Live-Blogging the FCC Workshop: New Platforms, Strategies for Public Media

    by Jessica Clark
    April 30, 2010
    Photo of FCC hearing by "Jake Shapiro":http://www.flickr.com/photos/prx/4565038633/ via Flickr.

    This live-blog post is a continuation of the first post covering the FCC’s Future of Media Workshop on public media.

    Panel Discussion III: New Platforms, Approaches and Structures

    Maxie Jackson III, President and CEO, National Federation of Community
    Says when he thinks of the future, he wants to stress “independence and impact,” in the transition from public broadcasting to public service media. Community engagement and relevance are particularly important. Public media organizations should be “outward-facing,” and map their communities in order to make sure they are relevant to them. He suggests “low-res, high immersion” production, that captures a greater diversity of voice and perspective. Stations can serve as curators, conveners, educators—providing “utility media” that really serves communities. Funding mechanisms need to be preserved and strengthened. “We can’t devide the pie into many more pieces” to serve the range of different communities. Also urges FCC to collect data about race and gender in station ownership and staff, but data collection needs to be simple and streamlined.

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    Jake Shapiro

    Jake Shapiro, Executive Director, Public Radio Exchange (PRX)
    “Who needs public broadcasting in an age of YouTube?” asks Shapiro. Should we “declare victory and hand over the spectrum?” Online, Wikipedia and other public service sources show the real potential of public media to serve a broader public, and to become a “network of networks.” PRX is public media’s “born digital” project; serving as a marketplace for independent content, an innovation lab, and an entrepreneurial nonprofit.

    “This is the kind of hybrid approach we’ll need more of,” he says. Cites the Public Media Player as the kind of innovation that’s needed, but points out that Apple continues to block donations through apps. Strong local stations are both crucial local hubs and sites for innvation, but not the only entities that should be funded. Also it might be time to think about having a “public media cloud.” We can’t declare victory yet, because there’s no guarantee that private sites like YouTube will remain open, transparent and free. “Perhaps public service media will create the next YouTube.”

    Joaquin Alvarado, Senior Vice President for Digital Innovation, American Public
    Soon, most Americans will belong to social networks, use mobile phones, and use the Web to find public information. That future is being shaped right now by computer scientists and network engineers; they care that the network is ubiquitous, persistent and transactional. This is the underpinning for a new public media, which will be shaped by user experience. The Public Insight Network demonstrates the opportunity. The “human network” of PIN membeers are a resource, when used by the network of public stations, results in better journalism. Southern Public Radio did a series on the Chino prison riot using input from PIN, for example. “Diversity is not a vitamin that you are forced to take…it is instead a practice.” PIN directly links newsrooms to the communities to have them be a part of the process. They are developing a comprehensive open-source platform to allow public media to think about the future of the Web in a way that’s practical. Semantic web technologies will support accountability journalism in the future, allowing public media “to do better, and do more.” This can be helped by early and smart adoption.


    Bill Buzenberg, Executive Director, The Center for Public Integrity
    He explains that he represents a nonprofit investigative news organization that is part of an emerging news ecology that is networked and collaborative. “It’s really amazing what is happening; if you can create good, solid content it can go anywhere.” They pioneered this work through developing an international network of investigative journalists, learning how to work together and distribute content across institutions, platforms and borders. Now they’ve begun to create the Investigative News Network, combining a number of nonprofit journalism startups. Already seeing the promise, moving to hire an Executive Director. Using FOIA to acquire various federal databases and analyze them; working with private outlets like the Wall Street Journal to mine content, as well as providing access to data to noncommercial reporters.

    Nan Rubin, Chairperson of the Board, Prometheus Radio Project
    She is advocating for net neutrality, community radio as a site for innovation on new spectrum space. Describes history of KPFA as a previous site for new forms of journalism—“we don’t know where innovation might come from.” Grassroots groups can serve unpredictable roles, and should not be discounted, but encouraged. Promoting local culture is also a key role for small, grassroots media projects such as LPFM stations. This works because volunteer programmers “love making media,” and their passion can lead to scoops, awards and more. Public media need to “nurture unconventional uses of technology,” and “expand the platforms.” Access centers can also serve as performance spaces, libraries, ISPs and more. New services can be carved out of slivers of unused spectrum. Bottom up, not top-down evolution can’t be forced, but should be given incentives. Community media should also be encouraged to partner with other public media entities.

    Discussant: Kinsey Wilson, SVP and General Manager NPR Digital Media
    Describes the Public Media platform. Notes that public broadcasting has been strengthened not only by local control and independence, but by being able to network in order to share content.

    In the networked environment, code serves as the linking mechanism, as well as a shared backend. NPR’s open API is open to stations, qualifying not-for-profit organizations—serves up NPR content but increasingly adding in station content, and other actors will be added in. The first iPhone app was created by an NPR fan in a garage; NPR created their own branded app using the API as well. Also launched a web version for other mobile phones based on API, and as member stations and other public broadcasting entities start putting content into the repository, it will become available. This allows people “completely independent of the formal institutions of public media” to use content in new ways. WBUR has also begun mixing NPR content with local content to power station web site in new ways—resulting in higher traffic to the site. Also launched an iPad app recently.

    Goodman: Asks how copyright factors into making content available for public use.

    Wilson: Asking producers to determine the rights associated with their content, but this can get very messy. So, there is a need for broad agreement and rights clearance.

    Rubin: Creating a package that specifies both broadcast and online usage in a noncommercial setting could really simplify things a lot.

    Goodman: Identifies another paradox in public media. Jackson encourages nourishing low-res media; if it’s cheap, where’s the market failure? Shapiro notes that it’s hard to resource journalistic coverage; are there ways that technology can bring costs down?

    Jackson: Stations can serve as a central convener for issues that are bubbling up. Low-res tools are a way to serve these needs.

    Shapiro: We’re not talking about “low-res journalism,” we’re talking about low-res tech. Good journalism still takes resources. Crowdfunding and crowdsourcing can help to bring down costs; these are emerging practices. Donation and support should translate from broadcast to web, but this process is still in formation—cites This American Life app developed by PRX as a new stream of revenue.

    Goodman: We haven’t talked about PEG yet, but it seems like some of these new functions are converging with PEG functions. Should public broadcasting be working with PEG? Is PEG now obsolete if access is no longer the problem?

    Alvarado: PEG is very complex from a regulatory standpoint and has suffered many losses recently. Access is still very important, and we need to reconsider it in the broadband environment. Neither PEG nor Public Media will be able to give people access to broadband distribution if the cost of serving up that content doesn’t go down. The FCC needs to consider how to resource a public interest “cloud.”

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    Ellen Goodman

    Goodman: Does that mean that the FCC’s focus needs to shift to broadband?

    Alvarado: We should ask that there always be capacity for public functions within new bandwidth capability.

    Rubin: It’s not just about access; it’s a question of where the gatekeepers are now. Public broadcasting and PEG both need to be recontextualized; how can they do that together?

    Waldman: Is there a stronger constituency for public support around infrastructure than content? What would really help in creating a platform that would help public media to blossom?

    Alvarado: There is a spectrum of needs: on one end is the human capital question. On the other end is the question is if there’s enough network capacity. The answer is: absolutely no. The research and education organizations have already built national high-speed networks; we need federal guidance to do the same.

    Shapiro: Having a coordinated investment in infrastructure can make a huge difference; we’ve seen this previously with the construction of the satellite interconnection system. Creating dedicated pipes, along with storage capacity in the cloud…could maybe buy from commercial providers but that begs the question of long-term public service broadband needs.

    Waldman: Can you describe in a more “lay” fashion?

    Alvarado: Public broadcasting stations have built great new high-speed content but shouldn’t be expected to take on the project or costs of serving that content up. Should be a national-level investment.

    Wilson: There’s no existing funding mechanism in place; cobbling together support from funders and CPB but more dedicated funds are needed. They are trying to move in incremental steps rather than building a giant solution that serves everyone.

    Waldman: When will the nonprofit news sites start to be brought into API?

    Wilson: Very quickly, we will be as inclusive and reach out to as diverse a group of participants as possible.

    Alvarado: Invited in four Knight News Challenge Winners to shadow process.

    Waldman: What’s the criteria for inviting people in?

    Wilson: We have a planning grant now to put that question out about how you define boundaries for what kinds of news organizations can bring their content in.

    Shapiro: Notes that distribution model is radically open on the outbound side; predicts that there will be a lot of time spent talking about how to bing producers and projects in. PRX already represents a diverse bank of independent producers.

    Rubin: Wants to bring in question of governance. Suggests a co-op model to help facilitate participation by diverse actors. Also notes struggle of LPFM stations to get more licenses; impact of having a “truly local voice.”

    Goodman asks: How can noncommercial strictures be addressed when bringing new players into the mix?

    Alvarado: Traditional underwriting is going to place strictures on online distribution, which could limit the creation of new monetization models.

    Shapiro: There’s been a lot of healthy self-policing happening around the questions of what it means for public content to appear next to ads in external contexts. Important to ensure certain principals: that access isn’t through paid walls, that editorial integrity isn’t compromised.

    Wilson: This is “an incredibly fast-moving space,” as advertisers also struggle to adapt to online environment. Hard to predict how things are going to evolve; difficult to regulate via policy because of that. But public broadcasting has been self-policing, in part because level of trust that users have is based in part on the lack of intrusive sponsorship.

    Waldman: So, it’s not so much self-policing as guided by existing FCC policy?

    Wilson: FCC doesn’t specify re. banner ads. Hard to get advertisers to conform to strictures.

    Goodman: Asking Buzenberg about the role of database journalism in driving down reporting costs. Do local stations have the capacity to “crunch the numbers?” Is it the role for public media to develop database tools and talent?

    Buzenberg: Absolutely—they’ve worked with Sunlight to identify databases they’d like access to, but “it takes some curation and it takes work.” Want to be able to ask stations to localize it, have a local impact on a state-by-state basis. Looking at a current project called a Corruption Risk Index to compare state-to-state how corrupt various states are across a series of factors. Can point to 24 states that have new ethnics laws based on giving states an “F”.

    Goodman: “Well, this panel gets an ‘A.’”

    Panel Discussion IV: New Strategies for Supporting Public and Noncommercial Media

    Steve Coll, President, New America Foundation
    Offering a “strawman” framework for thinking about the goals of the various ideas being discussed. His assumption: first we have to identify a market gap, and then identify why policy is the solution. More economic research needed, but he proposes that we’re moving to an understanding that local news is a big gap. (He cites the Knight Commission report on information needs in communities, which notes that local stations haven’t adjusted to digital yet.)

    He also suggests that legacy institutions provide a good position from which to address the issue geographically—a physical infrastructure is already well distributed. Moreover, the best rationale for new ideas lies in the “inherited public policy complex around public media.” So, what “suites of policies” are needed? New ideas are out there to fund this production and he suggested using existing public media framework to feed new products—i.e., rationing off existing public media spectrum to resource new products. The more difficult problem is to incentivize production of local news in the digital environment.


    Lee Bollinger

    Lee Bollinger, President, Columbia University
    We are moving from a universe in which we have a “national public forum to one in which we have a global public forum.” New technology facilitates this, but also the opening up of markets around the world. The movement of ideas should mirror the movement of capital. But problems are emerging. One is censorship—this is cropping up in various spots. Another is that the journalism crisis is robbing resources from international coverage. Other countries are also moving into the global forum to try to influence international debate. Al Jezeera represents one such new player. This poses “a set of issues for this country and for the world generally.”

    This is not a new problem—much of the 20th century was spent building a flourishing national journalism system; now it’s “time to do it on a global scale.” How can we transition our anachronistic, Cold War public broadcasting system? One way is to look to examples like BBC World—global services. VOA and Radio Free Europe have journalism in them, but will always be thought of as propaganda. These broadcasts can’t even come back into the U.S. for fear of influencing U.S. citizens with propaganda—“nonsense” now in our distributed system. U.S. needs public institutions to contribute to the international marketplace of ideas.

    (Note: You can learn more about Bollinger’s ideas in his recent book, Uninhibited, Robust, and Wide-Open: A Free Press for a New Century)

    Dean Baker, Co-Director, Center for Economic and Policy Research
    Proposing an individual tax credit that allows individuals to support the outlet of their choice. Similar to nonprofit tax deductions, but instead is a credit of say $100 per adult, to go to a variety of news outlets across platforms. Protections put in to keep people from posing as outlets. This would generate a lot of money; maybe only do it every 5 years, or broaden the scope. Could add other categories of creative work—art, music—as recipients. Copyright could pose another problem; perhaps work funded this way should be in the public domain? Maybe even under a “copyleft” regime. “I’m a strong believer that we should only pay for things once,” and if this is subsidized content, the taxpayers have already supported it.

    Craig Aaron, Managing Director, Free Press
    Out of adversity comes opportunity, and we’ve got a huge opportunity now. Lots of big media’s problems are “self-created…but whereever you point the blame, there is no longer enough private capital to support the breadth and depth of news reporting that our communities need.” The need for public media couldn’t be bigger, but we’re spending far too little.

    How to bring more money in?
    1) Spectrum fees
    2) Spectrum auctions
    3) Public Media Trust
    4) Change tax code to reduce deductions for advertising
    5) Consumer electronics tax

    Need to take this conversation “outside the Beltway,” and engage the public in coming up with ways to help support public media.

    Eric Newton, Vice President for Journalism Program, Knight Foundation
    Foundation saw the news crisis building; in response has funded four experimental rounds of funding designed to encourage the development of new forms of community news. Traditional public broadcasters have for the most part been absent from these competitions. Also, $15 million in nonproft reporting projects, very few of which existed five years ago, and almost none are partnering with existing public broadcasting systems. Then, reached out to traditional public broadcasters. Some are “ready to reform,” and are innovating. PBS Engage, NPR’s Argo, the Public Insight network—all new developments.

    “The issue here is how are you going to deal with the fact that this is a new digital age?” How to help existing public broadcasters transform but also help all of the new startups doing “some fantastic things”? These organizations, now just a few years old, have started winning top awards in journalism; I don’t seee how we can ignore that.” There are a lot of ways that Washington can approach the problems in local news. A content-neutral technological fund would be one way to support both the old and the new.

    Waldman: Asks Bollinger to expound on his idea of shifting Broadcast Board of Govenerners funding to public broadcasting

    Bollinger: Offers up NSF as an alternative model of funding mechanism for journalistic content, as opposed to the current situation of Congressional appropriation. “Every single system has its risks of improper control.” Advertisers nix content, foundations have an agenda…“there is no system that is free of this, it is in the ways that you approach it, the mix of systems, and the trust you have in the professional culture involved.”

    Waldman: Asks Coll to question Baker about voucher idea

    Coll: Asks what’s distinctive about this idea for media in particular?

    Baker: That’s the argument for broadening the scope, to make sure that everyone gets value back somehow. “We do intervene now”—copyright is an intervention. The voucher is more efficient.

    Waldman: Couldn’t you argue that while the firewall system that’s currently in place has worked somewhat well, if public media is being asked to fund journalism on a local level, doesn’t that make the potential pressures in the current structure “irrepressable.”


    Steve Coll

    Coll: Where has the firewall has been successfully preserved in the past? Content-neutral investments in infrastructure is one place; governance mechanisms have also worked. The governance structure might also be strengthened further. Peer review, independence, transparency are all critical. Having well-constructed boards is also critical.

    Waldman: On the voucher question, what would your response be to nonprofit organizations about why the government is supporting news and the arts disproportionately?

    Baker: We are already doing that through copyright—they should already be upset about that. Also, government already supporting nonprofits through tax deductions. Plus, media hasn’t done such a great job—look at the reporting on the housing bubble.

    Waldman: How would voucher have helped?

    Baker: We don’t know, but we need to open up the gates and let more people try.

    Waldman: Asks Aaron about taxing advertising when news crisis has been precipitating by diminshed advertising—doesn’t that make it worse?

    Aaron: You could exempt smaller organizations, but advertising is still pervasive, hard to accept the argument that it has been reduced overall. Notes that this is a business tax rather than one on individuals, thinks people would get behind it if they thought it would support quality content.

    Waldman: Asks Newton—why do we do any of this, doesn’t Knight have it under control?

    Newton: Problem is “too many of these experiments are working out.” More succeeded than anticipated, and now there are scores of new projects needing support. They need help with governance, business models, tech, and “no one foundation can pay for all of that.” Disputes voucher idea—notes that the current system allows people to choose what media they support, or not at all. Reiterates need for a technology fund that would support the creation of more choices of public media to consume.

    Waldman: Why can’t the successful projects stand alone?

    Newton: Eventually they will scale up, but are we willing to go the 10 to 20 years it’ll take for new models to solidify? We are entering an era of “continuous change,” and public media projects may need continual funds to keep up.

    Goodman: Asks Coll to talk a bit more about the kinds of strings that need to be attached to public funding.

    Coll: Peer-to-peer community review borrowed from the model of peer-reviewed science is a promising model.

    Goodman: Some say that all we need is broadband, but there’s another piece, and that piece gets tricky.

    Waldman: Schaffer suggested another idea related to the voucher—offering a double charitable deduction associated with media and culture donations.

    Baker: It’s a good idea compared to where we are today, but voucher system will create more participation, because many people don’t itemize.

    [Waldman and Bollinger then have an exchange around the legal niceties of protecting free speech that I am loath to summarize.]

    Bollinger notes that “the risks of public control need to be weighed against the magnitude of problem we’re facing.” Very few correspondents are now covering Africa, China—many foreign bureaus have closed. “We have a tendancy to be a provincial society—this is a very grave problem.” Plus, we’re in a competitive global marketplace of ideas, and American journalism needs to respond.

    Goodman: Asking Aaron about imposing a spectrum fee on commercial broadcasters; wouldn’t this further endanger their ability to do local news?

    Aaron: Broadcasters have used the public spectrum to make money for years; “we’ve been subsidizing them for a long time, and there’s some great local news being done, but there are also communities where local news isn’t being done.” Greater social good of supporting public broadcasting outweighs interest of broadcasters in this case. Tradeoff for licences was supposed to be meeting public interest obligations, which are no longer being met in a meaningful way.

    By going out into the communities and trying out these different proposals mentioned earlier, he suggests, it’d be possible to identify which revenue streams could be politically viable. “What do we need, and how are we going to pay for it? That’s what we’re trying to get to with these options.”

    Newton: Wants to question the assumptions that commercial media is always bad and public media is always good, that placing foreign correspondents is the best way to get international news….we are not done experimenting, which is why a technology innovation fund can generate new options and new experiments.

    Panel Discussion V: Communications and Regulatory Policy

    Ken Ikeda, Executive Director, Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC)
    PEG community very diverse; gathering data now about its successes and activities, and asking for FCC’s assistance. Important to note that PEG is community-driven, non-gatekkeeper function; an important distinction. BAVC a new entrant into PEG system; experienced in training first-time storytellers to produce content. PEG is a space “in which citizens find their voice, discover their communities,” part of a complex ecosystem. Many PEG operators struggle to maintain their channels’ place in the cable lineup.

    Urges the FCC not to consider the future of PEG as an either/or proposition; instead need to combine online and broadcast. PEG should work with public service broadcasting to redefine public service on the community level. New opportunities available re. municipal fiber for content sharing. Can aggregate live content in real time, simulcast debates, and other possibilities; experimenting with these new functions in San Francisco. Creates a “public service infrastructure” that can be used for health, workforce development and more.

    Rod Bates, General Manager, Nebraska Educational Telecommunications
    Nebraska’s network operates statewide public TV & radio network. Variation in population across Nebraska means that state network is more viable than local station support. They have 9 transmitters and various transponders to provide service from a central location. Invested $46 million in conversion to digital; state support for public broadcasters is waning around the country. State networks provide some of the only access to news on state government. In Nebraska, brought multimedia technology into state capital—now live streaming access to various government proceedings.

    They are also archiving this coverage and allowing commercial news providers to use it. Only by pooling their resources have they been able to maintain this level of service. Less than 12 percent of their funding comes from a federal level; this is not enough, especially if there is going to be a broadband buildout. The foundation of public television is education—this includes providing trusted news and information source, but education is their strategic priority. “We are now redefining public media,” with partners, providing users with access on demand.

    Bill Kling, President & CEO, American Public Media
    Most concerned about the polarization of audiences by commercial media, and the corresponding declines in reporting. “Polarized content makes big money. That isn’t going to change, we can’t change it, and the regulatory system encourages it.” Notes though that while tabloids are also strong in the UK, public media system is strong, offering fact-based, centrist journalism. Public broadcasting is “vastly underperforming, and many of us are facilitating that underperformance.” There’s no definition for public broadcasting other than noncommercial nature of station. CPB did not set tough standards for community service. Congress misread public media as a threat rather than seeing it as “their best hope” for a rational public sphere.

    What can we do now? NPR is a great success, and it’s now time to focus on local communities. Create a number of philanthropically supported public media demonstration models to demonstrate best practices in content development, governance, structural efficiency and leadership. These experiments could help to inform other communities. Additional vision and regulatory change will be needed to extend the lessons of those models. CPB licensees should be required to demonstrate more impact, and the standards for eligibility should simultaneously be raised. One way to raise the standards would be to require more full-time staff.

    In Congress, a caucus is needed to understand the relationship between public media, news production and civil discourse. “There has never been a moment of greater opportunty or challenge for our nation’s media.”

    Craig L. Parshall, Senior Vice President & General Counsel, National Religious
    Wants to keep the doors open for dissemination of the gospel of Christ. Many of their members are nonprofit; Christian Broadcasting Network is a member, and covers regional, national and global news. Total Living Network, based in Chicago, has a nationwide reach and was recently awarded an Emmy for a documentary—they do a nice job of bridging the gap, he says, between secular and faith-based broadcasting. Most of their member broadcasters in radio have 5 employes or fewer; “if we had additional sources of revenue we’d be able to do a lot more.” There’s distrust out there about “what we are all about,” which limits their ability to participate in the information ecology.

    Christian media is not synonymous with right-wing media, he says. While PBS is most trusted by 40 percent of the population, “what about the other 60 percent?” he asks. Suggests that if we “fertilize” the media landscape, rather than subsidizing it, then that will allow for better freedom of the press. Noncommercial broadcasters are an untapped avenue for increased news and information. Suggests that the FCC reduce limitations on noncommercial stations on fundraising for other nonprofits—suggests 1 percent of time. This will “create a synergy between nonprofits and broadcasters.” Also suggests that FCC reconsider underwriting rules, which restrict noncommercial stations’ ability to raise funds.

    Susan Harmon, Managing Director, Public Radio Capital
    Describing ways in which stations can consolidate functions and consider new markets in order to become more viable. Acquiring and financing public stations has made them “deeply confident in the value of radio going forward.” It’s wrong, however, to focus on standalone stations. Scale of combining multiple stations under a single infrastructure will help to spur growth. Unifying stations in major markets will create market solutions. What are the policy implications? There will be joint ventures between non-profits, between noncommercial and commercial entities—policies need to facilitate this. Underwriting needs to be revisited; lease management agreements as well.

    One of the greatest challenges that noncommercial radio faces is access to capital. Need to look at opportunities within the federal government, like making small business loans available to nonprofits. Also want FCC to take the idea of repurposing radio spectrum off the table—a different animal than TV, “very strong and robust.” Connection between radio and other platforms is going to be of tremendous service in coming years.

    Terry Clifford, Co-CEO, SRG/ Station Resource Group
    SRG’s roots are in public radio; they recently released a CPB-supported study on the future of public radio. Her recommendations to the FCC:

    1) Pay attention to infrastructure;
    2) Make platform-specific policies with an eye towards cross-platform possibilities;
    3) FCC, CPB and Congress need to act “in sync”;
    4) Public media is underresourced; the FCC can do something about it—create a fund for public service media administered by the CPB, as many have suggested.

    Goodman: Asks Parshall if he’d like his members to be CPB-funded

    Parshall: The economic climate is tough, and we’re surviving, but we’d like to be able to do this on our own with some incentives such as the ones he’s mentioned. Not interested in direct subsidy.

    Goodman: Asks Harmon to talk more specifically about the consequences of liberalizing underwriting.

    Harmon: If you have good values and are governed well, and know what your mission is, you can liberalize underwriting rules. “Part of this is grounded in governance and the way nonprofits are set up as a whole.”

    Kling: Temporary Commission on Alternate Financing was a previous exploration of these kinds of questions; the debate ended with “enhanced underwriting,” which we have now. Advises FCC to take another look at that, review negatives that had surfaced.

    Waldman: Is the solution research, tightening or clarity?

    Clifford: This is not really perceived as a problem in the field.

    Parshall: Maybe they shouldn’t be applied to public broadcasting in the same way as religious broadcasting, which doesn’t receive CPB funds.

    Goodman: Asks Kling what standards should be applied to new nonprofit news projects

    Kling: CPB needs to come along with new carrots and sticks to create incentives for more news production. Starts with staffing requirements—4 minimum-wage employees can’t run a major urban public station. Congress has defended these low standards as a way of protecting their local stations. If the standards are raised requiring stations to have a news department, there are two choices—the first is to fight it, the second is for those stations to go to local funders and try to meet the obligation.

    Goodman asks Ikeda: What if such a mandate forced partnerships as way to meet the obligation? How would that play out?

    Ikeda: The way in which innovation happens has changed radically—small boutique shops can now innovate. Such a mandate would force stations to partner in order to innovate, and “I’m all for it.”

    Goodman: Should there be a menu of obligations to meet different communties’ nees?

    Bates: There’s a lot of value in partnerships, but also the risk of “diluting the brand.” There are things you can do to partner with local nonprofits, though, and that’s different from asking viewers to give them money. Says he’s “skittish” about new mandates because they are always underfunded.

    William D. Freedman, Associate Chief Media Bureau, FCC asks Kling what metrics for local public news production would be, what would happen if they failed to meet the obligation, and how would this affect other licensing decisions?

    Kling agrees with Freedman’s assessment that the “devil is always in the details,” but suggests that the failure to provide standards from the get-go for noncommercial stations might have been the initial mistake. “We haven’t set up the incentives to improve it…sooner or later, we’ve got to start somewhere.”

    Waldman pulls out a few areas for standards: news, local programming—what else?

    Kling: Public broadcasting is the last, best chance for saving news. We need to avoid “media chaos.” Suggests ascertainment of community needs—“everybody hated public ascertainment,” but that’s where the best ideas come from, it’s the way to get to know minority communities. Use a 2010 version, not a 1970 version—suggests that the Public Insight Network is a massive version of this.

    Parshall: The noncommercial religious broadcasting world does ascertainment, but doesn’t want mandates, and would be opposed to mandates being placed on them.

    Harmon: For carrots, but not sticks—doesn’t think sticks will work.

    Bates: The definition of local service varies from community to community. “It’s really hard to set a regulation” that defines local service. Create rewards, as Harmon says.

    Ikeda: There is a movement right now arounds social metrics, like dashboards—these will help to reveal efficiencies in cost for small organizations vs. large ones. It’s now possible to create much more content with fewer staff members using social media.

    Waldman: What about online disclosure of certain metrics? Would this create a market pressure towards improvement? What sort of metrics should be considered?

    Ikeda: Need new methodologies, even cause-based definitions. For example, the Not in Our Town project leads to real-world engagement: marching, petition signing, etc. Hopes that there’s some self-organizing, different roles might arise within the ecosystem.

    Kling: On the license renewal process: “If you’re not going to set standards, why do it?” Also notes that it’s more expensive to serve audiences with content via broadband—economics are different from setting up a transmitter. This needs to be subsidized.

    Goodman asks: How does consolidation in the noncommercial space compare to consolidation in the commercial space?

    Harmon: Consolidation can create more resources for local content, which is a different dynamic than in the commerical arena.

    Waldman: The National Broadband Plan suggested that if any public station gave up spectrum, 100 percent of the proceeds could go back into public media. Does this idea have any traction?

    Kling: The money needs to go back to the station, not to the industry at large.

    Waldman: Future of Media project is tasked with making that proposal more concrete. “Now is the time to summon up the devil to provide the details…sorry, Craig.”

    [The room cracks up]

    The conversation continued on for a few more minutes about the details of how best to provide support for both incumbents and new noncommercial players, but both the room and the panel was winding down. Waldman encouraged everyone to think about the conversation, and “go to the next detail,” and to submit comments in this final week of the Future of Media project. “Everything is on the table, so this ought to be a moment for real creativity,” he concluded.

    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.

    Tagged: american public media cpb fcc government npr pbs public media

    One response to “Live-Blogging the FCC Workshop: New Platforms, Strategies for Public Media”

    1. Great summary – lots of ideas and perspective to digest! Thanks.

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