NEH awards $2 million to pubmedia projects

Seven public media projects got a boost July 21 with the announcement of grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which included almost $2 million for pubcasters. The largest grants, each for $600,000, will support documentaries from WGBH in Boston and Firelight Media in New York. WGBH will use the grant for a two-hour American Experience episode, “Into the Amazon: The Roosevelt-Rondon Scientific Expedition.” The documentary, produced by American Experience Executive Producer Mark Samels, covers a 1913 expedition to an unmapped territory of the Amazon led by Theodore Roosevelt and Brazilian colonel Candido Rondon. Firelight Media, whose documentaries frequently air on PBS, will use the grant to fund Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Firelight founder and filmmaker Stanley Nelson is leading the project to produce the two-hour documentary.

NEH is offering grants for analytical docs looking at humanities themes in one or more foreign countries.

June 27 is the endowment’s deadline for receiving proposals for the project, Bridging Cultures through Film: International Topics. The endowment expects to award five grants, including development grants of up to $75,000 each and production grants of up to $800,000 each. Resulting nonfiction programs, ranging from a broadcast hour to feature-length, will take an international look at ethical, religious, historical and other issues, biographies and histories. Nonprofits, governments and private or public institutions of higher education are eligible. Info: tinyurl.com/NEH-bridging.

Accounting problems cost WNET $1 for every $7 in federal grants

WNET’s accounting problems have cost it $1.96 million out of a series of production grants totaling $13 million, following  a two-year federal investigation of the big New York station’s grant accounting. Federal lawyers and the licensee — Educational Broadcasting Corp., now officially known as WNET.org — signed a settlement in which the station gave up 15 percent of the grant money:

$950,000 to be paid back to the feds for inadequately documented or prohibited costs, and
$1,015,046 that the station has spent on the productions but agreed to give up. By the time of the settlement, the growing sum of unreimbursed expenses had cut a $7.8 million hole in the station’s financial fabric. To keep federally backed productions going, the nonprofit continued spending money on them but stopped asking for reimbursements. Robert Feinberg, general counsel, said it was a voluntary decision by the station: “If we have done something wrong, we didn’t want to compound the error.”

“It’s definitely been a drain,” Feinberg said.

‘Sloppiness,’ not wrongdoing, led to probe, says WNET chair

The leadership of WNET said a federal investigation into the station’s use of federal grants totaling almost $13 million is wrapping up, and the organization is financially sound. “There was sloppiness as opposed to real wrongdoing in terms of our accounting systems, which has been addressed,” said James Tisch, chairman of the WNET Board, in an interview. The station has hired a new chief financial officer and created the position of executive director, financial control, to ensure compliance with federal grant rules, said Neal Shapiro, president. “We have a new CFO. We have a new compliance person to make it very clear we take all these rules very seriously,” Shapiro said.

‘Sloppiness,’ not wrongdoing, led to probe, says WNET chair

The leadership of WNET said a federal investigation into the station’s use of federal grants totaling almost $13 million is wrapping up, and the organization is financially sound. “There was sloppiness as opposed to real wrongdoing in terms of our accounting systems, which has been addressed,” said James Tisch, chairman of the WNET Board, in an interview.