Friday, April 3, 2009

What is Public Service Media?

It has been awhile since I posted to this blog...partially because of work, but also because of my transition from One Economy as head of media. I am moving onto a new position starting April 20th, and once I land and understand the relationship of my external blog and the new position I will start to write more regularly.

Not to be coy, I can write about it later in April, but the new job will rock. I will have a front-row seat on how public broadcasting is evolving towards a new definition of itself. The term public service media has been bandied about quite a bit to describe how public broadcasting looks as it swings into this century.

It might seem strange to some to think about the evolution of public broadcasting over the next 100 years. There are always dire predictions floating about the fate of public broadcasting and that at any moment it might disappear.

I think that being alarmed about the disposition of the politics around the $400 million or so that comes from the federal government is useful, as it keeps your elbows sharp and eyes focused. However, public broadcasting is a $2.5 billion dollar industry and whatever the political winds a public media system, albeit in a very different configuration, will remain.

Ones view is that Armageddon occurs with substantial cuts to public funding, but is that as things change whether the fundamentals of public media remain strong, powered by digital platforms that allow a new vitality of participation coupled with low-cost entry barriers.

My own position is that the United States and Americans in general are far better off with a robust, engaged public broadcasting system and that comes from having Americans support the system. It is just plain good economics and politics to have an alternative to commercial media that is supported by government.

However, the biggest transformation that public broadcasting needs to undertake is not embracing digital - these are merely tools - but rather truly entering into service to the public. Public broadcasting must go from a "nice to have" to a "must have" for Americans over the age of 10.

What is not being violently discussed with any detail is what does "public service" actually mean?

I am going to write more about my definition for public service, but I think one really, really good sign is the leadership at CPB, most notable Pat Harrison who put the money down for the Economic Response grant program, which is on top of the work already funded at KETC on foreclosures. That type of immediate response and relevance directly touches upon the definition of public service.

I also applaud the work that NPR, PBS, Frontline, WNET and others are undertaking around restructuring news coverage and interfaces with local journalism. Also the work over at PBS Interactive in building the common video platform/community, COVE, and all of the tools spilling out of Station Remote Control.

These are the mixture of tools, platforms and strategies that begin to build the structure of "public service media." However, let's not forget the overall plan for all of the progress being made in assembling bits of the structure. What is missing for me is the heart of the change. That we turn over our actions to be in service to the public; their needs, helping to expose new opportunities and navigate around barriers for the fundamental purpose of improving lives. Right in the heart of our founding documents is the notion of "the pursuit of happiness", and this is the test that public service media must constantly put itself.

It is a bright future and public broadcasting, from the smallest station to the largest national player, has so many assets, talent and passion that the next few years are going to be extremely fun.

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