Op-ed writers see “fake populism” in campaign to defund NPR

In a Nov. 23 online op-ed and analysis for the Guardian, media blogger and j-school professor Dan Kennedy describes the political campaign to defund NPR as part of a “culture war being waged by the right.”Kennedy examines the arguments of Republican lawmakers who are calling for an end to federal funding, including the assertion that NPR programming is “liberal,” and finds that they don’t hold water. Much of NPR’s programming, he writes, ” exudes a liberal sensibility reflected in cultural references and, to an extent, story selection. But the reporting itself is balanced and, if anything, errs on the side of caution.” He finds some exceptions to this in shows that air outside of drive time, such as the “frankly liberal orientation” of On the Media, but adds: “in the main .

FCC officially starts process to clear TV spectrum

The FCC today (Nov. 30) unanimously approved a three-part rulemaking to begin to free up TV spectrum for wireless devices, TVNewsCheck is reporting. “These actions will lay the groundwork for the goals set in the National Broadband Plan to make available up to 120 MHz from the broadcast television bands for new wireless broadband services,” said Alan Stillwell, the FCC staffer who presented the proposals at the meeting. Pubcasters and other broadcasters will be faced with the decision to give up spectrum for cash, or keep it for future use (Current, Feb. 8).

What’s that up there? (page 2)

AM: still used by several dozen pubcasters

AM radio uses the low frequencies where radio began, which have much longer wavelengths. While FM antennas are relatively small and mounted high on towers, AM’s longer wavelengths use the entire tower as an antenna, along with a network of underground wires that typically surround the tower in a circle as wide as the tower is high. Experts in the black art of AM facility design recommend that AM towers’ height be a precise fraction, such as one-quarter, of the station’s wavelength so that the tower will resonate with the frequency. Stations with lower frequencies tend to have higher towers. Old-timer KOAC in Corvallis, Ore.

High stakes + direct access = full engagement

Noel Gunther remembers the moment when he realized that public broadcasting had to get involved in traumatic brain injury education. It was 2001. Gunther was producing a segment for WETA’s documentary series Exploring Your Brain. He was interviewing hockey Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine, who had been forced to retire at age 34 after several concussions. The first, in 1990, knocked him unconscious and put him into convulsions — and yet LaFontaine was back on the ice 10 days later.

CPB’s 2011 business plan continues to back mergers and consolidations

The CPB  Board’s 2011 business plan, now online (PDF), was approved during its meeting Nov. 15 and 16  in New Orleans. CPB’s six priorities for 2011: digital and innovation; diversity; dialogue, engagement and awareness; education; journalism; and core system support.That plan promotes station mergers and consolidations of functions such as joint master control operations — concepts the corporation has long encouraged (Current, March 1). CPB also will continue working to promote stations’ financial stability. “If that proves to be unfeasible” with a particular station, the document notes, “CPB will explore alternatives to maintain public broadcasting service to the affected community.”The plan reports that CPB is assisting the three Los Angeles PBS affiliates “in their efforts to develop a new operating model that will reduce competition, increase content differentiation and improve fundraising capacity” (Current, Aug.

What’s that up there?

Talk about collaboration! A typical FM/TV tower can be home to dozens of antennas for stations and other spectrum users. Five full-power TV stations and five FM broadcast from Pinnacle Hill in Rochester, N.Y. (right). Some FM translators and two-way radio and mobile users also share the tower. Pubcaster WXXI owns the middle tower and uses it to broadcast its TV signal and two FMs.

1 These are UHF TV antennas, typically 40-50 feet in length.

FCC extends Emergency Alert System deadline

The FCC has extended the deadline for complying with new Emergency Alert System rules, reports Television Broadcast today (Nov. 24). The new deadline for all EAS participants to implement Common Alerting Protocol technology is now Sept. 30, 2011, instead of March 29, 2011.

Let’s hope there are cookies in the Green Room . . .

Cookie Monster wants to host Saturday Night Live. (Hey, if octogenarian Betty White can do it . . .) Want to help? Watch Sesame Street’s latest soon-to-be-viral video: Cookie Monster’s audition tape for Saturday Night Live, then visit the “Cookie Monster should host Saturday Night Live!”

PBS’s Reddington shifts from Online Giving Initiative to PBS Foundation work

Brian Reddington, senior v.p., development, has moved from supervision of its Online Giving Initiative to focus solely on the PBS Foundation, Michael Jones, PBS c.o.o, said in a memo today (Nov. 23).PBS’s controversial national online fundraising campaign, set to begin on PBS.org in January, will now be overseen by Jason Seiken’s PBS Interactive team. Bob Minai and Kristin Calhoun will head up the effort. Keith Brengle, recently hired as director, online giving, will now report to Minai.”Jason Seiken clearly has serious online expertise and credibility, and the experience of working with PBS member stations,” said longtime development pro Michael Soper, PBS’s head development officer, 1978-92, and now a nonprofit consultant.Jones said the move was made to allow Reddington “to focus on the job he was hired to do – run the PBS Foundation.””I think Brian Reddington’s primary focus has always been on securing significant, major gifts to the PBS Foundation,” Soper said. “My sense is this is a positive realignment.

PBS selects new director of station development services

PBS has hired a director of station development services to plug the hole created in June when laid off four staffers in the development unit (Current, Nov. 1). Valerie Pletcher will be a director of station development services beginning Dec. 1, Joyce Herring, s.v.p. of station services, announced to staff in a memo. Pletcher will work as a liaison with system development professionals on informational and training needs, best practices and the development portion of the Annual Meeting.

Feder departing Vocalo; another columnist calls its future “uncertain”

Robert Feder, longtime Chicago media columnist, is departing Chicago Public Media and its Vocalo blog. He said in a post today (Nov. 23) that he’ll reveal his new online home soon. “With the recent redesign of the Vocalo blogs and their move to a new site at WBEZ.org, I have decided it’s time for me to leave,” he said. Before signing on with Vocalo — a mashup of traditional and new media designed to engage a diverse audience — in November 2009, Feder spent 20 years covering media at the Sun-Times.

WFMT-FM breaks record with fall pledge drive

Chicago’s WFMT-FM (98.7) set a record with fall pledge, bringing in $695,000, General Manager Steve Robinson said in a Sun-Times story today (Nov. 23). Then two trustees kicked in to round that up to $700,000. The previous top figure was $620,000. Average contributions increased 17 percent to $199 from last year’s $170.

Hiki Nō student news project finalizes funding

Hiki Nō, PBS Hawaii’s new and innovative student news network, has secured the funding it needs and will launch in February 2011, blogs station President Leslie Wilcox today (Nov. 23). It has raised $1.2 million from local and national funders including the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. CPB and the the Clarence T.C. Ching Foundation provided seed money. Hiki Nō will partner with teachers and middle and high school students from all of Hawaii’s islands to create a collaborative network to deliver community-based news and information to the state via PBS Hawaii’s broadcast and web platforms.

Smiley says it’s “unconscionable” he didn’t know about producing partner KCET’s plans to depart PBS

Tavis Smiley said “it’s unthinkable, it’s untenable, it’s unacceptable,” that KCET execs didn’t let him know that they were breaking from PBS as of Jan. 1 (Current, Oct. 18). He told the Los Angeles Times in a story today (Nov. 23) that being out of the loop when his show is produced on the lot at the L.A. station is “unconscionable.””I literally got a phone call as KCET was making the statement publicly, as this story was breaking,” he said.

Documentaries on PBS short-listed for Oscar nominations

Three PBS documentaries are on the short list for Oscars, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced. “Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould” premieres Dec. 27 on American Masters, “Waste Land” will air on Independent Lens in April 2011, and  “William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe” ran on P.O.V. this June. The Academy Awards nominations will be announced at 8:30 a.m. Eastern on Jan. 25, 2011, live from Los Angeles.CORRECTION: Make that four PBS docs in the running for the coveted Oscar.

Fight over NPR funding: is it a “culture war,” or principled debate?

What’s really at stake in the battle over federal funding to NPR, and how can the field’s advocates make the best case for continued support? Public broadcasters began speaking out last week in friendly venues, testing their message points and strategizing about whether and how to mount a more aggressive campaign to enlist broad public support. At yesterday’s Public Media Camp in Washington, D.C., attendees discussed the political attack with Jay Rosen, press critic and j-school professor at New York University, who participated via Skype in a session on the response to the “culture war.” Rosen, who described himself as sympathetic to the fight to preserve federal funding, called for a blogger — one who works independently and outside of NPR and PBS — to report on the debate, critique press coverage of it, and call out the “most outrageous statements” from the field’s partisan critics. “A blogger’s job is to intervene in public debate and make it smarter,” Rosen said.

Pubstations need simple apps, too

Public media needs coding collaborators. That’s what pubcaster Barrett Golding of Hearing Voices writes in today’s (Nov. 22) Hacks/Hackers blog. Large pubradio stations have ambitious Internet projects going, but they also have the staff and cash to do so. Mid-to-small stations and independents need simpler, smaller apps.

New NBR owner agreed to leave instructional content field in 2000, New York Times reports

In a followup to a Current investigation (Aug. 23 and Sept. 7), the New York Times reports today (Nov. 22) that Mykalai Kontilai, the new owner of Nightly Business Report, agreed to leave the instructional programming business in 2000 and paid $250,000 as part of the settlement of a fraud suit. Kontilai confirms making the payment but denies agreeing to step out of the field.Ronald Reed, former president of AGC/United Learning, an educational content provider that has since become part of Discovery, told the newspaper: “We felt, from our point of view, that it would be best not to have him in the industry,” after discovering “what we considered to be inappropriate business practices.”

A look back over a tough week for NPR

The Week, a digest newsmag, has a good gathering of links to last week’s coverage of the ongoing attacks on NPR and its government funding. One comment on the post: “Even us conservative southern rednecks love NPR. It should be a sacred cow!” Another, a roundup of opinion columns, is on the Atlantic’s site.