George Stoney, a pioneering documentarian widely regarded as the father of public-access television, died July 12 at his Manhattan home, days after celebrating his 96th birthday. Stoney was a prolific filmmaker and longtime New York University professor, and was active on the boards of Manhattan Neighborhood Network, a public-access channel, and the Alliance for Community Media. He co-founded the Alternate Media Center, the organization that gave birth to public-access television. “A catalyst, that was the word for George,” said Barbara Abrash, former director of public programs at the Center for Media, Culture and History at NYU, and a longtime colleague and friend. “He inspired people to do what they could do best and was full of ambition, but only for worthwhile pursuits.”
Stoney was born July 1, 1916, in Winston-Salem, N.C., and his career ran the gamut: In addition to his work as a filmmaker, professor, and journalist, he served as a photo intelligence officer during WWII.
The Arts on Radio and Television fund of the National Endowment for the Arts, a source of millions of programming dollars for public media, is distributing matching grants to a wider range of recipients this year — from a smaller pool of money. Pubcasters are anxious about the plunge in funding to flagship programs and independent projects now that the Endowment’s revamped Arts in Media fund also supplies cash to digital-game designers, app designers and artists working on web-based interactive platforms.
In 2011, almost all of the grants went to public TV and radio programs. This year about half did. The number of grantees was up from 64 to 78 and the total amount committed was down from $4 million to $3.55 million. In the past, two major beneficiaries of NEA funding are the PBS arts showcases American Masters and Great Performances, both produced by New York’s WNET. The biographical documentary series and the performance strand each received $400,000 from the NEA last year.
A movement against hate crimes called Not In Our Town, spawned by a 1995 documentary on PBS, has come to represent many things. To the executive producer, NIOT is a way to help viewers counter incidents of bigotry and violence. Public broadcasting stations use it to reach into diverse communities in meaningful ways. A media scholar sees NIOT as a laboratory to breed and study methods of engagement. Most importantly, to citizens frustrated by community issues that seem impossible to resolve, NIOT suggests a way to make a difference in the lives of their neighbors.
Independent journalists in public media are having an increasingly tough time earning a living as producers for public TV and radio, according to a survey commissioned by the Association of Independents in Radio and the Independent Television Service. Over the past three years, 66 percent of radio indies who responded to the survey reported worsening financial problems.
The survey by Market Trends Research, backed by CPB, drew responses from 206 indies who have created content for public TV, radio or affiliated websites in the past two years. The income outlook among radio indies, who made up 75 percent of survey respondents, is somewhat brighter than for those working in television, film and web production. Forty-one percent of TV and film indies said they expect to work with nonprofits and foundations as a source of future income, and nearly one-third see opportunities in education. Radio indies participating in the survey expressed optimism about their ties to local stations.
The departure of the entire four-person faculty from Maine’s small but influential Salt Institute for Documentary Studies has caused concern among the school’s alumni, many of whom found their way into public radio via Salt’s unique classes in audio production. The teachers who left have either declined to discuss their resignations publicly or said their reasons for leaving were personal and unrelated. The executive director of the Portland-based school and its board of trustees echo those accounts. That has done little to assure alums, however, who fear that the close timing of the departures suggests problems behind the scenes. “It’s a pretty clear picture that there’s an underlying issue and a reason they all decided to leave,” says Jen Dean, a photographer and Salt grad who has represented alumni in meetings with Salt leadership.
John Kaplan was scared. He’d been diagnosed with not one but two types of lymphoma, and chemotherapy had begun to ravage his once-thick head of hair. So he did what came naturally when confronted with human drama: Kaplan, a photographer and teacher of photography, picked up a camera and began to shoot. “For me initially, it was a way to cope with fear,” Kaplan says. He assigned the story to himself and went to work.
In the beginning, there was CBS Reports. Then came Bill Moyers. It was 1976. Executive Producer Howard Stringer wanted to show the world that the hour documentary was still viable despite the gaggle of magazine-style news shows pushing their way to the screen. Accountants had discovered there was profit in the magazine format and wise men in good-looking suits informed us we were behind the times.