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June 18 2013


AOL Makers Tops 40 Million Views in First Year

CANNES – Since its launch 13 months ago, AOL has grown its “Makers” series to 40 million video views, with the number of views rising month over month, says Maureen Sullivan, Senior VP and General Manager Lifestyle Brands and Women’s Content at AOL during an interview with Beet.TV.

Makers is a joint video project between AOL and PBS and tells the stories of pioneering women from Gloria Steinem to Hillary Clinton in a series of professionally produced, short, documentary style videos. The series has been exclusively sponsored by Unilever’s Simple Skin Care brand since its inception. Sullivan said many viewers will often start by watching one video and then stay and watch six or seven more. For more insight into the growth of Makers and how video viewers are engaging with the content, check out this video interview.

AOL is the sponsor of Beet.TV’s coverage of Cannes Lions.

January 11 2012


PBS ‘Frontline’ planning News Corp. exposé? How far will a friend be willing to go?

TVNewser :: Fox News Channel’s Geraldo Rivera was out to dinner with his old friend and colleague from ABC News, Lowell Bergman, when things turned quite sour. Bergman is an esteemed journalist, having produced the now-infamous exposé of the tobacco companies for “60 Minutes.” According to a Facebook post from Rivera, Bergman’s latest target is News Corp. and Fox News.

Continue to read Alex Weprin, www.mediabistro.com

December 28 2011


Idea Lab: Year in Review 2011

2011 year small.jpg

It's been an eventful year on MediaShift's Idea Lab, marked by mergers, beta releases and site redesigns for the many innovators in digital media. This past year also saw the Knight Foundation announce 16 winners of its News Challenge contest, up from 12 grantees in 2010 -- and the total prize money hit $4.7 million, thanks in part to a $1 million contribution from Google.

A couple of themes that ran big among the winners this year were data and mobile. We saw the rise of the hacker-journalist, and many projects were focused on making sense of the stream of data -- think PANDA, ScraperWiki, OpenBlock Rural, Overview, SwiftRiver and DocumentCloud.


We also saw new interpretations of journalism, such as NextDrop, a mobile platform that helps people in India find out when water is available; Poderopedia, a crowdsourced database that visualizes the relationships among Chile's elite; and the Awesome Foundation, which not only has an awesome name, but is using mini-grants to give others a chance to start up projects of their own.

Here's a look back at just some of the highlights on Idea Lab in 2011.

Just out of beta

Several Knight News Challenge winners announced considerable strides in their projects. The PANDA project, which aims to make basic data analysis quick and easy for news organizations, pushed out a first, and then a second, alpha, adding a login/registration system, dataset search, and complex query support, among other features. It has also been working to integrate directly with fellow News Challenge winner ScraperWiki. "This is speculative at the moment, but has the potential to make the API useful even to novice developers who might not be entirely comfortable writing shell scripts or cron jobs," explained PANDA's Christopher Groskopf.


In December, LocalWiki, a 2010 Knight News Challenge winner, announced the first major release of its new LocalWiki software and launched its first focus community, serving Denton, Texas. The LocalWiki project is an ambitious effort to create community-owned, living information repositories that will provide much-needed context behind the people, places, and events that shape our communities.

In addition, SocMap.com, another 2010 Knight News Challenge winner, launched a "tweets" and "places" features on its site, along with plans to debut "local initiatives," "local questions," and a city-planning game in early 2012. And the Cartoonist, which aims to bring newsgames to the masses, showed off a working prototype of the Cartoonist engine for the first time during a demo day hosted by a Georgia Tech research center.

m&a alive and well

There's been no shortage of examples of innovation on Idea Lab, and innovation can, and did this year, lead to acquisitions. Spot.Us, a journalism crowdfunding project that was launched in November of 2008, announced that it was acquired by the Public Insight Network, which is part of American Public Media. "I hope that as Spot.Us and PIN merge, we can continue to push the boundaries in transparency and participation in the process of journalism so that media organizations can better serve the public," Spot.Us founder David Cohn wrote in a post announcing the acquisition.

And earlier in the year, DocumentCloud announced that it had found a long-term home for its project. The startup, which is a catalog of primary source documents and a tool for annotating, organizing and publishing them on the web, merged operations with Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), a non-profit grassroots organization committed to fostering excellence in investigative journalism. "IRE has a long and established history of supporting investigative reporting, and we'll be a proud part of their ongoing work to provide journalists with tools that support their reporting," Amanda Hickman, DocumentCloud's former program director, announced.

hacking away

Thumbnail image for hacktoberfest-circle.jpg

The end of September brought with it a four-day hackathon in Berlin organized by Knight-Mozilla, and bringing together programmers and journalists from all over the world. Dan Sinker, who heads up the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership for Mozilla, wrote about the event, which jokingly became known as "Hacktoberfest," and followed up with some reflections on data journalism and opportunities for learning.

Just weeks later, Zeega participated in WFMU's Radiovision Festival, where creative developers and digital storytellers came together for a day of hacking and coding called "Re-Inventing Radio." At the festival, Zeega shared an ultra-early alpha version of its Zeega editor and three projects for people to experiment with.

Brought to you live

In November, we decided to host a live chat on Twitter on the use of SMS and texting technology by journalists, news organizations, radio shows and more. MobileActive's Melissa Ulbricht and Sean McDonald of FrontlineSMS were two Knight News Challenge winners who participated in the live chat, in an effort to explain how services and projects are using SMS to help connect people to important news and information in communities where Internet access is limited.

MobileActive released its Mobile Media Toolkit earlier this year, which provides how-to guides, wireless tools, and case studies on how mobile phones are being used for reporting, news broadcasting, and citizen media.


awards and accolades

A key lesson learned this year was that bigger doesn't necessarily mean better when it comes to new media. The Tiziano Project beat out both CNN and NPR at the 2011 Online Journalism Awards, taking home the Community Collaboration award for its project 360 Kurdistan -- an immersive, nonlinear platform for exploring the culture of the region from the perspectives of both local and professional journalists.

The 2011 award from the Knight Foundation will help the Tiziano Project further develop the 360 technology into a scalable platform that other organizations can use, according to Jon Vidar, the project's executive director. "We will then curate these future 360s on an interactive map and develop a communication layer that will sit on top, allowing visitors to participate in a universal dialog with our students," he wrote in a post.

And November saw Knight-Mozilla announce its 2011/12 News Technology fellows. ScraperWiki's Nicola Hughes and Dan Schultz, a 2007 Knight News Challenge winner and tech wizard extraordinaire for our MediaShift and Idea Lab sites, were two of the innovators who were selected to participate in helping newsrooms around the world develop prototypes for digitally delivering news and information.

No doubt there will be more fantastic innovations and awards to come in 2012! We're looking forward to sharing them with you here on Idea Lab.

June 02 2011


PBS hacked - Judy Woodruff: what are the costs of an attempt to silence the press?

PBS :: Senior correspondent Judy Woodruff writes about this week's hacking attacks on PBS websites and overcoming efforts to silence a free press. "If we were a newspaper and someone threw a small bomb through the window, crippling our printing press and shutting down operations until we could get a replacement, we'd call the police. But what's the equivalent ... when a cyber attack happens?"

[Judy Woodruff:] At Frontline and at the NewsHour, everyone is focused on getting on with their jobs covering the news, the most important developments in the nation and in the world. But we do so feeling violated by a stranger. I guess that makes us wiser, determined to work harder to protect the work we do. And I hope it doesn't make us, or any other news organization, more cautious.

I added a comment to Judy Woodruff's article (moderated; I guess it will take some time for them to approve it). Well "comment" might be wrong, better: I asked two questions. First: I wanted to know more about the experience they made with the "emergency plan", to switch to tumblr. Second: what are their learnings? Can such (damaging) activities be avoided by offering instruments to disagree with their news coverage?

Her answer Judy Woodruff, www.pbs.org

May 24 2011


PBS plots a new promo strategy facing more stations to become unaffiliated

Mediabistro | TVNewser :: With the economy still hurting, and funding for public media constantly under threat, the potential of a shakeup at PBS looms. The New York Times reports that many local PBS stations–facing steep dues from the mothership–are considering following in the footsteps of KCET Los Angeles and WMFE Orlando and becoming unaffiliated public stations.

Continue to read Alex Weprin, www.mediabistro.com

May 03 2011


PBS plays Google’s word game, transcribing thousands of hours of video into crawler-friendly text

PBS' new video search engine

Blogs and newspaper sites enjoy a built-in advantage when it comes to search-engine optimization. They deal in words. But a whole universe of audio and video content is practically invisible to Google.

Say I want to do research on Osama bin Laden. A web search would return news articles about his assassination, a flurry of tweets, the Wikipedia pageMichael Scheuer’s biography, and an old Frontline documentary, “Hunting Bin Laden.” I might then take my search to Lexis Nexis and academic journals. But I would never find, for example, Frontline’s recent reporting on the Egyptian revolution, where bin Laden makes an appearance, or any number of other video stories in which the name is mentioned.

While video and audio transcripts are rich for Google mining, they’re also time-consuming and expensive. PBS is out to fix that by building a better search engine. The network has transcribed and tagged, automatically, more than 2,000 hours of video using software called MediaCloud.

“Video is now more Google-friendly,” said Jon Brendsel, the network’s vice president of product development. Normally, automatic transcription is laughably bad — Google Voice users know this — but Brendsel is satisfied with the results of PBS’ transcription efforts. He said the accuracy rate is about 80 to 90 percent. That’s “much better than the quality that I normally attribute to closed captioning,” he said. The software can get away with mistakes because the transcripts are being read by computers, not people. (For a hefty fee, the content-optimization platform RAMP will put its humans to work to review and refine the auto-generated transcripts.)

Query “Osama bin Laden” at PBS’ video portal, and the new search engine returns videos in which the phrase appears, including time codes. ”Osama bin Laden found at 33:32,” reads one result. (So that’s where he was?) Mouse over the text to see the keyword in context; click it to be deposited at the precise moment the keyword is spoken. (Notice the text “Osama bin Laden” appears nowhere on the resulting page.)

PBS’ radio cousin, NPR, still relies on humans for transcription, paying a third-party service to capture 51 hours of audio a week. In-house editors do a final sweep to ensure accuracy of proper names and unusual words. It’s expensive, though NPR does not disclose how much, and time-consuming, with a turnaround time of four to six hours.

“We continue to keep an eye on automated solutions, which have gradually improved over time, but are not of sufficiently high quality yet to be suitable for licensing and other public distribution,” said Kinsey Wilson, NPR’s head of digital media.

Despite the expense, NPR decided to make all transcripts available for free when relaunching its website in July 2009. ”Transcripts were once largely the province of librarians and other specialists whose job was to find archival content, often for professional purposes,” Wilson said at the time. “As Web content becomes easier to share and distribute, and search and social media have become important drivers of audience engagement, archival content — whether in the form of stories or transcripts — has an entirely different value than it did in the past.”

Put another way: Readers today (kids today!) are accustomed to search as a shortcut to obtaining information. If Google doesn’t index your content, it might as well not exist. (And there are other emerging platforms in the layering-text-on-video game — Universal Subtitles, for example, which essentially crowdsources captioning efforts.) Brendsel said mass indexing is a much more complicated project for PBS, because PBS does not own its content, unlike NPR. The network has to work out rights with multiple producers. And the transcription software is also expensive, he said. PBS is still working out a financial model for extending this service to local stations.

Brendsel plans to offer human-readable transcripts on story pages soon, when the video portal gets a design refresh. That will be the final step in making PBS video truly Google-friendly, allowing search engines to to crawl its text.

March 15 2011


News portal, super aggregator, and mega-curator: PBS builds a new site from scratch with PBSNews.org

PBS finds itself with what could be the definition of a “good” problem. (Well, not that defunding problem, but another one.) Here’s the scenario: Under the PBS umbrella you’ll find news shows like PBS Newshour, Frontline, and Nightly Business Report, among others, all producing content that lives primarily on air and on individual websites. While video clips and stories are pulled into PBS.org, that site’s primary function is not to be a news source like, say, its cousin NPR.org.

With all that news and information swirling around PBS, though, it makes sense to have a sort of super aggregator, something to pull together the threads from various shows around news or topics. Think about it: What if on a broad story like the economic crisis, you could pull together a NewsHour interview with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on changes to borrowing policies for US banks along with a Frontline clip from “Breaking the Bank” on the merger of Bank of America and Merill Lynch? Of course what we’re talking about is not simply aggregation, but also curation — and actually, considering the hours of shows PBS has at its disposal, mega-curation.

Consider all of this and you’ll know where the team behind the PBS News Blog is coming from. It’s PBS’ effort to launch a new site that is both a news portal for readers and a new channel for PBS programming. The new site, which should launch soon, will be called PBSNews.org: The News Navigator.

When I spoke with Tom Davidson, PBS.org’s senior director and publisher for news and public affairs, he told me the new project will essentially start from scratch, partly because a central news division has never been part of PBS, but also because PBS wants to take advantage of the opportunity to build a smarter news site. “Historically PBS has tended to not create content itself — it was founded as a programming service” that would pool member stations’ financial resources “to allow other independent producers to make that content,” Davidson said.

Over the years, PBS has built out a universe of news and current events programming — and in recent years, that’s been matched by further investment in digital tools and websites starting with PBS.org, Davidson said. Again, they’ve created a good problem.

Instead of offering another site for breaking news, the News Navigator team wants to build a site that moves past daily headlines and offers more comprehensive coverage on news or topics — the kind that can come to bear when you have a satellite staff of journalists, producers, and documentarians working on pieces. That staff will rotate around a central hub, the News Navigator staff (which is growing as we speak), which will include producers, data specialists, writers, and editors.

So what could the News Navigator look like? Davidson said the mission will be to present “the knowledge that defines what’s going on on a story behind the headline.”

More specifically they want to meet the balance of context and timeliness in news by having something similar to topic pages that would provide news, raw data sets, timelines, video and other background from across PBS programs. These deep dives, as they call them, will include areas like Afghanistan, same sex marriage, health care, and Congress.

The point in all this context-focused curation isn’t to out-NYT the NYT, but rather to add value by finding new angles on big stories. “I will try lots of crazy things,” Davidson said. “But I’m not going to try and take on CNN.com, CBS.com or NYTimes.com. We lost that battle 15 years ago. Let’s not fight that battle now.”

PBS is also creating issue clashes — an adaptation of a familiar feature of many PBS news shows, the two-analyst, head-to-head debate, adapted for online. Think Shields and Brooks, only on the web — and with the audience empowered not only to vote on the winner, but also to add their own arguments.

Of course, there are hurdles in building out a new news site, particularly one that will need to pull news and videos from across a multitude of other sites, each of those operating off of different frameworks and content management systems. It’s not as easy as connecting tube A to slot B. Instead of trying to put all its programs under one system, PBS instead decided to build the equivalent of a massive card catalog, naming it Merlin. Merlin is essentially a database of PBS content tagged with metadata to allow sites, either from programs or member stations, to pull up material they would like to use. (Merlin was a contributing factor in PBS.org’s recent redesign and iPad offering.)

Jason Seiken, senior vice president of Interactive, Product Development and Innovation for PBS, told me that Merlin came from the need for something that could act as a publisher and distributor of content that would benefit both programs and stations. Once stories or videos are tagged, they can be pulled up on PBS.org, the News Navigator, or WGBH, as an example. “Merlin is in essence a distribution channel,” Seiken said. “It turns PBS.org into a distribution network for local stations.”

Along with Merlin, PBS rolled out a standalone video player and management system called COVE. (While it may seem like online video is ubiquitous, in the past there was no quick, easy, or unified way for stations and programs to share video on their sites, Seiken said.) COVE allows sites to pull together video from across PBS in the same player, meaning a piece from KQED could be coupled with a feature from Need to Know or Sesame Street.

After PBSNews.org makes its debut, Davidson said it will still be in something of a rolling beta. He sees the site as a startup whose features PBS will constantly adjust. The challenge for PBSNews.org, Davidson said, will be growing an audience for it while also finding its place within the PBS family. Its job won’t be to recreate what others have done, but instead to complement and synthesize it. “We don’t see ourselves competing with NewsHour on reporting the news of the day,” Davidson said. Instead, “we see ourselves first and foremost as translators for the consumers.”

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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January 10 2011


Spot.Us Survey Shows Support for More Diverse Public Media

The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy made 15 recommendations on how America can have a bright info-future. One of those recommendations was for increased support for public media predicated on public media efforts to "step up," for lack of a better term.

Public media has been on the minds and lips of a lot of Americans. Certainly the last few years have seen a growth in public media across the board from Corporation for Public Broadcasting entities (PBS, NPR) to less formal public media entities like PRX and PRI. Recently, as a follow-up to the work of the Knight Commission Barbara Cochran wrote a policy paper "Rethinking Public Media: Mort Local, More Inclusive, More Interactive." From the Knight Commission blog post:

At a time when government funding for public broadcasting is hotly debated, "Rethinking Public Media: More Local, More Inclusive, More Interactive," a new policy paper by Barbara Cochran, offers five broad strategies and 21 specific recommendations to reform public media.

It's an excellent piece of reading that breaks down some of the roadblocks and opportunities that lay ahead for public media.

Beyond white papers, however, it's important that the public be able to speak their mind about public media. That's why, thanks to the support of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program, the institutional home of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, Spot.Us surveyed 500 members about the state of public media in their community.

The goal was to find out where public media is strong, weak and what suggestions the public might have for public media. Not only did this survey raise awareness about the growing role of public media, it supported media as well. Every member of our community that took the survey was given $5 in credits to fund the story of their choice on our site.

And The Survey Says....

How Big Is Your Community?
Before we can examine the survey in-depth I should remind folks that this is a sponsored survey of a somewhat self-selecting community (and our community is perhaps more media-savvy than other websites). That said, our first question was aimed at getting a sense of where people lived. One of the trends we often hear is that major metropolitan areas are better served by public media than smaller locations. Our survey affirmed this.

Just over 60 percent of respondents were from major metropolitan areas. Another 17 percent were from large cities. Only a handful (12 percent) came from towns with a population of 50,000 or less. Our survey skewed toward major metropolitan areas and in total they were happier with public media than folks in more rural areas. This should be kept in the back of our minds when we dive into the remaining questions and answers.
Spot.Us community member Mike Labonte summed up the frustration with public media in small towns when he wrote his suggestion to improve public media in his town: "Presence. The only public media in my city of 70,000 is the local public access cable TV station."

The next question in our survey allowed for multiple answers: "Who has an influential role in shaping media in your area?" It's an important question to ask because while the ecosystem continues to change many charge public media with the role to unite various media forces together. The results of this question were proven interesting again; as much as things have changed -- they also stay the same.

Newspapers and national broadcast television were considered influential by the most respondents. Just over 75 percent of people who took the survey selected papers as being influential. Local bloggers garnered 188 votes or just 37 percent of those that took the survey. While that's still a hefty number, it was the lowest concrete choice (it performed better than "other") and came in just below "elected officials."
Community member Laurie Pumper noted: "One small but telling example: Public radio went out of its way to keep a citizen journalism organization from providing live-streaming of a gubernatorial debate in Minnesota. If an organization accepts public funding, I expect better cooperation with other sources of media."

Next we asked how people got involved in public media. The respondents had three overwhelming answers: Social media, the general website and donating. The overlap between these three was also very strong. Almost everyone who said they donated engaged through the website and social media. Although the reverse trend was not as strong (i.e. somebody who engaged through social media might not donate), there was still a correlation.

In light of the number of respondents who said they volunteer or worked for public media, the number of people who attended events at their local public media station seemed a little low. Getting out the word can be very important as community member Ben Melançon said: "Dedicating the resources to come and ask what's up, once a month. Taking matters of interest common to multiple local areas they cover and doing very in-depth reports on them."
Next we got to the heart of the survey: How effective is public media at serving the needs and interests of diverse members of the community? While the responses to this aren't an abysmal failure, it does show large room for improvement. A total of 11 percent thought public media in their community was doing a poor job of reflecting diversity. The vast majority of responders selected either "good" (33 percent) or "fair" (32 percent). Because these two combine for 65 percent of all responders it's worth examining the exact language of these answers:
  • Fair -- There are occasional examples of diverse programming, but it's not the norm.
  • Good -- While not perfect, there are obvious efforts to make programming more inclusive.

While these lukewarm answers were the majority only a handful of responders thought public media was doing an "excellent" or "very good" job of reflecting a community's diversity.
And then came the meatiest question: "How well do public media do of informing you about local issues?"

Again we find mixed results, but the overall trend was positive. A majority 69 percent said public media was doing either "average" or "above average" at covering local issues. While it's great to see so few select "poor" (six percent) or "below average" (17 percent), there is still lots of room for improvement when we note that only 8 percent of responders thought public media was doing "fantastic."

In an interesting contrast with an earlier comment, community member Alexis Gonzales said this about the size of a town:

Because I live in a large city, news media -- including public media -- just don't cover 'neighborhood' issues. Frankly, I stopped expecting them to do otherwise until I spent time in smaller-but-not-that-much-smaller city (Portland for example) and noticed how public media seemed so much closer to and integrated into the local community. I think public media could do a better job of covering local issues by reconsidering what is newsworthy ... i.e., neighborhood issues can be of broader interest to the greater community.


The survey also threw in a playful question regarding taxes. Since public media's funding has been a topic of discussion, why not ask the public what they think? The question was arguably loaded, but still worth asking.

The exact language was: "British citizens are taxed $80.36 a year to support the BBC. United States citizens are taxed only $1.36. Knowing it would mean more taxes you believe the following." Then respondents could decide if they wanted to lower taxes to $0 or raise them to "beat the British."

This question was asked in part to educate, since many people don't realize how little our media is subsidized by taxes compared to other countries and in part to provoke responses around a hotly debated topic.

About 20 percent of responders thought the taxes should stay the same or even be lowered to $0. Nearly half thought of expanding the taxes a little either doubling it to $2.70 or expanding it to $30. And perhaps because of how the answer was worded  ("Let's beat the British") a whopping 34 percent wanted to raise taxes to $80.37 to fund public media. Either the Spot.Us community has lots of public media fans or a reminder that the British public media is out-funding ours 80-to-1 was too much to bear. (Also note 49 individuals who took the survey work for public media according to their answers to question #3).

From the public's mouth

Finally, our last open-ended question sought advice and input about how public media could improve at the local level. We received 500 responses and below I have republished some of the best with the survey respondents' permission.

Wendy Carrillo

I live in East LA / Boyle Heights. It's very rare that good positive stories are told about my community via TV news. LA Times covers some good stories, but it's not the norm. I would like to see my community being covered w/ national issues other than immigration. Like Latinos who serve in armed forces, or those who are making a difference in the classroom.

Tom Davidson

Engage the emerging local blogosphere -- providing them promotion/audience and, potentially, revenue via bundled sales using the bully pulpit of public media. In other words, why can't a local PBS or NPR station serve the same role as a TBD.com in Washington?

Tim Gihring

They could spice up the reporting. The no rant/no slant approach is appropriate, but the reporting is often simple, dry, and probably not engaging as broad an audience as possible as a result.

Henry Jenkins

Right now, Los Angeles seems poised to lose its PBS station, which is going independent. This is a good news, bad news situation. Some of its best current projects are local and these will continue and grow. But we will also lose some of the programs from PBS which we have come to expect and they will be missed.

Ruth Ann Harnisch

Deploy the resources of journalism majors and graduate students in the many universities and colleges located in and around the major metro areas. Collaborate with universities and colleges to cover more beats, produce more stories, create more outlets, uncover more potential advertisers and train better journalists.

Tom Stites

My community, Newburyport, Mass., is an hour north of Boston, a half hour south of Portsmouth, N.H., and an hour and 10 minutes south of Portland, Maine. I listen to public radio from all three, and no one covers Newburyport or its surrounding area. In fact, we're in a fringe reception area for all the stations. What would be really cool would be to have a low-power, listener-supported station right here in Newburyport. There's a local AM station that plays old music but has no local news presence.
Perhaps where I live makes me an outlier, but I suspect that my situation is quite common -- most public radio stations are in big cities or on university campuses in smaller places. That said, most smaller communities, including mine, don't have colleges.

Jake Bayless

Public media is largely the only not-for-profit trusted local and regional source of info, and source of curated content. I'd like to see that trust "capital" realized -- my local station is in the process of retooling for the new media revolution -- it's not easy to change the battleship's direction. More and amplified info like that from the Knight Commission needs to be put out there. The public at large doesn't yet understand how vital public media SHOULD be in their lives as info consumers. Public media orgs all should adopt "Community Media Projects" in order to learn, listen and meet the information and democratic needs of the communities they serve... everything else is broken, untrustworthy or unsuitable.

Arthur Coddington

Awareness that public media is frequently a partnership between national providers (NPR) and local stations. Those that don't understand this partnership can dismiss the programming as not locally relevant. Visibility. Police who are present and interacting with local residents can generate greater trust and participation in public safety. Similar thing could be true of public media. If they are visible -- if they are not "they" -- then we feel more connected to the stories, more possibility to reach out to them when new issues arrive, etc. Engagement. Partner with schools, libraries and service orgs to unearth essential local stories, create broadcasts about them, and follow up to track impact.

Andria Krewson

Be more aggressive about giving up old ways (and sometimes long-time staffers) to free up resources and time to explore new ways of sharing information. Note on the tax question: I'd support more taxation for public media, but I'm discouraged about the track record used to spend tax money recently and would need total transparency (and some influence) on how money is spent in order to support more taxation.

Chris Mecham

We have a very active NPR-supporting community here but the simple fact is that they are charged with providing service to a huge, mountainous geographic area and while we may, as a community, have an above average rate of contribution, we also have greater infrastructure expenses than many other areas. Considering what Boise State Public Radio does with their resources I think they are doing okay. One of the features of public broadcasting funding in Idaho is that up to a fairly generous limit our contributions are counted as a tax credit. Not a deduction. A credit. "Do I want to give Butch Otter my money or do I want to give Terry Gross my money? Hmmmm."

Lisa Morehouse

Experiment. Be willing to try and fail at new shows, new ways of delivering the news. Invest in reporting. Pay freelancers a fair wage so that journalists without financial support can enter and stay in the profession (not possible now).

Bill Day

Public media should pioneer efforts to build real-time citizen journalist networks. Using low cost distribution and collation tools, public media could become hubs for high-quality, low cost information sharing -- school test scores, water quality, traffic needs, etc.

Sabine Schmidt

Through reaching out to organizations and individuals representing under-served parts of the community, especially economic and ethnic minorities. The demographic makeup of my metro area is changing rapidly due to growing Hispanic, Marshallese, and Hmong populations; except for some Spanish-language newspapers and radio stations, few media outlets report on issues such as immigration, wage theft, bilingual education, etc. Public media could a) report more extensively on those topics -- not as "minority" issues but as issues affecting members of our community; this would require b) establishing a broader definition of what our community is; and c), public media could offer internships and fellowships to young and/or freelance journalists, especially because the local NPR station is run by the university's journalism department.

Antonio Roman-Alcala

I like the Bay Citizen model, and the Public Press ... one for exposing local issues to a broader audience, the other for in-depth local news for locals. I don't know if that counts as public media? Overall, I don't pay much attention to TV news, even public channels...so I'm not sure about that. Public media seems generally underfunded; I'd like to see more funding for it, as well as movement towards a more public-serving private news media (though we know, of course, that's easier said than done).

Alexis Gonzales

Because I live in a large city, news media -- including public media -- just don't cover "neighborhood" issues. Frankly, I stopped expecting them to do otherwise until I spent time in smaller-but-not-that-much-smaller cities (Portland for example) and noticed how public media seemed so much closer to and integrated into the local community. I think Public Media could do a better job of covering local issues by reconsidering what is newsworthy ... i.e. neighborhood issues can be of broader interest to the greater community.

Kaitlin Parker

Find positive happenings to report in communities that are typically only covered when something negative happens there.

Anthony Wojtkowiak

For lack of a better phrase, they need to grow some balls. My town in New Jersey is influenced by political boss George Norcross, the unions, and the mafia. And that's not even the corruption and hubris that goes on in the city itself. What our reporters really need is assertiveness training, media law training, and self-defense courses. But most of all, they need the courage to use all of that stuff.

Todd O'Neill

Our public radio and public television are separate entities that don't work together. Although our public radio is beefing up it's news reporting it seems simple to bring that reporting over to television. But public media is NOT JUST NPR and PBS. We have struggling cable public access community (no funding or support from the city) here and a number of online only community journalism operations (including a Knight grantee) that are all doing their own thing without coordination. Big Public Media (NPR/PBS) should be a leader to bring all of these "under the tent" and provide a real media public service to the community.

Charles Sanders

Actually, local issues aren't my concern. I wish public media reinforced its international coverage and improved its drama, comedy ... content. I envy the BBC.

Martin Wolff

As someone who listens to public media daily, it is sad that I have to try hard to think about a local issue being covered. In that respect, almost anything would improve the coverage as it feels almost, but not quite, non-existent. When local issues are covered they seemingly come in only two forms: 1. A feel good issue that is barely an issue and will create nearly zero discourse in the community. For example, holiday-lights festivals. 2. Wimpy. The interviewer/broadcaster will do nothing while two sides of an issue actively lie to the community and directly contradict each other. Fixing #1 is easy -- nobody really terribly cares, so we don't need 10 minutes of coverage about a mayor flipping the switch and lighting a tree up. Fixing #2 is harder. The public media must stand up for itself better and call out the guilty parties. The public media must step up its role as a sort of police officer of society and arrest those who break the rules.

Yvette Maranowski

ALWAYS retain vigorous capacity for citizen reporters. Fund them with equipment and training. People are busy now and have to work independently, but with lifelines keeping them connected to their media outlets. Use McChesney and Nichol's idea of $200 in tax credit going to every citizen, so that the citizen can donate their credit to whatever organization they choose -- such as journalistic ones. Constantly produce and air/publish material about the importance of journalism -- keep hitting the public with that message!

Andy Edgar

Survey people in the neighborhood for their backgrounds, locations and topics of interest, get them interested in issues that affect everyone. Focus on things like air and water quality, advice on picking up litter and why it's important not to litter, community events, getting to know neighbors' talents/skills, healthy alternatives to fast food and big box grocery stores. Community based ways to prevent crime/hate acts should be talked about explored and tried.

William Forbes

In my community (Minneapolis/St Paul, MN), "public" radio and television are HUGE cash cows. They do a good job and are influential but the real inclusive and diverse media that truly serve the under-represented populations of our area are Community Radio Stations, in particular KFAI. MN Public Television/NPR/MPR/PBS could do a much better job but they are more concerned with maintaining (and increasing) corporate and government funding than with covering issues that don't always have universal appeal.

Michael Hopkins

In its current state, public media is dangerous because it offers the illusion of complete objectivity and truth. Too many people listen to it uncritically because of this. I would like to see public media representatives ask much tougher questions of everybody and hire a much more diverse staff of journalists. The illusion will still be there, but it will match reality more closely.

Jeffrey Aberbach

My community now has a Patch website. It's too early to judge how successful it will be in reaching out to our diverse community, but so far it appears to be more successful than the established, corporate-owned media outlet in town (a poorly staffed small daily newspaper that generates little local content).

Jeddy Lin

In my area, despite being close to a large university, not much of a public media movement exists. A more visible public media would go a long way towards creating a more progressive, diverse community.

Kitty Norton

They could provide better coverage for schools. They seem to report statistics and not real life goings-on in our schools to the community.

Luke Gies

I don't have any television or newspaper service, so I am somewhat "self isolating" from our local media. I get most of my news from the Internet, so I think one area of improvement for local media would be to increase the content and improve the usability of their websites. That is more of an improvement in distribution than in "covering the issues," but distribution is a key component to the reporting of news.

December 07 2010


How NewsHour Used Crowdsourcing to Refute TSA Meltdown

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Social Media content on MediaShift is sponsored by the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships, a program offering innovative and entrepreneurial journalists the resources of Stanford University and Silicon Valley. Learn more here.

During Thanksgiving week, the debate over stricter TSA security measures was turning into the big story. A handful of airport security anecdotes were making the rounds via news organizations and social media, but no one knew before the biggest travel day, the Wednesday before Thansgiving, whether National Opt Out Day protests would create air travel gridlock.

Not knowing how the story would play out, the PBS NewsHour team decided to craft a way for the public to help report the facts of their airport security experience so we could better report the story. Thus, the #TSATime hashtag was born on Twitter.

Here's how we pulled off the project, and why collaboration and planning were key.

Planning and Testing

At a weekly planning meeting, we decided crowdsourcing was the best way to get a handle on the airline security story. We knew many travelers were going to be talking about their security experience on Twitter. We figured we could find a way to aggregate those reports into something useful.

Unlike other Twitter hashtag trends that crop up organically, we knew it could be tough to create one from the ground up. We settled on asking travelers to use the #TSATime hashtag and tell us the three-letter airport code where their travel began. Here's a sample of how we asked:

How long did it take you to get through security? Tweet w/ #TSATime and 3 letter airport code http://to.pbs.org/TSATime

It was a straightforward question that would create data that we could easily track without getting overwhelmed. Knowing that this issue had created passionate debate, we took pains to keep all of our language neutral. We asked people to report facts and observations, not what they thought about the new security measures.

Screen shot 2010-12-06 at 9.28.17 PM.pngAfter the idea was cemented, our wonderful graphics and design team built an embeddable widget in less than 36 hours that could also be viewed on smartphones. (Interactives editor Chris Amico summed up that process in his own blog post.)

To keep the project manageable, we decided to focus on the 52 busiest U.S. airports, because security lines might be a bigger issue there. But we also included the option to see all #TSATime tweets in real-time to get a glimpse of how the story was playing out across the country.


Of course, this project wouldn't work unless people actually used it. We used several mediums to promote the trend. Luckily at NewsHour we can use social media, our website and our broadcast. The key was using them all effectively to help it catch on.

On Monday night of the busy travel week we published the first blog post announcing what we were doing and how to participate.

On Tuesday, we added a promo video, complete with Hari Sreenivasan's luggage, that also aired that night on the NewsHour:

Using the NewsHour's Social Media Google Group email blast, we reached out to other public media stations with this information and provided pre-written tweets, Facebook posting language, five easy ways to use #TSATime and the widget.

Of course, we also reached out on social media. We knew it was a useful and timely idea that would easily spread once people caught on. I couldn't find any organization that had a similar project or hashtag, so we happily offered it to anyone and everyone.


wapotweet_goodtravel.jpg#TSATime really took off when other news organizations began to pick it up and tweeters began to help spread the word. I received a call from the Washington Post's Melissa Bell, who runs their BlogPost blog. She asked if they could share the hashtag, and we jumped at the offer, CC'ing @WashingtonPost in some promotional tweets as the long weekend approached.

Bell said in an email that she thought partnering up was key for this particular trend since we were asking for a little more than a straight answer from followers.

"That was the key thing: it was kind of a tough trend to get a lot of responses to, but since we partnered up, we were able to both push it," she said.

Others news organizations adopted the project as well, including the Houston Chronicle,
the Miami Herald and Fox News

I encouraged public media stations to promote the project using their local airport codes and ask for particular things they wanted to know. For example, KQED asked Bay Area travelers to include #KQED in their tweets.

The Payoff

Dave Gustafson, NewsHour's online news and planning editor, put it well when he said "we helped the public participate in public broadcasting."

By Tuesday evening, a few travelers were starting to use #TSATime and more people were pledging on Twitter to use the hashtag for their travel later in the week.

By late Wednesday morning, it became obvious that travel was going smoothly for most fliers across the country. #TSATime provided a way for the public to share that news directly, and allowed us to get a handle on the story more quickly than we would have been able to without crowdsourcing.

We curated tweets using Storify, and used our @NewsHourLIVE Twitter account to retweet a large number of responses.

Not forgetting our broadcast, a few tweets were included in a Wednesday night travel segment:

There were detractors of airport security coverage in general. David Carr of the New York Times mentioned the NewsHour's widget in a piece decrying the massive coverage. However, the Post's Melissa Bell shared this with me about the project.

"Our readers gave us the knowledge early on that we should not flog the story," she said. "Rather than it being a symptom of an overreacting media, it was a cure that quickly sussed out the truth."

I couldn't agree more.

What We Learned

We came away with two key lessons:

Cement Your Idea Early
The success of #TSATime hinged on it being a useful idea that could easily be conveyed to travelers and other news organizations. We decided early on to keep things simple, especially because we had just a few days from idea to implementation. Luckily, the design team was able to shift priorities to jump on this project, but we may not be so lucky next time.

Collaboration is Key
We knew from the outset that we'd have to "let go" of some aspects of #TSATime, as other tweeters and news organizations adopted it. We wanted lots of people to use it, but that meant the risk of profanity and abuse. Thankfully, people responded with enthusiasm for the project and plenty of useful responses.

Using this project as an example, I think we made a strong case for creating shared Twitter hashtags. This especially applies to public media, where the question of how to better collaborate across station boundaries always comes up. The key is to make sure that you make it as easy as possible for other public media to participate, and tell them why it helps them. I wrote tweets, suggested changes that could be made for individual communities and copied embed codes into emails to save everyone a step.

The #TSATime widget is still live, and a few tweets show up here and there. We'll continue to use it and promote it as a resource, especially as holiday travel ramps back up again. We know that the framework we built could be used for other crowdsourcing projects, too.


What did you think of the #TSATime social media experiment? What could we have done better? I'd love to hear what else we can do with it, and other ways public media could use it to their advantage.

Teresa Gorman is the social media and online engagement desk assistant at "PBS NewsHour." A Boston University graduate, Teresa spent time as a community journalist in upstate New York before reaching NewsHour. She first caught the public media bug as an intern at NPR as the executive producer of their Spring 2010 Intern Edition. You can find her on Twitter @gteresa.

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Social Media content on MediaShift is sponsored by the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships, a program offering innovative and entrepreneurial journalists the resources of Stanford University and Silicon Valley. Learn more here.

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November 22 2010


How Should Public Media Respond to Efforts to Defund It?

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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.

"Here is what I still don't get," wrote NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen in response to my November 18 article, "how can public media develop a strategy or simply a coherent response to the culture war in which it is entangled if it cannot admit to itself or reason publicly with the fact that only one side in the culture war wants to destroy it... and the other one doesn't? What is public media's culture war strategy? Not to have one?"

Rosen's comment prompted a few thoughtful answers, first on MediaShift in the comments, and then at an impromptu session at Sunday's Public Media Camp.

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"I don't think it's the place of public media to 'take sides in the culture war," wrote MediaShift executive editor Mark Glaser. "I think it's public media's role to provide a forum for different opinions on the culture war, and give space for diverse opinions on it. That doesn't mean that individuals who are a part of public media can't give their opinions, and they should. The 'view from nowhere' only goes so far. But should NPR, PBS, etc try to out-dittohead the dittoheads? That doesn't make sense either." Instead, he suggested, the already-existing fan base for public broadcasting brands should be rallied. "There are already millions of people who support public media financially through donations, so maybe it takes a grassroots effort by those people to counter all the attacks."

Station manager Anthony Hunt suggested that a workable strategy might be to "develop allies that have much better armor than we do, or certainly don't want to see us change our attempts to remain value neutral because this fight won't be going away anytime soon." He suggests that public-media makers need help because they're under-resourced, and "bring a tote-bag to a knife fight" -- a phrase that echoed a quip by Jon Stewart in response to conservative comments about the Juan Williams flap.

Peter Corbett of iStrategy Labs, who helped to organize the PubCamp, suggested going on the offensive by developing "a 50 state strategy that includes gathering your troops (biggest fans) and preparing to mobilize them for war," and, somewhat jokingly, "taking a page out of cereal/fast food marketers' playbooks: go after their kids early and often, and then turn them on their parents."

Jauvan Moradi, who works at NPR Digital Media, suggested that rather than a "culture war" strategy, what's needed is a better business strategy, to deal with the possibilities of reduced funding.

"There are certainly tensions today," he wrote, "progressive vs. conservative, public values vs. private interest, urban vs. rural, new economy vs. old -- arguably reaching a pinnacle not seen in prior decades. But public media has never been a monoculture of us vs. them. Every local market has a different flavor that reflects the interests and diversity of its audience. The national content producers strive for a sort of neutrality that not only reflects our journalistic sensibilities but also allows for a sort of universality that works with the local flavors in hundreds of towns and cities. It's not our place to take a side amidst cultural tension."

Rosen disagreed. "I think culture war is precisely the right word for that is happening, and for the dynamic I am pointing out. The attempt to de-fund NPR -- an actual vote in the House of Representatives -- because of what happened with Juan Williams has no other logic than culture war logic...Now if the people in public media come to the conclusion: 'There's nothing we can do; it's up to people outside the system to make our case. We're not a participant in these so-called culture wars. We're just the victim, the target....' I can understand that, too, but they should at least arrive at that conclusion after thinking it through."

Rosen Appears via Skype

In order to think it through some more, Rosen joined Public Media Camp attendees via Skype for a discussion of strategies and obstacles. Here are a few highlights from the discussion:

  • Andy Carvin of NPR noted that the organization's government affairs office is firewalled from the editorial side of the house, which allows it to advocate. On the digital strategy end, the big question is "Can NPR mobilize people?" Right now, ethics and social media rules prevent that.
  • Several attendees noted that there's a tremendous amount of misinformation being circulated about the structure and funding of public broadcasting, and debated whether members of the public might respond to a campaign to clarify the issues, or simply ignore it.
  • Threaded throughout the discussion were comments that any battle to save or expand public media could not be waged on only one side of the partisan divide. Core supporters in past fights have been rural Republicans, whose constituents depend heavily on public broadcasting for news and educational resources in otherwise weak media markets.
  • Maxie Jackson, president and CEO of the National Federation for Community Broadcasters, suggested that NPR is now "toxic," and that organizing efforts should focus on the services that public stations provide to users in their communities. He noted that the stations that serve Native Americans provide a stark example of how much local service is crucial to underserved populations.
  • Corbett suggested a viral "I [heart] NPR" day, to mobilize and inspire fans who might then be primed to respond politically when the time came.

Rosen warned that advocates for public broadcasting need to appeal not just to facts, but to pay heed to frames. There's a tendency, he noted, to think "we're not communicating clearly -- sometimes that's true, but in a culture war, there's 'systematically distorted communication.' It's not a messaging problem, it's that there are actors who profit from this distortion. It's important to know when you're in this situation -- the goal is to engage those who aren't engaged in systematically distorted communication and discredit and shame those who distort."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How it Worked

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

How it Succeeded

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

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

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

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

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

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

How it Aims to Change Public Media

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

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

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

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

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

"I wouldn't," she said.


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

Photo of Jay Rosen by Julia Schrenkler via Flickr

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

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November 18 2010


5 Emerging Trends That Give Hope for Public Media 2.0

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

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

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

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

1) Learning to COPE

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

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

Here's a video of Bole's talk:

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

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

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

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

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

2) Sharing Knowledge with Peers

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

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

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

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

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

3) Boosting Community Engagement

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

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

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

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

4) Building Strategic Partnerships

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

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

philly enterprise fund.jpg

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 17 2010


The neverending broadcast: Frontline looks to expand its docs into a continual conversation

Frontline, PBS’s public affairs documentary series, has one of the best reputations in the business for the things that journalism values most highly: courageous reporting, artful storytelling, the kind of context-heavy narrative that treats stories not simply as stories, but as vehicles of wisdom. It’s a “news magazine” in the most meaningful sense of the term.

But even an institution like Frontline isn’t immune to the disruptions of the web. Which is to say, even an institution like Frontline stands to benefit from smart leveraging of the web. The program’s leadership team is rethinking its identity to marry what it’s always done well — produce fantastic broadcasts — with something that represents new territory: joining the continuous conversation of the web. To that end, Frontline will supplement its long-form documentaries with shorter, magazine-style pieces — which require a shorter turnaround time to produce — and with online-only investigations. (The site’s motto: “Thought-provoking journalism on air and online.”)

But it’s also expanding its editorial efforts beyond packaged investigations, hoping to shift its content in a more discursive direction. Which leads to a familiar question, but one that each organization has to tackle in its own way: How do you preserve your brand and your value while expanding your presence in the online world?

One tool Frontline is hoping can help answer that question: Twitter. And not just Twitter, the conversational medium — though “we really want to be part of the journalism conversation,” Frontline’s senior producer, Raney Aronson-Rath, told me — but also Twitter, the aggregator. This afternoon, Frontline rolled out four topic-focused Twitter accounts — “micro-feeds,” it’s calling them:

Conflict Zones & Critical Threats (@FrontlineCZCT), which covers national security and shares the series’ conflict-zone reporting;

Media Watchers (@FrontlineMW), which tracks news innovation and the changing landscape of journalism;

Investigations (@FrontlineINVSTG), which covers true crime, corruption, and justice — spotlighting the best investigative reporting by Frontline and other outlets; and

World (@FrontlineWRLD), which covers international affairs.

The topic-focused feeds are basically a beat system, applied to Twitter. They’re a way of leveraging one of the core strengths of Frontline’s journalism: its depth. Which is something that would be almost impossible for Frontline, Aronson-Rath notes, to achieve with a single feed. So “we decided that the best thing for us was to be really intentional about who we were going to reach out to and what kind of topics we were going to tweet about — and not just have it be a promotional tool.”

Each feed will be run by two-person teams, one from the editorial side and the other from the promotional — under the broad logic, Aronson-Rath notes, that those two broad fields are increasingly collapsing into each other. And, even more importantly, that “all the work that we do in the social media landscape is, by its very essence, editorial.” Even something as simple as a retweet is the result of an editorial decision — and one that requires the kind of contextual judgment that comes from deep knowledge of a given topic.

So Frontline’s feed runners, Aronson-Rath notes, “are also the people who have, historically, been working in those beats in Frontline’s broadcast work.” (Frontline communications manager Jessica Smith, for example, who’ll be helping to run the “Conflict Zones” feed, covered that area previously, in cultivating the conversation between Frontline and the national security blogosphere as a component of the program’s earlier web efforts.) In other words: “These guys know what they’re doing on these beats.”

To that end, the teams’ members will be charged with leveraging their knowledge to curate content from the collective resources of all of Frontline’s contributors — from reporters to producers, public media partners to internal staff — and, of course, from the contributors across the web. The teams will work collaboratively to produce their tweets (they’ll even sit next to each other to maximize the teamwork). And some feeds will contain not just curated content, but original reporting, as well. Frontline reporters Stephen Grey and Murray Smith are about to dispatch to Afghanistan; while they’re there, they’ll tweet from @FrontlineCZCT. (They’ll tweet from personal feeds, as well, which @FrontlineCZCT curators will pull into the Frontline-branded feed.)

The broad idea behind the new approach is that audiences identify with topics as much as they do with brands. And there’s also, of course, the recognition of the sea of material out there which is of interest to consumers, but which ends up, documentary filmmaking being what it is, on the cutting-room floor. The new approach, it’s hoped, will give Frontline fans a behind-the-scenes look into the film production process. “You wouldn’t actually know where Frontline’s reporting teams are right now,” Aronson-Rath points out. “You only know when we show up.” Now, though, “when a team goes into Afghanistan, we’re going to let you know where they are. We’re going to give you some intelligence about what they’re doing. And it’ll be a completely different level of a conversation, we’re hoping.”

It’ll also be a different level of engagement — for Frontline’s producers and its consumers. It’s a small way of expanding the idea of what a public affairs documentary is, and can be, in the digital world: a process, indeed, as much as a product. “We think,” Aronson-Rath says, “that this is going to help keep our stories alive.”

October 19 2010


The scalability of collaboration: ProPublica partners with five (five!) other outlets for its latest story

Today brings the launch of a blockbuster story: A group of investigative journalists, looking into the financial practices of pharmaceutical companies, found that many doctors — some of whom earn six-figure returns for promoting particular drug brands to their patients — often have no research experience related to the medications they promote. And, often, they push “off-label” uses of the drugs, uses those not approved by U.S. regulators, in exchange for the compensation.

It’s a big, important piece — the kind of anger-inducing, broadly affective narrative that is the bread and butter of investigative journalism. The story told in “Dollars for Docs” — the trusted medical professional, shilling for Big Pharma — is, quite literally, outrageous.

For the project, ProPublica collaborated with other news organizations for purposes of reporting, data collection, and application-building. Which is standard practice for the open-minded news outfit. What isn’t standard, though, is the sheer scale of the collaboration itself: “Dollars for Docs” represents the collective work of six — yes, six — different news organizations: NPR, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, Consumer Reports, PBS’s Nightly Business Report, and ProPublica itself. (So if the whole “exposing affronts to the public interest” thing doesn’t work out for them, the project’s participants can always just form a volleyball team.) Each partner is running its own version of the story based on common data the group has gathered from pharmaceutical companies and elsewhere; some are using ProPublica’s lead piece (written by ProPublica reporters — and 2010 Pulitzer finalists — Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber) in their distribution strategy, while others are focusing on their customized treatments of the data. And all have access — as the rest of us do — to a widget that allows users to search the database the news collective has amassed to determine whether particular doctors have taken pharma funding.

“We haven’t done one like this before,” Tom Detzel, the ProPublica editor who oversaw the endeavor, says of the undertaking. “We haven’t had more partners than this in any collaboration.”

Which raises the question: How? How do you coordinate among all those partners — who are, after all, not only individual reporters, but also representatives of different mediums and outlets, each with its own way of doing things — to create a collaboration that’s productive and immune to the familiar vagaries of design-by-committee? One approach, Detzel says — and perhaps it’s really the approach — is to give everyone involved plenty of freedom to do their own work and adopt their own approaches. “We just decided we were going to loosen the reins and let everyone run free,” he says. In terms of organizational oversight itself, the model “was a hub-and-spoke kind of thing,” he notes; Detzel’s role at the hub, as he saw it, was a to be a facilitator and fosterer of communication. And “it wasn’t as difficult as it sounds,” he notes. “The partners all took initiative to do their own stories. We didn’t try to draw any lines in the sand: ‘Here’s what you can do, and can’t do.’ We just said, ‘Here’s the topic we want to work with, and here’s the data we have. Take it and run with it.’”

That freedom, though, has to be tempered with strategic communication — which, in this case, occurred naturally among the partners, Detzel says. “Once we got started, and the reporters started talking to each other, they were all sharing information tips, sources, ideas — and we all learned from each other during the process.” In fact, “it’s actually quite fun to see how everybody has a slightly different take on this.”

The partnerships themselves came about fairly organically; they started with Dan Nguyen, the ProPublica reporter tasked with developing the data side of the “Dollars and Docs” story, and some offline conversations he was having with fellow hackers. Nightly Business Reports, which had independently embarked on a similar line of investigation, contacted Nguyen about a possible collaboration; that opened the door to the pairing with the Tribune and the Globe: “We’d done some work with Tribune before,” Detzel says, “and we knew Boston would be interested because Charlie [Ornstein] had some contacts up there on the health team — and because it’s such a big medical center.” Then came NPR (“we’d been looking for a good opportunity to work with the health and science team — and they jumped on this one”), and, finally, Consumer Reports, which contacted ProPublica about sharing data for its health provider ratings site.

This could be the moment in the movie when word of the party that was supposed to be an intimate affair has spread to the point of absurdity; ProPublica could easily have become the hapless kid trying to save his mother’s antique vases from the frat guys and their kegs. And, indeed, the mega-teamup begs the question: How scalable is collaboration itself? When it comes to journalistic partnerships, of course, there are logical limits; though there are certainly gains — in exposure and impact, in particular — to be made from collaboration, partnership is a finite resource. And, for Detzel, making it work — throwing the party, making the friends, all while keeping Mom’s china intact — is a matter of good communication. “It takes a little more time to do things,” he notes, “and you’ve got to overcome some of those old habits that are ingrained in all of us” — the impulse, in particular, to beat the competition. Three more ways to scale: (1) Agree to an end goal for a project, but don’t be too hung up on how you’re going to get there; (2) Allow extra time into the process — “because it does take extra time to do the communication and coordination that’s required to pull something like this off”; and (3) “Trust the reporters to find the story, and they will.”

And that may be the biggest, if simplest, takeaway from the mega-teamup: In the end, collaborations are about individuals. (As David Fanning, executive producer of the documentary program Frontline, put it of his own collaboration efforts with Planet Money and the NewsHour: “Co-productions are never between institutions; they’re only really between the people who work together and trust each other.”) Strategic scaling is possible; it just requires that the individuals involved be coordinated in ways that maximize individuality for, yes, the good of the group. “It’s a new world out there,” Detzel says. “And when you’re sharing, you can actually end up with something that’s got a lot more texture and nuance — really, a much better product than you can make on your own.”

October 04 2010


Spot.Us Users: Public Media Higher Quality Than Commercial

This post was written by Jonathan Peters. The data comes from the Free Press sponsorship on Spot.Us, part of our experiment with the Reynolds Journalism Institute in Community-Focused sponsorship.

Profits are killing journalism.

Publishers and editors care more about the bottom line than the quality of their reporting. Newsrooms are shrinking, as a result, and good stories have gone untold. The public is worse off because of it.

So goes one argument, at least, in the debate about public funding of journalism. It's a hot topic that appears immune to any clear-cut solution, and it's shaking the foundation of what it means to do journalism and the best way to do it. Among the big questions are:

Should public funding expand to cover the gaps left by the shrinking private news business?

Could it expand without government support, and would this create conflicts?

Would a heavily subsidized public media serve us better than the private media?

If so, how?

With a sponsorship from Free Press, we asked the Spot.Us community to tell us what they thought. We then invited the 407 users who took the survey to decide where the sponsorship dollars would go, which is to say we handed over a part of our budget to them in return for their two cents.

Survey Results

Keep in mind, the survey was not scientific, and there was a degree of audience self-selection, i.e., the Spot.Us community. Nonetheless, with several hundred respondents, we did get a diverse set of answers. One interesting thing to note is that, while a previous survey showed a split (almost 50/50) in the "objectivity" debate, this survey on public/private media showed a much more one-sided response. This might be because, as previously suspected, Spot.Us' community overlaps with the "public media" demographic.

To begin, the majority of respondents reported that they listened to NPR (71 percent), read the news online (79 percent), or used non-profit news sources (58 percent), while the minority reported that they received a newspaper at home (37 percent) or donated to non-profit news media (41 percent). From these numbers, we can see among other things that, although the majority listen to NPR or use non-profit news sources, there is a sizeable gap between using non-profit media and donating to them.

In response to a question about programming --"In general, how would you rate the quality of
news, arts and education programming on public media versus commercial media? -- the vast majority (74 percent) said the programming on public media is of higher quality. A mere 19 percent said the programming on public and private media is of equal quality, and only 5 percent said public programming is of lower quality.

Half way through the survey we even switched the ordering of these potential answers to ensure no undue influence. The first half of the respondents saw the answer "public media is of higher quality" first and the second half saw that answer last. In either case the majority viewed the programming as higher quality.

When asked if they would support the creation of a public media endowment to increase funding for educational programs, arts, and investigative journalism, respondents overwhelmingly said yes (84 percent), with only 3 percent saying no and the rest undecided. Likewise, they would overwhelmingly support (93 percent) the creation of a matching grant program that would combine foundation grants with public funding to support innovation and investment in local news and journalism.

So far, all of this suggests that respondents like to use non-profit media; they believe public programming is of higher quality than private programming; they would support public endowment and matching grant programs to increase funding; however, they do not necessarily make personal donations to those ends.

The respondents, with their generally favorable view of public media, also said more conflicts arise in journalism that relies on commercial advertising than in journalism that relies on taxpayer funding.  Fifty-seven percent believed that to be true, while 12 percent said taxpayer funding creates more conflicts, and 31 percent said neither creates more conflicts and that strong firewalls between funding and journalists can prevent bias.

Other Questions

We also asked a few open-ended questions.

The first one was, "What should be the role of public and noncommercial media in the future of journalism?" Below are a few anecdotal responses from Spot.Us members who gave us permission to publish their views.

"Journalism should be supported by the public, but traditionally the expectation by newspaper executives has been to not ask for the public to support their product. Journalists and news executives have an obligation to build better arguments for the public to support the news. In order for that to happen, though, journalism needs to demonstrate value to readers." -- Denise Lockwood

"Non-profit and other alternative funding models will increasingly have to make up for the loss of advertising funded journalism. NPR has done this already but more needs to happen. There will need to be a broader range of non-profit media orgs than we have right now, and non-profits focused on substantive issues (environment, human rights, etc.) will increasingly become news providers themselves. Hopefully, some of these new iterations will be exemplars in terms of how to establish and benefit from partnerships and collaborative models. We may see more "temporary" journalism outlets as non-profit news outlets spring up and die out in this transitional period." -- Melissa Wall

"Journalist(s) need to figure out how to make their product of value to the community. While I love NPR and that model, nothing is wrong with a profit. Good journalism should be able to support itself, but for decades now people have ranked journalist right up there with lawyer, car salesman and politician. That has to change and we need to be honest why people feel that way." -- Eddie North-Hager

"Ideally, publicly funded media should focus solely on communications that are not commercially viable. However there has to be focus on what the public is interested in, not just what is in the public interest. Without remaining relevant and interesting, public media becomes irrelevant." -- Spot.Us Community Member

"Another question should be what is the public's role in public media. I think public media should be a place where people can go to tell their stories (think storycorps) where discussions can happen where people of all sides can hear each others voices (think bbc's have your say); Chicago's vocalo is interesting in this way. Recent "pubcamps" are interesting in this way. NPR opening up its API is interesting in this way, in that they invite programmers and technologists to participate. I think the quality of public broadcasting is high, but airtime is at a premium, they should find ways to put MORE programs on the web and open up the airwaves for new talent. I think funding is an issue too. I live in Paris and stream programs live from any number of stations; I also podcast my favorites. I don't know which station I should support, I know I want to support specific programs. I know I want to support NPR; but I don't have a local station and I don't know that I want one." -- John Tynan

The second open-ended question was, "In the past, government has provided tax breaks to media companies, given broadcasters free licenses for public airwaves, funded PBS and NPR, and subsidized newspapers through legal ads and postal rates. What should be the government's role in the future?"  Below, again, are a few anecdotal responses:

"Regulation is necessary (else, the commercial media could say anything they wanted, regardless of effect or truth), but I don't like the government's involvement in the money behind broadcasting.  Things start to sound like China with its enmasse censorship of media incoming and outgoing. Free speech should remain free - free of censorship and influence. If you think publishing or reporting a story will keep the government from sending you extra funds, you aren't likely to print it. Thus, the free press becomes the mouthpiece for a government and nothing more.

This said, I think government subsidizing of NPR and PBS is important because these are services funded by donations from watchers/listeners, and that is who they (should) have loyalty to first because that is where the money is coming from, rather than political parties or politicians." -- Kaylene Narusuke

"The old models don't work because in the 1980s, newspapers made a lot of money from ads and became very profitable, changing the expectations from the owners. Those expectations haven't changed while the competition for ads has. Newspapers adopted the USA-Today model, dumbing down stories, writing shorter and more shallow stories. People want deep, well written stories in any format. Government agencies could support investigative reporting, specialty reporting, and reporting on the arts, but the public has to be willing to pay for responsible journalism." -- Yvonne

"Government should recognize that high-quality journalism is an important part of a healthy democracy, and that well-informed citizens are more engaged and more likely to vote. Government should expand direct funding for public media beyond PBS and NPR by creating a grant program for organizations developing new kinds of public-media models." -- Lila LaHood

"I don't see a problem with calculated tax breaks for the media industry whether it's limiting taxes on the purchases of paper products or electronic devices. To me that's no different than oil companies, banks, light manufacturing getting financial breaks or incentives to conduct business. Those who represent converged or multimedia take issue with this, citing these as out-dated mediums with failed business models. Therefore, they should not be buoyed with tax dollars and in a true capitalism, failed businesses disappear and make way for newer, better models." -- Kevin Smith

"All of these things are helpful, but American journalism really needs something more revolutionary right now. Stop thinking about tax breaks and advertising and start thinking about something equal to the National Endowment for the Arts, but replace 'Arts' with 'Journalism'. I hope our leaders act now before we lose the 4th Estate, and a generation of enthusiastic young journalists." -- Daysha Eaton

So there you have it, the views of the Spot.Us community on public vs. private journalism.  Any of it surprise you?  Confuse you?  Bore you?  Tell us your thoughts in the comments section!

September 15 2010


Bookmarks for March 21st through September 15th

Some interesting stuff from March 21st through September 15th:

May 25 2010


PBS NewsHour Collaborations Require Buy-In from the Top

Collaboration is one of the public broadcasting buzzwords of the moment. The new PBS NewsHour is a national news organization that is trying to figure out how collaboration works.

Collaboration was one of the bullet points when we announced the changes to the program. As with the staff reorganization, which I wrote about in my previous post on MediaShift, our collaboration efforts are moving along but still have a ways to go.

There are barriers between organizations within the public broadcasting system that we need to continue to break down before real editorial collaboration becomes a part of our natural process.

For us, it will take time and it's harder to do when HD video feeds are involved, since that requires a high level of quality. But it's not impossible. It requires creating open communication channels between partners and connecting them with the right people internally who can listen and follow through.

Driving Collaboration From the Top

The plans and intentions for each broadcast are more visible now that I sit in the middle of the newsroom. I'm happy to report that after years of thinking I was one of the only people around who cared about local stations, the new PBS NewsHour is shifting how our producers think about working with our friends in the public broadcasting system.


It's much easier to move mountains when you have buy-in from the top. And that is what I think we have now, starting with Jim Lehrer who is a big fan of the stations. This is reinforced with support from Linda Winslow, our executive director, and Simon Marks, our associate executive producer.

"The NewsHour recognizes that collaborations with like-minded journalists are a good way to both enrich our content and extend our reach across many different platforms," Winslow told me. "Most successful collaborations require constant attention and hard work, but the rewards are potentially immense. As news organizations strive to find new ways to engage an audience, partnering with people and organizations who are dedicated to reporting stories fairly, accurately and in some detail is, we believe, one way to ensure the survival of serious news coverage of both domestic and international developments."

Sample Initiatives

Here are some examples of how the PBS NewsHour is looking to other public broadcasters for collaboration:

I'm sure you'd get mixed responses if you asked the different parties how well these collaborations worked. That's part of the learning process. Expectations need to be set from the start, relationships need to be built slowly, and the conversation should continue after the report is posted.

Changing Roles

My job has changed, too. Since our redesign, one of my main jobs is keeping stations informed of our editorial plans, and making sure the best reporting by other producers or stations makes it onto our home page.

People who tried to partner with us in the past may find a different organization this time around, whether it's working together on a widget or co-producing a series of reports. In terms of collaborations, we're still not all the way there, much like the way PBS NewsHour's complete reorganization still has some kinks to work out.

Fellow public broadcasting collaboration veteran Amanda Hirsch, the project manager for the recently ended EconomyStory project, summed up some of the collaboration projects from the past in her own MediaShift post.

She's right on many points. I also think it takes a significant amount of internal pressure within an organization to make working with other organizations a priority. And unlike in her post, our online department is no longer in the ghetto. (My first post talked about the creek we had to cross to talk face to face with a broadcast colleague.) I now have a sunny newsroom office, and we're working hard to bring collaboration to our now-merged PBS NewsHour.

Anna Shoup is the local/national editor for PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. She coordinates with local stations to develop collaborative editorial projects, such as Patchwork Nation, a partnership to cover the economy in different types of places. She also helps out with daily news updates, multimedia stories, and social media projects.

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

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.

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

April 03 2010




Susan Currie Sivek reviews our 2010 Innovations in Magazines on PBS MediaShift website.

As she writes:

The Innovations in Magazines 2010 World Report, prepared by Innovation Media Consulting in conjunction with the International Federation of the Periodical Press, was released March 1 and contains 100 pages of ideas gathered from around the world that could change the magazine industry.

You can get print and PDF copies here.

Susan is an assistant professor in the Mass Communication and Journalism Department at California State University, Fresno. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities.

She also blogs at sivekmedia.com, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.

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