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March 11 2011


Funding public media: How the US compares to the rest of the world

With this week’s NPR news has renewing the debate about de-funding public broadcasting, it’s worth highlighting a recent report (pdf) that puts our public broadcasting system into perspective when compared with 14 countries around the world.

Though cutting public broadcasting appropriations to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would essentially limit the “public” nature of our system by cutting out the government, it’s important to remember that most public radio stations receive only about 10 percent of their money from CPB. For many public radio stations, though, if it comes to it, the loss of this federal money may make it all the harder to sustain local programming — and local newsgathering — if it cannot be found elsewhere.

Taking a look at the report, compiled by Rodney Benson and Matthew Powers of NYU’s Department of Media, Culture and Communication, which includes a close breakdown of the public service models of Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and the UK.

Some key findings:

• US per capita spending on public broadcasting is $4.
• Research fairly consistently shows that public television, simply put, makes for better quality news.
• As a corollary, public service television, at least in Denmark, Finland, the UK, and the US, makes people better informed and encourages higher levels of news consumption.
• The most trusted public broadcasters are those that are perceived as closest to the public, and most distant from the government and advertisers.
• While some countries play around with appropriations, many of these are for multi-year periods, creating some insulation from political pressure. And other countries, like the UK, Japan, and the Netherlands, rely primarily on license fees.
• Independent buffers between governments and the broadcasters help keep the government out of the content.
• Public broadcasters are all over the board when it comes to Internet transitions. Some are trying to figure out how to raise the money to make things more innovative, while others, like the BBC, are pioneers.
• Government newspaper subsidies are alive and well, and have been for a long time — many since the 1970s. They help keep afloat struggling newspapers and create a diversity of opinion. In some cases, they are even sponsoring innovation online. They exist in Belgium, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden.
• Public broadcasters, even in Europe, are facing pressure from commercial broadcasting — and hedge between trying to fulfill public service missions and compete by appealing to large audiences.
• It could be a lot worse.

In New Zealand, in 1989, the public broadcaster TVNZ lost all its funding and was actually required to produce dividends to pay back to the national treasury. Though some public funding has been restored, pretty much all New Zealand has is New Zealand on Air, a public media agency that gives out public funding to commercial and non-commercial channels. New Zealand has managed to keep Radio New Zealand publicly funded.

Some recommendations the report includes:

• Just because we aren’t Europe doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to have strong public broadcasting.
• Make appropriations for multi-year arrangements, or better yet, establish a trust for public broadcasting.
• As the authors note: “The question is not if government should be involved, but how, and that is a question that demands an in-depth conversation, not a shouting match.”

The report makes a claim worth interrogating, though: the idea that few outlets providing public interest programming, commercial or non-commercial, reach a broad public audience. Just to take issue with that, the evening news figures — in total viewership — for February 21, 2011 look something like this:

NBC: 9,830,000
ABC: 8,400,000
CBS: 6,450,000

But NPR’s weekly reach on Morning Edition is 14 million and 13 million for All Things Considered. So it may be that more public interest news, and public service news, is reaching more people than we think. And the audience has continued to grow.

Benson and Powers are not alone in suggesting a public trust for news; they were joined by a chorus of reports last year looking for sustainability for news. But the question is: Could such a trust be established at a time of political discord when the very viability of the concept of publicly funded media is on the table?

March 04 2011


World TV Revamps Site to Entice a Younger Audience


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.


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 19 2010


Public Media Experiments Show Promise, Need to Involve Public

CSM logo small.jpg

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.

mediashift_social publicmedia small.jpg

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.

CSM logo small.jpg

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


5 Emerging Trends That Give Hope for Public Media 2.0

CSM logo small.jpg

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.


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.

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November 11 2010


The Newsonomics of journalist headcounts

[Each week, our friend Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of the news business for the Lab.]

We try to make sense of how much we’ve lost and how much we’ve gained through journalism’s massive upheaval. It’s a dizzying picture; our almost universal access to news and the ability of any writer to be her own publisher gives the appearance of lots more journalism being available. Simultaneously, the numbers of paid professional people practicing the craft has certainly lowered the output through traditional media.

It’s a paradox that we’re in the midst of wrestling with. We’re in the experimental phase of figuring out how much journalists, inside and out of branded media, are producing — and where the biggest gaps are. We know that numbers matter, but we don’t yet know how they play with that odd measure that no metrics can yet definitively tell us: quality.

I’ve used the number of 1,000,000 as a rough approximation of how many newspaper stories would go unwritten in 2010, as compared to 2005, based on staffing reduction. When I brought that up on panel in New York City in January, fellow panelist Jeff Jarvis asked: “But how many of those million stories do we need? How many are duplicated?” Good questions, and ones that of course there are no definitive answers for. We know that local communities are getting less branded news; unevenly, more blog-based news; and much more commentary, some of it produced by experienced journalists. There’s no equivalency between old and new, but we can get some comparative numbers to give us some guidelines.

For now, let’s look mainly at text-based media, though we’ll include public radio here, as it makes profound moves to digital-first and text. (Broadcast and cable news, of course, are a significant part of the news diet. U.S. Labor Department numbers show more than 30,000 people employed in the production of broadcast news, but it’s tough to divine how much of that effort so far has had an impact on text-based news. National broadcast numbers aren’t easily found, though we know there are more than 3,500 people (only a percentage of them in editorial) working in news divisions of the Big Four, NBC, ABC, Fox, and CBS — a total that’s dropped more than 25 percent in recent years.)

Let’s start our look at text-based media with the big dog: daily newspapers. ASNE’s annual count put the national daily newsroom number at 41,500 in 2010, down from 56,400 in 2001 (and 56,900 in 1990). Those numbers are approximations, bases on partial survey, and they are the best we have for the daily industry. So, let’s use 14,000 as the number of daily newsroom jobs gone in a decade. We don’t have numbers for community weekly newspapers, with no census done by either the National Newspaper Association or most state press associations. A good estimate looks to be in the 8,000-10,000 range for the 2,000 or so weeklies in the NNA membership, plus lots of stringers.

Importantly, wire services aren’t included in the ASNE numbers. Put together the Associated Press, Reuters, and Bloomberg (though some of those workforces are worldwide, not U.S.-based) and you’ve got about 7,500 editorial staffers.

Let’s look at some areas that are growing, starting with public radio. Public radio, on the road to becoming public media, has produced a steady drumbeat of news about its expansion lately (“The Newsonomics of public radio argonauts,” “Public Radio $100 Million Plan: 100 Journalist Per City,”), as Impact of Government, Project Argo, Local Journalism Centers add more several hundred journalists across the country. But how many journalists work in public broadcasting? Try 3,224, a number recently counted in a census conducted for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. That’s “professional journalists”, about 80% of them full-time. About 2,500 of them are in public radio, the rest in public TV. Should all the announced funding programs come to fruition, the number could rise to more than 4,000 by the end of 2011.

Let’s look at another kind of emerging, non-profit-based journalism numbers, categorized as the most interesting and credible nonprofit online publishers by Investigative Reporting Workshop’s iLab site. That recent census includes 60 sites, with the largest including Mother Jones magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, ProPublica, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and and the Center for Public Integrity. Also included are such newsworthy sites as Texas Tribune, Bay Citizen, Voice of San Diego, the New Haven Independent and the St. Louis Beacon. Their total full-time employment: 658. Additionally, there are high dozens, if not hundreds, of journalists operating their own hyperlocal blog sites around the country. Add in other for-profit start-ups, from Politico to Huffington Post to GlobalPost to TBD to Patch to a revived National Journal, and the journalists hired by Yahoo, MSN and AOL (beyond Patch), and you’ve got a number around another thousand.

How about the alternative press — though not often cited in online news, they’re improving their digital game, though unevenly. Though AAN — the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies — hasn’t done a formal census, we can get an educated guess from Mark Zusman, former president of AAN and long-time editor of Portland’s Willamette Week, winner of 2005 Pulitzer for investigative reporting. “The 132 papers together employ something in the range of 800 edit employees, and that’s probably down 20 or 25 percent from five years ago”.

Add in the business press, outside of daily newspapers. American City Business Journals itself employs about 600 journalists, spread over the USA. Figure that from the now-veteran Marketwatch to the upstart Business Insider and numerous other business news websites, we again approach 1,000 journalists here.

What about sports journalists working outside of dailies? ESPN alone probably can count somewhere between 500 and 1000, of its total 5,000-plus workforce. Comcast is hiring by the dozens and publications like Sporting News are ramping up as well (“The Newsonomics of sports avidity“). So, we’re on the way to a thousand.

How about newsmagazine journalists? Figure about 500, though that number seems to slip by the day, as U.S. News finally puts its print to bed.

So let’s look broadly at those numbers. Count them all up — and undoubtedly, numerous ones are missing — and you’ve got something more than 65,000 journalists, working for brands of one kind or another. What interim conclusions can we draw?

  • Daily newspaper employment is still the big dog, responsible for a little less than two-thirds of the journalistic output, though down from levels of 80 percent or more. When someone tells you that the loss of newspaper reporting isn’t a big deal, don’t believe it. While lots of new jobs are being created — that 14,000 loss in a decade is still a big number. We’re still not close to replacing that number of jobs, even if some of the journalism being created outside of dailies is better than what some of what used to be created within them.
  • If we look at areas growing fastest (public radio’s push, online-only growth, niche growth in business and sports), we see a number approaching 7,500. That’s a little less than 20 percent of daily newspaper totals, but a number far higher than most people would believe.
  • When we define journalism, we have to define it — and count it — far more widely than we have. The ASNE number has long been the annual, depressing marker of what’s lost — a necrology for the business as we knew it — not suggesting what’s being gained. An index of journalism employment overall gives us a truer and more nuanced picture.
  • Full-time equivalent counts only go so far in a pro-am world, where the machines of Demand, Seed, Associated Content, Helium and the like harness all kinds of content, some of it from well-pedigreed reporters. While all these operations raise lots of questions on pay, value and quality, they are part of the mix going forward.

In a sense, technologies and growing audiences have built out a huge capacity for news, and that new capacity is only now being filled in. It’s a Sim City of journalism, with population trends in upheaval and the urban map sure to look much different by 2015.

Photo by Steve Crane used under a Creative Commons license.

September 09 2010


The Newsonomics of public radio’s Argonauts

[Each week, our friend Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of the news business for the Lab.]

Overnight, it seems, journalism has been transformed from a daily grind to an heroic quest. Rupert Murdoch has dubbed his adventure to get readers to pay for tablet (and other) content Alesia (after a Roman/Gauls battle) and now public radio formally launches Project Argo. Ah, journalists pursuing the golden fleece. Forget Woodstein — the pursuit of journalism itself is now an against-all-odds mythic trip against budget monsters and business model slayers.

If last year was the year of massive cutting, this is the year of new news creation popping up from unusual quarters. AOL’s Patch is probably the biggest hiring agent, with more than 400 new full-time jobs covering local communities. Sites like TBD.com and Bay Citizen are crafting new products and strategies and hiring dozens of journalists. Now Argo pushes forward, in a quest to stick a new flag of public media in terra incognita, and is hiring journalists in the process.

Argo is intended to bring a high level of attention to hot button topics, covered from a regional perspective. “We want to be the best means of authoritative coverage,” NPR Digital Media G.M. Kinsey Wilson told me recently. [We want] to be the top-of-mind choice for issues like immigration [now covered out of L.A. by KPCC with the Argo site Multi-American].”

Coverage is handled by the increasingly familiar reporter/blogger/curator, finding the most relevant coverage for readers. Largely providing a single new full-time position for each new site, “hosts” come from some impressive reporting backgrounds, like WBUR’s Carey Goldberg, former Boston bureau chief of The New York Times, and Rachel Zimmerman, former health and medicine reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Much of the content — and there’s an impressive amount at launch — is text, not audio.

At first, Argo seems hard to put in context. It’s public radio becoming public media becoming locally topical, but in ways that can inform more than local audiences — which we used to think of as public radio listeners, but who are now public media listeners and readers. Got that?

I’ve talked to a number of people in the emerging public media landscape — a fairly merry lot of Argonauts and other dragon slayers who see lots of upside — so let’s take a look at the emerging newsonomics of projects like Argo.

By the raw numbers, Argo is a $3 million investment. That’s not much by traditional journalism standards, but in this day and age, it wins headlines, like the minor economic development miracle of a new big-box store being covered on the Metro front. The money comes both from a foundation — the omnipresent Knight Foundation at $1 million — and from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting at $2 million.

That Knight funding reminds us of the good that’s still being done by the once dependable profits of newspaper companies, as Knight Ridder funding built one of the 25 foundations in the country, one that has been instrumental in seeding sprouts of the new new journalism.

That CPB funding reminds us that our tax dollars have been supporting news for more than four decades now, even as the debate rages abstractly on whether it’s a good idea to have “government” in the news business. NPR’s news effort — supported by members, philanthropists like Joan Kroc and yes, our tax dollars — makes a pretty good case that some government funding is a good idea, especially if we compare NPR radio news to what is elsewhere generally available in the growing desert of commercial radio news coverage.

Argo itself is 12 sites, produced by 14 public radio stations (two sites are jointly produced), each specializing in major topics like education, health, immigration, and ocean health, and exploring that topic regionally. Journalists are hired by individual public radio stations, each of which applied for the funding. The initial funding is intended to sustain the sites through the end of next year — and to provide “prototype products,” according to Wilson.

So that funding is one of the first things that tells us about the business of this effort. Like Silicon Valley startups, the effort is about building a product that seems to meet a clear audience need, building that audience — and then finding a sustainable business model. That’s what has built companies for decades in the valley, and it’s in contrast to how much of the journalism business has long gotten funded.

Looking under the covers, though, here are three more things to watch about the emerging economic model underneath Argo:

  • It’s local and vertical. In the conundrum that the web has been for newsies, publishers often felt compelled to choose “local” or “vertical,” the fancy term for topical. Of course, readers’ concerns encompass both, and an education site that focuses on local education (such as Minnesota Public Radio’s Argo site On Campus) creates double value and may multiply audience. Even though, it’s “local,” just as WBUR’s CommonHealth, it will find national audiences as well.
  • It’s built for networking. Public radio used to a fairly one-way street, with national NPR and then Public Radio International and American Public Radio essentially licensing or syndicating shows to local stations, of which there are more than 250. Now built on increasingly flexible technologies like NPR’s emerging API and PRX’s exchange, local stations can increasingly both syndicate their own work, Argo-funded and other, to each other — and pick up other stations’ work more easily. In a sense, we see an alternative wire in creation, especially as the Public Media Platform goes forward.
  • It builds on public radio stations’ local news push. A number of stations represented in Argo have also begun building out their local/regional/statewide news presences. KQED, in the Bay Area, which is launching MindShift through Argo, just hired eight new news staffers as it launched KQEDNews.org (Good piece by MediaShift’s Katie Donnelly on the initiative and its context.) So in KQED’s case, as in WBUR’s, KPCC in L.A.’s, and Oregon Public Broadcasting’s, the topical initiative receives more play due to the expanded news reach — and the expanded news reach gets more public notice because of the new topical coverage.

Each of those factors are multipliers, multipliers of public radio’s emerging digital news business. They multiply audience. They multiple the ability to get members and membership income. They multiply sponsorship opportunities, the “advertising” of public radio. That’s on the business level. On the journalism level, public radio’s news values — the closest to newspaper’s traditional ones — get to flex their muscles, another early test of just how far public media wants to go in filling the yawning local news vacuum.

August 02 2010


The Newsonomics of membership, part 2

[Each week, our friend Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of the news business for the Lab.]

New news organizations have embraced the membership model (see part 1 of The Newsonomics of membership), but they don’t have to reinvent the wheel to do it. They can hone that wheel, for the digital-only and digital-first age. One of the best places to gain insight is in public radio, which has been plying the membership trade for more than 40 years now — learning the dos and don’ts and sharing some best practices internally.

As city sites begin to build on what MinnPost, Texas Tribune, and GlobalPost have started, they can certainly apply some of those lessons. I made an initial, unscientific foray into NPR membership, to feel the ground and see what’s shaking. I think at this point, pending much deeper study, we can see both some metrics and some lessons that have useful applications.

The Metrics

As I noted in my first membership post, there are at least three key metrics for new websites to master as they move forward:

  • What percentage of which part of the readership can news sites expect to contribute?
  • What’s the median gift?
  • How much of their going-forward budgets — and if and when foundation money dries up — can be made up by readers?

NPR station experience helps inform those metrics.

Percentage of listeners who become members: There is no single number to cite, but most reports come in at somewhere between 6 and 12 percent, though it’s clear that counting methodology is not consistent across the nation. KUT, Austin’s public radio station, is part of a group of eight like-sized stations which collectively pool their membership data. Those eight sign up 5.8 percent of listeners, Holly Gaete, KUT’s director of membership, told me. “Listeners” are those who listen for at least five minutes per week. KUT currently counts 17,338 contributors.

Oregon Public Broadcasting says it gets about 10 percent of its public TV viewers to become members, but has no similar data for the radio; that’s one of the nuances of counting, as a number of dual-license stations (public TV and public radio under one umbrella) complicate any apples-to-apples comparisons.

A few people make the point that it’s long-time listeners — those who’ve listened for two years or more — that make up the best universe of potential public radio members. That notion (akin to MinnPost’s Joel Kramer’s notion that frequent visitors offer greater potential than infrequent ones) makes sense, but is apparently not something widely measured in public radio.

What brings them in?: KUT’s Gaete makes the point that membership directors use diverse tools to gain members. Here’s her breakdown:

Radio pitches (those twice-yearly pledge drives): 37 percent
Mail: 36 percent
Web: 18 percent
Telesales: 5 percent
Other: 4 percent

Stewart Vanderwilt, KUT’s general manager, differentiates between those who make “intellectual” decisions to give — responding to mail, for instance — from those who make an “emotional” decision, often responding to an on-air appeal. The intellectual decision-makers’ average gift is higher, and they renew at a higher rate. KUT’s overall renewal rate is 58 percent.

The sweet spot of giving: Again, counting standards differ, but it’s the $50-$150 range that draws a majority of gifts. The buck-a-week or 10-bucks-a-month pitch seems to have resonance with donors, with some making the point that “that’s cheaper than the daily newspaper.”

What’s the trend line?: Interestingly, the recession’s not done a great deal of damage to membership, at least not as much as we’ve seen circulation fall at dailies. Some stations report membership mildly down, but giving flat or up a tad. Others report membership even up a little, but giving down. Stations’ recent membership performance may indicate a couple of things: Long-term relationships may help weather bad economic periods, and listeners understand the increasing role of public radio in filling the news vacuum.

How important is membership giving?: KQED’s Scott Walton, executive director of communications, reports that membership tops 200,000 — and accounts for 60 percent of the stations’ $55 million budget. Oregon Public Broadcasting — its number of contributors up two percent over the last year — counts 120,000 members, which account for 64 percent of its budget.

The Lessons

Beware the power of the barker. Bill Buzenberg, now director of the Center for Public Integrity, used to serve as vice president of news for National Public Radio. He’s in a unique position to observe membership, given that background. As he compares online news startups with public radio, he notes one big distinction that will affect membership sign-ups.

“The difference is that public radio has a ‘barker channel,’ meaning they have the radio megaphone to get people to come into the tent or become members in the first place during membership drives in which they can withhold the programming,” he says. “That barker channel is great for public radio and drives up the membership numbers, even if listeners hate the membership drives. MinnPost, or other non-profit centers, have no barker channel.”

If barking helps, just talking to potential donors — and current ones — about the deep journalism crisis, especially the local one, helps too. Donors feel an obvious kinship with the stations — maybe akin to a loyalty newspaper subscribers have traditionally felt. Or perhaps, the notion of voluntary donation itself creates a reinforced relationship, more so than a fee-for-service “subscription.” That’s a key question as we see membership pushes for online media ramp up just as paywalls are increasingly erected by legacy news companies.

“People have the tangible sense that journalism is troubled,” reports Oregon Public Broadcasting CEO Steve Bass, who says he hears that from donors, as newspapers from The Oregonian to smaller dailies cut back on coverage.

Borrowing lessons from public radio isn’t easy. Metrics within public radio vary and are not freely available. In addition, we’re in the early stages of thinking about what’s different and what’s similar between public radio and online news sites. Further collaboration here — maybe abetted by such groups as the Knight Foundation — could be a win/win, though potential competition as we see developing in the Twin Cities (MPR, MinnPost) could be an issue.

Finally, as member-based sites ramp up — or, in the case of public radio, morph into digital-first news producers — one curious question will be the the advertising value of these members. Membership and ads need not be two separate universes. In fact, member data — how they read, what they read, what they buy, where they are — can greatly help the targeting of ads. That could make members even more lucrative than readers, and listeners, overall.

April 30 2010


Live-Blogging FCC Workshop: Public Media in the Digital Era

How should public and noncommercial media evolve in the digital age? Hopefully we'll find out shortly, as I report live from today's FCC's Future of Media Workshop. A who's who of execs, funders and researchers are lined up to speak, and given that this isn't the FCC's usual beat, everyone's curious to see how the day will turn out. You can follow along with live-streaming video at fcc.gov/live, or on Twitter at #FOMwkshop. Let's start the show:

Welcome and Opening Remarks

Chairman Julius Genachowski
Says that he's excited to see "energy and enthusiasm around this important topic," and hearkens back to the mid-1940s, when the noncommercial broadband system was established: "If we hadn't made those simple but bold decisions then...our society, our democracy would have been uncalculably poorer." Now we are again at a moment of "seismic shifts" that offer both challenges and opportunities. Genachowski notes that the noncommercial community is no longer saying "public broadcasting," but "public media," and that thousands of web sites and mobile projects are now operating with a public media mission, but not yet recognized as public media.

"This is not about preserving an industry, or about preserving journalists' paychecks, though that wouldn't be so bad," he says. Instead, it's about preserving the vigilance and accountability of journalism for citizens. It's also about finding new ways to help parents helping to struggle with their children's media consumption, and giving them new forms of educational content.

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Notes that there is tremendous creativity both in the leadership and in the grassroots organizations. He notes that the organizations are working together more, and urges them to "keep it up." Wants to make sure the public media spectrum truly serves the public, providing access to "vibrant, diverse" sources of news and information. Policymakers create the "platform for free speech" used by journalists and creative trailblazers to "enlighten us all."

FCC Commissioner Michal J. Copps
"The subject at hand could not be more timely...doing something about journalism is at the top of my bucket list," says Copps, who has demonstrated particular interest in the role of public media over the years. Citizens need "an information infrastructure" that tells them what they need to know to serve as informed citizens. This challenge has been with us since the founding fathers, who decided to subsidize postal rates in order to facilitate the flow of news. "Newspapers were the information infrastructure of that era...the technology and the lingo may change, but the small-d democratic challenge remains and always will," says Copps. Media literacy is part of the toolset, teaching people how to distinguish "truth from fact," and to not only know how to use media, but "how media can use them."

Praises public media makers for their impressive work given the embarrassingly low national investment in public broadcasting, even while noting that there are still things to fix. "It seems that with each finger that's plugged into the dike, 15-20 more leaks spring up." Journalism is still in trouble, and many conversations around the country need to address this issue. Of course, he notes, cable and radio commentators may dismiss this as "Maoism or whatever else," but "we need to get off the defense and on the offense," says Copps. We need more substance--what we have right now is "a bad case of substance abuse." Notes that Bill Moyers is broadcasting his last show today, and "can think of no journalist now or at any time who has contributed more to our democracy," and asks the crowd for a round of applause

Framing Presentation: A 1967 Moment... A Vision for Public Media

Luis Ubiñas, President, Ford Foundation
In a taped address, Ubiñas describes Ford's historic investments in public broadcasting, but notes that public media "must find new relevance." How to create a cross-platform system that includes interactivity and user-generated content? Notes that the Carnegie Commission set the vision for 50 years; now our charge is to "ensure access and engage all Americans to create a new kind of public square." Notes that now we need to "take risks," to create "dynamic media" and create "the space and access required to encourage innovation." Ford, he says looks forward to investing in a "new generation of public media pioneers."

Ernest Wilson, Chair, Corporation for Public Broadcasting
"This is a critical moment in the life of public service media," says Wilson, and the challenge is to move "beyond public broadcasting." We are "beyond the old and the new, and have to challenge ourselves with creativity and energy" to harness the tools that we now have. But "tools are not enough," we need the "wisdom to use those tools wisely," as well as courage to discard old practices, attitudes and institutions that don't serve a new vision of public service media. If we succeed, democracy will be stronger.

In terms of education, he wonders, will Americans--especially the poor among us--have the tools they need to navigate the new digital ecosystem? How will journalists be trained or retrained? Notes that a number of journalism schools are addressing these challenges through the Carnegie-Knight initiative.

Turns to the mission of the CPB: commitment to "innovate for the American people," not to be wedded to a particular platform or institution. NPR and PBS are at the core of the noncommercial media ecology, and are "sprinting rapidly" to adapt to the new platforms. But some legacy institutions aren't "sprinting," but strolling, and CPB is trying to help them catch up in this turbulent environment. This is a moment for change, and CPB has commited itself to the values of "digital," dialogue," and "diversity." Institutions nimble enough to succeed using the three "d's" will be rewarded with a fourth "d": dollars.

Right now, not quite a "public service media" but no longer just "public broadcasting" either--somewhere in between. Moving forward, the challenge is to welcome the future as an opportunity. "The time to act is now."

Waldman asks: How can you measure success in this new arena?

Wilson: A set of measurements has to emerge in conversation with people in this room and at the stations. But "it's not rocket science." Diversity can be measured by the number of people of color at the local stations or in leadership, by audience share, content type--we need to set the standards and incremental money will follow.

Waldman asks: What is public broadcasting's approach to local news and information?

Wilson: This is at the core of what we do, especially as the quality of commercial local media declines. In some communities, public broadcasters are the only source of local news. Our obligations are becoming even more important, but it's going to be a challenge to embrace new technologies at the local level. Production values are in question--is it worth sending out local reporters with Flip cameras in order to increase local coverage? "We're not doing enough, and we need to do more. One of the challenges is to save money inside the system...so that we can buttress local reporting."

Panel Discussion I: Varieties of Public and Noncommercial Media

Ellen P. Goodman, Rutgers University School of Law, Camden and Distinguished Visiting Scholar, Future of Media Project, is moderating this panel and introduces the panelists

Patricia Harrison, President and CEO, Corporation for Public Broadcasting
Public media is "the real Homeland Security," Harrison says, noting that CPB was created to serve as a firewall between the government and public media, and "this is the trust equation" that allows the public to rely on public broadcasting for news and information. "We've always been underfunded but have always overperformed on a shoestring...but that string is running out." Journalism is shrinking, and CPB is struggling to respond. Notes investment in Project Argo and the Local Journalism Centers as a start, and will soon be announcing another $10 million investment in investigative journalism. "These are all components of a dynamic public media," collaborative and diverse. "This turbocharges our transformation in the digital age." Great companies that grow cannot be wedded to the status quo, she says.

Vivian Schiller, President & CEO, NPR (Via Remote Video)
Points to the State of the News Media report, and likens it to "a blow to the head by a 2×4." The report begins with two words, she says, "What now?" NPR has been somewhat insulated from the wild swings in journalism, and listening to public radio is at an all-time high--more than the paid circulation of the top 100 newspapers combined. NPR stations are also some of the only locally owned and operated stations in the country. She sees the report as a call to action. "Public media has many of the answers to the growing void"; those answers involve innovation and partnership. Local accountability journalism is a signature focus of their new efforts. Diversity of listeners is also key--assessed by age, race, and other factors. Moving onto new platforms is also growing the audience for public radio: iPhones, iPads, and other. "We will always be free to the consumer on every platform." Digital technologies also offer the chance of reinventing distribution through the creation of a "public media platform." Goal is to make all public media available on a common platform, plus content from other nonprofits, archival material, and more. She anticipates that developers "in their pajamas in their basement" will be able to help repackage and innovate with this information--a new benchmark in access. So, "what now?" All public media outlets must commit to partner, to innovate, and to spur innovation inside and outside of their ranks.

Jan Schaffer, Executive Director, J-Lab, The Institute for Interactive Journalism
Thinks it's critical to expand the definition of public media to include nonprofit news experiments popping up on the local level. Newcomers more than "bloggers in their pajamas." They include hyperlocal sites, metro-area sites with paid staff, and "soft advocacy" organizations like Sunlight, which demonstrate "journalistic DNA." They are accomplishing this with bare-bones support from funders and donors, but need more support. All are experimenting with hybrid models of support; philanthropic support can jump-start them, but it's not enough. J-Lab has funded 52 startups, but has received more than 2000 applications. Policymakers should incentivize opportunities to be publicly engaged. CPB should be refocused as the Corporation for Public Media; and a Public Media Participation fund should be funded by taxes on cellphone and laptop purchases, with a matching contribution by these manufacturers; tax credits could be given to civic media producers, and more. Increased transparency, Shaffer notes, is key to support for these new news organizations.

Hari Sreenivasan, Correspondent, PBS NewsHour
Sreenivasan describes "the public making media in its most raw and simple form," by exchanging information about an event across platforms and screens. "We are telling our own stories now without waiting for a TV network to squeeze us down into a 20-second soundbyte." It's in this "impatient environment" that NewsHour is reinventing itself. Trying to serve viewers who are tired of the coarseness and acrimony of cable news, but are also expecting to be able to participate, contribute, comment. NewsHour also working to partner with more public media projects on the local level to feed local content up to the national level. Using new technologies to facilitate this reporting and share it, without using older, more expensive satellite technologies. Jim Leher is Skyping in from his book tour, now signing his emails "geeky Jim." Focus of NewsHour is on delivery of necessary information, not the most titillating tidbits. "My job isn't to tell you that the glass is half full or half empty, it's to tell you that it's a 16-ounce container with fluid in it."

Jose Luis Rodriguez, Founder & CEO, Hispanic Information and
Telecommunications Network (HITN)

HITN feels a gap by providing information and educational content to the Latino community. They are also working on an initiative to connect community organizations, libraries and schools via a broadband network to create a learning environment. The public interest set-aside policy for DBS satellite has allowed this network to grow, but obtaining cable distribution is daunting, and they are segregated into a "ghetto," which requires that users subscribe to them. He's recommending the creation of a national public interest cable tier. HITN should be "part of the public broadcasting familiy." He urges the commission to make digital channels available to independent educational broadcasters. "Is there any place at all for small, minority broadcasters in a rapidly consolidating landscape?" Such providers can add to the diversity of available content.

Sue Schardt, President, Association of Independents in Radio
Showing a video from the Makers Quest 2.0 project, designed to help lead public radio into the transition to public media. The video features the Mapping Main Street project, a collaborative, multiplatform documentary designed to help people map and document the more than 10,000 main streets across the U.S. Educators have been particularly interested in adapting the project to help students engage with their communities. The projects demonstrate the "bold, entrepreneurial spirit" of independent producers, and, Schardt says, "we are committed to building a bottom-up network," that will allow public media to " follow where they lead us."

Goodman asks Schaffer: If CPB got a "big pot of dough" for local journalism, how should they spend it?

Schaffer: Need to beef up editorial chops, create partnerships with regional expeiments.

Goodman: How to choose where money goes?

Schaffer: Not all of these sites are objective in a traditional way, but you can look at the track record of the sites, their involvement in the community

Harrison: There will be increasing investment in the local journalism centers. But we can't operate on a shoestring anymore. "The increase in what we're getting as an overmediated nation is not quality." But to respond to this problem, more money is needed.

Waldman: Won't questions of bias become more acute if CPB funds accountability journalism that holds local officials' feet to the fire?

Harrison: "I hope that's the outcome." Hopes that local journalism centers do "speak truth to power." Wants members of Congress calling in; "that would mean we're doing a good job...I'd welcome those phone calls and do receive them from both sides of the aisle." Leadership takes courage, she says, and public broadcasting "has a mission." This is why it's crucial to have "a funded, independent public media network."

Waldman: What about people who feel that Bill Moyers isn't a hero, but an ideologue.

Harrison: All kinds of perspectives are aired on public broadcasting, just listen. "I want to attract to public media the brightest, most creative people who are interested in ideas."

Goodman: What will it mean to have local stations serve as a "community hub"? Will reaching outside of public broadcasting complicate the objectivity issue?

Schiller: "It's a good tension." You have to choose partners wisely, though. Notes that it will be a case-by-case negotiation for stations to work with journalism experiments. Values of independence and balance are central to journalism.

Jamila Bess Johnson of the FCC asks: How do you bring people from other communities into the mix?

Schaffer: Micro-grant programs are good for bringing people out of the woodwork; notes that many J-Lab applicants have been women.

Harrison: Local journalism centers, as part of grant process, there's a requirement to connect with NAHJ, NABJ, etc. for recruiting. "There are ways to shape inclusion and increase diversity." As diversity increases in the country, we can't afford to "have the same people tell the same stories."

Wilson adds that by not recruiting more broadly, public broadcasting is "leaving a lot of talent on the table," especially as boomers start retiring. "I think it's going to be fun and important," to bring more diverse young talent in.

Goodman asks: What would you tell Congress about why they should fund shows like the NewsHour or stations like HITN?

Sreeivasan: "We provide context," and commercial media doesn't have the time for that, sometimes to the detriment of their editorial integrity. "I'm one of the few people in my peer group who hasn't had to go out and cover Tiger Woods over the past few months." NewsHour serves as an explainer about important issues.

Rodriguez: HITN has provided programs that teach Latino students and their parents how to prepare to go to college, interactive call-in programs with experts that explores topics like postpartum depression, the housing crisis, and immigration issues; you don't see these kinds of programs on commercial TV.

Panel Discussion II: Purposes of Public and Noncommercial Media

James O'Shea, Editor & Co-Founder, Chicago News Cooperative
Explains that he's been a journalist for 40 years, including editor of the Los Angeles Times. There are gaps in journalism now. What is public service journalism? "It's like pornography: you know it when you see it." Describes impactful reporting on the death penalty in Chicago, a corrupt hospital in Watts. These strories weren't flashy; they were the "dividends paid" by regular, patient reporting. "Many newspapers today practice reporting by ROI," serving as "content machines." The Chicago News Cooperative, among others, is a nonprofit news experiment that is thinly capitalized, but trying to retain traditional news values. Says he's skeptical of government intervention in journalism, but urges government to incentivize these new types of organizations for the sake of democracy.

Paula Kerger, President, Public Broadcasting Service
PBS was created to do what commercial providers cannot: to use media for teaching and learning, to "serve the people, not to sell them." PBS has pioneered educational television, supported news documentary, and supported cultural performances. She talks in more detail about the role that various programs have served, and notes that PBS is developing popular online educational content, iPhone apps and content for smart boards" online games, and more. A new digital channel will also launch devoted to the performing arts.

David Fanning, Executive Producer, Frontline
Notes that documentary journalists have been experimenting with online platforms since 1995, and that Frontline has had significant success in providing content online, including Bush' War, which has been downloaded more than 6 million times. They use the web to provide better access to long-form interviews, background material and more. "Every Frontline lives in a matrix of curated content." They identify "bright lines of narrative," that travel out into the world with all of their content attached so that people can refer back. Frontline is reaching beyond U.S. borders, partnering with online journalism organizations like the Tehran Bureau. Worked with ProPublica and the Times Picayune on a documentary about Hurricane Katrina. "What's most exciting about this activity is that it's all so true to the public mission...this work is the serious and profound obligation to the public commons." In the end, more resources will be needed to support "a robust digital infrastructure...to pay for the pipes," so that public media doesn't have to rely on advertisers to support distribution.

James T. Hamilton, Professor, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University
Randolph J. May, President, The Free State Foundation

Public media fills the gap between what people need and want to know to function as voters and citizens. For most people they don't see the benefit in investing time in politics--a state economists call "rational ignorance." Duty, diversion and drama play a role in voters' interst in public media--they feel obligated to be interested in politics, they find it entertaining, they are engaged by colorful characters or controversy. But public affairs reporting is expensive. This combination of cost and lack of general interest in this kind of reporting means that it's often devalued. But such journalism can save lives, save public money, and more. It's hard to monetize this value, but there is another value system to consider: the public good. Even if readers aren't consuming advocacy journalism, they benefit from its production. "It's hard to do well and do good at the same time," but what's the cost of stories not told? They are highly valuable to society.

Randolph J. May, President, The Free State Foundation
The abundance of media today calls into question the need for public media funding. Tensions inevitably arise between role of government in supporting journalism and the first amendment. "Government's involvement exacerbates public tensions in a way that makes civil discourse difficult." Perhaps if there was widespread agreement that gaps exist, government funding would be more acceptable. But, given the national debt and budgetary demands facing the country, maybe instead an "exit strategy" might be set for funding public broadcasting at all. Cites Goodman's comments that the scarce resource today is not content, but "attention," and that public media should serve a curatorial and filtering purpose. He disagrees, and says that government-supported media shouldn't serve as a filter or a megaphone, and cites the significant differences of the coverage of the Tea Party as an example of the range of views across the ideological spectrum. There are significant differences of opinion about what needs more coverage, and the market should provide as much "quality" as the market demands. He emphasizes now is the time to reduce or diminish funding, not expand it.

Goodman: There's a difference between funding content and funding capabilities. New capabilities such as streaming are not in the current mandate of CPB. Asks O'Shea how he partners with public broadcasting without fear of influence.

O'Shea: They partner with both the New York Times and the local public station, WTTW. Partnering with WTTW allows them to have a tax-exempt status; eventually they will become their own nonprofit. They share a reporter; it's a collaboration, and no one can tell them what to do. "As long as you maintain that independence," it works.

Waldman: Asks May if marketplace is providing a sufficent amount of accountability journalism.

May: Says he understands and appreciates role of accountability journalism in democracy, and that the country is undergoing a transition that affects newspapers and other news organizations. Suggests that more original reporting is cropping up, and that models will evolve to ensure more accountability journalism. Fundamentally, he believes that the government shouldn't be involved in media, and that the private media should supply accountability journalism.

Waldman: How do you respond to the model that O'Shea describes?

May: "The more attenuated direct goverment support is, the more comfortable I am." Also more supportive of government funds for infrastructure rather than content.

O'Shea: Notes that they don't get money from WTTW.

Waldman: Asks Kerger to expand on the idea that noncommercial broadcasting spun off formats like reality TV, cooking programs; is that role still necessary given the proliferation of new platforms?

Kerger: Notes that only 15 percent of public broadcasting funding comes from the government. Public media needs to survey for market gaps. Arts programming pioneered on PBS also spun off into commercial channels--Bravo and A&E--but they have now backed off from this kind of programming because it's not commercially viable, so PBS is stepping back in. "WHere the marketplace serves well," it should, when it can't "that's the role of public media."

Waldman: Notes that high-quality long-form investigative work is expensive; given the crisis wouldn't money be better spent on re-employing reporters?

Fanning: In a noisy information ecosystem, progamming that provides context is very rare. "It is the great gap, both in terms of the investigative work that is necessary to ask the hard questions of our political instiutions, and more imoprtantly, to try to frame up the larger questions." There are times when this kind of work really matters, and "if anything we need more of it."

Goodman: If there's one point of agreement on this panel, it's that public media should fill market gaps. But "here's the rub." If consumers are "rationally ignorant," but we want public media to "grow its audience," how can we expect public media to do that when we're asking it to provide information that people supposedly don't want? Puzzlingly, some public media programs do have a large audience--how to explain?

Hamilton: The largest gap is local and state accountability reporting, but right now that's not heavily represented in public media. There are things that public media can do to lower the cost of discovering stories. "Impact" is not tantamount to audience--once the story is uncovered, it can be distributed through various channels. You can also tell a story that has public impact in an entertaining way.

Fanning: Frontline had 25 million page views on its site over the last 6 months--long-form documentary actually is popular. Why should we keep paying for this kind of journalism? There are so few places that actualy do it. ProPublica, Center for Public Integrity, Investigative Reporting Workshop--all talking with Frontline about how to work together to leverage and amplify one another's work.

May: Says he sees a contradiction in Fanning's assertion; that there are enough places creating long-form journalism, and that if there's more public demand, more will be produced. When the government funds such projects, there's a "tendency to displace private support." Support will come if government withdraws.

Fanning: Networks no longer support long-form investigation; have scaled back to "hidden camera" journalism and other less hard-nosed forms of news.

Kerger: Says public broadcasting's ROI is different; they're delivering against a second bottom line of service to the American people. Now, they're also not only delivering programs for broadcast and public media sites, but content that can be distributed elsewhere, on other sites, in the classroom. "Within public media there is a clairion call to create content of the highest integrity," but also to create content that generates demand for more.

Waldman: Asks Kerger--why is there more news on public radio than public TV?

Kerger: There's a lot of local programming on public TV--public affairs, convenings, town hall, cultural coverage. There is more news on radio, and "the reason is a simple one: money." That's why more support for local news--which allows for collaboration between radio and TV--is important.

Johnson: Wondering if there's a role for public broadcasting to serve niche audiences.

Kerger: Yes, there is a role, and that's where the use of new platforms is going to be important. They are developing more content for children and teens specifically online.

Waldman: Is the distinction between international, national and local journalism important? Where are the real gaps?

O'Shea: What's really disappearing is the systematic, daily reporting conducted by newspapers. Statehouse reporting in particular has been "hit hard"--"that's really bad. I come from Illinois and I can guarantee that's not what we need." Systematic investigation of civic, governmental, private organizations is what's needed.

Hamilton: Difficult to mass up on the local level to support beat reporting. Cites a laundry list of reporters local to him who had been on various beat and had been laid off. "Those beats are gone."

And...scene. Time for lunch, back with more in a bit.

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March 26 2010


Media Decoder: US Corporation for Public Broadcasting to fund local journalism

America’s Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) has pledged funding for seven new regional reporting projects in an effort to counter the decline in local journalism and original reporting nationwide.

The projects will reportedly be collaborative efforts between public radio and TV stations.

The Local Journalism Centers, as they are being called, will each hire teams of reporters and editors, as well as community outreach managers, to report on an issue of regional relevance, including the reinvention of the industrial upper Midwest economy, efforts in upstate New York to attract innovative businesses, and agribusiness in the Plains.

Full story at this link…

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December 17 2009


Lessons on Collaboration from EconomyStory, Election Projects

"Online: Content is king. I don't disagree. But collaboration is queen. In chess the king is the most important, but the queen is the most powerful." 
- David Cohn

We in public media produce a lot of content, but historically we haven't had a lot of collaboration. That's been changing recently, and I'm fortunate enough to have a front row seat.

I'm the project manager for public media's collaboration about the economy, EconomyStory, a project funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that brings together 12 public media organizations to cover the current economic crisis, online and on-air. The idea was straightforward: By coordinating efforts across newsrooms, we can deliver to the American public news coverage and resources that are greater than the sum of their parts, and that leverage each organization's strengths. (For a list of partners and their contributions, see EconomyStory.org).

I previously managed a similar effort, also funded by CPB, around the 2008 election. Eight organizations were involved in that project. Over the course of these two projects, I've witnessed a series of triumphs and frustrations that are deeply relevant to the current conversation among journalists, and those interested in journalism, regarding the future of news. Below are my top three lessons learned. I hope other organizations can benefit from our experience, and build on what we've learned. I'd also love to hear what you've learned from similar projects.

Lesson #1: Collaboration Isn't Efficient, But Still Worth It

At the outset of the election project, I expected collaboration to create efficiencies. After all, instead of eight organizations having eight conversations about how to cover the same story, we were having one conversation. Certainly, the thinking went, this would reduce, if not eliminate, redundancies. But reducing redundancies, it turns out, doesn't necessarily mean reducing effort; coordinating with people at other organizations that have different ways of doing things takes time -- lots of it.

For example, during the 2008 election, NPR and PBS NewsHour jointly developed an interactive map that was featured on each of their websites, as well as on over 150 local station sites. With a curator assigned at both NPR and NewsHour, the map fused local and national coverage -- in text, audio and video -- from across public media. Having a collaborative map was convenient for stations, and, in my opinion, yielded a superior end product, which better served the public.

Both NPR and NewsHour could have launched the map earlier in the election cycle if they'd pursued individual products. Instead, they took the time to jointly develop the feature's specifications and select a vendor, among other tasks -- all of which lengthened the production process.


Was this strategic? Absolutely. Efficient? Not really. Yes, the public media system as a whole was focusing its resources more effectively; but individuals were not producing results as quickly as they would have if they'd worked alone.

Of course, collaboration doesn't always increase effort. It depends on the nature and timing of the project, and whether the partners have worked together before. My point is simply this: Don't assume that working together means saving time -- that's not the value proposition of collaboration. The value proposition is about quality, to the extent that you're equipped to turn quality into revenue.

In other words: Working together yields a superior and more distinctive end product; more distinctive end products, when promoted effectively, build audiences; bigger audiences are the raw material from which revenue may be extracted.

Lesson #2: You Need the Muckety-Mucks

The web department still operates as something of a ghetto at many media organizations. Despite pockets of leadership and innovation, public media organizations are, for the most part, no exception.

Sure, everyone knows the future's in digital, but, more often than not, the people with power and influence work in the organization's legacy media area, such as print or broadcast. I witnessed this directly during the election collaboration, which primarily involved web managers and producers at partner organizations. This hampered the project's impact, either by limiting promotion or preventing more meaningful editorial collaboration. (Much of our "collaboration" during election 2008, aside from the NPR/NewsHour map, took the form of cross-promotion -- a type of collaboration, to be sure, but not the deepest type.)

Having learned our lesson, the kickoff meeting for EconomyStory included multi-disciplinary teams from each partner organization. We then broke off into strands for in-depth brainstorming sessions. At one point, producers of several blue-chip public media programs locked eyes and admitted they didn't trust each other. Then they laughed about it. Then they started talking.

The immediate result? At least one co-production, which aired on both radio and TV, with related web content. The longer-term impact is that the channels of communication are open between these organizations, including at the executive level. This sets the tone and empowers people at every level to explore creative ways of working together. Now it seems I hear each week about a new collaborative effort between some subset of our project's partners.

Lest you think the lesson here is that change only comes from the top down, I'll underscore that the idea to collaborate for the election and the economic crisis was largely hatched within public media's web community. This community just needed to engage the right executives in order to begin realizing the full power of its vision.

Lesson #3: Autopilot? I Don't Think So.

People were enthusiastic when they left the kick-off meeting, but then they returned to busy offices, overflowing inboxes, and lengthy to-do lists. In other words, it was going to take more than goodwill to drive the project forward. Specifically, success was going to require:

> Formal Communication Channels: For the election project, partners relied on the phone and email to stay in touch with each other, and with me. This time around, I introduced Basecamp, a project management tool from 37 Signals. I made it clear at the outset (and in partner contracts) that participation on Basecamp was a requirement. Sound harsh? Yes, but I knew I was dealing with busy people who needed extra prodding to remember to share information outside of their own shops.

It's been a huge success because it's far more effective for partners to share information with each other, than for information to flow only from them to me. Why rely on a switchboard operator in the digital age? 

One success story: near the beginning of the economy project, a producer at PBS posted a programming pipeline, including information about an upcoming Frontline special called "The Warning." It was about a lone regulator who warned of the potential for economic meltdown in the late 1990s. A producer at Marketplace saw this information and ended up commissioning a series of original radio reports, including an interview with the regulator, Brooksley Born.

This may not sound like rocket science (and it isn't), but without this project, and without a central information-sharing hub, it wouldn't have happened.


> Strong Central Staff: After the election project, it was clear that there were central project functions beyond project management that needed attention. For one thing, we needed to actually promote the partners' work, both to the general public and to public media stations. After all, it's hard to provide a public service when the public doesn't know what you're doing.

Also, in order to maximize editorial collaboration between partners, we needed someone with a bird's eye view of the project, as well as a journalist's sensibility, who could look for specific opportunities for partners to team up. We added these roles to the mix, bringing on freelancer and public media vet Katie Kemple to head up marketing; Public Radio International managed station outreach; and Lee Banville from NewsHour served as "editorial facilitator."

The combination of Basecamp and additional project staff has spurred more informal collaboration on EconomyStory compared to what we saw during the election project. The Frontline/Marketplace example above is just the tip of the iceberg. It's critical to have a central team that works to keep partners focused and engaged. In addition, those of us at the center of the project are then able to identify strategic successes and areas for improvement.


Learning to collaborate is a lot like learning to manage. A junior manager often thinks it's easier to do things herself, rather than take time to train someone on her team. While this approach may allow her to deliver results more quickly in the short term, it's not sustainable over time. Similarly, collaboration between news organizations is often time consuming at first -- but it's essential to their long-term success.

As more and more news organizations shut their doors, or reduce operations, lean organizations and newly freelance journalists need to learn to work together in new ways if they're going to survive. They need to be scrappy -- and public media organizations are nothing if not scrappy. There may be hope for us yet.

Amanda Hirsch is a consultant to independent media companies and non-profits, and the former editorial director of PBS Interactive (as well as MediaShift's former editor). She is also a writer and performer. You can follow Amanda online on her website and on Twitter at @publicmediagirl.

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December 14 2009


KETC's Mortgage Crisis Project Brings Public into Public Media

Facing the Mortgage Crisis, a multi-platform community outreach project spearheaded by KETC/Channel 9 in St. Louis, has become a model for public broadcasting stations nationwide.

Launched July 1, 2008, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the project connects financially struggling residents with appropriate resources. St. Louis was hit hard by the mortgage crisis, and this, along with KETC's proven track record of community engagement, led CPB to select KETC as the project's producer.


Facing the Mortgage Crisis combines traditional news reporting, mortgage crisis-related video segments, and social media resources, including a blog, Twitter account, YouTube Channel, Facebook page, and a map of community resources.

The project embraces a strong community engagement approach, bolstered by KETC's partnerships with local online news publication the St. Louis Beacon and 26 community organizations. KETC also hired consultant Robert Paterson, who provides another layer of insight on the project on several blogs.

According to the project's site:

Public media is in a unique position to have a profound impact on critical issues such as the mortgage crisis. By raising public awareness, mobilizing networks of trusted community partners, and by aggregating community resources, public media organizations can make a significant difference in the communities they serve. Collectively, the impact will be felt across America.

This video also provides an overview of KETC's accomplishments with Facing the Mortgage Crisis:

Expanding into Other Markets

In light of KETC's success with this project, CPB provided additional funding for public broadcasting stations around the country to replicate KETC's model. The new projects are targeted to reach 32 markets identified by the U.S. Treasury Department as being severely affected by the mortgage crisis. KETC is managing the wider initiative. (Participating stations are mapped here.)

The participating stations' project websites show varying levels of sophistication in the content they're creating. As a result, it may seem as though stations have different levels of commitment to the project. Amy Shaw, KETC's vice president of education and community engagement, said the websites are not always reflective of their success with community engagement. While leveraging social media is a part of the project, she said an even larger part involves "facilitating grassroots dialogue" and "forming networks of trusted community partners."

In many locations, the project's success relies on collaboration among public broadcasters, in addition to community partners. For example, in hard-hit Detroit, Michigan Radio and Detroit Public TV created a comprehensive site with a frequently updated blog. Cleveland's ideastream also includes comprehensive television and radio resources, and has had great success with community outreach.

Some stations also teamed up with commercial outlets. South Florida's WUSF and Bay News 9 worked together to put a human face on the mortgage crisis. Their site emphasizes independently produced videos of local importance to South Florida residents. Dayton's public television station also partnered with a local commercial station and actually won their local ratings the night their mortgage crisis special aired. This is an incredible achievement, although Shaw was quick to point out that ratings aren't always the most accurate measure of success in a public media project.

Facing the Mortgage Crisis also partnered with United Way's 2-1-1 service, a call-in number that connects people with the resources they need, including emergency services, financial assistance, and health-related information. Many of the local station sites feature a prominent link to regional 2-1-1 centers. (For example, KETC's site links to United Way of Missouri.)


In a blog post, Paterson explained some of the metrics KETC used to measure the project's success. Notably, 2-1-1 calls increased 400 percent after KETC began the mortgage crisis initiative. Shaw also noted that an extremely effective campaign in Cleveland resulted in a "2-1-1 deluge."

New Model of Participatory Public Media

Developing appropriate metrics for this kind of engagement projects is a challenge. The national project is currently being analyzed, both internally and by two outside assessment firms. The results of these reports won't be released until February, but Shaw was able to provide some interim takeaways.

Most notably, the project has found that in order for public media to thrive, "stations need time to build internal capacity." Stations that are used to being "the voice out" to the people need to adjust to a new model of participatory public media. Stations also need to work on building internal competencies, placing an intentional focus on outcomes, and allowing relationships to drive work in the future.

Here's what KETC President and CEO Jack Galmiche wrote in a letter to CPB President and CEO Patricia Harrison:

Stations are making the breakthrough in understanding that they can leverage Web 2.0. The costs of going here are not financial, they are cultural. Through Facing the Mortgage Crisis, there is a core group of stations who are discovering how to use the online space to amplify the value of our traditional content and to use it to offer a voice to the American people.

Stations are learning by experience how to connect social media and digital content in all that they do -- making it possible for the public to have a much deeper relationship and an identity connection with the station, while at the same time having a "safe and trusted place" to ask questions, have conversations, and build connections. The stations that are making this possible are also learning how to use their online space to converge national, local and public content on the web and are beginning to understand how to use the web to listen to every whisper in their communities and to reflect back what they have heard.

The project officially ended last month, but some stations have made a significant commitment to press on and transition to the next level of the project. Ideally, Shaw said, Facing the Mortgage Crisis will serve as a "gateway to a broader conversation."

"This is a concerted, national public media effort," she said. "It's not just about the mortgage crisis, it's about how to make the public see public media as significant, relevant and worth supporting."

In many ways, said Shaw, the project has spearheaded participating stations to "make the transition from public broadcasting to public media."

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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