2012 RTDNA Edward R. Murrow Awards

WNYC led public media in the 2012 national Edward R. Murrow Awards announced June 12 by the Radio Television Digital News Association. Among 17 pubcasting entities receiving Murrows for excellence in electronic journalism, the New York station won three trophies for two of its nationally distributed shows, Studio 360 and Radio Rookies. Public stations winning national Murrows in large- and small-market radio divisions excelled during an earlier phase of RTDNA’s annual journalism contest — the regional Murrows awarded in 13 multistate contests this spring. Public media news outlets won national Murrows across four divisions. Radio networks: WNYC’s Studio 360, a co-production with Public Radio International, for feature reporting and use of sound, and Radio Rookies, writing; BBC World Service, hard news reporting and news documentary; American Public Media’s Marketplace, investigative reporting; and NPR, website.

Investigative Reporters & Editors Awards

California Watch and KQED received IRE’s highest honor for “On Shaky Ground.”

California Watch, a nonpartisan group of investigative journalists, and the San Francisco pubcaster won the IRE Medal for what the judges called “an extraordinary effort examining seismic safeguards in place to protect California’s schoolchildren from earthquakes.” The 19-month project produced stories published in 150 news outlets that eventually forced state lawmakers to create new standards for repairing seismic hazards. Cited for the award were Corey G. Johnson, Erica Perez, Kendall Taggart, Agustin Armendariz, Michael Montgomery, Anna Werner, Chase Davis, Michael Corey, Carrie Ching, Ashley Alvarado and Krissy Clark. “On Shaky Ground” also won an IRE award in the multiplatform–medium category. The IRE Award in the multiplatform–large category went to ProPublica, NPR and Frontline for “Post Mortem: Death Investigation in America.” Judges praised the project for showing that “death investigations are a patchwork of different systems that bear little resemblance to the work seen on television shows such as CSI.”

ProPublica staffers cited for the award included A.C. Thompson, Chisun Lee, Marshall Allen, Aarti Shahani, Mosi Secret, Krista Kjellman Schmidt, Al Shaw, Jennifer LaFleur and Robin Fields; from NPR, Joe Shapiro, Sandra Bartlett, Coburn Dukeheart, John Poole and Susanne Reber; from Frontline, Lowell Bergman, Carl Byker, Andres Cediel, Arun Rath, Raney Aronson-Rath and David Fanning; and Ryan Gabrielson from the Investigative Reporting Program at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. NPR’s Ina Jaffe and Quinn O’Toole won the IRE Award in the radio/audio category for “Rising Violence in California Psychiatric Hospitals,” an investigation inspired by last year’s murder of a hospital worker by a patient.

PRNDI Awards for local journalism

KPCC and Vermont Public Radio led public radio news rooms in PRNDI’s three-tiered contest honoring outstanding local news coverage. In the competition among stations with the largest news staffs, KPCC in Pasadena, Calif., and VPR each won four first-place prizes. Top winners in other divisions included WBGO in Newark, N.J.; Wyoming Public Radio; KLCC in Eugene, Oregon; and WCAI in Woods Hole, Mass., each of which won at least three PRNDI awards. In Division A, comprising stations with five or more full-time news staffers, Vermont Public Radio took four top prizes for its coverage of the devastation caused by Hurricane Irene. Two of three first-place awards presented to WBGO in Division B recognized its reporting on the hurricane.

PRNDI honored former NPR news chief Ellen Weiss for significant contributions to public radio news.

Weiss worked at NPR for 28 years, rising to senior v.p. of news in 2007, a post she held for four years. Before that she was senior editor of the network’s National Desk from 2001 to 2007. She also served as executive producer of All Things Considered from 1989 to 2001. “Ellen’s leadership and commitment to public radio journalism resulted in stronger stories from NPR reporters, as well as from newsrooms around the country,” said George Bodarky, newly elected president of PRNDI and news director at WFUV in New York, in an email to Current. “During her time at NPR, Ellen consistently took time out to share her knowledge and expertise with member station newsrooms. Her wisdom has helped many newsroom managers sharpen their skills and strengthen their departments.”

“Ellen was among those who worked hard to get more member station reporters on the air,” said Bob Beck, PRNDI treasurer and news director at Wyoming Public Radio. “She also helped get NPR reporters, hosts, and editors to help with PRNDI and other trainings.


Pacifica orders austerity cuts after grim auditors’ report

Responding to a June 15 auditors’ report expressing “substantial doubt” that the Pacifica Foundation has the financial wherewithal “to continue as a going concern,” Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt recently notified the five Pacifica radio stations to prepare for deep cuts in their budgets and staffing. The audit, which examined the foundation’s finances for fiscal year 2011, was the second consecutive report questioning Pacifica’s financial viability. Although Engelhardt disputed the auditors’ warnings — “We can always take to the air and raise money,” she said — she directed the stations to make cuts of at least $1 million from their collective budgets. The reductions were to be made immediately, but at Current’s deadline, decisions being made at local stations could not be confirmed. While Pacifica has made substantial progress in reducing its operating deficit from $2.7 million in fiscal 2009 to $564,000 in 2011, “we still have not made inroads on the debt,” Engelhardt said in a telephone interview.

Why don’t more stations adopt ‘sustainer’ ways?

Public radio stations have widely adopted sustaining-member programs over the last several years. Because of this, one might assume that a significant number of sustainers contribute to public radio every month. However, the reality for most public radio stations is quite the opposite.

‘Takeaway’ shifts to middays in bid for broader carriage

WNYC will move production of The Takeaway to later in the day and trim its length to one hour starting in September in an effort to boost carriage of the off-the-cuff news show that set out to challenge Morning Edition.

The New York station launched The Takeaway with co-producer Public Radio International in 2008 as an alternative to NPR’s morning blockbuster — the newscomer with a more spontaneous approach and increased audience interaction. But after four years, the show airs on the primary broadcast signals of 55 stations, up by just 15 since September 2009. Ten additional stations air it on digital multicast channels.

NET’s Bates to retire, NPR’s Seabrook departs, Bodarky elected PRNDI prez, and more…

Bates, a producer/director who rose through the ranks to become network chief in 1996, announced his retirement plans June 22, initiating the second leadership transition for the state network’s top job since its founding 58 years ago. Bates arrived at NET in 1975 as a producer/director working on a one-year assignment. He ended up devoting his career to NET, earning a promotion to senior producer and eventually moving into fundraising. He became director of development for Nebraskans for Public Television Inc. in 1985 before being appointed to succeed Jack McBride, NET’s founding general manager, in the mid-1990s. “Rod Bates’ leadership has brought NET to the highest level of service in our history,” said Ron Hull, a semi-retired NET veteran who hired Bates as a TV producer more than three decades ago.

Seeking the next $100 million

A review of public stations’ financial data over the past 15 years shows that, despite their widely divergent revenue trajectories, public radio and television have both made great progress in implementing structural and cultural changes needed to pursue new revenues.

Association of Public Radio Engineers Awards

Mike Starling received the Meritorious Service Award for spearheading technological innovation within NPR and at its stations. Starling, executive director of the Technology Research Center and NPR Labs, was cited for innovations including multicasting on HD Radio channels to public-service spectrum initiatives and accessible public radio services for the visually and hearing impaired. Starling, one of the founders of APRE in 2006, was also involved in preparing and presenting the Project ACORN Summit in 2002, which encouraged station managers and engineers to take advantage of translators to expand their signals. According to the nomination form, “[Starling] is and always has been passionate about radio, a firm and steady advocate for the technology, for the medium, and for stations. .

Knight retools grant programs, adds new fund for ‘tinkerers of all kinds’

In another set of changes intended to adjust its journalism philanthropy to the rapidly evolving digital-media marketplace, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation unveiled a new grants program last month and created a new mechanism for providing aid to digital start-ups. The Knight Prototype Fund is designed to react quickly to entrepreneurs, journalists and “tinkerers of all kinds” who are building and testing pioneering ideas, the foundation announced on its website. The fund offers small grants of up to $50,000 over a few months, a much shorter time frame than the more typical cycle of one- to three-year grants. Among the first award-winners is Matt Waite, a professor at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln who is experimenting with the use of drone vehicles for news and data collection. Knight also tweaked the formula for its News Challenge, the grant program that was split into three application rounds earlier this year.

Jim Packard, announcer of Whad’Ya Know?

Jim Packard, longtime announcer on public radio’s Whad’Ya Know?, died June 18 at a New York City hospital. He was 70. Michael Feldman, host of the national comedy quiz show produced by Wisconsin Public Radio, itold the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Packard suffered from cardiopulmonary disease, and that “his lung function had been decreasing visibly” for the past eight months. Packard had been in New York for a live broadcast of the popular show on June 9, at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at New York University, the Journal Sentinel reported. Packard entered the hospital on June 10.

Carole Nolan, led WBEZ’s bid for independence

Carole Nolan, who founded WBEZ-FM in Chicago at a time when few women held top management jobs in public broadcasting, died July 5 of complications from muscular sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. She was 80. In 1971, as director of telecommunications and broadcasting for the Chicago Public Schools, Nolan asked to take over management of the Chicago Board of Education’s radio station. “She began a complete overhaul that reinvented WBEZ,” said former WBEZ spokesperson Merillee Clark Redmond in the Chicago Tribune. “She took great risks and was creative as she hired staff who would develop new programming and yet not neglect the Board of Education’s desire for educational programs.”

Nolan secured $100,000 for a new transmitter and antenna, and aid from CPB.

PBS, six stations testing donation requests on COVE

PBS and six stations are testing approaches for soliciting donations through COVE, PBS’s local-national video platform, according to PBS. Five 15-second pre-roll ads will instruct users to click on a donation button that is linked to a local station’s fundraising page. PBS will compare results for each ad with click-through rates and donor conversions. It expects to report on results by the end of October. Stations participating in the pilot are Iowa Public Television; KPBS in San Diego; KLRU, Austin, Texas; PBS SoCal in Los Angeles; WGVU, Kalamazoo, Mich.; and Chicago’s WTTW.

Justice Dept. asks Ninth Circuit to reconsider pubcasting ad decision

The U.S. Department of Justice is asking the Ninth Circuit Court to reconsider its April decision that a federal law banning public television and radio stations from running political advertising was unconstitutional. In its June 29 filing, the Justice Department argued that the finding “threatens the fundamental nature of public broadcasting.”

In Minority Television Project v. FCC, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit voted 2-1 to overturn the ban in the case brought by the longtime licensee of noncommercial San Francisco station KMTP-TV (Current, April 23). The Justice Department’s appeal to the full court argues that that the panel majority “applied erroneous legal standards and misinterpreted the record” to reach their conclusion. “Federal law has consistently precluded public television licensees from airing paid advertisements,” the Justice Department’s filing contends. “The reasons for this are straightforward and uncontested: public broadcasters provide educational programming (particularly high-quality children’s programming) that is not available on commercial stations and subjecting public stations to advertisers’ market pressures would undermine their ability to provide such programming.”