“Two and a Half Men” director to produce WQED talk show

Jamie Widdoes, a director of CBS’ hit sitcom Two and a Half Men, is returning to his hometown of Pittsburgh to produce an as-yet untitled WQED talk show about female empowerment and girls’ self-esteem beginning in December 2011, the station announced Thursday (Sept. 22). It’s the first program of the new Pittsburgh Innovative Media Incubator, a co-venture between WQED and the Steeltown Entertainment Project, a local nonprofit advocating to make the region an entertainment production center. The incubator is funded by a grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation.The show will also be offered in syndication to broadcasters such as the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.The program can trace its roots to the 2003 Steeltown Entertainment Project summit at WQED and the Andy Warhol Museum, where local creative and civic leaders discussed strategies to attract major film and television productions to the area. Pittsburgh expats participating in the summit included Widdoes, director Rob Marshall (Chicago), manager Eric Gold (Jim Carrey, Ellen DeGeneres),  producer Bernie Goldmann (300), and television series creator Terri Minsky (Lizzie McGuire).“It’s been a dream of mine for many years to come home and produce in Pittsburgh,” Widdoes said in a statement.

KCUR’s Cahill announces plans to retire

Patricia Cahill, who was just elected vice-chairman of the CPB Board, is announcing her retirement from KCUR-FM in Kansas City. She’ll step down next summer. Cahill has run the station since 1987.

North Country Public Radio among Knight Challenge Grant winners

The latest Knight Community Information Challenge Grant winners include a pubcasting station and public access channel. North Country Public Radio, based in Canton, N.Y., gets $302,000 to expand its broadcast and digital operations and encourage residents to contribute content. And the Long Beach (Calif.) Community Foundation receives $327,000 to bring public access TV back to the community, and create hyper-local, multilingual programming on multiple platforms. The Challenge is part of the foundation’s Media Innovation Initiative, a $100 million-plus effort to help meet America’s increasing information needs. Knight Foundation begins accepting applications for the next round of the Challenge on Jan. 18, 2012.

Core listeners keeping the faith in public radio, survey finds

 The political turmoil that beset public radio within the past year doesn’t appear to have shaken the esteem that core listeners and contributors hold for NPR or public radio as a whole, according to research results presented Sept. 20 during the Public Radio Program Directors conference in Baltimore.In an online survey of more than 27,000 pubradio members and listeners conducted this summer, 80 percent of respondents disagreed with a survey statement that public radio has been treated fairly by Congress during this year’s budget debates. More than 70 percent also disagreed with one of the criticisms that political foes lobbed at NPR and its stations — that public radio is for “elites.”Perhaps the most reassuring finding to those worried about how public radio’s most recognized brand has weathered the political firestorm was this finding: 86 percent of respondents disagreed with the statement “I have lost respect for NPR over the past year.”“NPR’s reputation looks strong and intact,” said researcher Fred Jacobs (above), whose radio consultancy Jacobs Media teamed up with PRPD to conduct the survey in June. More than half of the survey participants who objected to the statement about losing respect for NPR said they strongly disagreed with it, he said.There is a big caveat to the survey’s conclusions, however: respondents were among the most devoted listeners and supporters of public radio. Researchers drew from the membership databases of 44 NPR stations to create the survey sample.

Connecticut pubcasters ink deal with local schools for unique media academy

Connecticut Public Television and WNPR have signed an agreement with the Hartford, Conn., school system to establish an educational center at the network’s headquarters to provide a “hands-on” immersion lab for the city’s Journalism and Media Academy, reports the Hartford Courant. Starting with the 2013-14 school year, the academy’s 100 seniors will take all of their classes in the new Learning Lab in the CPBN building. In addition to core subjects, students will learn how to produce TV, radio and online media. Hartford faculty will teach the classes, said Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, although the network’s broadcasting and media professionals will “co-teach” for media instruction. “No public broadcaster in the country has even suggested such a thing,” said Jerry Franklin, network president.

New Orlando PBS primary WUCF-TV wants to hear from 10,000 viewers

WUCF-TV, the new PBS primary station in the Orlando market, doesn’t have a monetary goal for its first fundraising drive, which began Sept. 15 and ends Sept. 25. “We’re asking 10,000 viewers to contact us via email or letter,” spokesman Grant Heston told the Orlando Sentinel. “If part of that is a donation, that’s great.

Kevin Klose says he’ll return to teaching in July 2012

Kevin Klose, a former NPR president, is stepping down from his position as dean at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism, a spot he has held since February 2009. In a memo to colleagues also posted on Jim Romenesko’s Poynter Institute blog, Klose said he’s returning to the classroom as of July 1, 2012, “where the work of educating the next generation of journalists challenges us all.” Klose served as president of NPR from 1998 to 2008. He’s also a past president of the NPR Foundation and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, as well as an ex-Washington Post reporter.

Public media newsroom Center for Public Integrity hires NPR veteran Ellen Weiss, PBS exec Christine Montgomery

Ellen Weiss, the NPR News chief who took the network’s blame for the Juan Williams affair, will join the Center for Public Integrity as its executive editor as of Oct. 3, the watchdog newsroom announced today. The center is headed by one of her predecessors at NPR, Bill Buzenberg. “Ellen Weiss is one of the best and most creative news executives in the business,” he said in a news release.CPI hired three other top editors including Christine Montgomery, the center’s new chief digital officer, who was managing editor of PBS.org for two years while it expanded and then sharply reduced its online news plans. Montgomery is also president of the Online News Association, which holds its annual meeting this week in Boston.Weiss worked at NPR News for most of its first 29 years, including 12 as e.p. of All Things Considered and head of the National Desk and the past five as senior v.p. for news, managing more than 400 staffers, a $75 million budget and 36 news bureaus.

At least the Senate Democrats aren’t cutting CPB’s future funding

Though CPB and many other relatively small federal outlays could get whacked or seriously trimmed in the forthcoming scrum of Supercommittee deficit maneuvering, a Democrat-controlled Senate Appropriations subcommittee yesterday approved an increase in the advance appropriation for 2014. If CPB survives ’til then, it would receive $445 million, the same as appropriated for fiscal years 2012 and 2013 but $6 million below President Obama’s request, according to CPB. (This year’s sum is $430 million.)The action was taken in subcommittee markup of the Labor/HHS/Education appropriations bill for next year. In addition, CPB would receive $6 million for digital projects, and the Department of Education would receive $27.2 million for Ready to Learn. The full Senate Appropriations Committee will mark up the bill tomorrow.

Vermont net raises funds for Hurricane Irene relief

A one-day Vermont Public Radio fundraiser for Hurricane Irene relief Sept. 13 raised more than $628,000 for the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund. More than 4,600 listeners called to pledge support or donated online during the 16-hour campaign.“We know that our listeners are community-minded, but this outpouring of support went beyond anything we imagined,” said VPR President Robin Turnau. The hurricane rampaged through Vermont Aug. 28.VPR received a special one-day waiver from the FCC to allow it to raise funds for an organization other than itself.The network’s news staff is still posting followup stories on its special hurricane blog.

Ramer, Cahill now heading CPB Board

Bruce Ramer was re-elected chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s Board of Directors at its meeting today (Sept. 20) at headquarters in Washington, D.C. The new vice-chair is Patricia Cahill, general manager of KCUR-FM in Kansas City, who joined the board in August 2009.

WPBT2 show wins National Academies honor

“Sentinels of the Seas,” an episode of WPBT2’s Changing Seas, has won a 2011 Communications Award in the Film/Radio/TV category, from the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and Institute of Medicine. The episode explained what Florida’s bottlenose dolphins reveal about the health of coastal waters and human exposure to chemical contaminants. The awards recognize excellence in reporting and communicating science, engineering and medicine.Other public media finalists included Richard Harris and Alison Richards for “Gulf Spill May Far Exceed Official Estimates” on NPR; Richards, Christopher Joyce, Jon Hamilton and Joe Palca for “The Human Edge: Finding Our Inner Fish” also on NPR; and Gary Hochman, Steve Reich and Paula Apsell for “Secrets Beneath the Ice” on Nova.Pictured is the production team for Changing Seas: Sentinels of the Seas, from left:  Ray Ratliff, graphic designer; Jeremy Nicholson, editor/videographer; Kandra Velez, producer; Veronique Koch, associate producer; Alexa Elliott, series producer; Allan Farrell, videographer; and Sean Hickey, editor/videographer. (Image: WBPT2)

Big MacArthur kudo to Jad Jad Jad Abumrad rad rad

The MacArthur Foundation today publicly confirmed what fans already know: Jad Abumrad, auteur/producer and co-host of WNYC’s Radiolab, is some kinda genius. He is one of 22 scientists and other creative types who received $500,000 MacArthur fellowships in recognition of their achievements and potential. “This show is the central creative mission of my life right now, and the money might give me the space to bring new things into it,” Abumrad said in a New York Times article reporting the awards. Abumrad probably will have more to say Wednesday morning when he keynotes the Public Radio Program Directors conference in Baltimore.MacArthur Fellows are U.S. residents who have shown “exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment, and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.”In a video interview for MacArthur, Abumrad shows a bit of his process for orchestrating words, sentences and sounds into informational music:On the radio production showcase Transom.org, Ira Glass expresses his admiration and jealousy (“I feel jealous”) about the heights of effective radio that Abumrad and his co-host Robert Krulwich achieve on Radiolab, partly through carefully conceived and sometimes re-recorded “spontaneous sounding” banter. Glass  commends to listeners the Radiolab episodes about coincidence and randomness, parasites, a beloved mayor who has had a big operation, and being in a coma.Glass also contrasts the show’s real-people tone, and a different real-people tone of talk-radio personalities, with the standard style of pubradio news: “One way the opinion guys kick our ass and appeal to an audience is that they talk like normal people, not like news robots speaking their stentorian news-speak,” Glass writes.

Link TV announces new c.e.o., former ABC News exec Paul Mason

Nonprofit satellite channel Link TV today (Sept. 20) announced a new c.e.o., former ABC News executive Paul Mason. After 30 years in commercial television, Mason told Current, he “wanted to go someplace optimistic, where there’s tremendous passion about mission.”“That’s happening in not-for-profit media,” he said.He takes over as Link launches several initiatives, including LinkAsia, a half-hour online news show hosted by Yul Kwon, a former FCC deputy chief and host of the upcoming four-part PBS series America Revealed; and ViewChange.org, an online media hub funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, that  “highlights progress in reducing hunger, poverty and disease in developing nations,” as Link describes it, with stories of the people helped by global development organizations such as Save the Children, Oxfam, UNICEF, CONCERN and Bread for the World. The site deploys new technology to analyze the context and meaning of the videos and generate links to the latest related content available.The channel began 11 years ago after the FCC set aside part of the satellite TV spectrum for public-service purposes, and satellite broadcaster DirecTV gave a channel to Link’s WorldLink service (Current, Dec. 13, 1999).

Hearst TV exec to head World channel

Elizabeth Cheng, a Hearst Television executive, is the new general manager for the World channel, WGBH announced today (Sept. 20). Cheng will oversee all business, technical and creative aspects of production, distribution and marketing for the digital multicast service, which was developed by WGBH and WNET in 2004 and relaunched on multiple platforms last year (Current, June 7, 2010) with funding from CPB.At Hearst, Cheng was a vice president, as well as director of programming and communications for WCVB-TV Channel 5 Boston and director of programming for WMUR-TV Channel 9 Manchester, N.H., both ABC affiliates. In addition to executive producing specials and series programming, she was in charge of Chronicle, WCVB’s nightly news magazine covering the New England region.”As a long-time fan of public media — in fact, my first job in TV was at a PBS station — I’m thrilled to be part of a team delivering unique news and informational content to a national audience,” Cheng said. She worked as a producer at WSBE-TV in Providence after graduating from Brown University.

CPB to ask for $451 million for fiscal 2015

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting soon will request $451 million in advance funding for 2015, Tim Isgitt, CPB’s government affairs s.v.p., told board members in Washington, D.C. today (Sept. 19). That’s up slightly from the $445 million for the system in President Obama’s fiscal 2012 budget, which forward-funds FY14. CPB is also asking for $20 million in digital funding for 2013, Isgitt said, for collaborative station infrastructure projects, educational media support for teachers and public safety initiatives.And Patrick Butler, president of the Association of Public Television Stations advocacy organization, told the board that he’s “feeling a little bit better” about those funding prospects on Capitol Hill, compared with the brutal budget battles earlier this year. “We’ve found more of our public adversaries are starting to come around when they better understand what we do,” he told the board.

On the beat in Juárez, you listen with your gut

As a reporter for the multistation “local journalism center” Fronteras: The Changing America Desk, I am surrounded by borders. I live in Texas, work in New Mexico and regularly report in Mexico. In a 15-minute drive, I can be in a different state or a different country. It’s a tricky but fascinating work environment that’s further complicated by the drug war next door. The toughest but most compelling stories that we cover come from Mexico.

Blogosphere lashing for NPR report that went straight down the middle

As Jay Rosen sees it, “he said, she said” reporting is a “lame formula” for fact-based news reporting, a method of presenting opposing points of view that is out-dated and gutless. When Rosen, an NYU j-school professor who blogs at Press Think, found an example of “he said, she said” reporting in NPR’s Sept. 8 story on regulations on abortion clinics in Kansas, he called down the network in a series of posts that accused NPR of being cowardly:”NPR has, in this case, allowed its desire to escape criticism to overwhelm its journalistic imagination,” Rosen wrote. “‘He said, she said’ does not serve listeners. It tries to shield NPR from another round of bias attacks.