A public media device?

With the launch of this new purpose-built GPS device (above) branded with Geocaching in mind, I got to wondering… Is it time for public media stations to consider contract design and manufacturing of purpose-built digital devices? After all, GPS units have been around for decades now, but this is the first major foray into the field that’s specifically designed around the Geocaching game and brand.

Sure, it’s probably too early for public media to actually build and sell custom devices, but it may be time to think about it.

Several years ago I saw a device from Colorado Public Radio designed to receive Internet streams from the station — and it had only one function: receiving the station. You couldn’t even point the device to another station. I don’t know if they ever mass produced the device, but I thought that was a fun little idea.

The public radio community has developed iPhone apps, of course — some impressive ones at that, with help from PRX, CPB and others. I imagine PBS may get into the game once the iPad is released — if the stations will allow it. Or maybe the producers will do it themselves, without PBS or station approval.

Can you imagine a full-screen interactive Frontline app with embedded documents, video clips, full episodes, links to online resources, live data and more? What a fabulous research tool, teaching tool, voter education tool and more! TV begins to look very flat, dull and excessively linear at that point.

Who knows if public media will go hardware — maybe software is enough. But let’s not think too small.

Farewell Alaska. Hello St. Louis!

Announcement Time!

As of this week I accepted an exciting new position with public service media company KETC in St. Louis, Missouri. Starting in early March, I’ll be their new Director of Digital Engagement.

Historically KETC has been, and to this day is, a public television station in a TV market of roughly 3 million, broadcasting national PBS programming as well as locally-generated shows, some of which are distributed nationally on occasion. Amongst public TV stations, KETC is one of the oldest on record. Seriously — check out their amazing timeline going back to 1954, a full 13 years before the Public Broadcasting Act. Now that is history.

Yet for all that rich history, KETC is becoming something very new today: a public service media company, not simply a broadcaster. Over the past few years they’ve embarked on a remarkable transformation, developing closer relationships with their community and using media to solve problems.

It started with outreach around The War, in which KETC set the national standard for gathering local veteran stories and integrating it with the Ken Burns documentary.

This new way of working and thinking culminated with the local, then national, Facing the Mortgage Crisis, in which the station literally networked nonprofits, government agencies, banks and homeowners in a united effort to slow or even stop the wave of foreclosures hitting the area following the financial meltdown. The project included social media, broadcast, old-fashioned networking, live events and lots of online work. The accomplishment in St. Louis were so impressive the CPB expanded the program to selected stations nationwide.

Now a new project is beginning; one focused on issues around the topic of immigration. They’re even remodeling part of the building to house the new local nonprofit news service — the St. Louis Beacon — and the cross-functional multiplatform digital media team… all together in the same space. And I’ll be there to help.

I can’t tell you how exciting this is. I’ve watched KETC from afar, oftentimes through consultant Rob Paterson‘s postings. This is an opportunity for me to put up or shut up on digital engagement and public service media. And I will do my best, for the good of St. Louis (a town I knew as a child, as it turns out), and hopefully for a broader public broadcasting community looking to understand how to move into what CPB’s Rob Bole calls “public purpose media.”

Sadly, this means I will be leaving Alaska very soon indeed, having lived on the Last Frontier for the past 9 years. The departure is made all the harder because I must leave behind a vibrant social media community I helped create over the past year. That community has gone on to raise money for a friend in need, form a local Ignite chapter and, from what I’m told, a wedding may be in the works. 🙂

So farewell Alaska. I will miss your Chugach mountain skyline and the warm embrace of entertaining and thoughtful friends all too soon.

And hello St. Louis! Let’s make something meaningful together.

The mission problem

On December 6, 2009 Rob Bole, the CPB’s VP for Digital Media Strategies, wrote a great post: The Mogul’s Dilemma: Our Mystic Guideposts to Failure. Highly recommended reading. I was reminded of it today in the MediaShift post that actually started with me and then ended with Rob while talking about the infrastructure needed for modern public service media.

Back in late December, when I finally read Bole’s post, I posted my own comments. I saw my notes again today and was surprised to see just how much I wrote. And rather than let the comments sit there alone, I wanted to capture them here on my site for reference. Here’s what I had to say in response:

I totally agree about operators and strategic thinkers as you’ve presented in your thoughts here. When I started in public media in 2004, I was taken aback by how risk-averse the system was in technology, but also in core services and mission. So while I’ve personally beaten the drum for moves toward web services, I’ve also come to realize there’s a very deep-seated problem in “the system” that hasn’t yet been solved in most places.

It’s a mission problem.

What I’ve found is a lot of folks who built their careers and even their personal identities within broadcasting. To ask them or — if you dare — tell them to change, to learn new things and to act in new ways is pretty much an insult to their finely-crafted sense of selves (even if you deeply respect their past work).

But I found more than just entitlement along the way. I also found a loss of Passion and Purpose.

Public broadcasting became a system, an industry, a business. It became broadcasting, it became TV, it became radio — the platform was the thing and identities were inextricably intertwined with the platform. I’ve worked with TV engineers that were irritated when asked to solve radio engineering problems because TV Mattered and Radio Didn’t. In a world defined by technology platform, how do you have a serious conversation about ethereal things like “mission?”

It seems to me that over the years the high-minded notions of the Public Broadcasting Act have been lost. There’s been a failure to renew the mission, to redefine it in modern terms and to find people passionately committed to it. “Broadcasting fulfilled that mission, so why does it need to change?”

It’s taken me 5 years to reach the conclusion that the Internet, TV, radio, newspapers — none of that matters. Those are all technology choices, and they’re all commodities now. What matters is what you do with them, and frankly, most public broadcasting companies and leaders haven’t committed to this new perspective yet.

But there’s one that’s on the way. KETC in St. Louis is transforming itself, little by little, into a company on a mission for its community. They’re learning the best ways to be the “operator” you call for in this post, and they’re doing it across media platforms and out in the community. They originated the “Facing the Mortgage Crisis” project, and they did it because their community needed help and they felt a calling to deal with the issue, not to curry favor with the CPB or other funders.

And it’s not been easy. Each of the projects they’ve undertaken in the last couple of years have been big risks. They didn’t have complete funding. They had to bring together teams from legacy and new units to get the work done. They had to invent new methods and go out into a community that they, like most stations, had largely ignored for many years, preferring to broadcast, broadcast, broadcast.

I would encourage you to help stations find their Purpose and build Passion around that. With those two things, the right operators will magically show up — they’ll want to be a part of that Purpose. The strategic thinkers will join up, too, because there’s plenty of strategy to work out once you have your broad Purpose defined (or re-defined).

Here’s something practical:

Ask stations the two questions I first asked when I joined a public media company back in 2004:

  1. Who are you?
  2. Why are you here?

Very simple questions. You might be surprised how many people across the “system” don’t have good answers.

But if they can’t answer those questions — without quoting a tired mission statement — none of the rest of the debate over operators or strategy will really matter.

P.S. I’ve never gotten a good answer to my questions. But KETC may be the first to at least SHOW us some answers.

You know what they say: Location, Location, Location!

via youtube.com

I remember talking to IT pals of mine 5 years ago about how location-based information was going to be the Next Big Thing. It took 5 years, but we’re finally here.

Public service media can use location, too. Indeed, as creators, conveners and curators of media that’s focused on communities in specific locations, this stuff will be huge.

If we get out of the studio and get into the community, that is.

Public Service Media requires decentralized action

Let’s start with an insightful quote from David Brooks writing in the NY Times this past weekend:

For better or worse, over the past 50 years we have concentrated authority in centralized agencies and reduced the role of decentralized citizen action. We’ve done this in many spheres of life. Maybe that’s wise, maybe it’s not. But we shouldn’t imagine that these centralized institutions are going to work perfectly or even well most of the time.

In this case, Brooks was talking about centralized agency performance in the face of terrorism threats, but his talk about the powers — or lack of powers — in centralized government agencies got me to thinking about public service media. It seems to me that if we’re serious about public service media, we’re going to have to act locally and work to deemphasize national content distribution, services and cash flows. We’ve gone too far into centralized, and we’ve lost our way in our hometowns.

It strikes me that, more than anything else, those who will successfully practice public service media in this new decade will rely upon themselves and their communities, rather than waiting for solutions or directions to arrive from national agencies or media producers. Local solutions can’t come from somewhere else (though ideas can). The age of centralization and top-down service is over for now. Such approaches don’t scale down to real problems and palpable action well, and they smack of paternalistic “do this and do it this way” directives. We’ve put too much faith and power into centralized systems, enfeebling our abilities to act in our own communities.

Serving community needs almost always must be done on a localized basis. Yet over the past 20 years the public broadcasting universe has concentrated more and more power, intelligence, money and experience in the core networks and stations: PBS, NPR, APM, PRI, WGBH, KQED, WETA, WNYC and so on. Donors to local pubcasting stations are really helping pay Paula Kerger (PBS) more than $500,000 a year and Steve Inskeep and Renee Montagne (NPR) more than $600,000 a year combined, not to mention so many others. Yet the services they individually provide, while nice, are not vital to solving community problems where we live (they don’t even solve problems in the Washington, DC metro area, for that matter).

Consider what could be done with the money spent on the centralized networks in a local area. In one market with which I have passing familiarity, with about 2.8 million people in the MSA, the local PBS station sends more than $1.2 million annually to PBS alone. That’s money leaving the community, going to PBS (and ultimately to program producers) and what that community gets back is national PBS content. I’m not sure that’s a good return on the community’s investment, not to mention the duplication of effort that happens across 300 cities nationwide — stations do pretty much the same thing everywhere: create a PBS station that looks like all the others, save for the logo.

Meanwhile, that’s $1.2 million that isn’t being spent to provide services that are locally relevant and useful to the community. What if that money paid for 12 people to write, shoot video, take pictures, interview people and gather and post information and host interactive communities that solve real problems? And what if those 12 people helped organize a community of 48 people that were actively and collaboratively involved in solving problems, multiplying the positive effect? That would be a major, real-world impact — well worth $1.2 million in local funding from a community of 2.8 million ($2.30 per citizen per year).

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “What do we do about Antiques Roadshow?” Well, that show can go to A&E. Oh, except they already have that show, called Pawn Stars. Zing! But seriously, I can address the restructuring of public TV funding and programming in a future post. For now, my point is that local public service media companies must focus on local needs and solutions. Leave the nationals to do their work (in new ways, in new funding models).

When the 1967 Public Broadcasting Act came along, there was a deep-rooted need for local media creation that served local needs in a noncommercial way. Over the years, the professionalism of the system has destroyed local capacity, concentrating capacity at the national level, where both PBS and NPR are competing with national media outlets and behaving in ways disconnected from local needs. In many ways, the dreams of the 1967 PBA writers were attained, but have been steadily lost.

It’s time to swing the pendulum back the other way.

FINAL CUT: The Future is Public Service Media

Here’s the final cut of my recent presentation for WOSU Public Media in Columbus. This time I’ve got a video I created myself plus a complete set of slides and links back to all the original material.

In this case, the video is a revised presentation deck with a brand new voiceover track. This way, if you couldn’t see or hear the presentation clearly in the video shot at WOSU, now you can get the slides and the talk directly.

First, the video, then I’ll follow up with a final collection of links.


Final Cut Presentation Material

Additional Material

Public Media's 'Dreadnought' pulling into port at KETC

Run, don’t walk, to Robert Paterson‘s blog to read his new post on the transformation in progress at KETC in St. Louis.

No one knows exactly what forms public service media companies will take in the future, and it’s likely that several successful forms will appear. But KETC looks to be the first in the nation to have commissioned the construction of a new model.

Paterson has been working with KETC since before the launch of the Facing the Mortgage Crisis project, which started at KETC and then expanded to 30 more public broadcasters across the country with the help of the CPB. He’s been lucky enough to work with CEO Jack Galmiche and crew and to see this transformation up close. The plans — physical and logical — are remarkable.

What KETC is doing is revolutionary in the public broadcasting world. While the particulars may not fit every station nationwide, the themes should. Whether or not each element in the plan is “perfect” is irrelevant — the most important thing is that they’re experimenting, all within a reformulated goal. KETC is getting passionate about public service media, and not merely public broadcasting.

Read that post. It’s insightful and exciting.

Additional links from WOSU presentation

In prepping my presentation for WOSU Public Media last week, I spent a lot of time reviewing other people’s recent presentations, stories, blogs, data and so on. Really, I read stuff every day related to digital media, so tracking it all back down is kind of hard. But I wanted to make sure I gathered a list of links and other resources folks could review if they wanted to dig deeper than my presentation alone allowed. So here they are, in no particular order…

From Broadcast to Broadband: Redesigning public media for the 21st Century
Discusses how public media must change to meet the challenges of a 21st century media universe. Jake Shapiro, PRX and Ellen Goodman, Rutgers; presented at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Note: The pie chart showing CPB expenditures is incorrect. There’s an extra $71M included in the TV programming slice that shouldn’t be there.

The Future of News
This was a conference held at MPR in St. Paul, MN in November 2009 bringing together journalism leaders and pundits from public and commercial media in all formats. Lots of video and other resources. Props to Julia Shrenkler for tons of work on this one.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Michael Rosenblum offers a critique of the folks that appeared at The Future of News, as linked above.

A Collection of Social Network Stats for 2009 (Jeremiah Owyang)
A frequently-updated list of social media statistics, including links, for all the major services.

The Chaos Scenario (video)
The Chaos Scenario (blog / book)
Bob Garfield, co-host of NPR’s “On the Media,” has written a book and built a wide-ranging presentation on how current media companies are faced with a chaotic world that’s changing the fundamental models of media economics. It’s a long video, but a good one.

Continue reading “Additional links from WOSU presentation”

Presentation: The Future is Public Service Media

UPDATE: In the comments, Tom White from the CPB noted that the math for TV production and operations noted in the presentation — stating that 84% of CPB’s annual appropriation goes to TV — is incorrect. In fact, for both FY2009 and FY2010 it’s about 67% of the total, not 84%. I based my 84% figure on the presentation slides offered by Jake Shapiro and Ellen Goodman in their November 3 talk. The figures in their presentation — on slide 15/32 — miscalculated CPB’s allocations by more than $70,000,000. I apologize for the error and will attempt to update my slides soon. In the mean time, keep in mind that 84% figure is wrong.

Last week I gave a presentation at WOSU Public Media in Columbus, Ohio, sharing with them some of the trends in media generally, talking about the economic pressures of a changing media landscape and sharing some ideas of how the station might change to meet the needs of the community in ways that transcend mere broadcasting.

WOSU was kind enough to gather a great group of people from across the company, plus one visitor from ThinkTV in Dayton and one from WYSO in Yellow Springs. (I’m not listing names here because I didn’t get permission to mention anyone specifically.) I’m hopeful some of the elements in the presentation were at least thought-provoking. One person told me afterward that he came away with three new ideas. Awesome!

I’m posting a ton of presentation links here so anyone can view and download the materials as desired. As I mentioned to a former colleague of mine, the materials are free for the taking, remixing and so forth under a Creative Commons license.

If WOSU posts a YouTube video of the live presentation itself, I’ll embed it here later. And I may just do another version of the presentation in voice-over style anyway.

I’ll start off with the embeddable SlideShare presentation, then include more links below.


Presentation Downloads

The Future is Public Service Media – Keynote (Mac) format (242MB zip)
This is the complete presentation in its native format, including all embedded videos, graphics, transitions and so on. Playback requires iWork ’09 on a Mac.

The Future is Public Service Media – QuickTime format (638MB mov)
Complete presentation in a clickable “movie” format (click to advance, click links to get to the web) that includes the complete video files inside the presentation. Playable on any Mac or any PC with QuickTime installed.

The Future is Public Service Media – JPEG images (8MB zip)
This is all the slides from the presentation as individual JPEG images.

The Future is Public Service Media – PDF (6MB PDF)
This is all the slides from the presentation in a single PDF document, readable on all computers with Adobe Reader or another PDF application.