Well-schooled in start-up culture, Corey Ford returns to public media

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Public Media Accelerator, the incubator launched in December with a $2.5 million grant from the Knight Foundation, will be led by a former Frontline producer who left the field to immerse himself in the technology start-up culture of Silicon Valley.

Corey Ford
earned production credits on 17 Frontline films before earning his M.B.A. at Stanford University. His interest in multidisciplinary approaches to technology innovation led him to take a fellowship at Stanford’s Institute of Design, and from there he was recruited to direct the runway for Google Chairman Eric Schmidt’s venture capital fund, Innovation Endeavors.

Ford is now bringing that experience back to public media as director of Public Radio Exchange’s latest initiative to spur innovation, the Public Media Accelerator (PMX).

“I feel like my whole career has been built for this opportunity,” said Ford, whose appointment was announced March 8 during the Integrated Media Association conference in Austin.

PMX is being positioned as a potential game-changer in defining the future of public media. By adopting a start-up model that’s been in wide use in the tech world, PRX and Knight aim to identify, recruit and nurture “mission-driven entrepreneurs changing media for good,” as the Accelerator’s tag line goes. PMX will explore business models that aren’t limited by public media’s traditional, grant-driven processes for creating new content and services. Part of Ford’s job will be to bring in these new funding sources.

“One of the reasons we’ve taken on the model of an accelerator is to help reveal to the field what is happening in Silicon Valley,” said Jake Shapiro, PRX c.e.o. “Accelerators are cropping up all over place, and this is an opportunity to help explain and leverage how you can create something new” in the fast-paced world of tech innovation. Accelerator-backed concepts will demonstrate the key ingredients for new public media start-ups, as well as metrics for defining success with audiences and funders.

Shapiro pointed to an earlier PRX project that scouted new creative talent for the field. “This is another kind of Talent Quest,” he said, referring to the CPB-backed initiative to open a new path for public radio stardom. Two of the producers identified by PRX’s online recruiting process earned full backing to produce their shows, Snap Judgment and State of the Re:Union.