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.
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 fills 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 experiments.
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
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.
To follow the live-blog from the second day of the FCC Workshop, go here.
Jessica Clark is director of the Center for Social Media’s Future of Public Media project, a Knight Media Policy Fellow at the New America Foundation, and the co-author of Beyond the Echo Chamber: Reshaping Politics Through Networked Progressive Media.