPR News is Peabody Award-winning journalist Nancy Solomon, and the newsroom will cover New Jersey news, politics, and public affairs.

NJPR (owned by NYPR) was created in 2011 when NYPR purchased four defunct NJN stations from the state after Gov. Chris Christie axed NJN. The MSU news bureau will produce content for NJPR, WYNC, and other outlets throughout New Jersey. The joint initiative is also partially funded by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

In Nov. 2011, New Jersey Television (NJTV), the state's pubTV network, also moved its headquarters to MSU's campus. NJTV is operated by New York's WNET, through a subsidiary nonprofit, Public Media NJ.

MSU created a new school of Media and Communication and Media last December, and is trying to expand its media footprint in the state. Just last night, NJTV broadcast a debate between U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman and U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell from its MSU studios.

Though press releases emphasized NJTV and NJPR's commitment to New Jersey despite being owned by New York media outlets, N.J. lawmakers characterized NJTV as a "Jersey Joke" earlier this year.

Former NPR deputy managing editor hired by CIR

Susanne Reber, who had left her position as deputy managing editor of investigations at NPR last week, was hired by the California-based Center for Investigative Reporting, CIR announced today.

Reber built and led pioneering investigative units at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (2003-2009) and NPR (Jan. 2010 until last week).

Reber will serve as the senior coordinating editor for multiplatform projects and investigations at CIR. Reber’s reporting team will produce work for all of CIR’s branded products, including The Bay Citizen and California Watch.

Reber will start at her new position in June.

PBS stations need to "become YouTube of local community," Seiken says

DENVER, Colo. — Jason Seiken, PBS Interactive chief, told a packed audience at the PBS Annual Meeting that “a magical opportunity will slip through our fingers if we don’t have the courage to change” and fully embrace the potential that video presents to public TV.

"We are in the early stages of a two- to five-year land grab that will reshape the video industry in a way not seen since Hollywood in the early 20th century," he said. "For media organizations, this video revolution will determine who wins, who merely survives, and who perishes." Some 100 million Americans watch videos online daily; last year, YouTube had 1 trillion views, Seiken noted — and that number is doubling every two years. Next year, more than half the televisions in the country will be tethered to the Internet.

Each PBS station, with the help of PBS Interactive, needs to become "the YouTube of its local community, the go-to place for video about that community."

Seiken's vision involves using PBS national platforms as a distribution vehicle not only for national presentations but also for local content, creating a "frictionless flow" between the two on the web, smart TVs, Android, iPhone and iPad apps. "Regardless of platform," he said, "national builds it at scale, local populates it with content, and the audience sees content from both national and local." The crowd liked that notion, stopping Seiken with applause.

He said stations need to "massively expand their video footprint" within their communities, and PBS Interactive is exploring tools and techniques for low-cost, high-quality production. Seiken cited the Off Book project as one early example. The 13-part web series on experimental and nontraditional art forms on launched last July and costs just $600 a minute to produce, he said. It’s averaging 70,000 video views per episode, "which is more than most primetime episodes."

Such innovation "is public TV's birthright," he told the crowd. "It's something we were created to do but never had resources to accomplish. Now the world has changed, and production costs are plummeting. We have the brands. We have the video pedigree. This is our moment."

But there is another future, he said, which is "frankly, more likely. It's easier to just embrace what we humans love best — the status quo."

"In half time it took public television to debate the Prosper [online national fundraising] project," Seiken said, "a startup company called Burbn was conceived, built, launched, failed, pivoted to an entirely different name and product, built the product, launched the product — called Instagram — grew to 30 million users, and was sold for 1 billion dollars."

"Forty years ago our predecessors sat in rooms like this and invented the future – because they acted as entrepreneurs," he said. "We have it in our power to invent a new golden age of public television, but to do so requires us to reactivate our entrepreneurial DNA." (Photo: Martin Allred/PBS)

This fall, Sunday 8 p.m. slot goes to BBC hit, "Call the Midwife"

DENVER, Colo. — At the PBS Annual Meeting today (May 15), Chief Programmer John Wilson answered a question many programmers had been asking lately: What are PBS's plans for 8 p.m. Sundays?

Beginning in September, that spot will go to a Brit hit, Call the Midwife, a BBC drama based on memoirs of a young midwife in London's East End in the 1950s. Wilson noted that when the show premiered in Britain in January, it scored higher audience numbers than Downton Abbey.

Wilson also had good news regarding overall pledge proceeds so far this year, up 2.7 percent systemwide over fiscal 2011. (Total number of pledges was down 1.5 percent, minutes spent pledging were up 1.6 percent.)

PBS President Paula Kerger (right) welcomed more than 800 attendees to the Mile High City with more numbers. Nova has nearly doubled its audience on Wednesday nights compared with last year, up 700,000 viewers. On the digital side, three years ago, users watched 2 million PBS videos online a month; this March, PBS web and mobile platforms received some 140 million streams. Also in March, visits to the PBS Kids site were up 34 percent over one year ago.

The meeting continues through Thursday. (Photo: Martin Allred/PBS)

"Radio Ambulante" steers Spanish-language pubradio in new direction

"Radio Ambulante," an ambitious monthly radio show and podcast which hopes to revolutionize Spanish-language radio, launched its pilot episode today.

Radio Ambulante (which roughly translates to "radio on the move") is the brainchild of acclaimed Peruvian-American writer Daniel Alarcón, whose novel Lost City Radio, was named Best Novel of the Year by the San Francisco Chronicle and the Washington Post, also claiming the 2009 International Literature Prize. 

Also on the Radio Ambulante team are Martina Castro (managing editor of KALW News), Mandalit del Barco (general assignment correspondent at NPR West), entrepreneur Carolina Guererro, and journalist Annie Correal, whose work has aired on NPR, WNYC and This American Life.

The show is based out of KALW-FM in San Francisco, and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting serves as the program's 501(c)3 fiscal sponsor.

The pilot episode, "Moving: Migration, Exile, and Travel," weaves together four stories centered around "moving," a thematic structure similar to that of This American Life. Unlike TAL, however, the stories are aimed at a Spanish-speaking audience, produced by a Spanish-speaking reporting team, and are told entirely in Spanish. Stories in the pilot come from Peru, Spain, Mexico, Honduras and the United States.

As the "Feet In Two Worlds" podcast described it, "Instead of the pop-songs, evangelists and sports that dominate the airwaves en español, Radio Ambulante...will tell sound rich first-person stories from Latin America and Hispanic communities in the US. Think This American Life, in Spanish."

In this video, Alarcón and the reporting team describe the genesis of Radio Ambulante, their rationale for having the program entirely in Spanish, and what they hope to accomplish.

For now, the pilot is only available on the Radio Ambulante website, but will soon be available on iTunes. The website says that the program is currently "...creating partnerships with radio stations in Latin America and the U.S. in order to reach the broadest possible Spanish-speaking audience."

Radio Ambulante's pilot episode. Screenshot by Rhys Heyden.