Bill Moyers, speaking at the American Public Television Fall Marketplace going on this week (Nov. 9-12) in Memphis, today called for a “makeover” of the public broadcasting system, “a rebirth, yes, of vision, imagination, and creativity, but above all a structure and scheme for the 2lst century,” beginning with a weeklong brainstorming convention of station managers, programmers, producers, viewers and other interested parties. “We could even stream it live on every public station website in the country,” he said.
Currently, public broadcasting in America is “just hanging on, leaking away, fraying at the margins; scrambling year by year to survive, hoping all the while for what in an era of trillion-dollar deficits and austerity will never be — more and more funding from Congress,” Moyers told the crowd.
“Everyone involved in the system has a vested interest in the status quo,” he said, “no matter how fragile and perilous. In truth, we all know that the better solutions demand a major overhaul of the national system.”
The next incarnation of public broadcasting must come from the stations, Moyers said. “I think you are the ones who are going to have to lead this process with the vision, the in-depth research, thoughtful analysis and multiple scenario planning it will require.”
“The core problem,” Moyers said, “is that we still don’t have an expansive national vision of what we’re about, where we want to go and what we want to become. Until we are able to say clearly and comprehensively what it is we really want to do, how much it will cost, and how we intend to get there, we can’t blame Congress, the White House or even the foundations for not supporting us more fully. In our candid moments, usually while bending elbows at the bar, we admit to each other that we’re mired in a sclerotic system that binds us to a politically cautious set of national entities that are both underfunded and themselves incapable of leading anyone towards a more vigorous notion of our future.”
And what might result from a serious reconsideration of the pubcasting system? “Nobody knows,” he said. “But at least we’d be alive again — to each other, to ideas, to new possibilities, and to the American people — the public, I say again, in public broadcasting.”
Moyers’ latest show, Moyers & Company, debuts in January, distributed by APT (Current, Aug. 29).
Amen reverend Bill!
To which the audience said, “Harumph! Harumph! Harumph! Bill Moyers is right! We need to get to work!”
And then they all got in their cabs, flew home, and esconced themselves in their corner offices and worried about the next pledge drive and the next Board meeting with the blue-hairs that call the shots on executive compensation.
The stations cannot lead a revolution — collective action across the system hollowed out local capacity both for production and decision-making. Stations are locked in a death spiral from which they cannot escape without abandoning the things that keep the remaining donations coming in.
The network also cannot lead a revolution, as they’re as locked into the death spiral as the stations AND they’re controlled by the stations. Not to mention they have a very expensive CEO to pay so she can galavant around the country offering wonderful speeches about how great everyone is and how much fun she’s having selling stuff to the Brits.
Moyers is incredibly smart and sees most of the problems and solutions clearly. But he’s missed two problems:
 no one votes themselves out of a job
 the Boards and donor lists are packed with people that do not want a digital future
Public media must find new voices, new models, and a new audience. The classic public broadcasting audience is not interested.
Is there a video version of Moyers’ speech? Seriously, does anybody know how we can find the video, post it, and make sure that everybody in the public television world watches it?