White paper: Status quo will not carry pubcasting into the digital future

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A white paper on the future of public media warns that the field must step up its public advocacy and structural reforms if it is to meet the news and information needs of local communities and citizens.

Rethinking Public Media: More Local, More Inclusive, More Interactive,” by veteran news exec Barbara Cochran, follows up on the recommendations of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, October 2009. That report challenged public broadcasting to “move quickly toward a broader vision of public service media,” one that is “more local, more inclusive and more interactive.”

Although policymakers and philanthropic organizations must do many things to support the field’s transition to digital public media, Cochran writes, public broadcasters themselves must demonstrate their commitment to change and make a bold, compelling and united case for it.

“There is universal agreement that funding sources — whether government, philanthropic or corporate — will not provide more money to support the status quo,” Cochran writes. “Many recognize that some of the funds now going to public media could be redirected for greater efficiency and less duplication. Some believe public media missed an opportunity to bring new ideas to the table when the FCC’s national broadband plan was under discussion.”

Cochran endorses the dramatic journalistic expansion proposed by public radio, including local newsgathering, and calls for public television to develop a new strategy to enhance its news output and community engagement. But she challenges the field to redirect its resources from “outmoded broadcasting infrastructure and duplication of service to building digital capacity.” She calls on federal policymakers to provide more funding and the regulatory and legal foundation for public broadcasters to operate as effectively and efficiently as public media.

Acknowledging that public broadcasting faces a difficult environment in Congress next year, Cochran proposes that the field seek a special appropriation to produce more digital content under the national broadband plan and push for a reauthorization that would recast CPB as the Corporation for Public Media. Republican attempts to end federal funding of public broadcasting are “nothing new,” she writes. “By emphasizing to Congress that support is going to strengthen local stations, public broadcasters may be able to avoid getting caught in partisan attitudes about national programming.”

Cochran, who headed NPR News in its early days and was longtime president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, will present the report this morning during a roundtable forum at the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C. To follow the event on Twitter, search for the hashtag #knightcomm.

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