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March 04 2011

17:25

World TV Revamps Site to Entice a Younger Audience

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Business content on MediaShift is sponsored by the weekend MA in Public Communication at American University. Designed for working professionals, the program is suited to career changers and public relations or social marketing professionals seeking career advancement. Learn more here.

How can public media spur multi-platform engagement through a national TV channel? That's the challenge that was posed to the team developing WorldCompass.org, the companion website for the World TV channel, a news and documentary channel now available in parts of 32 states.

The World channel, originally called PBS World, was piloted in 2007 in the northeast U.S., putting PBS programs (mostly documentaries) that were still in rights on a 24-hour channel. The channel went national in 2007. In 2009, WGBH instigated an effort to turn the channel into a multimedia project that invited new voices to public media. (To date, the World channel has not conducted national ratings, although a plan to obtain national numbers is in the works.)

Funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the World channel is the result of a collaborative partnership. The channel is produced and distributed by WGBH Boston, WNET New York and American Public Television in association with PBS and the National Educational Telecommunications Association, which is more commonly known as NETA.

The website has a slightly different makeup of partners. WorldCompass.org is managed by WGBH, with American Public Television overseeing marketing and managing relationships with stations. The site has also pulled together a team of informal advisors from across the system to offer feedback on a multi-platform strategy.

New Media Mission

Part of World's mission is "to create a new model of content creation and delivery for public media 2.0, one that exemplifies diversity, digital media and dialogue." WorldCompass.org builds upon the broadcast offerings by offering its own curated content, blogs, and social media features.

Despite facing many of the common public broadcasting challenges -- most importantly, a small staff and a wanting budget -- WorldCompass.org has made clear strides since the beta launch and the staff is optimistic for the future. A revamped version of the site just launched in response to lessons learned through the initial beta site, which had been in operation since July 1, 2010. Expanded features include more integrated social media tools and organized menu items that help to reinforce the relationship between broadcast and online platforms. The updated site hopes to take advantage of new tools to engage with "hip" 30- to 45-year-olds and capture the elusive 18- to 34-year-old demographic.

"Currently, a majority of our viewers are your usual PBS demo of 50- to 60-year-olds," said Matey Odonkor, WorldCompass.org's manager of online communications. "Not that this is a bad thing."

Still, World TV has a different mission and audience in mind. "We want to offer age-relevant programming to young adults who grew up watching PBS programs with their parents but stopped watching," said Odonokor.

Cross-Platform Integration

Like the World channel, WorldCompass.org aggregates content around monthly themes (The Skin You're In, Diaspora, etc.), including audio documentaries, feature length films, video blogs, television episodes, and other media. The monthly themes highlight connections among a wide range of stories -- both big and small, and objective and subjective.

This month's theme is Land, and content includes a selection of audio (like this State of the Re:Union broadcast on Greenburg, Kansas) and video features (like this American Experience episode featuring the Civilian Conservation Corps), plus a request for users' own stories about their experiences with land. There are currently no responses for this request, although it's still early in the month. However, February's request for users' own childhood stories only garnered one user response during that month.

"The fun part," said managing editor Kavita Pillay, "has been connecting with emerging voices in public media -- people like Glynn Washington, Hari Kondabolu and Zadi Diaz."

Hari Kondabolu is an up-and-coming comic, who recently starred in a "Comedy Central Presents" special. His videoblogging for WorldCompass is more intimate and personal than his stand-up but no less funny. Here's a contribution he made to the Diaspora series:

'Thematic Evolution'

"The hope is to give the user/viewer an 'I never thought of it that way' moment as they go through a theme," Pillay said.

Currently, the topics are chosen by WorldCompass.org's staff and advisors. But, said Pillay, "at some point, we're considering a 'thematic evolution,' meaning that we'll retain the creative approach to themes but maybe present them in a different way or on a different calendar. And we'd love to start taking theme suggestions from users!"

Integration between the website and the channel has increased with the relaunch. Streamlined menu options include TV schedules and "Where to Watch" options. The site also now includes video previews and written summaries for films and programs airing on the World channel. WorldCompass.org producers are looking to increase this type of cross-platform promotion by highlighting broadcast content through more live chats, excerpts, deleted scenes and online exclusives.

On the broadcast side, the World channel runs regular interstitials sending viewers to the website for engagement activities and online extras. And, added Odonkor, "The presence of World's crop of talented and funny videobloggers on TV and the website helps to tie the two platforms together."

Increasing Engagement

WorldCompass.org pairs content pieces with crowdsourcing activities. Such "Call-to-action items" include polls, quizzes, trivia, weekend assignments, and live votes. These often link users to WorldCompass's Facebook page or a partner website. For example, this Faces of America video includes a poll item about Henry Louis Gates' lineage. To find the correct answer, users are directed to an ABC News story.

In addition to its Facebook fan page, which currently has 285 fans, WorldCompass has integrated social media with a Twitter account (96 followers), and a YouTube channel (44 subscribers). While these numbers are small, the staff is experimenting with ways to increase them.

"When we can, we try to be creative with our use of social media -- for example, we organize Facebook live chats [with] viewers and producers," Odonkor said. "For what we do online, curating shorts, it's important we provide extras to engage users and invariably increase time spent on the site or the Facebook page."

WorldCompass.org also employs social media to promote partners' work. For example, the organization teamed up with the National Black Programming Consortium to promote Season 3 of the AfroPop Series that is airing on World TV.

Looking Ahead

So far WorldCompass.org's focus has been on introducing more appealing content -- and engaging users with it -- rather than convening citizens around particular issues or problems. The tone mirrors other productions and channels aimed at this smart, mobile, multi-ethnic demographic, such as Current TV or IFC. It may be too early to tell how well this approach is working, or whether the site has succeeded in attracting viewers who don't already watch the channel. PBS has long been attempting to court a younger, hipper demographic with less than stellar results.

Stay tuned for additional videobloggers joining the team over the next few months. In addition, WorldCompass.org is about to increase its original content in the near future, using a combination of licensing, commissioning, and crowdsourcing.

"The site and the channel are works in progress," said Pillay. "We know that there's a wonderful opportunity for us to find new ways to bring together content from users and emerging producers as well as from established folks."

Katie Donnelly is Associate Research Director at the Center for Social Media at American University where she blogs about the future of public media.

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Business content on MediaShift is sponsored by the weekend MA in Public Communication at American University. Designed for working professionals, the program is suited to career changers and public relations or social marketing professionals seeking career advancement. Learn more here.

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November 25 2010

17:30

8 Key Lessons the CBC Learned Working with Citizen Journos



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The 2010 G20 summit in Toronto marked the first time the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation collaborated with citizen journalists on a large and integrated scale.

In the lead up to the event, we noticed our online community was passionate about the topic. As a public broadcaster, we saw it as a perfect opportunity to tap into that conversation and encourage members of our wider online community to share their perspectives and reflect them back to the rest of the country.

In addition to our extensive TV, radio and online coverage, the CBC News social media team worked with a number of citizen contributors who shared their perspectives on the summit -- and the protests -- taking place in their city by blogging, tweeting, and filing photos to our website. They also appeared live on CBC News Network, CBC's 24-hour news channel.

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While CBCNews.ca had produced community initiatives in the past, the G20 project was a key moment in the evolution of our approach to engagement -- moving from a user-informed model, to user-driven. In the end, the G20 Street Level blog won a 2010 Canadian Online Publishing Award for Best Community Feature and was a finalist in the Community Collaboration category at the Online News Association's 2010 Online Journalism Awards.

Eight Lessons

Here are eight lessons our team learned from working citizen contributors on a major and fast-moving news event:

  1. Know why you are working with your citizen contributors: As citizen journalism becomes part of the coverage of our news organization, it's important to differentiate our offering and create meaningful community editorial. It's no longer good enough to simply feature a citizen's content in a silo. To collaborate with our community in unique ways, we must develop clear editorial goals and integrate them into our storytelling. For the G20 Street Level project, our team wrote a project statement, which informed everything from how we communicated our ideas to our internal partners in radio and television, to how we developed our call-outs for contributors and developed the editorial plan.
  2. Expect the unexpected: When you plan an editorial package produced by paid staff or freelancers, you set filing dates and times. Barring any last-minute curve balls, you have a fairly good idea of how your content will roll out. When you're working with citizen contributors who are volunteering on a project, you can't -- and shouldn't -- make the same demands of them as paid staff. Flexibility and the ability to improvise is key. You will have influence over filing dates, times, volume of content and consistency -- but very little control.
  3. Plan what you can: Not having control over certain things isn't an excuse to not plan. Ultimately, our audience expects us to deliver a consistent, well-rounded experience. To meet this expectation, we devised an editorial plan for our CBC journalists to help make some of those "unknowns" more manageable. We ensured that our blog host and CBC contributors filed every day, and we integrated the citizen content as we received it.
  4. Recruit more volunteers than you think you will need: I'm a big believer in always planning for the worst-case scenario. When our team debated how many contributors to recruit, we realized that there was no "right" answer. My gut told me that more was better than fewer. We ended up with thirteen in total. In the end, having a bigger citizen team paid off, as some contributors filed more content than expected, and others dropped off the radar or had to pull out.
  5. Survey your potential citizen contributors: A few months ago I took part in a Poynter webinar covering credibility and social media in news organizations. They recommended surveying potential citizen contributors before working with them on projects. It's one of the best tips I've received, and now our team uses a survey as part of our standard chase process for these types of collaborations. The survey shouldn't be long but it should ask specific questions about contributors' familiarity with the topic, their writing and social media experience, and their technical proficiency and access to tools (cameras, smartphones, laptops). It's also helpful to ask them to write a bio and tell you the type of stories they're interested in filing. This last point will clearly illustrate both their potential and commitment level.
  6. Educate your contributors: You may notice volunteers feel a little intimidated after you notify them they've been selected to participate in your project. To avoid this, create an open and supportive environment from day one: Take time to call each person and discuss what it's like to collaborate with your newsroom; demystify terms and processes they may encounter ("graphs", "cut lines", and "vetting" will likely sound foreign to them); assure them that no one expects them to be the next Joan Didion or Bob Woodward, and remind them that there are no dumb questions.
  7. Contributions come in all shapes and sizes: In the kick-off call with our G20 contributors, we gave them two pieces of advice: Don't compare your work to that of our journalists, and don't get overwhelmed and feel like you have to write feature-length blog entries. It's key that your contributors are encouraged to tell their stories in the way they're most comfortable -- be it text, photos, tweets or video. During the G20 project, photos capturing breaking news were often more powerful than any number of words could have been.
  8. Be prepared to feed the beast: When working with volunteers, it's key to get their material up in a timely and consistent manner. The reward for them is their byline and recognition from family and friends; they want to send out links to their work as soon as possible. After notifying a contributor that their submission was live, we'd receive an excited email thanking us and then witness a flurry of activity from their Twitter and Facebook accounts. Be prepared to ramp up on staff and schedule for hours you may not usually work. I didn't do this and paid the price: Many a late night leading up to the summit was spent in front of my laptop, keeping up with an enthusiastic bunch. In retrospect, it was a great problem to have.

Kim Fox is the senior producer of social media for CBC News. She leads the community team and aids in the development and execution of social media, community management and user engagement strategies. The team garnered international attention and awards for their community features during the Haiti earthquake and G20 global summit.

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November 23 2010

21:30

Innovative Projects at Public Media Camp 2010

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

Ira Glass. Gwen Ifill. Big Bird.

These are some of the public faces of public media, but behind the scenes lies a nationwide army of talented, passionate individuals whose efforts often go unrecognized. This weekend, around 300 of these workers -- producers, designers, strategists, engineers, and more -- gathered at American University in Washington, D.C. for an unconference called Public Media Camp, or "pubcamp," as the cool kids call it. A few game souls took a moment in between sessions to answer my question, "What's the coolest thing you're working on right now?"

With apologies for my rudimentary video skills, I hope you'll take a minute to take in the diversity of innovative projects happening throughout the public media ecosystem:

I also have to share a contribution that came in via Twitter from Annie Shreffler, a producer at the WGBH Lab who couldn't attend PubCamp in person, but followed the weekend's events closely via Twitter and a livestream. She said the coolest thing she's working on right now is building a community of public media audiences, video journalists and aspiring filmmakers to document today's gay rights movement. This is being done in conjunction with a documentary, "Stonewall Uprising," that's airing on American Experience this spring (watch a preview of the documentary here).

How about you? What's the coolest public media project you've come across lately? And if you work in public media and I didn't get you on camera - tell us, what's the coolest thing you're working on right now?

The former editorial director of PBS.org, Amanda Hirsch is a writer, improviser and digital media consultant. Learn more at amandahirsch.com and follow Amanda on Twitter at @amanda_hirsch.

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

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November 22 2010

20:39

NPR, PBS Try to Tame Controversy, Embrace Tech at PubCamp

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

The last few months have been a bumpy stretch for public media. Due to controversial editorial decisions at both NPR and PBS, these organizations have gone from just covering the news to being the focus of it as well.



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NPR has faced withering criticism from the right for its seemingly abrupt firing of news analyst Juan Williams. The local Mississippi Public Broadcasting received similar criticism from the left after it dropped the popular national show Fresh Air from its line-up due to what it viewed as inappropriate sexually explicit conversation. And PBS came under fire for cutting controversial comments Tina Fey made about Tea Party-favorite Sarah Palin from its broadcast of the Mark Twain Prize ceremony, supposedly due to time constraints.

While each of these firestorms was put out by the institution that created the controversy, the second annual National Public Media Camp, which wrapped up last night at American University (AU) in Washington, D.C., provided an opportunity for representatives from all three organizations to share their experiences and -- more importantly -- the lessons learned. Not surprisingly, the session entitled "How to handle an online revolt" was one of the many highlights of a packed weekend of diverse discussions.

NPR social media strategist Andy Carvin's talk about the Williams incident combined his first-hand knowledge of managing a social media disaster with that of Thomas Broadus" from the Mississippi radio communications team and PBS' director of digital communications Kevin Dando. Broadus's former boss, who has since resigned, provided a casebook study of how to not respond to an angry Internet: ignoring the web at your own peril.

Carvin thanked his lucky stars that he had the good fortune to hire a comment moderating firm only weeks before NPR's home page was hit by more than 10,000 comments a day in the immediate aftermath of Williams' dismissal. Dando, whose preemptive plan to host Tina Fey's full speech online muted the conservative outcry, told the audience that even PBS.org got angry (and confused) comments denouncing the television service for firing Juan Williams (even though that was really done by NPR not PBS).

"When you have an online conflagration, you're probably better off letting users vent," Jon Gordon, the social media director of Minnesota Public Radio, observed after the discussion. "And it's interesting to hear, that is the independent conclusion reached by all three of those people who talked about online revolts. To me, that was the value of that session."

How it Worked

"The goal of PubCamp," said Carvin, "is to create an informal but high energy environment where members of the public with certain skills to bear can come and work with public media staff to find ways to collaborate with each other."

PubCamp organizers Carvin, PBS product manager Jonathan Coffman, iStrategyLabs founder Peter Corbett, and MediaShift corespondent Jessica Clark employed a freewheeling, unconference format to facilitate this interaction. Each morning, all of the station managers, fundraisers, and web developers -- as well as the larger group of public media enthusiasts in attendance from non-profits, the press, and tech community -- gathered in the large conference room provided by AU and shared ideas for sessions and discussions over coffee and bagels.

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"The entire success or failure of the event is based on what attendees are willing to propose in that first hour," Carvin explained. "That puts enough pressure on the people who come to put some thought into it and to do something constructive and interesting."

The 160 or so participants, some of whom came from as far away as Brazil and Japan, were not lacking for ideas. Out of this participatory process came informational sessions like "Metadata best practices," big idea talks like "How does public media respond to the culture wars?" as well as technical discussions about the Android mobile platform in "Collaborating with Google."

While nominally led by the person or team who proposed the topic, sessions were similarly reliant on the input of the attendees. For example, Jon Gordon of Minnesota Public Radio, guided a talk about effective use of social media on Saturday afternoon.

"I proposed that session not because I really had the answer but because I have questions to ask of the community here," said Gordon, who took over as the social media and mobile news editor at MPR earlier this year. There was enough interest that a second social media discussion was staged on Sunday morning.

Gordon attended his first public media unconference in St. Paul in 2008. This community engagement and brainstorming event, as well as another staged by Santa Cruz public radio station KUSP, helped inspire the first National PubCamp and a dozen other local PubCamps last year.

How it Succeeded

5195429417_ccb3e50097_m.jpgMany first-time attendees found the unconference process somewhat bewildering, but everyone I spoke with seemed happy with the discussion it produced.

E-Democracy.org executive director Steven Clift, another Minnesotan who was among the third of conference-goers who were not public media employees, made the trip primarily "to meet the people in the online side of public media," he said.

Clift also used his first PubCamp experience to discuss a pet issue he's passionate about: improving the quality of online news commenting by reducing user anonymity. "Local newspapers are fundamentally undermining their democratic mission -- and their brands -- by hosting poor quality commenting," he said.

NPR mobile operations manager Jeremy Pennycook was excited to meet Michael Frederick, a software engineer at Google who NPR CEO Vivian Schiller described as "a celebrity" in her welcome speech at the opening plenary.

"It's always great to develop relationships with people who are in your field but aren't doing what you're doing," Pennycook said. "It's my job to go between people like Michael Frederick who are knee deep in code and people who are content producers or making decisions about media at the executive level."

Although Frederick's primary job is programming Google Docs, he used the 20 percent of time his company sets aside for creative ventures to work with Pennycook and build the much beloved NPR Android mobile app.

How it Aims to Change Public Media

Carvin hopes future PubCamps will lay the groundwork for more open source collaborations like the one between Pennycook and Frederick. Carvin said he hopes PubCamp becomes a "movement," and noted that his primary complaint about the first full year of the organization was that it had not produced more technical advances.

"One thing that I wanted to see happen at more of at the PubCamps we did this summer was more people writing code," he said.

To foster innovation at the national PubCamp, the organizers set up a separate room stocked with food and plenty of coffee for developers. The "Dev Lounge" produced one tangible result: A WordPress plug-in that will allow users to edit, excerpt, or fully republish NPR stories. Two other projects -- an SMS polling platform and a trackback system for quotes -- were also in the works.

But the most lasting result may be the connections formed in the Dev Lounge -- and indeed within the PubCamp as a whole. At the closing plenary, the coders announced they were forming a Google Group to float new ideas and keep in touch. As Amy Wielunski, a membership manager working on fundraising for dual licensed PBS/NPR station WSKG in Binghamton, N.Y., pointed out, "just the fact that we're having these conversations is a huge step forward."

"Why would I have ever had a reason to interact with Andy Carvin before?" asked Wielunski, who spoke up at the online revolt session about how the Juan Williams incident had affected membership contributions at her station.

"I wouldn't," she said.

*****

What did you think of the National PubCamp? If you weren't able to attend, what did you think of the event coverage on Twitter and NPR? Would you attend a future PubCamp? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Photo of Jay Rosen by Julia Schrenkler via Flickr

Corbin Hiar is the DC-based associate editor at MediaShift and climate blogger for UN Dispatch and the Huffington Post. He is a regular contributor to More Intelligent Life, an online arts and culture publication of the Economist Group, and has also written about environmental issues on Economist.com and the website of the New Republic. Before Corbin moved to the Capital to join the Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program at Mother Jones, he worked a web internship at the Nation in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @CorbinHiar

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November 21 2010

16:39

A Viral Video Takedown of Public Radio (in 5 Acts)



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Why is NPR such an easy target for comedy bits and video parodies? It doesn't take a regular listener of Science Friday to figure it out. They're a bunch of mega-nerds.

With every subtle use of alliteration, every time Robert Siegel says "draconian," and each transitional upright bass interlude, they slap a big fat "kick me" sign in the middle of their own backs.


Want to know the five reasons comedians love to hate public radio? As Ira Glass would say, stay with us.



Act I: Hearing Absurdly Perfect Voices

God do their voices sound good. (Ira Glass is the exception.) If we stopped absorbing the content of their reporting and just listened to their silky baritones and rich tenors, we might mistake them for come-ons. YouTube personality Liam Kyle Sullivan gives us a peek into the people behind the voice.

Act II: Attack of the Pledge Drive

We all dread those never-ending, shame-inducing pleas for our hard earned $20.00. Funny or Die explores how NPR stations use guilt to get us to pay their salaries.

Act III: Inane Topics in Soothing Tones

It seems like public radio hosts could talk about the sleep patterns of box turtles for days if we allowed them, but we all just really want to hear Terry Gross talk dirty. (Right? I'm not alone here am I?) Unless your name is Francis Davis, this classic SNL sketch is as close as we'll ever get.

And we can't forget Betty White's recent contribution.

Act IV: Stop the Music!

If I ever see a band billed: "As Featured in NPR Segues," I will run away, fast and far. Here, the always hilarious Patton Oswalt dissects the music of NPR for us (fast forward to minute 2:00 in this clip):

Jokes.comPatton Oswalt - Man Without a Countrycomedians.comedycentral.comRead Patton Oswalt's biographyWatch Patton Live at the New York Comedy FestivalFind more from this comedian in the Shop.

Act V: Those Pretentious Listeners

Public radio fans are the worst. I should know, I am one. From my colleagues at Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy:



House-Sittin': NPR BattleUCBcomedy.comWatch more comedy videos from the twisted minds of the UCB Theatre at UCBcomedy.com

*****

Got a favorite viral public media spoof? Tell us about it in the comments.

Todd Bieber writes and directs videos, mostly comedy and documentary, or some combination of the two. He is currently Director of Content and Production for Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy. Previous to this he worked at the Onion News Networks as Footage Coordinator, occasional Director of Photography, and a freelance Contributing Writer during their Peabody Award Winning year. His work has been featured in a bunch of film festivals including Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, and AFI. His various viral videos have been watched over 13 million times and have been featured on the New York Times' website, Entertainment Weekly's website, Huffington Post, and his mom's Facebook Wall.

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November 20 2010

17:36

How Public Access TV Evolved into Community Media Centers

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

Around the country, community media centers are launching exciting new collaborations with local organizations, neighborhood activists, schools, and media outlets to create online, hyperlocal citizen journalism sites. These projects are re-imagining how Public, Educational and Governmental (PEG) access TV stations -- which are funded through regional negotiations with companies like Comcast -- can serve their communities' information needs in the digital age.



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These innovators are using digital and cable access technology to generate civic awareness and create diverse local media -- a function that's increasingly crucial as traditional journalism institutions face their greatest challenges to sustainability.

These centers provide much more than public access to cable television, having fully embraced computer-based production and broadband technology to augment their media training programs. As a result, innovative experiments in community news production are replacing the tired old "Wayne's World" stereotype of public access. This article spotlights five examples of how PEG access organizations are using funds tied to cable television as the bearing wall to support experiments in inclusive community news production.

Deepening Citizen Reporting

The Grand Rapids Community Media Center (GRCMC) launched the Rapidian in 2009 in partnership with the Knight Foundation and the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. At this year's Alliance for Community Media Conference, Laurie Cirivello, executive director of GRCMC, explained how her access center spent nine months generating community interest and support before launching the community news project:

This project is greatly a result of social media and community coming together. We consider ourselves a host of the Rapidian and a welcomer. We created the platform in response to what people were asking for and looking for. We held a series of town hall meetings. We had meetings where we invited our commercial media folks to discuss how this could help with what they're doing.

Out of these meetings, GRCMC staff decided to develop four neighborhood news bureaus, but they realized that they needed to connect with the community physically before the neighborhood would buy into the community news platform online.

The Rapidian and NeighborMedia at Cambridge Community Television (where I used to work) are two examples of citizen journalism projects that are leading the way in community news innovation. The good news is now other PEG access TV organizations in Philadelphia, Sacramento, and Reading and elsewhere, are launching their own neighborhood news initiatives.

Opening up Election Coverage

PEG access is often the best place on TV for residents to access local election coverage. Take the Center for Media and Democracy in Burlington, VT, which operates the city's government access TV channel. The station has been at the forefront of innovative uses of cable access TV and the web. For example, earlier this year I wrote about how viewers can access on-demand "clickable meeting agendas" via the Center's website.

During this past election, Channel 17 created Live Vermont Election Coverage, a website where residents could livestream the results and interact via CoveritLive. The Center also posted videos featuring local voices from exit polls produced by community members. When combined with new online tools, community media centers can use their TV channels to make local content more accessible and more relevant to people's everyday lives.

Hosting a Media Commons

The Bay Area Video Coalition(BAVC) operates San Francisco's Public Access TV station. Along with offering media production classes and youth media programs to Bay Area residents, BAVC has found new ways to bring cable access into the digital age.

BAVC.gifBAVC's public access website at SF.commons.tv is powered by MIRO Community, a project of the Participatory Culture Foundation. This interactive video platform gives BAVC producers the ability to share their local media alongside any other video available online using embeddable RSS feeds. For example, SF.commons.tv has a San Francisco Bay Area channel featuring local news from KQED, a public media organization in Northern California.

Creating a Civic Media Memory Bank

Access Humboldt in Eureka, California believes that broadband is the future of community media. They have established partnerships with other community organizations to develop a broadband network for the rural community they serve. Their "Digital Redwoods" project is working to cultivate a "sustainable media ecosystem." As they explain:

Local PEG Network assets are deployed and interconnected with wireless transmission networks that reach remote locations for broadcast radio, TV and Internet, and for mobile users' broadband needs. This 'digital ecology' approach takes a long term view for the growth of communication networks both on the ground and overhead, engaging local resources with any media necessary to help meet comprehensive community needs and interests for public health and safety, for lifelong learning and for civic engagement.

Access Humboldt is building on their broadband infrastructure through a partnership with the Internet Archive. The two organizations created the Community Media Collection to encourage public access centers to upload their community-produced content. Thousands of hours of local cable access programming from across the country can be viewed at archive.org.

Amplifying Minority Perspectives

After 27 years of trying to launch a Public Access TV station in Philadelphia, PhillyCam began cablecasting on October 23, 2009. A year later, it received an award from J-Lab, the Institute for Interactive Journalism to launch Drop Zone, a
"youth-led investigation into why young men of color leave school," in partnership with the Voice of Philadelphia website and YESPhilly youth training organization."

In an announcement about the project, PhillyCam partner Voice of Philadelphia said: "The effort, which will involve local youth affiliated with YESPhilly, will investigate why young men of color leave school. Aside from reporting, the project will allow VoP to engage in one of its other long-term goals - the training of citizen journalists." Drop Zone builds on PEG access TV's long-standing mission to ensure access to diverse voices in local communities.

Community Media's New Context

These innovative community news projects show the potential of PEG access TV stations to re-imagine themselves as community media centers in the digital age. However, all is not rosy for public access TV. TechFlash recently reported that SCAN TV in Seattle will shut its doors to the public at the end of the year. In the process, SCAN TV joins a long list of community media centers that have been negatively affected by an economy in crisis and by legislation that has shifted local control of media to the state over the past five years.

These cutbacks are happening at a moment when community media centers are serving vital local needs. After all, it has been proven that many support what a recent report by Blair Levin calls "a sensible approach to broadband adoption" by providing the public with media and digital literacy training.

Free Press and other public interest media organizations have called for an expanded public media system to provide funding and support for community news projects, which model an open and democratic form of Public Media 2.0. PubCamps across the country -- such as the one this weekend -- are beginning to set the stage for collaboration between public and community media. To thrive, the PEG access community desperately needs a broadband policy framework that supports such pioneering local media initiatives.

Colin Rhinesmith is a doctoral student and Information in Society Fellow at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an Affiliate with the New America Foundation's Media Policy Initiative.

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

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November 19 2010

18:27

Public Media Experiments Show Promise, Need to Involve Public

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

This article was co-authored by Jessica Clark, with research support from Christopher Ali and Erin Roberts.

After a slew of reports, conferences, and hearings, the calls for public media to step into the journalism breach have been met with action. Over the past year, there has been a wave of experimentation in local news projects in public media, a trend that is increasing rapidly, especially at radio stations. As Ken Doctor sums up in this Newsonomics post:

We've seen 12 topical sites prominently launched in major cities, under the rubric of Project Argo. We've seen National Public Radio building out a state-of-the-art internal wire (the NPR API), facilitating the sharing of national, global and local stories among public radio stations. We've seen the Corporation for Public Broadcasting fund various new initiatives, including the Local Journalism Centers, aimed at improving regional issues reporting. We've seen Boston's WBUR, the Bay Area's KQED, the Twin Cities's MPRNews.org and L.A.'s KPCC all launch standalone news sites over the last year, moving beyond the programming brochure look that has long characterized public radio on the web.

These projects are just the start. They are matched by ambitious proposals to ramp up stations' reporting capacity, such as Bill Kling's push to add over 300 new reporters to local public radio newsrooms, and NPR's new Impact of Government initiative, which will add reporters to cover state governments in all 50 states.



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Eight Strategies

How often and how well are rising public media news projects actually engaging members of the public? Researchers at the Center for Social Media (CSM) have been examining the rise of multiplatform local news projects in our Public Media Showcase, profiling the efforts of stations including KQED, KETC (now the Nine Network of Public Media), WHYY; nationally funded projects including the Local Journalism Centers the Public Insight Network; and individual programs like the PBS NewsHour. Through this research, we've observed some trends, some challenges, and some hopeful indicators for the future of public media. (View highlights from our journalism and public media coverage here.)

A year ago here on MediaShift, we outlined eight strategies for effective public media 2.0 experiments: Involve, go deeper, reach new and nontraditional publics, repurpose/remix/recycle, collaborate, enable media literacy, play with form and promote political discussion. Our research since has focused in particular on the first strategy, examining diverse efforts to involve users in news creation, curation and conversation. But along the way we've found evidence that the other strategies are also gaining traction.

Several prominent projects have emphasized "going deeper" in their news coverage -- see, for example, Argo and the Local Journalism Centers, which depend on particular content verticals to draw users. Many station sites now include social media features that repurpose, remix and recycle content, and we're seeing more and more projects that experiment with form -- using maps, databases, widgets and visualizations to present information.

Some stations are moving beyond distributing content and incorporating digital literacy efforts as well -- one gateway for reaching new and nontraditional publics, where there's still a lot of work to be done. This year's election also provided the chance for both national and local news projects to build upon the electoral experiments launched in the last two cycles. We cover several of these trends in more depth below.

A Continuum of Engagement

Stations, makers and programs are adopting a range of engagement strategies to involve users, from closed to open. In our past year's research, we've explored numerous multiplatform and participatory reporting models, from the hyperlocal to the global. Figuring out how well public media projects are working requires a more nuanced sense of how members of the public are expected to interact with them. Informed by interviews conducted by CSM research fellow Erin Roberts, we've developed the following scale to help assess the openness of a given news project, and the corresponding roles expected of users. (See the main image to the right.)

  • Editor-driven approaches follow the traditional journalistic model, with editors controlling the production of news from start to finish, engaging users only once content is broadcast or posted.
  • Interactive approaches provide users with narrowly focused options to interact with content, usually through features such as clickable maps, blog commenting, moderated discussion forums, Twitter and Facebook accounts, etc.
  • User-informed approaches actually position users as sources, relying on them for information, perspectives, and crowdsourced research, which are then filtered through an editorial process.
  • Community-centered approaches invite users to participate in the production process, with a small amount of guidance.
  • Finally, on the most "open" end of the scale, user-driven approaches embrace users as full collaborators in news production.

Not surprisingly, we discovered that most public broadcasting news initiatives are still clustered on the closed end of the spectrum. While many have begun to embrace interactive features, few are actually inviting users to become full creative collaborators. In fact, the potential of users as collaborators is only beginning to be realized, with just a few public media organizations inviting users to create and repurpose content. Examples on the open end of the public media scale tend to be outside of traditional public broadcasting -- community media projects, and hyperlocal citizen journalism sites -- which offer the virtues of inclusion and active engagement for users, but don't share the same level of trust as big brands like PBS and NPR.

On the whole, both stations and national public media news projects are centrally concerned with retaining editorial control in order to remain authoritative and balanced sources of news and analysis. Conversation with users on sites like PBS NewsHour is lively but highly moderated, with editors directing specific questions to anchors, or calling for participation sharply limited by topic. Interactive projects like public media games, widgets, maps, etc. retain this same centralized feel, but give users focused options for engagement and content creation.

The aim, says Dave Gustafson, the NewsHour's online news and forward planning editor, davegustafsonheadshot.jpgis to foster "high minded discussions of important topics" -- closer to the authoritative vibe of a magazine like the Economist than the staccato, 24/7 pace of a site like Yahoo! News.

"We want to be as open and engaging as possible while still protecting ourselves from the free-for-all," Gustafson said.

Like many outlets, public broadcasters are struggling to ward off online trolls who discourage civil exchanges with name-calling and flame wars; NPR recently contracted with professional moderators to help field thousands of comments per day. Projects such as the Public Insight Network are now figuring out sophisticated ways to open the doors to deeper consultation with users. Some of the more daring station-based news experiments have also begun to adopt some of the methods and values of community media makers, such as the Nine Network of Public Media and WHYY, with projects described below.

The most promising projects combine elements from across the continuum, providing users with a core of trusted information, along with robust interactive multimedia packages, opportunities to comment on and suggest coverage, and spaces for inclusion, debate and content creation. Learning how to mix and match these approaches coherently and intelligently will be an ongoing challenge--one that promises to turbocharge the relevance and depth of public media.

Collaboration is Key

This year, we've seen increased cross-platform collaboration among public media outlets, perhaps most notably with the CPB-Funded Local Journalism Centers, which consist of regional partnerships working to address broad topics, such as health, agribusiness and regional economies. These projects are progressing at varying rates, with differing approaches toward online and in-person community engagement. Kathy Merritt, CPB's senior director of program investments, said, "CPB is really trying to drive the ongoing conversation around collaboration. We think it's really important. And, frankly, it hasn't really been the practice up till now."

Although stations are collaborating more with one another, there has been both tension and promise when it comes to partnerships with outlets outside of the public broadcasting system. James Rainey's recent article in the L.A. Times describes the competition between public radio news, local newspapers, and new online outlets:

Don't count on any clarity in the local news space any time soon as newspapers tenaciously cling to their incumbent advantages -- including staffs still larger than most of the upstarts -- and upstarts continue to crowd the space.

I'm doubtful of the few who have been suggesting that public radio stations and their websites will become the primary sources of local news. I expect we're looking at a more cacophonous future -- with the radio news sources just one of many voices in the room.

beacon.gifThe Nine Network of Public Media/KETC has circumvented this tension by actively embracing a partnership with local newspaper, the St. Louis Beacon. KETC and the Beacon collaborated on both Facing the Mortgage Crisis and Homeland, which Amy Shaw, the network's vice president of education and community engagement, said has been "to the benefit of both organizations."

Nationally, collaborations are starting to bubble up in order to fill gaps in investigative reporting left by receding print coverage. The Public Insight Network recently announced an ongoing partnership with ProPublica, Center for Investigative Reporting and The Center for Public Integrity. ProPublica, Frontline and the Times-Picayune also teamed up on a multi-media investigation of the New Orleans police department earlier this year. And last month, Frontline and ProPublica partnered on The Spill, an hour-long documentary on the BP oil spill. These strategic partnerships have successfully employed the strengths of each organization, and it's likely we will be seeing more of them in the future.

Increased cross-platform collaboration is likely to be of great benefit to public television stations, which simply have not been able to capitalize on local news the same way that public radio stations have. In February, Center for Social Media researcher Christopher Ali conducted a descriptive content analysis of the news and information programming of all PBS stations with available websites.

Ali found that 70 stations produced no local newscast at all; 86 stations produced a weekly newsmagazine; six stations produced a newscast that aired one to three times per week; and just 13 stations produced a nightly local newscast (four times per week or more).

There are several reasons for the dearth of regular local newscasts -- the most obvious is the cost of production. However, we have observed some successful cross-platform news experiments like KQED News. Additionally, we've seen some improvements in national public television news programs, like the NewsHour, which launched a rebranding effort last year to attract more digitally savvy young adults, and has been gaining both audience and redistribution of content through its coverage of the BP oil spill and the recent elections.

Diversifying the Public Media Audience

One of the blatant gaps that public media makers are still struggling to fully address is reaching new and non-traditional publics. In a recent study of PBS's major public affairs shows, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting found guest lists that were "strongly dominated by white, male and elite sources, who are far more likely to represent corporations and war makers than environmentalists or peace advocates." (PBS's ombudsman, Michael Getler responded that "counting heads on a news program is meaningless unless one also analyzes what they are saying.")

Most pubcasters would agree that widening representation is a good thing, and that it is only a first step towards reaching new users. Currently in a beta phase, the WORLDCompass.org site represents a step forward, serving as "an all-inclusive platform for anyone with something interesting and thought-provoking to share," aggregated around monthly themes that include topics like Diaspora and The Skin You're In.

Another gap that still persists is the very real struggle with differences in digital literacy -- some users clamoring for mobile, others still learning how to use email. Researcher Christopher Ali documented this gap in his coverage of WHYY's new NewsWorks initiative: "This digital divide was illustrated by one of WHYY's community forums held at a community digital media center. Here, one room featured WHYY proselytizing the value of NewsWorks, while in another room, community members were attending a regularly-scheduled class on how to use e-mail."

Some public media initiatives, Ali noted, could find themselves in a Catch-22 trying to reach everyone and end up "both too early for digital neophytes and too late for early adaptors."

However, some stations are doing an admirable job of addressing this particular issue. WHYY itself offers a host of community media options, with the Dorrance H. Hamilton Public Media Commons offering training courses for adults, after school programs for youth and professional development for educators. This type of training serves multiple purposes: It builds community engagement and brand loyalty, and provides locally produced content from a community perspective. The Nine Network of Public Media combines media training and distribution with their NineAcademy, a free community media program that trains locals in shooting, editing, and storytelling. The academy is in turn an intrinsic part of the station's Homeland project, which covers immigration issues.

The Public Media Corps project, which the Center for Social Media is helping to incubate, is also experimenting with community-driven models for digital literacy training and engagement with local news. Check back on MediaShift early next year for best practices gleaned from this beta test.

Persistent Challenges

Many of the challenges facing local public news initiatives are immediately apparent: Funding, staffing, training, and the hotly debated tensions between local versus national coverage and broad versus vertical approaches. Having a digital expert on staff can make a huge difference, as can a relatively small amount of funding to devote to digital resources.

During this time of great experimentation, we have found that innovative approaches may not always immediately attract users. In cases like these that rigorous impact measurement is crucial for strategic, iterative project development.

Public broadcasters face the difficult task of finding new ways to characterize success in an open environment, as CSM's Erin Roberts points out in her coverage of NewsHour: "Until recently, public broadcasters have focused almost exclusively on how many people encountered their content, not who those people are or how they interacted with the content."

Digital civic engagement may never scale up to the level estimated broadcast audience, but as the continuum above suggests, more participatory approaches position publics for deeper involvement, which in turn can open up new opportunities for both local relevance and fundraising.

The National Center for Media Engagement's recently revamped guide for producers lays it on the line:

The best engagement projects reflect thoughtful consideration of issues, audiences, alliances and, most importantly, outcomes ... While it's simpler and possibly more appealing to imagine a family gathered in front of a glowing TV set, eating popcorn and enjoying every minute of your program, the reality is more complex. If you want to affect the way people think, believe and act, you must engage them across platforms, in different settings and over time.

Given the ever-shifting ground for public media news projects, stations and producers need better tools and opportunities to share best practices with one another in a clear and systematic way. Establishing formal and informal hubs for networking, learning and information sharing among these projects -- like Idea Lab here on MediaShift, or Harvard's Nieman Lab -- could help to catalyze the creation of new and better projects around the country.


As we move towards 2011, there are even more shifts on the horizon. For now, however, public broadcasters still lag well behind local newspapers in their range and volume of coverage -- as a set of recent local news ecologies conducted by the New America Foundation suggest, they're a key but incomplete solution to the problem of diminishing accountability journalism in U.S. communities. More is needed on all fronts -- funding, sharing of best practices, and systematic assessment -- to transform this moment of experimentation into a vital public news service that not only informs citizens, but gives them the civic agency to actively participate in our democracy.

Katie Donnelly is Associate Research Director at the Center for Social Media at American University where she blogs about the future of public media.

Jessica Clark directs the Center for Social Media's Future of Public Media Project, and is a Knight Media Policy Fellow at the New America Foundation.

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

November 18 2010

18:10

Special Series: Public Media 2.0

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

About this Series

How are public media makers and outlets evolving in the digital, participatory age? Stories in this week's special package examine how various players are rising to this challenge, from public stations, to community access projects, to citizen journalists. MediaShift contributors will report back from this weekend's national Public Media Camp in D.C., where developers and community members will join public broadcasting staffers to brainstorm digital projects and engagement strategies. Kim Fox of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation will offer crowdsourcing and citizen journalism lessons learned from its coverage of the G20. And we'll take a look at what viral public broadcasting spoofs tell us about what still needs work.

The entire series is linked below.

Check Out All the Posts

> 5 Emerging Trends That Give Hope for Public Media 2.0 by Jessica Clark

Coming soon

Friday: Katie Donnelly analyzes a raft of public broadcasting news experiments

Saturday: Colin Rhinesmith reports on how community access centers are supporting more inclusive reporting

Sunday: Todd Bieber of the Upright Citizens Brigade dissects viral video spoofs of public broadcasting

Monday: Public Media Camp coverage from Corbin Hiar and Amanda Hirsch

Tuesday: Dorian Benkoil on how WNYC has changed its business model

Wednesday: 5Across show produced and hosted by Mark Glaser, with guests from KQED, Oakland Local, Bay Citizen and ITVS

Thursday: Kim Fox of CBC shares lessons learned from the online team's street-level coverage of the G20 in Toronto.

Your Feedback

What do you think about our series? How could it be improved? Are there other series you'd like to see MediaShift tackle in the coming months? We'd like to hear from you either in the comments below or via our Feedback form.

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

17:54

5 Emerging Trends That Give Hope for Public Media 2.0

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

Public media is facing the same pressures as commercial media when it comes to digital: How can they transition to a new age of social media, collaboration and audience interaction? From today until Thanksgiving, MediaShift will have a special in-depth report on Public Media 2.0, with analysis, case studies, a 5Across video roundtable and coverage of this weekend's national PubCamp in Washington, DC.

Public broadcasters have been facing intense heat this fall, from dodging flak after the Juan Williams firing to rebutting calls to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, to defending the diversity of their news programming. But the negative coverage often misses a deeper story -- of the transition of this sector to a more innovative and varied set of Public Media 2.0 organizations that are finding fresh ways to network with users, partners and one another.

Over the past year here in the Public MediaShift section, Center for Social Media researchers and practitioners from the field have been covering varied public media experiments -- including youth media, government transparency tools, community-level collaboration and a converged national newsroom. These explorations reveal five emerging trends that are helping to reshape and broaden the public media sector so that it can better inform and engage users.

1) Learning to COPE

Adopting a COPE strategy -- "create once, publish everywhere" -- is making public media more modular and flexible.

"I don't know about you," CPB's vice president of digital strategy Rob Bole told the audience at a FedTalks event in mid-October, "but my life is split between my home, the train, work, meetings, going back on the train, playing with my kids, paying bills, and actually trying to spend some time and converse with my wife. So, I need a public media that is built for me -- that continues to be essential, to help me navigate through troubled times, to be interesting and surprising, but built for my somewhat crazy life."

Here's a video of Bole's talk:

Bole went on to explain how public broadcasting organizations are repurposing content for distribution across multiple mobile and digital platforms to reach people where they are.

Breaking content into portable digital pieces is in turn powering other capabilities. For example, the newly redesigned PBS site offers greater visibility for local content by providing a shared platform for video exchange between stations and national producers.

In the long run, aggregating locally produced content online will increase users' access to a rich supply of diverse stories and perspectives, along with cultural and historical gems that rarely appear on commercial broadcast outlets. "There's something there for everyone," Bole said.

Similarly, public access TV centers are developing the Community Media Distribution Network, which allows for content sharing and archiving of citizen and independent productions -- an often-overlooked source of grassroots public media. If all goes as planned, both independent media and public broadcasting from previous decades will also be made available to both users and outlets through the American Archive project -- a sort of COPE-retrieval mission.

This is a complex and daunting multi-year undertaking that will involve hundreds of stations and digitization of materials across both analog and digital platforms. An analysis of the scope for the project, released in June, laid out the steps and related challenges.

2) Sharing Knowledge with Peers

pubcamp.gifRegistration now is maxed out for this weekend's second annual Public Media Camp, which the Center for Social Media is organizing with NPR, PBS and iStrategy Labs. Organized by their attendees, PubCamps are designed to help public broadcasters, tech developers and public media users share best practices and work together on community engagement projects.

Several local PubCamps have taken place at stations around the country since last October. The gatherings are proving to be valuable opportunities for trend-spotting within the field, and venues for introducing stations to national platforms, tools, and funding sources. Proposed sessions so far address tips for sustainable collaboration, previews of coming apps, such as the one from PBS' "Antiques Road Show," and suggestions for what public media makers can learn from anime fandom.

NPR senior strategist Andy Carvin, who has been central to organizing the events, said more than 300 people have registered for this weekend, representing 40 different public media organizations.

"Public media has a long tradition of public support, especially in terms of people making donations to their local station," Carvin told me. "With PubCamp, we're working with stations to develop new ways for them to engage people who want to become even more involved, donating their expertise to help strengthen the station's role in the community. I'm most excited about the fact that the majority of attendees won't be staff -- they'll be people around the country who simply care a lot about public media, and are willing to donate their time to help us in one way or another."

The PubCamps reflect a broader surge in journalism-related unconferences, such as the Media Consortium's Independent Media Mobile Hackathon, or the numerous participatory meetings hosted by Journalism That Matters. These events incubate new projects by connecting attendees first face-to-face and then through an array of social networking tools. The flow of participants across the various gatherings and platforms is bringing fresh approaches and constructive critique to a previously cloistered sector.

3) Boosting Community Engagement

Peer learning has proven to be particularly popular in the area of engagement -- a fast-growing but controversial priority for public media makers still adjusting to expectations for greater participation and interaction set by social media. Public engagement has been built into the DNA of community access centers for decades, through production training and ascertainment processes designed to figure out communities' information needs. But public broadcasting stations often feel trapped in a double bind: They are simultaneously expected to provide "balanced" news and analysis, and to actively involve users in civic issues.

To the rescue comes the CPB-funded National Center for Media Engagement (NCME), which has been hosting a series of webinars that bring producers, station staff and online innovators together to discuss engagement experiments and opportunities. Accompanied by lively sidebar chats among attendees, the webinars offer real-time snapshots of effective projects in process.

For example, one featured the Wisconsin Public Television's Vietnam veterans "welcome home" event, a multi-platform model for engaging tens of thousands of local veterans who felt alienated by their stateside reception. The project grew from veterans' strong responses to a documentary, War Stories, and now several other stations have hosted or plan to host related events. Portraits and oral histories from the veterans are available here along with transcripts, related maps, educational resources, the full documentary, excerpts from the companion book, and a digital honor roll of Wisconsin vets who died in Vietnam.

By capturing and analyzing the stories of such successful engagement projects, the NCME hopes to provide both inspiration and concrete prototypes. They offer a related guide, along with training and fundraising resources, to support public media outlets in such efforts. Staffers are actively reaching out to producers from other sectors for lessons and models; they recently announced that they'd partner with the Integrated Media Association, which is hosting a track at the next South by Southwest Interactive Festival for public media makers.

4) Building Strategic Partnerships

"Collaboration" is a rising buzzword in public media circles, but finding successful ways to match projects, capacity and strategies is not always easy. In a December MediaShift piece, Amanda Hirsch laid out some of the complexities, including getting buy-in from top managers at each partner organization, assigning staff to the collaboration project itself, and establishing formal communication channels.

"Don't assume that working together means saving time -- that's not the value proposition of collaboration," she wrote. "The value proposition is about quality."

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For these reasons, it's often easier to start with time-limited collaborations with clearly defined outcomes. In Philadelphia, such an approach will be tested via the Philadelphia Enterprise Reporting Awards. Announced in late October, the awards are supported by the William Penn Foundation and administered by J-Lab. Fourteen projects received grants of $5,000 each, designed to both support in-depth reporting projects and to explore whether it's possible to connect the "silos of journalism throughout the city." The idea is to provide more entry points to expose news consumers to public affairs content and "create a 'knowledge network' among the region's news initiatives, so they can add to, amplify, link to or broadcast news that is being created but that their niche audiences might not otherwise come across," according to the Awards site.

Public broadcasting station WHYY is involved in three of these projects -- Anatomy of a School Turnaround, in conjunction with the Philadelphia Public School Notebook; the Power Map of Philadelphia, in conjunction with the Philadelphia Daily News, Philly.com and an institute at the University of Pennsylvania; and ArtBlog Radio, in conjunction with theartblog.org. Two of the collaborations intersect with WHYY's newly launched NewsWorks project (more on that in tomorrow's piece on public broadcasting news experiments). Community media producers, including cable access station PhillyCam and media training center Scribe Video are also grantees, as well as digital citizen news projects such as Phawker.com and Metropolis.

Besides being interesting in their own right, this array of projects highlights the strengths and goals of various nodes in Philadelphia's news ecosystem, suggesting how non-commercial public media might help to fill key gaps.

5) Paying Attention to Policy

Historically, public broadcasters have lacked the resources, expertise or coordination to regularly track and intervene in the policy-making that supports them.

"The system has no long-term policy planning capacity, and therefore it always has had great difficulty dealing with the periodic efforts by outsiders to critique and 'reform' it," wrote Wick Rowland, the president of Colorado Public Television in the October 22 issue of Current. He continued:



Public broadcasting ignores most media policy research, whether it originates in academia, think tanks or federal agencies, and it often seems out of touch with major national policy deliberations until too late. That disengagement is highly dangerous because it allows others to set the national legal and regulatory agenda for communications without assuring adequate policy attention to public-service, non-commercial and educational goals. Such policy initiatives also can negatively affect the funding and operating conditions of every public licensee.

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However, two countervailing trends are now capturing the attention of both public broadcasters and the broader public media sector. On the one hand, a series of high-profile reports and agency hearings have proposed reforming public media and expanding funding as a corrective to the loss of reporting capacity across the country.

On the other hand, calls to cut or abolish public broadcasting are on the rise, both from members of the soon-to-be-Republican House and from President Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (the commission on reducing the deficit).

Productive reform will be complex and contentious, but not impossible. As Steve Coll, the president of the New America Foundation, observed in the cover story of the current issue of Columbia Journalism Review:

The problem is that the media policies that govern us in 2010 -- a patchwork stitched from the ideas of Calvin Coolidge's Republican Party, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, and Ronald Reagan's deregulatory wave -- have been overtaken by technological change.

From the country's founding, American media and journalism have been continually remade by technological innovation. Political pamphlets made room for industrially printed newspapers, which made room for the telegraph, which made room for radio, which made room for broadcast television, which made room for cable and satellite services, which made room for the World Wide Web, which is making room even as we read this for the Kindle, iPad, and mobile phone applications.

When such technological, industrial, and economic changes dislodge the assumptions underlying public policy, the smart response is to update and adjust policy in order to protect the public interest. And politically plausible reforms that would clearly serve the public are within reach. It is time to reboot the system.

These myriad political pressures are driving public media to a tipping point, in which the case for a new social contract with the public will either be made or will fail to convince. While the non-commercial and digital public media sector is larger than the public broadcasters, the broadcasters are the most well-funded and visible players. As Rowland suggests, it is time for them to step up, demonstrate vision, and tell their own story of the shift to Public Media 2.0.

Jessica Clark directs the Future of Public Media Project at American University's Center for Social Media, and is a Knight Media Policy Fellow at the New America Foundation.

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

October 16 2010

00:18

4 Minute Roundup: A $100 Million Expansion for Public Media?

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4MR is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

In this week's 4MR podcast I look at the ambitious plan by American Public Media honcho Bill Kling to add more than 300 new reporters and editors to four local public radio newsrooms, at a funding cost of $100 million. These new reporters would be digital-first and focus on text and multimedia before radio. I spoke to Ken Doctor, who wrote a detailed article about Kling's plan recently.

Check it out:

4mrbareaudio101510.mp3

>>> Subscribe to 4MR <<<

>>> Subscribe to 4MR via iTunes <<<

Listen to my entire interview with Ken Doctor:

doctor final.mp3

Background music is "What the World Needs" by the The Ukelele Hipster Kings via PodSafe Music Network.

Here are some links to related sites and stories mentioned in the podcast:

Public Media's $100 Million Plan - 100 Journalists Per City at Newsonomics

More details on Bill Kling's $100 million, 100-journalists-per-city public-media plan at MinnPost

Hundreds of Well-Paid Media Jobs (Could Be) Coming to Your City! at Gawker

WBEZ, News Giant? at Chicago Reader

Report - Top Public Radio Stations Developing Plan To Increase News Staffs at AllAccess.com

MPR's Bill Kling Steps Down - And Up - From Public Radio at Newsonomics

Also, be sure to vote in our poll about what you think about Skype adding Facebook functions:




Skype + Facebook = ?online surveys

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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4MR is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

October 01 2010

18:05

KETC Works with Community on 'Homeland' Immigration Project

Fresh from their ambitious multi-city Facing the Mortgage Crisis project, KETC/Channel 9 in St. Louis has launched a new community-based news project on another hot topic: immigration.

Homeland aims to "apply public media sensibilities, expertise and capacity to address a complicated and polarizing issue," said Amy Shaw, KETC's vice president of education and community engagement. The project includes a website that will feature original content created by community members and KETC staff, a series of facilitated community meetings in the St. Louis area and across Missouri, and a four-hour nationally broadcast television series. This combination, said Shaw, is designed to "push the boundaries of what public media can do."

According to the site:

The Homeland initiative is the embodiment of what public media can do well -- we generate awareness around the important and complex issues that need to be addressed in our communities, and then we create impact by mobilizing people to address these issues. In the process of talking to people throughout our region, we want to show, analyze and present what we learn. We're not going to tell people what we think about immigration or what is right or wrong, good or bad. We intend to help people embrace and understand the complexity of important issues to help communities address them in a more authentic, rational way.

NineAcademy Trains Community Members

Shaw said the project is "rooted in needs of the community," and it is clear that KETC takes community engagement seriously. Homeland is teaming up with KETC's NineAcademy, a free community media program that trains locals in shooting, editing, and storytelling. The best productions will be featured on the Homeland site and on KETC.

Although NineAcademy has already trained community members ranging from middle schoolers to senior citizens, KETC is intent on "meeting people where they are." Aware that some community members lack internet access, KETC staff has made sure that phone, face-to-face and snail-mailed correspondence is valued as much as online interaction. For example, KETC is experimenting with the idea of "conversations in a box" -- mobile storytelling kits, including inexpensive digital video recorders, that are mailed to community members. When they have finished recording their stories, they send the kits back to KETC for redistribution.

So far, according to Shaw, promotion for the project has been minimal, as the project website is still developing.

Five Sections of Site

At present, the site includes five sections that demonstrate the participatory and collaborative nature of Public Media 2.0, in varying degrees.

360 Degree Perspectives is a blog that explores multiple perspectives on immigration issues, based on KETC's meetings with community members from all spots on the political spectrum, including Tea Party members, far-left groups, and the very wide swath of Americans who don't currently identify with a particular political point of view.

Fact vs. Myth takes a nuanced look at some of the common information and misinformation surrounding the immigration debate. Check out this Fact vs. Myth video created by a NineAcademy graduate DeAnna Tipton:

Your Voice is a discussion forum for community members. Right now, the conversation is heavily populated by KETC staff, but Shaw is confident that the balance will shift over time to allow for more user-directed conversation.

Homeland Series is a behind-the-scene look at the making of the four-hour series that will air in 2011. The broadcast element of this project is, as Shaw explained, "a piece of puzzle," not the be-all end-all culmination of the project. In fact, no pieces related to the project have aired yet, although there has been much activity both online and face-to-face. Community meetings have shaped the entire direction of the project, including the decision to create the four-hour broadcast piece.

Finally, From the Beacon showcases related work from KETC's newspaper partner, the St. Louis Beacon. The Beacon was a partner in the Facing the Mortgage Crisis project as well, providing cross-platform news coverage to the benefit of both organizations.

Challenges

Although the project is developing smoothly, Shaw said that, "We were a bit naive in considering how challenging it would be to take on one of the most difficult and challenging issues of our time." As polarizing as this issue may be, the tone on Homeland remains congenial with only minimal moderation, indicating perhaps that people are tired of the sensationalized, black-and-white coverage of the issue that is often provided by traditional media.

In addition to the polarizing nature of the subject matter, KETC is also dealing with the fact that the station has not traditionally been a news organization. Now, as they experiment with community-based public affairs coverage, the team must constantly evaluate what works and what doesn't or, as Shaw put it, "go through a daily recalibration." The lessons that KETC's staff learn through this project could very well inform a powerful community engagement model for other stations around the country.

In the coming months, the Homeland team will continue to tweak the design and engagement aspects of the project in order to make the site more community-oriented. KETC is also working on some major internal shifting, and a rebranding effort to highlight the station's overall push toward public engagement. In the future, KETC will be taking on more than one in-depth community engagement project at a time. The subject matter for these future projects will come from -- where else? -- the community.

Katie Donnelly is Associate Research Director at the Center for Social Media at American University where she blogs about the future of public media. With a background in media literacy education, Katie previously worked as a Research Associate at Temple University's Media Education Lab in Philadelphia. When she's not researching media, Katie spends her time working in the environmental field and blogging about food.

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September 23 2010

17:30

A Guide to Rising Public Media Networks in the U.S.

While it's taken public broadcasters awhile to catch up to the possibilities and dynamics of social and mobile media platforms, over the past year on MediaShift we have been documenting a flurry of innovation that reveals new possibilities for how the sector might share content, do business, and engage publics. Here's a guide to several types of rising public media networks, and a look at how new policy models might better support them.

Networked Content

Content networks are nothing new to public broadcasters -- NPR and PBS serve as closed and centralized hubs of content aggregation and distribution to member stations, and PRX has demonstrated the benefits of a more open, digital conduit between producers, stations and the public. But the June announcement that NPR would lead a coalition of such distributors in developing a joint Public Media Platform (PMP) upped the ante. A prototype, slated to be done by the end of the year, will build upon NPR's successful API and related experiments, which have powered a variety of mobile and iPad apps, allowed local station sites to feature national content, and enabled external viral distribution of public radio content via data mashups.

If it works, the PMP will expand the audience for and utility of public broadcasting content. It will also serve as a point of entry for new public media contributors, most immediately from non-commercial and hyper-local news projects. And it will create new opportunities for content to flow across public media silos, making collaboration much easier. This would encourage curated cross-platform projects like WGBH's new World Compass site, and targeted aggregation on public broadcasting sites, such as the "Public Media Resources" section on the site of the PBS NewsHour. Plus, as the graphic below suggests, the PMP would support entirely new uses of content by developers, educational institutions, and non-profits.

public media platform grab.jpg

(You can see a larger version of the image here)

Although it represents a much needed (and much discussed) integration of content, the project is not without its tensions. There are many rights issues to be worked out, and public stations are leery that products built via the PMP will pull audiences and dollars away from them. But as Eliot Van Buskirk notes on Wired's Epicenter blog, "Ultimately, the upside to all of this sharing, repackaging and distribution will likely be bigger than the downside, so far as the public is concerned. This Public Media Platform will bring competition to member stations that didn't exist before, and should result in a large number of apps, sites and publications over the coming years, if things go as planned."

What's more, NPR's Kinsey Wilson told Poynter that the PMP could serve as an "engine of innovation" for journalism, powering reporting experiments like NPR's new Project Argo.

Networked Outlets and Producers

Creating a big content repository is just one step in the process of building a vibrant public media network. Both public broadcasting outlets and independent makers need help understanding how best to curate and package digital content, and how to attract networked users [PDF] to it.

Over the last several decades, trade organizations have emerged in the public broadcasting sector to represent the interests of and provide services to discrete groups of outlets and makers, including the Association of Public Television Stations, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated, the Association of Independents in Radio and others. But while most of these are organized according to platform, innovators working in cross-platform, digital and mobile production don't have a central hub to share success and failures and hash out new standards.

While the Integrated Media Association has served this role, currently it's in a transition phase; as a result, the organization will not hold a 2010 conference. In its absence, a number of less formal networks have sprung up to connect stations, makers and developers.

MediaShift has reported before on two of these rising networks: the Public Media Chat (#pubmedia) on Twitter, which is organized by a revolving group of volunteers, and the Public Media Camps, jointly organized by NPR and PBS. (Full disclosure: I've been involved in hosting both, including the next national PubCamp, slated for November 20.)

The PubCamps and #pubmedia chats have been growing and deepening over the past few months, in part because both provide openings for new thinkers and doers from outside of traditional public broadcasting to participate. The chats encourage this interaction because they take place on an open platform, and overlap with other networks of Twitter users focused on the future of news and community media. The Public Media Camps are explicitly designed to bring developers and community members together with both stations and national public broadcasting organizations to brainstorm new projects and apps.

With support from CPB, the pace of local PubCamps picked up over the summer. But even stations who haven't received any hosting funds have started to organize their own camps. These events not only foster the creation of local networks, and feed into the emerging national network of PubCamp participants, who are connected across a variety of social media platforms. Take a look at this presentation from the North Carolina PubCamp to get a sense of how this works.

While such social media-driven exchanges may seem chaotic to those used to more traditional nametag-and-plenary style conferences, they can produce surprisingly effective results. For example, a recent #pubmedia chat prompted WGBH's Chris Beers to whip up an archive of public broadcasting web sites over the course of a few days. Such a resource -- potentially a valuable tool for stations, developers and policymakers -- could have cost thousands of dollars and wasted numerous agonizing hours in planning meetings. But because Beers is operating from an open source perspective, he built this tool with the expectation that the community would use it, contribute to it, and improve it in the process. A similar spirit is on display on the PubMedia Commons site, which archives the chats and offers a shared code repository.

The chats and PubCamps also serve as generative spaces for exchanges between media makers who may share similar goals goals but don't usually interact. For example, this weekend's PubCamp in Champaign-Urbana promises to bring both public and community broadcasters together with open source developers and staff from CU-CitizenAccess, a civic engagement project based at the University of Illinois, designed to both report on and develop solutions with locals living in poverty.

As Jason Pramas of Open Media Boston writes, "we had public media staffers, community media staff, and independent producers involved in planning PubMediaCamp Boston from the get-go ... [with an] overarching goal of holding an event that would help network people from all these communities and encourage collaboration."

He said that his session spawned yet another small network, "a FuturePublicMedia email list where all kinds of public media supporters from the communities represented at PubMediaCamp Boston can talk about the public media system we want to build, and how we might advocate for it."

Networked Publics

Networked content and outlets alone aren't guaranteed to attract new audiences. The real growth area lies in the ability of public media organizations to use digital platforms to meaningfully connect with users around issues, communities and events. This involves both reaching out on existing social media platforms where they already congregate, and creating more specialized networks of users around particular goals.

For many stations and public broadcasting programs, this is still very much a trial-and-error process. They start Twitter accounts, post Facebook pages, and then wonder disconsolately why no one is friending them. Or, perhaps worse, they approach these two-way platforms with one-way expectations borrowed from PR and broadcast, only to discover that their users have more than enough to discuss with them.

Mississippi Public Broadcasting learned this lesson the hard way when it canceled the broadcast of Fresh Air after Terri Gross interviewed controversial comic Louis C.K. The station's Facebook page quickly became a rallying point for protesters, and the crusade has continued on a dedicated page titled "Bring Fresh Air Back to Mississippi."

Beyond interacting with users as content consumers, public broadcasters are learning how to interact with them as sources, and even in some cases as content producers. What's more, they're developing both online and offline contexts that allow publics to form their own networks around shared interests or cultural gatherings such as The Moth, a storytelling slam and radio hour. The National Center for Media Engagement has been cataloging such promising engagement efforts on its Pipeline page and in a series of peer webinars.

American Public Media's Public Insight Network(PIN) has been one of the most tenacious and creative hubs for building effective public media user networks. Now, in the middle of a three-year, $2.95 million grant from the Knight Foundation, PIN is aggressively expanding to new cities and adding new partners and capabilities as it goes.

Joaquin Alvarado, APM's senior vice president for digital innovation, calls PIN an "engagement platform" for public media. Users are recruited as sources with particular expertise, and tapped by journalists in partner newsrooms for interviews, focus groups and story suggestions. Alvarado explains that PIN developers are now working on a Drupal-based ecosystem of tools that will both make it easier for reporters to find relevant sources and networks for their stories, and allow users to track how their own contributions are making their way into coverage. The bet is that seeing themselves as part of the network might increase sources' already impressive response rate to PIN email inquiries.

PIN is broadening the network of public media entities by serving as a conduit for stations to partner up with local commercial and nonprofit news outlets. Take Miami, where WLRN is working with the Miami Herald to recruit local sources; as a result, PIN developers are working on a Spanish-language version of the network's tools, which can then be deployed elsewhere.

Beyond that, however, PIN is uncovering the power of tapping sources' own personal networks. For example, a query to the network about Lutherans' response to a vote allowing gay pastors to serve as clergy yielded a huge response: More than 2500 new sources joined the network to weigh in.

"Every community contains within it fault lines that can, under the right conditions, break open into chasms," reflected PIN Editor Andrew Haeg on the MPR site. "We agree, sometimes silently, to disagree -- or at least not to address our split for fear of upsetting the status quo. Our inquiry became a sort of social Richter scale revealing a community rocked by a temblor that the rest of us hardly felt."

Building New Models of Networked Public Media

Against the backdrop of widespread public experimentation with social media platforms like Wikipedia, Twitter and Facebook, these efforts by public broadcasters may seem like too little too late. But what's notable is that all of these networks have been built without policy support, earmarked funds, or consistent collaboration designed to link them together. Right now, taxpayer, underwriter and member dollars are still mostly dedicated to supporting broadcast stations and content. Imagine what would happen if that equation shifted?

Center for Social Media Fellow Ellen Goodman makes that imaginative leap in a forthcoming article for the Harvard Journal of Law and Technology. Goodman, a professor at Rutgers University School of Law at Camden, worked with University of Pennsylvania research fellow Anne Chen to develop a new model for making public media policy based on a layered structure borrowed from the Internet's own architecture. Right now, they point out, the primary focus of policy and funding is the broadcast station. Future policymaking designed to support a public media network, however, could be focused on four discrete layers of function: Transmission infrastructure, creation of content and applications, curation of public media content and archives, and connection to the public. Note that these layers roughly mirror the emerging networks described above.

Dedicated digital infrastructure, more flexible funding, and a renewed emphasis on connection could work to knit public broadcasting's currently fragmented and resource-starved networks into a powerful national platform for learning, public dialogue, and problem solving. This would not require centralizing operations at the coasts; instead it would involve constructing a network of networks, connected via shared protocols and standards. Such a network could also support the capacity for local reporting, encouraging civic engagement on the ground and feeding diverse content and conversations back up to national programs and sites. It could foster local and national connections with other noncommercial partners who share a public mission.

"Public media has the potential to meet some of the nation's most critical information
needs," write Goodman and Chen, "but only if public media networks are reconfigured for more collaboration, innovation, and service in a networked environment."

In order to be most viable, such a public media network would need to be developed in concert with a series of larger policy efforts: to extend broadband access to all Americans, maintain net neutrality across both wired and wireless broadband services, create network linkages between noncommercial "anchor institutions" in communities, and subsidize new equipment and hosting costs for public media producers. In a March article in Current, APM's Alvarado offered a complementary model for understanding these various needs, as depicted below.

alvarado-pyramid-smaller.jpg

Alvarado urges public broadcasters and regulators to act boldly, citing education and journalism as two major areas for beta-testing the power of new network functions. "The gaps in our current business model will widen quickly as broadband develops nationally," he writes. "We can address them only by radically shifting what we and the public expect from the system and from our individual organizations. Incremental steps will not concentrate enough resources to leapfrog the compounding limitations in resources, ambition and effectiveness."

Jessica Clark directs the Center for Social Media's Future of Public Media Project , and is a Knight Media Policy Fellow at the New America Foundation.

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August 25 2010

17:55

While Others Shrink, KQED Expands Cross-Platform News

Last month, KQED News in San Francisco dramatically expanded the scope of its news coverage with a new website, an increase from six to 16 local radio newscasts and the addition of eight news staffers, including six producers/reporters, a developer and a social media specialist. Its expansion will continue over the next several months (look for a new news blog in the next couple of months).

The changes at KQED reflect a system-wide emphasis on experimentation and news expansion by public media outlets. Since the release of the Knight Commission's report, Informing Communities - Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age, last October, station-based news projects have grown substantially. Large, cross-platform projects are becoming more prevalent, especially among public media organizations with the resources to produce them. See, for example, some of the innovative work being done by outlets like WYNC and WBUR.

Cross-Platform Coverage + Collaboration

KQED's news site combines coverage from KQED Public Radio, KQED Public Television, and KQEDnews.org. In addition to cross-platform news coverage within KQED, the site aims to provide seamless integration of local, national, and international coverage (thanks to extensive integration of NPR's API); in-depth news and commentary (including investigative reporting); and real-time weather and traffic updates. Eventually, the site will incorporate additional interactive features to make news stories more dynamic and relevant to Northern California residents.

According to Tim Olson, KQED's vice president of digital media and education, the expanded site is part of an overall increased push in news coverage. This shift is not the result of a new dedicated source of funding. Rather, said Olson, "It was something [KQED president and CEO] John Boland wanted to do for a long time. We restructured the budget to accommodate these changes."

The new site builds on KQED's history of successful collaborative initiatives. For example, KQED Quest is a "multimedia series exploring Northern California science, environment and nature." Quest integrates radio, television, and online coverage in a site that features maps, a community blog, and hands-on explorations.

KQED News also already has a wealth of in-depth news reports that integrate social media and Web 2.0 technologies. Take, for example, Climate Watch, which provides continuous coverage of climate-related news and incorporates mapping projects such as Reservoir Watch, which tracks the state's water reservoir levels. There's also California's Water Bond - Where Would the Money Go?, which explores the distribution of funds in recent California water-related legislation.

reservoir watch.jpg

Another special feature, Governing California, invites users to learn about California government. This feature includes a California Budget Challenge game that allows users to submit their thoughts on spending decisions, and an interactive timeline of reform history in the state.

Additionally, "Health Dialogues," an exploration of health and health care in the state, includes an interactive map of health issues in rural California and Healthy Ideas, an eight-week special project that invited health care professionals to share their ideas on health care reform.

KQED News also incorporates maps, Twitter feeds, blogs, podcasts, video and user commenting on its news stories. KQED radio dedicates a portion of airtime to listener feedback, and the integrated site includes Perspectives, a section that provides two-minute audio commentaries from listeners each day.

Listen to this recent Perspective audio report from a KQED listener:

Traffic Increase & Challenges

Since the launch of the expanded site, KQED News has seen a 10-fold increase in the number of users, an impressive feat considering that, according to this article in the San Francisco Chronicle, "Measured by audience size and budget, KQED is the largest public station in the country with TV and radio under one roof." KQED is growing in terms of partnerships as well: The organization currently has ongoing partnerships with upwards of 25 other news outlets, including organizations like the Center for Investigative Reporting, Youth Radio, and ProPublica, and this number is growing.

The expansion is not without its challenges, however. KQED's clear strength is in radio news, but, as Olson noted, "text and images are required for a robust online news presence." Improving the text on the site is a major priority, and as the site continues to expand, this emphasis will grow as well. Olson noted that NPR has gone through a similar transition over the past few years, which was addressed by gradually training reporting staff, and adding photo editors and copy editors.


Another challenge is balancing the "one-stop shopping mall" all-news aggregator approach with the "hyper-targeted topic verticals" approach. It's sometimes difficult for sites to combine both of these elements, and KQED is currently testing both approaches, in addition to some of the more targeted projects listed above.

Olson said the expanded site is "very much just the first step" in overall growth. In addition to a news blog, "News Fix," launching shortly, a mobile version of the site is currently in production, and will be released in the fall. "We're in it for the long haul," said Olson. "We're just getting started."

Katie Donnelly is Associate Research Director at the Center for Social Media at American University where she blogs about the future of public media. With a background in media literacy education, Katie previously worked as a Research Associate at Temple University's Media Education Lab in Philadelphia. When she's not researching media, Katie spends her time working in the environmental field and blogging about food.

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May 05 2010

18:15

CCTV Shows How Public Access TV Can Transition to Digital

In 2008, Mike Rosen-Molina wrote on MediaShift about public access TV's "fight for relevance" in the digital age:

In an age when it's increasingly easy for amateur filmmakers, citizen journalists, and the general public to distribute videos online, is there any point in having a public-access cable channel? Some argue that public-access television has outlived its usefulness for this reason: Podcasting and online video have effectively eliminated the need to reserve television slots for public comment. In recent years, telecom companies have used this argument with great success to get out of having to contribute public-access funding. Lack of funding and public interest have caused many of these stations around the country to close up shop.

Since then, the fight for relevance has heated up considerably. But while many public access stations are struggling, others have been able to flourish by effectively leveraging Web 2.0 tools to their advantage. For example, Deproduction/The Open Media Foundation is spearheading the Open Media Project, a collaboration among public access stations based on open-access tools.

Another successful public access station is Cambridge Community Television. It serves the city of Cambridge, Mass., through three television channels (watch a live-stream here), an extensive website, and a host of training programs. According to its website, "CCTV provides training and access to telecommunications technology so that all may become active participants in electronic media. CCTV strives to involve the diverse population of Cambridge as producers and viewers, and to strengthen its efforts through collaborations with a wide variety of community institutions."

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Colin Rhinesmith, CCTV's community media and technology manager, said that much of CCTV's success can be attributed to the organization's "willingness to embrace new technology and provide easy ways for residents to use the tools."


Rhinesmith directs CCTV's NeighborMedia Cambridge, a hyper-local citizen journalism project. The participants include professional journalists, retired journalists who want to keep their craft going, and people with no journalism background at all. They are all deeply involved in the community. Check out the comprehensive Mediamap here, which includes stories by locals describing the resonance of various neighborhood points of interest, issues to be addressed, useful community services, and more. The interface is user-friendly and extends the public access mission efficiently for the online environment.

Unlike many other citizen journalism experiments that have petered out over time, NeighborMedia Cambridge remains sustainable. This is largely due to its funding structure (they received a New Voices grant from J-Lab in 2007). NeighborMedia has also enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with local professional journalism outlets. Its stories have been picked up by outlets like Bostonist, Universal Hub and Boston.com. If you'd like to learn more about the success of NeighborMedia and similar projects, Rhinesmith is currently organizing the "Citizen Journalism and Social Media" track for the Alliance for Community Media Conference on July 7-10 in Pittsburgh. He's looking to connect PEG Access and hyper-local projects across the country.

Measuring Impact, Justifying Investments

How do you measure impact in a public access setting? Rhinesmith said that simple surveys have helped CCTV suss out whether their content is culturally relevant, and if it engages users in meaningful ways. They conduct pre-surveys to figure out how to target their trainings, and post-surveys to improve their process.

In a response to a previous MediaShift article on impact assessment, he said, "We provide the tools, they create the media. Surveys provide us with a way to measure how we, and our community, are doing in creating more informed and engaged local communication spaces."

CCTV's surveys combine a mix of open-ended and scale-based questions presented via multiple on- and offline delivery platforms, including Survey Monkey, physical printouts and telephone conversations. Phone conversations in particular have been extremely helpful in terms of driving membership. As Rhinesmith told me, "Nobody likes to be trapped inside a survey." Picking up the phone allows for a more natural flow of conversation and more nuanced answers to questions like "What do you think?" "What do you need?" and "What do you want?"

Rhinesmith acknowledged the difficulty in trying to measure impact both among individual participants and general audience members. He noted that with the physical training center, it is easier to measure individual experiences. What CCTV -- along with most other public access stations around the country -- is lacking are consistent, reliable tools to measure impact across broad audiences.

This is a familiar refrain: Platforms like Nielsen are simply too expensive for most public broadcasters. Perhaps this shared challenge could serve as a rallying point for similar stations around the nation who are seeking to successfully expand online.

Katie Donnelly is Associate Research Director at the Center for Social Media at American University where she blogs about the future of public media. With a background in media literacy education, Katie previously worked as a Research Associate at Temple University's Media Education Lab in Philadelphia. When she's not researching media, Katie spends her time working in the environmental field and blogging about food.

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March 11 2010

18:25

Witness Creates Sophisticated Evaluation Tools for Video Impact

Last month, Jessica Clark and I explored how various Public Media 2.0 projects are measuring their level of success in informing and engaging publics. We found that many public media organizations are struggling to measure impact -- and some are relying only on traditional indicators of reach, as opposed to other elements of impact such as relevance, inclusion, engagement or influence. Some projects, however, are taking a more holistic approach that is matched closely to their mission.

The international human rights group Witness, which provides training, support and visibility for local groups producing documentaries about human rights issues, has created a Performance Dashboard that tracks more than just the number of viewers. Using "at a glance" metrics, descriptive analysis and direct feedback from participants, the Performance Dashboard provides a concise overview of impact.

It combines traditional metrics -- such as sales and licensing numbers, email subscriptions, blog statistics -- with more nuanced data, including a timeline indicating progress of core partnerships. These reports are published twice per year on the Witness website, and they are made available to other organizations under a Creative Commons license.

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Videos With a Purpose

Witness is able to efficiently track progress in large part because they begin each media project with clear advocacy goals. According to Sam Gregory, Witness's program director, all work "springs out of an advocacy strategy." He said Witness is focused on "making videos for a purpose as opposed to making videos about an issue."

Each video project starts with the completion of a Video Action Plan, which encourages partners to think purposefully about intended impact, avenues for action, and measures of success.

Some of these measures of success are particularly striking. For example, Witness worked with the Centre for Minority Rights Development (CEMIRIDE), a human rights organization, to create a film about the displaced Endorois community in Kenya. The film ended up being presented as evidence in a landmark case in which the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights ruled in favor of the Endorois community. Last month, the African Union, the highest legal authority in Africa, ruled in favor of the earlier decision and ordered the Kenyan government to provide the Endorois with compensation and reinstate their land.

While a direct causal link can be difficult to prove, clearly this film did its job. In a case such as this, the element of impact that is most important is influence, not reach. Gregory explained that even if only a few people saw the film, the film achieved its desired impact because they were the people with the power to decide the case.

New Focus: User-Generated Video

Witness hopes to broaden its impact with a new strategic vision that addresses the exponential growth in user-generated video. The organization is focusing on how user-generated video can be used by human rights advocates. (MediaShift reported on the organization's earlier experiments with viral video in 2006.) Witness currently trains about 500 people in human rights filmmaking across the globe per year, and recognizes the need to shift to a more scalable training approach. One of the ways that Witness will make this shift is by developing shared virtual spaces for fostering discussion on what works and what doesn't.

Yvette J. Alberdingk Thijm, Witness's executive director, explained the strategy in a blog post:

Right now and right here Witness, with your help, can exponentially expand its impact. But the demand for our services is far greater than our capacity. Witness's New Strategic Vision is designed to scale our impact. So beginning in 2010, in addition to continuing to train and support individual grassroots organizations, Witness will forge relationships among organizations and networks, creating a broader, more interconnected global human rights community. By doing this, we'll play a seminal role in forging coalitions that seek shared goals, with video emerging as the common language across all types of borders. In addition, we will scale our work by creating video toolkits and other web tools that facilitate knowledge sharing.

With the new focus on networked campaigns, in some ways, impact will become more difficult for Witness to track. What is the most effective way to measure impact when the media in question spans across so many different modes, timeframes, countries and (sometimes overlapping) networks?

In the future, Witness will likely spend more energy tracking the connections that form within and among networks. The Witness team is currently working through the process of adding new categories to the current Performance Dashboard.

The dashboard offers a great model for other media projects. But it's also clear that projects without similar, specific advocacy goals will likely have a harder time making use of the tool. Outlets and creators with more neutral goals of spurring discussion or raising awareness may have to turn to some of the existing impact assessment toolkits -- or perhaps even develop their own.

Katie Donnelly is Associate Research Director at the Center for Social Media at American University where she blogs about the future of public media. With a background in media literacy education, Katie previously worked as a Research Associate at Temple University's Media Education Lab in Philadelphia. When she's not researching media, Katie spends her time working in the environmental field and blogging about food.

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March 10 2010

19:07

Public Media Twitter Chat Aims to Foster Collaboration

Public media workers and aficionados have a new routine: Every Monday at 8 p.m. Eastern Time, they log on to Twitter for Public Media Chat, which is using the #pubmedia hashtag.

The chat, which started about a month ago, is the result of a discussion between a group of public media professionals at PublicMediaCamp in Washington, DC.


"Public Media Chat is something of a passion project for me; for some time now I've recognized the need among people who work in public media organizations to have a way to learn, share, and collaborate with each other," said Jonathan Coffman, a PBS product manager, in an email. "Twitter presents an interesting new way of doing that."

Coffman said a "lively discussion" on -- where else? -- Twitter made him take steps to start building a community and recruit participants. The first chat was held in February.

Coffman worked with Adam Schweigert, new media director at WFIU Public Radio and WTIU Public Television in Bloomington, Indiana, and John Proffitt, who recently started working as the director of digital engagement at KETC in St. Louis, among others, to get the chat off the ground. Their goal? According to Public Media Chat's website, it's three-fold: increase the conversation among public purpose media professionals and supporters; provide a forum for them to come together and collaborate; and test whether such collaborative efforts are worthy of additional investment.

Boosting Collaboration

"Honestly, the biggest issue we [in public media] have, and one that I hope we're addressing, is our lack of collaboration," Schweigert said. "Public broadcasting organizations have historically not been very good at working together, and even worse at working with media producers/organizations from outside the NPR/PBS networks."

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MediaShift contributor Jessica Clark, who directs the Future of Public Media Project at American University, said, "A lot of public broadcasters are making the transition into social media with no real sense of how it relates to their old skills and practices, and how it might actually serve publics."

Clark said the chat can offer "support, inspiration, and nuts-and-bolts advice."

Chat organizers said previous efforts to foster non-competitive collaboration among public media professionals have failed. Clark said these efforts failed because, in part, "public broadcasters often operate in silos -- i.e., only talking to other radio or TV producers, or only talking within their own industry as opposed to taking a wider view."

Hosts believe that Twitter can help foster a better dialogue.

"Twitter is easy, cheap and platform-agnostic -- anyone who wants to participate in the #pubmedia chat can," Clark said. "It strips down the professional barriers and doesn't require a huge time investment."

Breaking 140 Character Limit

But Twitter also has it limits -- a point raised during Monday's discussion. Chris Beer, a web developer with WGBH Interactive, created a Google group in response to some comments about the need to have a discussion without a 140 character limit.

"I'm not particularly attached to the idea of a Google Group or a listserv, I just see a need for more collaboration outside of Monday at 8," Beer said. "Twitter is a fine medium for getting people talking, but I find it difficult to have a conversation, and I hope something like this can supplement the #pubmedia chat. I haven't found a place within public media to ask very practical questions around public media projects. Because setting something up takes all of five minutes, it seems silly not to experiment."

Coffman also points out that, although it is easy to organize on Twitter, the hosts still need to reach out to a lot of people in the field for the chat to have ongoing success.

"The participants in Public Media Chat right now are the early adopter[s] and the big thinkers," Coffman said. "In short order, myself and the other hosts are going to need to start pushing the community to become evangelists and help to spread the movement."


For last Monday's chat, @pubmedia posed four questions and one follow-up to spark conversation. The first question dealt with collaboration. The different responses prompted a follow-up question: "Would you rather collaborate by issues (politics, arts) or job function (tech, journalism, development)?"

The second question asked: "Who does #pubmedia need to listen to? If you could bring one visionary to your station/org who would it be?" It prompted several responses, including what was perhaps the most retweeted response of the night from @eric_adler, who wrote: #pubmedia needs to listen to the public. The next question asked chat participants to name their "last great" public media program, and the final question of the night asked for suggestions for future chat hosts.

Top 10 Tweets

You can find raw tweets from the discussion at #pubmedia or look for a roundup on the chat's website. Below are ten of the more notable tweets from Monday night. (Some @replies and hashtags have been edited out.)

  1. annieshreff I want to get an interactive team to bring reporting from underserved communities to listening audiences. Food/school all good
  2. publicmediagirl Collaboration requires building relationships, not just tools
  3. jdcoffman #pubmedia needs the passion of @garyvee, with the entrepreneurship of @guykawasaki, and the evangelism of @scobleizer
  4. juliaschrenker #pubmedia could benefit from listening to both upstarts and print - often we're between them, with startup challenges + legacy issues
  5. johntynan Terry Gross interview with William Hurt. Him telling how he was held at knifepoint during a film. The Story Telling!
  6. ssgowans What was the last great #pubmedia program you watched? Why was it memorable? The War, because it wasn't about celebrities
  7. publicmediagirl #pubmedia Q3 Am I the only one so far to mention a TV show? What does this say??
  8. SnarkyJones I want public media that goes back to its non-commercial roots. Kids programs have SO MUCH sponsor messaging #pubmedia
  9. johntynan: #pubmedia Q4: Kinsey Wilson from NPR
  10. mediatwit Q4: Y'all are too kind. Happy to guest host w/ or w/o Conan.

Get Involved

> To participate in future #pubmedia chats, be sure to go onto Twitter on Monday at 8 pm Eastern Time, and do a search for #pubmedia.

> Have your say by writing tweets during the time of chats with the #pubmedia hashtag.

> Check out the PubMediaChat site for roundups of recent discussions.

> Follow the @PubMedia Twitter feed to get updates and alerts on chats.

A writer, reporter and media consultant, Jaclyn Schiff is up at the crack of dawn to tackle the headlines of the day for her job at the non-profit Kaiser Health News. When she should be catching up on sleep, she can usually be found updating her Twitter feed or Tumblr blog, MEDIA Schiff (pun intended). Schiff covers non-profit news for MediaShift.

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January 21 2010

19:49

Why Youth Media Projects Should Link Up with Public Media

"The issues that we tackle in our films are very powerful," said youth filmmaker Lenah Perez in a newsletter from the New York-based youth media organization, Global Action Project. "I should say the way we tackle the issues is powerful, the issues are important -- to look at the world as the big picture and to fight for this world."

As Perez's quote suggests, there is often tremendous overlap between youth media and Public Media 2.0 projects. While we describe public media's core function as "generating publics around problems," youth media projects often accomplish the same goal by addressing issues such as social justice, civic engagement, and media reform. But, too often, these sectors are not linked. Is this a missed opportunity?

There are over 100 youth media organizations in the United States, and they have a diverse range of priorities. According to the State of the Youth Media Field, a report written by Ingrid Hu Dahl, editor-in-chief of Youth Media Reporter and program officer of youth media at the Academy for Educational Development:

Youth media neighbors other fields -- including youth development, media arts, and public interest journalism -- and has looser ties with civic engagement, youth organizing/activism, and service-learning. But youth media is distinct in that it uses media as a tool and strategy for young people to examine themselves, their communities, and the world at large. One of the greatest qualities of youth media is its potential to reach large audiences while offering young people a thoughtful, mediated process.

Powerful Youth Media Examples

Below are just a few of the many powerful youth media projects that span different platforms with varied goals and approaches, including journalism, career training, and social justice activism. They are participatory, grassroots efforts that take full advantage of Public Media 2.0 tools in order to generate the kind of engagement that spurs community development and social change.

Global Action Project
Since 1991, Global Action Project has provided media training for underserved youth in New York City and beyond. Global Action Project runs several programs, including Urban Voices, which combines social issue media production, college prep, leadership and critical thinking skills; and Media in Action, which provides support for community campaigns with "targeted, cross-generational trainings in capacity-building through creative youth engagement, media production, and strategizing."

Additionally, their Global Voices program links youth producers with regional organizations in order to produce and screen videos all around the world. With the help of partner organizations, Global Action Project's productions are screened for over 250,000 people per year. Films are for sale on their website, and many are also available on Global Action Project's YouTube Channel. Below is "What's Justice?" a video about how the Youth Leadership Project of CAAAV (also known as also known as Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence) is organizing for justice and community healing in the Bronx:

The Lower East Side Girls Club
It connects media production training, hyper-local journalism, intercultural understanding and community activism for girls aged eight to 18. The organization's website includes podcasts (check out this one about two young women who refused to serve in the Israeli Army), blogs, girl-produced videos, and girl-produced citizen journalism, including an extensive multimedia hyper-local journalism project. In addition to media training, the Lower East Side Girls Club runs a diverse array of programs, ranging from health to the environment to international field trips. For more information on the Lower East Side Girls Club, see the video below:

Youth Radio/Youth Media International
Founded in 1990, Youth Radio provides underserved youth with free media training. Each year, Youth Radio trains 1,300 young people in broadcast journalism, multimedia skills training and career preparation. Youth Radio has achieved tremendous success in terms of distribution -- over 300 Youth Radio reports are broadcast annually, on outlets including NPR, CNN.com and iTunes. According to Youth Radio's website, "an estimated 27 million people hear and read the often overlooked perspectives of young people through Youth Radio's work each year." Read Youth Radio blogs here, listen to programs live here, or explore the archives here. Also, be sure to check out this youth-produced journalism collaboration with KQED.

Challenges Facing the Youth Media Field

While youth are often at an advantage in terms of social media fluency and knowledge of contemporary culture, the youth media field faces major challenges in supporting training, production and distribution, especially for resource-intensive broadcast platforms. Perhaps the most pressing issue is funding. According to the State of the Youth Media Field report:

Veteran funders are making fewer and smaller grants, and new funders are not inclining toward the kind of small, youth development-oriented organizations that populate the youth media field. Despite this funding landscape, youth media organizations and their funding partners acknowledge that the field has great potential to address large issues like poverty, education, war/conflict resolution, and HIV/AIDs. Funders in these areas tend to make long-term investments with short-term deliverables -- a combination that would seem perfect for youth media, which routinely produces short, powerful, convincing, provocative, and extremely innovative pieces that have the potential to change society.

Along with difficulties in securing funding, practitioners in the youth media field sometimes struggle to uphold production values that match professionally produced media. While a particular youth media production may tell a great story that has the potential to ignite social change, many people will disregard it based on production values alone. Additionally, youth producers are not always taken seriously, or seen as even remotely authoritative. And in some school-based youth media programs, students can find their freedom of speech restricted.

According to Christine Newkirk of Youth Media Reporter, as a culture we are especially uninterested in the opinions and concerns of socially marginalized young people: "We see young people as consumers. We want their engagement in terms of buying things from us, but not in terms of listening to what they have to say."

Another issue facing the youth media field is visibility. There are hundreds of youth media organizations in the United States and abroad, but individual projects are often grassroots and local, and lack access to widespread distribution. The field is in need of a centralized distribution hub in order to create the kind of awareness that makes adults sit up and listen. For example, Youth Radio has had great success in broadcasting youth-produced pieces on national media outlets. The potential for public engagement and social change increases exponentially when the audience is widened. Newkirk noted that exposure to youth productions can lead adults to develop "a newfound respect for youth citizenship and participation."

As Dahl pointed out, youth media has too much potential to be ignored. And, much like public media, "youth media has the potential to create lasting, sustainable, major shifts in the culture we know today."

The youth media field must continue to generate engagement while expanding its reach into new audiences -- including adult communities. And stakeholders in both fields must continue to nurture the areas in which youth media and public media overlap.

Katie Donnelly is a research fellow at the Center for Social Media at American University where she blogs about the future of public media. With a background in media literacy education, Katie previously worked as a Research Associate at Temple University's Media Education Lab in Philadelphia. When she's not researching media, Katie spends her time working in the environmental field and blogging about food.

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January 07 2010

20:50

Public Broadcasters Hustle to Fill Infrastructure Gap

In a recent presentation at WOSU in Columbus, Ohio, John Proffitt, who blogs about public media, painted a gloomy picture . In slide after slide, the stats mounted. New gadgets, new social media habits, new channels for distribution and consumption all added up to one conclusion: public TV stations are rapidly losing both value and relevance.

In addition to that, urgent demand for wireless bandwidth -- as demonstrated by the recent woes of AT&T in serving iPhone users -- presents a particular challenge.

"This is a threat to the incumbents that own spectrum and own towers and own all of the infrastructure for creating and distributing television over the air," said Proffitt. "Broadcasters, you can't fight this very well ... when an industry is driving a 5,000 percent growth rate that's driven by consumers, I don't know how you can outlobby it."

Instead, he advised station managers to adopt "a martial arts mindset similar to jujitsu," working with the force of massive change rather than against it.

The Future is Public Service Media from John Proffitt on Vimeo.

But while single stations and independent producers may at times be able to act with such martial agility, the system as a whole can barely make it onto the mat. The problem is an increasingly urgent mismatch between current infrastructure investments, and those needed to keep pace with the volatile digital media ecosystem. While federal dollars are, in large part, mandated to support existing station operations, little money is available for multimedia content creation, innovation in rising areas like mobile apps, or engagement tools for new platforms. There is a critical infrastructure gap.

The stakes are high. As Center for Social Media fellow Ellen Goodman noted in a recent letter submitted to the FCC's docket on a national broadband plan:

The possibilities for transformative investments in education and local journalism
become clear when one considers what public television stations spend in just one day

on broadcast master control. In 2008, daily operation of master control cost the

average small public television station $11,384 and the average large station ...

$72,247. As a point of comparison, the New Haven Independent, a local community

newspaper established to combat diminishing local news coverage, operates for less than $2,000 per day. The award‐winning investigative news site, Voice of San Diego,

operates an eleven person newsroom on a daily budget of less than $4,000. And the

average city hall reporter reportedly makes less than $150 per day.

Broadcasting remains an important transmission technology and, until there is
universal broadband, the only source of universally available electronic media.

However, the broadband future demands a better balance between broadcast

(particularly television) infrastructure investments and investments in public media

content and engagement strategies.

Unless (or until) there's legislative action to reset the funding priorities for public media, organizations are going to have to find ways to fill in this infrastructure -- and innovation -- gap. Here are a few ideas.

Public Broadcasting Infrastructure Projects

Despite limited resources, players within the public broadcasting sector are working on new infrastructure projects that could create common platforms, standards and tools for public media 2.0. These include:

Shared archiving of legacy content: Current reports that a new head will soon be announced for the American Archive project, which will digitize, aggregate and serve up stations' historical video and audio content.

Shared metadata standards: This fall, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting issued an RFP for a program manager to tackle the next phase of the PBCore project, which would standardize and push out protocols for tagging public media content. Establishing such data standards is crucial not only for cataloging and storing media, but for breaking it down into modular pieces that can be easily searched and reaggregated across various screens.

Common distribution tools: Both the NPR API and the PBS COVE Player project provide new pipelines for distributing, sharing and embedding public broadcasting content.

While such projects may not seem like "infrastructure"-- they lack the physicality of wires, transmitters and routers -- they play the same role as previous system investments: establishing connections between local and national programmers in order to more efficiently provide relevant content to publics. What's more, they are crucial pieces in the puzzle of how to create a system-wide portal for public media content, a prospect being discussed by public broadcasting entities.

But Who Will Own the Tubes?

These and related new-era infrastructure projects assume that the future of public media is multiplatform broadband distribution. This raises at least two clear issues: new dollars will be needed to support data storage and transfer costs, and hard questions will need to be asked and answered about how end-users will get access to public media content.

Many hope the FCC's National Broadband Plan will provide at least part of the answer, by underwriting the build-out of a national system that will provide free or subsidized access to the web for members of the public. This would be a boon not only to public broadcasters, but to struggling community media projects and commercial news providers working to find viable online business models.

Another model might be for public broadcasters to buy into their own high-speed, nonprofit network, leapfrogging over current slow transmission speeds. The concept of such a "public interest Internet" is laid out in a whitepaper by the National Public Lightpath project, which provides a compelling vision of a national data autobahn linking schools, government and public broadcasters. With speeds up to 8,000 times faster than the broadband available to consumers, this network would facilitate collaborative production, real-time communication between students and experts, educational gaming, and more.

But while the NPL project could help to underwrite dedicated connections to schools, community centers, and other access points, it wouldn't cover the costs of serving up public media to end users who are on the move or at home. For now, both stations and national public broadcast organizations are stuck negotiating with commercial broadband providers to serve up content, and the public is left paying whatever rates the market will bear for access speeds that fall well below those in other developed countries.

And What About Infrastructure for Engagement?

What's more, many current public broadcasting infrastructure projects are still focused on the old business of moving content around. In order to match the needs of 21st-century users, parallel investment needs to be made in creating vibrant and appealing contexts for public participation -- either through partnerships with existing social media platforms, or the open source development of customized tools and interfaces. Both are already underway in experimental forms at stations and national public media sites, but no clear standards have emerged.

In his presentation, Proffitt described the "new scarcities" emerging in the digital media ecosystem, including trust, the need for community, and user time and attention. He made a distinction between the old, broadcast-driven public broadcasting model, and user-centric, issue-driven "public service media." He lauded projects like the Public Insight Network as inspirational models for more networked public media, but emphasized that new skills, along with new tools, will be needed:

"Building and managing communities really is going to be the new 21st-century skill ... Learning how to convene people, how to host and participate in those communities, how to engage people and get them to engage with the community, how to interact with people -- [these] are incredibly powerful things from a social perspective that we need to understand if we're going to become public service media people."

Calling all FIrst-Class Operators

bole.jpg

For station leaders, navigating this new terrain requires multiple, jarring swerves: not just learning new technologies and skills, but maintaining existing, still-valuable operations while making strategic decisions about which new platforms to invest in.

On his personal blog, Rob Bole, CPB's vice president of digital media strategies, laments the failure to recognize "first-class operators" in public broadcasting. Such leaders, he explains, are just as focused on keeping their outlets functioning efficiently and sustainably as they are on retooling for every new platform that comes along. While innovation is important, he suggests, digital visionaries have their eye on a different ball than station execs:

The risk equation for a Ken Ikeda at Bay Area Video Coalition or Avner Rosen at Boxee looks very different than the one held by a CEO at a public media station. At the moment if BAVC or Boxee craters it would be a shame, but the impact would be limited. If KQED [SF] or WNET [NYC] disappeared there are far deeper consequences beyond the immediate loss of jobs and programming. We are talking the potential loss of spectrum, the livelihoods of hordes of independent producers and, while depreciated, a couple of hundred of millions of dollars of assets.

Instead of rushing headlong into the future, Bole called for "a bit of guts" to take new risks, a bit of "new blood" among managers, and "a bit of sense" among funders, allowing them to develop measured, strategic responses to change.

In other words, jujitsu may just be a bit too dramatic -- perhaps some Tai Chi is in order.

Jessica Clark directs the Future of Public Media project at American University's Center for Social Media. There, she conducts and commissions research on media for public knowledge and action, and organizes related events like the Beyond Broadcast conference. She is also the co-author of a forthcoming book, "Beyond the Echo Chamber: Reshaping Politics Through Networked Progressive Media," due out from the New Press in February.

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December 01 2009

18:45

FTC Should Consider Policy Reform to Support Public Media 2.0

It's been a busy season for prognosticators who examine the intersection of public policy and media. Today will be particularly hectic for them, as journalists, bloggers, public broadcasters and policy wonks pack into a session at the Federal Trade Commission to ponder, yet again, "How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?" (Submit your own thoughts via Twitter here).

tfon.jpg

Two weeks ago, the Future of News Summit in Minneapolis considered the fate of regional journalism. And throughout 2009, there have been countless closed-door conversations mapping out different scenarios about how policy solutions might help salvage reporting capacity.

At these events, the public or non-profit model is often presented as an answer. The amount of serious reporting is diminishing, the argument goes, so public broadcasters should rush into the breach. In their much-discussed paper, The Reconstruction of American Journalism, Michael Schudson and Len Downie put it this way:

Public radio and television should be substantially reoriented to provide significant local news reporting in every community served by public stations and their Web sites. This requires urgent action by and reform of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, increased congressional funding and support for public media news reporting, and changes in mission and leadership for many public stations across the country.

Despite the scope of the challenge, foundations and public broadcasters are taking these calls to action to heart. The CPB and Knight Foundation are teaming up to fund the $3 million Argo Project, which supports local reporting focused on specific topics by journalist-bloggers based at stations. Under the leadership of president and CEO Vivian Schiller, NPR has been making bold plays to build a multi-platform news network that bridges local and national news production.

As someone who is watching this shift of focus, it seems as though the move to increase resources for journalism is less a result of a top-down policy change, and more a matter of internal policy decisions on the part of the many organizations that comprise the public broadcasting system. You could even say it's something of a grassroots movement, with scattered reporting experiments cropping up at stations around the country.

Of course, any increase in taxpayer dollars for public broadcasting might be earmarked to support even more reporters. But serious policy proposals need to go further. Simply producing additional news doesn't address the demand side of the issue.

Engaging the Public

As we've been arguing at the Center for Social Media, successful Public Media 2.0 projects must directly convene publics to learn about and tackle shared problems. This means more than just handing out yet another serving of information to a surfeited audience; it's about engaging users at every phase -- planning, funding, production, distribution, conversation, curation, and mobilization -- to make sure that all stakeholders' voices are included. This ensures different perspectives are aired, and that content is interesting, relevant and accurate. As the "Instant White Paper" that was issued after the Future of News Summit noted:

The needs of the audience can no longer be taken for granted, and new and creative efforts must be devised to listen authentically to the public (not in a check-the-box fashion, which CPB President and CEO Patricia Harrison said tends to be the case), and then provide them with quality information that is both enticing and informative. "Draw me in. Engage me. Challenge me," said longtime public radio consultant and online attendee Israel Smith, "make the radio (or whatever platform) experience as compelling as the journalism. If not, I'll go somewhere else." As MPR's Chris Worthington put it, we need to "listen more to the audience" to understand what the gaps in journalism are we need to fill, and what sort of journalism they will value.

Okay, that's a start. Listening to audiences is good; partnering with them to solve problems would be even better. But what other policy strategies might support a media system that makes this possible? Here are a few suggestions.

Amending the Public Broadcasting Act

A more responsive, dynamic public media system is already evolving hand-in-hand with the ever-increasing availability of high-speed broadband. The FCC has been calling for its own hearings and public comments to support the creation of a national broadband plan. In response, Center for Social Media fellow Ellen Goodman, who is also a professor at Rutgers University School of Law in Camden, submitted a set of comments that outline how public media could spur broadband adoption.

To allow it to do so effectively, she suggests, Congress will need to take another look at the Public Broadcasting Act. Titled, "Digital Public Media Networks to Advance Broadband And Enrich Connected Communities," Goodman's comments offer up a set of new parameters for public media: she argues that it should be accessible, modular, engaging, networked, diverse, innovative, and transparent. Taken together, these new characteristics form the acronym "AMEND-IT" -- a provocative suggestion that will raise eyebrows at some traditional public broadcasting institutions.

A Presidential Commission

Media reformers from the Free Press have also been calling for a reboot of public broadcasting legislation. Earlier this month, executive director Josh Silver told Current, the newspaper that serves the public broadcasting sector, that the organization is lobbying the Obama administration to appoint a bi-partisan "high-level, White House-sanctioned commission" to consider "the information needs of citizens in a digitally networked democracy." This language mirrors that of the recent Knight Commission report, which makes its own pitch for boosting funding to public media.


newpublicmedia.jpg

Candace Clement of Free Press coordinates the organization's New Public Media campaign. She said that the first step in reinvigorating public media is broadening the definition of the sector.

"For us, public media means non-commercial media that is created by a wide variety of organizations and individuals," she said. "The traditional conception includes NPR and PBS, but we also include community media, and local or national providers who are providing the media that commercial media won't."

She stressed that recent legislative campaigns are focused not only on supporting new forms of media production, but on preserving the capacity of citizens to report via older platforms, such as low-power radio and cable access stations. Such platforms are still quite valuable at the local level, especially for users who haven't yet made it online, and don't often see their concerns reflected in large, for-profit media.

Clement ticked off other planks in the New Public Media campaign platform, including changing how public media is funded, taking a more critical look at governance structures, increasing diversity within the sector and the content it produces, and supporting infrastructure and technology improvements that will allow public media makers to stay accessible and relevant.

"We have a system," she said, "but it needs a lot of changes before it can do the kind of work we need it to do."


Policy solutions to support journalism are not called out explicitly in the New Public Media campaign, but are a central focus of a related Free Press campaign, Save the News. The organization marshaled more than 2,000 citizens to respond to the FTC's call for comment for today's event.

Turbulence Ahead

For many, be they reporters, citizens or news media moguls, the idea of government-supported media sets off warning bells. Some worry that federal funding could stifle criticism, generate political conflicts of interest, or at the very least result in what Jeff Jarvis described as boring "broccoli journalism."

Conservatives like Glenn Beck of Fox News see public media policy reform as a land grab by liberals that -- somewhat paradoxically given the increasingly open media ecosystem -- could muzzle free speech. Libertarians argue that government should stay out of the news business (along with everything else, thank you very much), likening it to "a welfare system for journalists." Local communities are wrestling with questions about whether their stations' top priorities should be news production or civic engagement.

All of this means that, as Richard Gingras, CEO of Salon Media quipped at the Minneapolis summit, for now at least, "The future of news is a future of conferences about the future of news."

Prognosticators, keep those bags packed.

Jessica Clark directs the Future of Public Media project at American University's Center for Social Media. There, she conducts and commissions research on media for public knowledge and action, and organizes related events like the Beyond Broadcast conference. She is also the co-author of a forthcoming book, "Beyond the Echo Chamber: Reshaping Politics Through Networked Progressive Media," due out from the New Press in December 2009.

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