• Frontline today won a George Polk Award for “League of Denial,” its investigation of the NFL’s efforts to downplay evidence linking head injuries of football players to long-term brain disorders. The nonprofit newsroom Center for Public Integrity also won a Polk for “After the Meltdown,” which explored the aftermath of economic crash caused by sub-prime mortgage lenders. A full list of Polk winners, presented by Long Island University, is here. • While CPB Ombudsman Joel Kaplan agrees with WNET’s decision to return a $3.5 million grant for its series reporting on public pensions, he remains troubled by “the lack of transparency by both WNET and PBS” in handling the controversy. He suggests the original agreement between WNET and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation needs to be disclosed.
WNET will return a $3.5 million grant it received for a series of reports on public pensions after facing questions about the funder’s involvement with the issue. In a joint statement, PBS and WNET announced Friday that the grant to support the Pension Peril series would go back to the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, whose co-founder John Arnold has supported efforts to reduce public pensions. “While PBS stands by WNET’s reporting in this series, in order to eliminate any perception on the part of the public, our viewers, and donors that the Foundation’s interests influenced the editorial integrity of the reporting for this program, WNET has decided to forego the Arnold Foundation support and will return the gift,” the statement said. The statement continued:
“We made a mistake, pure and simple,” said Stephen Segaller, Vice President of Programming at WNET. “The PBS NewsHour Weekend is a new production and while we thought we were following the guidelines and the correct vetting processes, we were incorrect.
Oregon Public Broadcasting has asked New York’s WNET to demonstrate that no “improper influence” was exerted by the primary funder of its special news series covering public pensions. OPB said in a Feb. 13 statement that it is “seeking assurance from WNET” that its Pension Peril series was not subject to improper editorial influence. In a PandoDaily article published earlier this week, reporter and columnist David Sirota called attention to a major funder of the series, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. According to Sirota, co-founder John Arnold has supported political efforts to reduce retirement benefits for public employees. Sirota argued that Arnold’s support for the WNET production calls its impartiality into question.
New York’s WNET issued a statement responding to a PandoDaily article that scrutinized funding for its topical reporting series, The Pension Peril. In the article, published Wednesday, reporter and columnist David Sirota argued that the WNET production was ethically tainted by undisclosed funding provided by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, which has a political agenda promoting public pension reform, the topic examined in its series. WNET rebutted Sirota’s criticism that it sought to obscure the funding relationship. The Arnold Foundation’s support for the series was “clearly disclosed” on the PBS NewsHour Weekend broadcasts that have featured the Pension Peril segments, according to the station’s Feb. 12 statement. WNET also posted a compilation of opening credits to the three broadcasts, each of which mentioned the Arnold Foundation without directly linking it to the Pension Peril segments.
Charges that a public TV reporting initiative about pensions is ethically compromised by its funding sources led to a fiery exchange today between the funder in question and reporter and columnist David Sirota, who leveled the claims in an article for the Silicon Valley news site PandoDaily. Sirota pointed out in his story that The Pension Peril, a two-year reporting initiative produced by New York’s WNET, receives most of its funding from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. Co-founder John Arnold, a hedge-fund manager and former trader for Enron, has contributed to political campaigns urging state lawmakers to reduce pension benefits for public employees, according to Sirota. WNET largely neglects to disclose the relationship, Sirota wrote, though he did turn up a reference on a Pension Peril report’s web page. According to WNET, The Pension Peril has so far delivered reports for two shows that it produces: PBS NewsHour Weekend, which PBS distributes nationally, and Long Island Business Report, which airs on WNET’s Long Island outlet. The reporting project examines “the deficit in funding for public employees’ retirement benefits,” according to a news release from the station.
• In his annual review of objectivity and balance in CPB-funded programming, CPB Ombudsman Joel Kaplan noted “far fewer complaints directed at public media,” continuing a trend of the past few years. “Whether that is because public media has improved in this area; people have grown tired of complaining about a lack of balance; or there were just not that many controversial stories this year is not clear,” he noted. Looking back over 2013’s controversies, Kaplan also criticized NPR’s reaction to a lengthy report by its own ombudsman that found fault with an award-winning NPR investigation. As Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos reviewed the three-part series about South Dakota’s foster-care system for Native American children, he “took the unusual step of re-reporting the story,” Kaplan wrote. NPR execs called the ombud’s report “deeply flawed”and said little would be gained “from a point-by-point response to his claims.”
Ted Krichels, CPB’s senior v.p. for system development and media strategy, recently talked to Current about the 50-page “Public Media Models of the Future” report he co-authored this fall with PBS Director of Strategy Stephen Holmes. Edited, rearranged and condensed excerpts from that conversation follow. Current: How did you start the process? Did you survey the entire system, or was it more word of mouth? Ted Krichels: Stephen and I initially were collecting stations, ones you would have heard about.
Richard Heffner, the founding g.m. of New York’s WNET/Thirteen network and longtime host of public affairs program The Open Mind, died in his New York home Dec. 17 of a sudden cerebral hemorrhage. He was 88.