Public TV’s DNA may keep it from jumping into local news coverage, Grossman says

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Lawrence Grossman, PBS president from 1976 to 1984, tells the Columbia Journalism Review that the educational roots of public TV stations, as extensions of universities and boards of education, may still hold it back from taking on local news coverage responsibilities. “The idea was to avoid issues that would fragment, or raise hackles,” Grossman says in a cover story. “It had a lot to do, I think, with the educational culture that says our job is not to antagonize anybody or to raise tough issues as part of education. Our job is to make everybody happy.”

Only a few public TV stations are experimenting with news, the magazine says. “Others have yet to attract solid funding for their efforts and many of the rest aren’t interested in pursuing more news. The system overall has done little to address a Byzantine structure that can discourage local newsgathering. Nor has it helped forge a way for stations to work together on a coordinated strategy.”

The “most tantalizing success” in the system, it notes, may be KPBS in San Diego (Current, May 2), which merged all its news operations in 2009.

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