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I hope it works out for Wilson. He seems to have his head on straight, if you will. I remember when a particular TV/radio/web outlet in Anchorage did the same thing back in mid-2008 -- selected one person to run all the community-facing media streams. Too bad it lasted only 6 months or so before the CEO decided to change course and pursue a now-completely-failed strategy that even involved money from the CPB. Good times. I've been wondering if Gary Knell would be a good leader or a Board puppet. This move suggests he could be a great leader. I hope NPR's own management team doesn't fight this new direction. And I hope Wilson doesn't revert into a pre-web manager. Thanks for the post, Rob!
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I started writing a long comment here, but realized it was way too long to be a comment. So I turned it into a post: http://gravitymedium.com/2012/01/29/on-seeking-trust-in-public-media/ Bottom line: We need public media actors to BE trustworthy, and the rest will take care of itself. I'm also an opponent of the church of objectivity, which is driven by outdated notions of journalism that do not foster trust or truth-seeking.
This is surprising, though not shocking. I actually think that if a veteran (of sorts) like Minow can't get it right, it points to the very weakness of the system. At one time, the "localness" of stations was a huge benefit, as local production and community engagement was fairly deep and wide -- more so than any national cable channel or even PBS itself. But stations faced with financial difficulties over the years hocked their local capacity again and again and the TV engineers' and producers' need for video and audio and overall production perfection raised costs, dropped production volumes and transferred money to the national producers and distributors. What was left was a fundraising outpost with only a sheen of localness left in most stations. The strength of distributed action was lost. To reinvigorate local TV in the traditional ways, would be extraordinarily expensive -- the gear, the talent. Can't be done with federal dollars under fire. And local fundraising is impossible. "Give money to you to do what? What have you done for the community lately?" And now, as local stations go dark and have trouble raising money, the national service is threatened. The best way to preserve the national service (at least in the short run) is consolidation -- exactly what Minow proposes. But that's not possible due to the extremely distributed nature of the system and the fact that the national entity is controlled by this multi-headed hydra. Strength turns to weakness. Coordinated action turns into every man (and every Board of Directors, composed of the biggest egos in each town and burgh) for himself. Discovery doesn't have this problem. Nor does C-SPAN. Local media must scale downward to sustainable levels. National media must be released from the local/national bargain struck 30 years ago.
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Here's the truth... If we want pubTV *programming* to live on, it has to cut out most of the middlemen and be operated more like a C-SPAN. It needs to be run nationally, centrally, and as a handful of national-appeal channels. Kids, News, Culture. Call it PBS, call it whatever you want. The product then goes out via satellite to last-mile distributors for a reasonable fee. The product is also offered up to legacy PBS stations FOR FREE, but without all the hand-holding that comes with the current service. Message to legacy stations: No more fees, but you get the rights to broadcast (with some limitations) and if you can make a go of it, good for you. Message to cable/satellite operators: Here are 3 awesome channels you WANT in your lineup. You just can't insert local ads as you do on other channels. Message to underwriters: We're finally open for business, please make out your payments to PBS. Message to viewers: Consisten schedule no matter where you are in the country, consistent channel content aimed at clear demographic segements, less fundraising, better fundraising, clear unification of online and broadcast presences... we're no longer a chump organization with inconsistent product. I could go on for a long time, with a lot more detail! But the bottom line is that if we care about the programming, this is the most efficient way to do it in the current media model. However, how could the current PBS board ever achieve this? It's packed with local station types who's jobs depend upon the status quo and who believe things will level out soon and we can go back to our normal lives. Who can ask a man to commit suicide to make way for new life? Instead, the future holds even bigger bailouts for the PBS system -- if it is to survive -- or simply a string of minor collapses that end in oblivion. P.S. The best thing the system could do would be to merge NPR and PBS news assets to create a new multi platform news service, also drawing in serious independent news efforts from around the U.S.. Get rid of the culture and kids stuff (sell it off or spin it off) and take on news and public affairs as the core mission. THAT is worth supporting, worthy of federal dollars and fundraising. THAT is a mission that America needs someone to step up and tackle.
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I don't know whether to be... [1] heartened that such a slide has been shared amongst public TV managers for discussion or [2] flabbergasted that this even needs to be discussed amongst public TV managers Every year brings new devices, new modes of distribution, new ways to find and share content, and radically-changing media habits. The iPad alone is eating up TV viewing time (or at least acting as a distracting second screen) and that's just 1 device, introduced 1 year ago. And Blumenthal's comment about grouping programs into branding headers is another part of this that's even more damaging than new media alone. Cable has embraced breaking out content into collections aimed at target audiences. PBS has continued to fail to do this. It's been 30 years and PBS *still* can't pick a programming model and stick to it. The introduction of multicasting with DTV hasn't even solved this problem because the "last mile" of distribution does not reliably reproduce the multicasted material. That is, you can't reliably create a kids' channel and know for certain everyone in your area will get it. Therefore, the primary channel (the one with all the revenue) remains an unpredictable grab-bag with no overarching appeal. What I'd like to see is a model in which public TV survives using the current approach. Show me how THAT works. Also explain how it works as more stations go out of business, go independent, go radio-only, etc. and the remaining stations must pick up the slack. Apparently the pubTV formula is: Declining Audience + Declining Revenue + Unrelated Fundraising + Cable Competition + Media Attention Fracturing = Success!
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Terrible news, Rob. I had to go through this a couple years ago and it was gut-wrenching. I still wake up at night sometimes, missing our lost friend. All we can do is remember the good lives we offered and enjoyed. You were a great friend to Jay and he to you. He couldn't have asked for more.
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This is great stuff. Very complete, detailed and accurate. And you're getting to the heart of what matters -- the mission. And it's a news mission, not a radio mission. I only hope more people in the pubmedia world pay attention.
Toggle Commented Mar 11, 2011 on Public Radio's Only Hope: Hope at MVM Consulting
Your comments are measured, insightful and intelligent as always, Dennis. I admit to being fully enraged by this situation, because I'm watching an entity I've loved fall into chaos over comparatively nothing. I feel like I'm watching a dear friend go Charlie Sheen on me. I agree that Boards and CEOs must be in alignment and there must be trust. But trust is a two-way street and it's primarily built in tough circumstances, not easy ones. The "ballless" comment from Jarvis and Jon Stewart calling NPR (presumably the Board) "pussies" is, I think, driven by the external recognition that the Board is taking the easy way out, throwing multiple executives under the bus rather than facing down the ginned-up Faux News angry mob. As Robert so eloquently framed his point, there's a deep chasm between the values of public media (that we believe are there, but maybe we're mistaken) and the actions of the Board. What I believe *should* have happened here is a circling of the wagons, very public support for Vivian Schiller, and a denouncement of the accusers, in a fact-based cordial way. You know... the opposite of what I do. ;-) If the NPR Board will cut and run in this situation, I'm not sure what fight they would stand up for -- none, I guess. (For the record, I do think Vivian Schiller died by the same sword she and the Board used on Ellen Weiss. That's the only sense of poetic justice in this whole thing. But it also suggests that anyone could be sacrificed in that way for any mistake, and that's not a healthy corporate culture to foster.)
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I was, until recently, trying to develop engagement media practices inside a public media company. It was a disaster, but not for the reasons most nonprofit managers would point to. It wasn't about the tiny budgets or the excessive time required. It was about EXACTLY what Godin was talking about: resistance to change and slothful, good-enough-for-a-nonprofit management practices. It was also because the traditionalists liked their ivory tower positions; they liked speaking from on high to the little people in the audience. I was told we didn't want to get the public involved in public media -- that's too messy. Godin has nailed it and the reason for the violent response is precisely BECAUSE he nailed it. Lots of nonprofit workers, after a while, develop a sort of victimization mythology that serves the stagnation problem. "I don't have enough money, so I can't do this, so I can't make more money... woe is me. But I'll keep at it because I'm such a nice person. And maybe someone rich will come along and notice me. It could happen!" I saw that all the time. Is it all nonprofits? Nope. But it's a lot of them. Of the 2 million out there, how many are really creating engaging relationships with donors or their constituents regularly? Maybe 10,000? Whatever the number is, it's not enough. Here are the key nonprofit organization questions you HAVE to answer: [1] Who are you, why are you here, and why should anyone care? (And if you spit out a mission statement, you just failed step 1.) [2] What are you doing TODAY to build authentic, meaningful relationships with donors and potential donors? (Mass mailings via any means don't count.) [3] What are you doing TODAY to build authentic, meaningful relationships with the individuals, firms or communities you serve? (Look up the words "authentic" and "meaningful" before you answer.) [4] What are you doing TODAY to CONNECT your donors and your beneficiaries, either directly or indirectly, so the donors feel energized and involved and the beneficiaries feel supported and involved, too? Or in other words, how are you building a COMMUNITY around your mission? (And broadcasting doesn't count as connecting.) [5] Given #1, what tools will best help you handle #2-4? (Notice I made no mention of Twitter or any other social media tool.) Charity:Water is just the beginning. There's a new generation of donors growing up right now and they won't take your call or your e-mail or your mass mailing. But they will respond to an earnest call for help, especially from a friend they know. The next-gen trick is to be that friend first. Nonprofits had best start making new friends. Because the old ones are dying and the broadcast campaigns (e-mail blasts, newsletters, appeal letters) will largely die with them. There's still a place for building awareness, but action will come via relationships. Godin's pointing all this out through this post, his recent "Tribes" book and plenty of other posts. It's a tough message, especially if you're a "victim" inside a change-averse nonprofit (or a for-profit, for that matter!). From here, you can deal with it -- seeking new ways to engage your community -- or just hope he's wrong. Frankly, I think it's more fun to engage with your community regardless of what Godin says. But if proving Godin wrong sounds more fun to you, enjoy.