FOE6: The Futures of Public Media

Live blogged – errors possible

Public media creators and distributors often face a wide variety of strains on resources which impact their ability to innovate how they tell their stories. Yet, in an era where existing corporate logics often restrain how many media companies and brands can interact with their audiences–or how audiences can participate in the circulation of media content–public media-makers are, at least in theory, freed from many of the constraints their commercial counterparts face. How have the various innovations in producing and circulating content that have been discussed at Futures of Entertainment impacting public media-makers? How do the freedoms and constraints of public media shape creators’ work in unique ways? How have innovations happening in independent media, civic media, and the commercial sector impacting those creators? And what can we all learn from their innovation and experiences?

Panelists:
Andrew Golis, Director of Digital Media and Senior Editor, FRONTLINE Nolan Bowie, Senior Fellow and Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University Rekha Murthy, Director of Projects and Partnerships, Public Radio Exchange Annika Nyberg Frankenhaeuser, Media Director, European Broadcasting Union Moderator: Jessica Clark, media strategist, Association of Independents in Radio

JC: often public broadcast in the US is challenged by political foes and from the new media. Different from EU where public can be prime broadcasting channel. The challenge is growing; as more platforms arrive where people can find things out about the areas that PBS was established for – art, culture etc. As we know, there are many alternatives, the PBS seems to slide a narrow slice of users. Open digital platforms can serve up the news in different ways. PBS is called to go as it is obsolete, but there is a wider conversation about public media. There are other things giving us energy, the crisis of print journalism is creating new opps and new pressure for local news orgs. The rise of partisan media has given competition and opportunities. Who does this media include- not just PBS, but non-profit sites, other citizen journalists, schools, libraries, other online space, wikipedia, twitter etc. THe conversation all roll back around to the question about what is the point of connection with the public; what is the point of connecting people, in something that is not commercial. There are a few stock answers. To educate, inform, provide perspectives, allow space fo civic debate, a place for art and culture. Each has advocates. These are all different public media futures. There are other possibilities. It should innovate and delight, open up opinions, reflect best of society back to us.

What is Association of Independents in Radio – project localore. Serves audio producers, many of whom work cross platform. A support and connection network. Provides challenges for the members. We asked the members of how they were going to get new audiences. There was an assignment to produce year long projects that go outside, into the community, outside the platforms, outside the rules. Each project is different. They all involve ‘full-spectrum public media. They use broadcast, street, mobile etc, full spectrum engagement strategies. They build immersive websites.

Next project is Artbound, from KCET.. This replaces a gap in longform cultural coverage. instead of hiring lots of writers, recreating broadcast only. they did a more collaborative approach. People can vote up articles to be turned into videos, what they want more. This bring along a curatorial element into the info. What is most popular gets onto the TV show. As a station, they have split with PBS and they focus on local news.

RM: There are so many threads..will try and keep this focused. Looking at curation elements, some distribution issues etc. Public Radio Exchange, are a digital first public radio organisation. 10 years old, works in spoken world audio. The core founding piece is an online market place for content. To harness tech to bring stories to millions of people, Broadcast is one of many channels. Since started, have expanded into a whole collection of projects and products that are there to disrupt or improve public media…they focus on a couple of domains. Content, to bring new voices. Distribution, new pathways AND new revenue options. Try and take a leadership role in public media, in pushing boundaries of what is possible in the space. We have a grant to get new ways of doing public media (Knight Foundation grant). Want to focus on content and one aspect of distribution. It emerged over need and desire to get content published more than once. It is an after-market market. 40k pieces. From stations, producers, other recorders. PRX has broadened definition of public media, from what has been broadcast, to anything that aligns with the values. PRX can take credit for surfacing work that may have been lost, and getting space in other schedules. With public radio facing challenges, funding etc. Last year there were 17k purchases, and this is growing, not just stations, but others. ON track for 25k this year. The more we can create a market, for all this content you may not hear, then this works back to the kind of productions you can make and the people involve. In addition to the self-service exchange, we want to bring new content, we help create shows as well. We have also been working from digital to broadcast, bringing podcasts to radio. We also explore other models, for sustainable public word content that works on digital. We have given people funding, given the opportunity for time on projects. To support projects that don’t come from traditional sphere. Public radio is fulfilling its mission, but it is not keeping up with changes, there is much soul searching. We have a situation with the community of producers and our listeners are out of sync with the deciders, who decide what goes on the broadcast. We are looking at ways of getting new stuff here.

AG: director of digital at Frontline. Do investigative documentary film broadcast, make investigative TV stuff. The way Frontline has approached opportunities, has 3 points. The last couple of years have changed how they think of publishing. They would hold things back for broadcast, we wanted to make sure people watched on Tuesday night. But now they have opened up, expands digital publishing and expanding partnerships, to get stuff on public media platforms. Look at Big Money 2012, a collaboration between Marketplace, republica, PBS, gave content across multiple platforms, tv, radio, web etc.The core was the investigation into a non-profit, Citizens United…investigations showed they were not a non-profit, they were raising lots of money, running campaigns. They were breaking existing laws. Published on Monday before broadcast, a followup piece, put up film., more data etc. It’s an ongoing story, can embrace it in many ways. We can free up from feeding our primary broadcast only. We can carve the collaboration and publish iteratively. We have shifted definition of journalistic value away from the hour, or the one story. Use digital as a way to show the workings, show radical transparency, gives the work the credibility, to survive the attacks that you get. Publishes transcripts, the documents etc. We are taking it a higher level, making it a user experience, designing the experience now. Let’s people see the original, to judge for themselves. The third thing, is about interactive documentary. Not just shifting outside the hour, we shift the way in which we tell stories. As part of the big money, built an interactive site, about campaign targeting, big data etc, the documentary was customised to the users so they could experience what they were investigating. You answered a few questions, gave 96 different experiences.

ANF: from a content point of view, we are doing similar things. It’s inform, educate and entertain, (the BBC credo). Even if our definition of PB is different in the EU from the US.

RM: trying to answer the question about what is ‘public media’. It is fuzzy at the edges, but more definition, was set up in late 1960s, funding from many sources. There are constant challenge to the funding for public media. Sometimes it’s handled well, others not. All the stations are trying to imagine the future without government funding, whilst still finding it. So that it is seen as a public good to get gov funding. It’s about demonstrating of impact and reaching new audiences. But it’s difficult, it is generally white, affluent older audiences. How do you diversify. It is part of the mission, but where the future of funding lies. Different orgs handling it differently, bit for people to connect with us, you need to reflect the needs of tiers, you need to invite them in.

NB: TV needs to reframe the issue, to resetablish itself. A corporation for public media (not just tv).

AG: what we see around us, is newspapers that used to be primary source of investigative journalism and accountability journalism. Orgs powerful enough to publish things that people don’t want to be published. Eg NYT will go to court to get things published. One of the things to think about, as much as it is true that public media needs to embrace flattening distribution space and the needs of diverse audience, still need powerful enough orgs to still be able to deliver accountability journalism. Too few can do this and too few sources of funding. (shows Eurovision video). The EBU is intertwined with broadcasting, in developing in broadcasting. When Soviet Union fell, eastern Europe joined the EBU, the whole of northern Africa etc, lots of west Asia. The EBU, the PSM in EU is part of the history. When you hear the anthem (Ode to Joy) it is opening a window the world, that something different will happen (on TV). when we make definition of Public Service MEdia, it is a different context. PSM are part of society, they are loved and hated as there is ownership. The BBC belongs to the UK, they love and hate and criticise but would not be without. Same across Europe. The EBU owns the largest broadcasting service in the world. Broadcasting plays a role, especially for live events. No Eurovision, big sports etc not possible with broadcasting. Live events gather people together, this is an important part of what the EBU. This notion of being together, is important and plays a huge role in their lives. EBU caters for sports rights, has a news exchange. It shares stuff – the Japan NHK group, shared the Tsunami footage very quickly, as part of the network. It is all about sharing content instantly across the network. Have a music exchange in radio and TV co-productions. THe support that the EBU can give to the newest members is extremely important, in moving from a state broadcast to public broadcaster. Has worked in PSM all life, it is a cornerstone of a democratic society. It is an agreement between the society and the company. The company needs to be independent of all others except being accountable to the people. If govs (or commercial) can influence, then you are lost. If the accountability and independence is maintained, then PSM can do its purpose, to criticise the society it is in, that is their role and mission and that is when they make a difference. There are still financial challenges, especially in the southern part of Europe. In northern EU, PSM is strong and becoming stronger. In Eastern we can see a backlash, a little, the pendulum is swinging back a little and govs are meddling. It is important that PSM do not measure themselves and compete for market share with commercial broadcasters. You lose the connection that you should have. Reach is a better measure than market share. It is about where you should be working. Values are part and parcel of PSM in EU, there is a set of values that have been agreed for all the members in the EBU. Despite the political differences, they still agreed – it was rather fantastic.

RM: was there awareness or tension to the American model or mission?

ANF: no, don’t think so. Moving on, one of the challenges is content. PSM is losing young audiences, how do we keep them, use the platforms. Most of the companies have radio, TV and web. Transmedia is one of the answers. There are many examples across EBU (eg Alpha 0.7). It is being done more and more. The commercial counterparts can’t really live up to this,

NB: When I asked you to join the panel, it was before the elections. When Romney had said he was not going to fund PBS. So I looked at policies and how to fund public media. I was asked to put it into a policy context. The core of US info policy is in the first amendment, about freedom of speech and the press. The Comms Act if 1934 is next big policy (which is an exception to the 1st amendment). Gov can only make an exception when there are strong reasons, a compelling state interest. In this case, this was the spectrum scarcity rational. The 1934 act, has 3 goals to establish FCC to regulate, then to promote the national defence and then to provide a universal service, affordable access to worldwide comms facilities. But how do you fund public media? I would rely on market mechanisms. A free rider, (a sort of parasite). At the moment, commercial broadcasters are free riders. They have the licence in perpetuity (well, the equivalent), they pay nothing for the privilege (as they have a public service remit). To continue with licence, they have to say how they have fulfilled the public need (no evidence needed). How much is the spectrum worth? In 1993, it was estimated at $770billion. If they were charged, then this would produce enough funding to do public media. Looking at education, this is a defence, national security issue. Public media includes education. Gov has obligation to educate the public, so that the public can do their duty of criticising the gov (and holding them to the account). The basic presumption of the US is that info should be available and accessible. US policy encourages diversity of source and content of the information. Diversity of content leads to a diversity of ideas. The 1967 Public Broadcasting act was passed to keep this…TV was seen as a ‘vast wasteland’….TV was seen a s a a force to create inner city riots – as TV did not provide them . The act was about creating alternative programming, that was not available. Now, what is alternative content, is it not now available through other media? Public policy is inherently political, it is about who gets what. With channel, digital broadcasting, cognitive radio and other tech, the paradigm has shifted from push to pull, from scarcity to abundance and the scarcity rationale does not apply. broadcasting itself is recognised as becoming obsolete. You can get through the web. The real question about funding is not the means, it is the lack of political will. There is a market solution…there is a preference to use for free market mechanisms, or when the market fails, or if there are overriding public needs. Public broadcasting meets both counts – there is a market failure and public need. In the 80s, the deregulation meant the broadcasters had no need to educate, do news etc, no need to limit advertising. Public media delivers more content. 30mins of network news has only 16mins of content, much is fluff, or political etc. Think of the USPS, maintained because it allows people to partake in the political; process. PBS is similar.

AG: There is a small budget from gov – $450m – and this provides a seed for them to get more money

NB: per capita, it is about $1.50. Far more in EU etc

RM: there are sober, more important issues, about increasing understanding, increase knowledge about gov. Allow people to participate. When we talk about this, we need to talk not just about the things we have to have (the news etc) but it needs to be about an emotional level. So fiction, entertainment. I was about news and info before, and now get to see and hear stories and storytelling. Entertaining and fiction is a different way. Had debates about Downton Abbey, is this public media. To a colleague, it is public media..he thinks public media should be free and open to entertain and fulfil mission.

ANF: from Finland, where spending is 80x high. For herself, a minority of 300k people in Sweden, we would never have the TV, radio web for them without the subsidy. (she is a swedish speaking Finn). In Finland, they have 25 regional and local stations, they are not commercially viable, they are very important locally, and connect with the audience. In EU, the broadcasting challenge was solved very differently, from a different base.

NB: We have thinking about a national broadband plan. Other countries have faster cheaper cables. So why shouldn’t stations give back the spectrum, this be auctioned and revenues shared with them…but broadcasters should not be able to see these and get a profit. THis is an example of corporate welfare.

RM: those plans are a case that public media needs to make its argument better. That we are using the spectrum well.

AG: Public media for so long was allowed to be boring…because of the way broadcast, because it used to be restricted. If they create a great piece of journalism, if it is so boring that no one watches, then no point., Journalism is only as good as the people it touches. For PM to remain relevant, and you see it in the thriving areas, you see it built around story tellers, about people who are trying to engage emotionally and intellectually.

RM: I’d add they they would need to be invited to participate. Want to address, new tech roll. Is PM including the web in its definition? Yes, fully. Eg the Public Radio player. It’s hard as it required money and the talent that good money attracts. There are constraints to why it has had trouble developing online. There are a lot of exciting futures in this space.

ANF: the term has come about (PSM) as it is on all platforms. There are challenges in EU, you can’t be on the web if it challenges (eg in the Germany). This has been turned round in countries, eg Sweden, where the PM offers the content to be embedded on the commercial stations).

NB: prior to Regan being elected, the goal was to promote diversification and localism. PSM enhances localism. Commercial interests have no desire to promote localism. Clearchannel went from 24 stations to 1200 in less than 2 years when controls dropped. Why should the FCC not require that all station provide reasonable amounts of free air to people looking to get elected.

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