The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Dec 08, 2010

Rethinking Public Media: More Local, More Inclusive, More Interactive

Posted by Marika Lynch

Crossposted from By Amy Garner

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. The strategies include strengthening local news operations, sharing digital platforms among public entities, recruiting more diverse workforces, and reforming public media structures.'( Download PDFor'Read Online)

Barbara Cochran is the Curtis B. Hurley Chair in Public Affairs Journalism at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.' Her perspectives are informed by a journalism career spanning nearly 30 years that has included leadership positions in public and commercial newsrooms, covering print, radio and television news.

Rethinking Public Media makes the case for increasing government, private and philanthropic funding of public service media predicated upon reforms in the areas of local programming, diversity, and interactivity. In the white paper, Cochran calls on public media organizations to

  • develop innovative models for delivering more local news coverage and, collectively, to invest $100 million to add 1,000 public media reporters to boost local coverage;
  • seek new ways of engaging diverse and traditionally underserved communities such as youth and minorities by expanding the diversity of news and information staff at both the national and local levels, partnering with journalism schools to engage young people, and supporting the expansion of a Public Media Corps to promote digital literacy in underserved communities; and
  • invest in efforts to improve digital delivery, including the development of meaningful metrics, and seeks ways to connect public media content through a shared digital platform.

Cochran points out that this plan for more local, more inclusive, more interactive public service media can only be completed with the transformation of the structural and funding models that have governed much of public media since its creation. Specifically,'Rethinking Public Media calls on Congress, the Federal Communications Commission, public media entities, philanthropic organizations and others to:

  • restructure the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as the Corporation for Public Media, and break down barriers between television and radio by considering a new structure based on strengths in types of content and passing legislation for reallocating federal funds accordingly;
  • allow public media entities to operate with greater efficiencies by making it easier for stations to consolidate and merge;
  • improve community governance structures of public media licensees and increase digital experience among board members;
  • increase congressional support through a special appropriation to enable public media to offer content more broadly on digital platforms as key community anchor institutions under the national broadband plan, and restore reauthorization;
  • encourage investment from government, foundations and corporations;
  • seek foundation partners to jump-start the process and engage community foundations to support fulfillment of community information needs; and
  • keep digital content free.

'Above all, public media leaders need to embrace a new definition that is more local, more inclusive and more interactive and become more involved in the development of the nation's broadband policy, guaranteeing access, reducing costs of streaming and other technology and overcoming copyright roadblocks' noted Cochran in the report. 'Only public media leaders can convince government and philanthropic supporters that they have a new vision worthy of their investment.'

Rethinking Public Media: More Local, More Inclusive, More Interactive is the third policy paper released by the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation aimed at implementing the 15 recommendations by the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy (See previous papers on'Digital and Media Literacy and'Universal Broadband). The Commission released its landmark report,'Informing Communities, last year to help promote healthy informed communities across the country.

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