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    Spot.Us Survey Shows Support for More Diverse Public Media

    by David Cohn
    January 10, 2011

    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.

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    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.

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    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.


    Taxes

    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.

    Tagged: aspen institute community community journalism knight commission npr pbs public media spot.us survey

    Comments are closed.

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