David Rakoff, This American Life contributor, dies at 47

Humorist and essayist David Rakoff, a regular contributor to Public Radio International’s This American Life since the program’s inception, died Aug. 9 after a fight with cancer that dated to his 20s. He was 47. Rakoff worked in publishing before becoming a full-time writer. He appeared dozens of times on TAL to recite his essays, which often balanced pessimism with a wry sensibility.

Ken Messer, former g.m. of Yakima’s KYVE-TV, dies at 70

Ken Messer, who served as general manager of PBS affiliate KYVE in Yakima, Wash., from March 2008 through his retirement in June, died Aug. 21 at the age of 70 after a long battle with cancer. Messer was a prominent broadcaster in Yakima. Before joining KYVE, he spent 38 years at Yakima’s CBS affiliate, KIMA-TV, beginning in sales and working his way up to g.m. He was voted Broadcaster of the Year by the Washington Association of Broadcasters in 2005, and by the Yakima Advertising Federation in 2002. “As our friend, colleague and a tremendous community advocate in Yakima, Ken’s loss will be deeply felt,” said Moss Bresnahan, president and c.e.o. of Seattle pubTV station KCTS, which owns KYVE.

Fifth full-power station coming from MontanaPBS

MontanaPBS will launch a fifth full-power station in the state this fall, according to KUSM-TV General Manager Eric Hyyppa. KUKL-TV will offer all five of the station’s digital multicast channels. The new station will serve the area around Kalispell, or some 85,000 residents in the northwestern corner of Montana. “It’s really the last major community in the state that hasn’t had great over-the-air service,” Hyyppa said. “It’s had translators, but no full-power coverage.” With the new station, MontanaPBS will reach nearly three-quarters of the state’s population, up from around two-thirds.

Roger Fisher, creator of The Advocates on pubTV, dies at 90

Roger Fisher, a Harvard law professor who developed the Emmy-and Peabody Award–winning public TV program The Advocates, died Aug. 25 in Hanover, N.H. He was 90. His son Elliott told the New York Times that the cause of death was complications from dementia. Fisher proposed The Advocates in 1969, as a co-production of WGBH in Boston and KCET in Los Angeles. The show was one of the first projects at WGBH for Peter McGhee, who went on to become an influential head of national productions at the station.

Jerry Nelson, voice of Count von Count on Sesame Street, dies at 78

The man behind Sesame Street’s Count von Count, Jerry Nelson, died Aug. 23 at age 78. Nelson, who worked with Muppets creator Jim Henson early in his career, also played Gobo Fraggle on Fraggle Rock, a Henson TV series from the 1980s. Nelson “imbued all his characters with the same gentle, sweet whimsy and kindness that were a part of his own personality,” said Lisa Henson, c.e.o. of  Jim Henson Co., in a statement. “He joined the Jim Henson Co.

Pubcasters warned to up their advocacy on Capitol Hill

Efforts to build political support for continued federal funding of public broadcasting have gained little or no traction on Capitol Hill, a parade of speakers told the CPB Board during its Sept. 10 and 11 meeting in Washington, D.C.

Two members of Congress, a CPB staffer and heads of three national pubcasting organizations encouraged CPB’s leaders to do more to convince lawmakers that public broadcasting would be irreparably harmed by the loss of CPB’s $445 million appropriation. Dire warnings from this summer’s report on scant alternative funding sources haven’t swayed lawmakers who’ve pledged to defund CPB. The Booz & Co. financial analysis, requested by Congress in December 2011 and delivered in June, concluded that withdrawal of aid would have a “cascading debilitating effect,” starting first with stations serving rural areas and ultimately leading to the collapse of the public broadcasting system.

Robert Kotlowitz, father of pubTV icon series, dies at 87

Robert Kotlowitz, a pioneering public broadcaster at New York’s WNET who developed several public television series that became signature PBS programs — including a half-hour evening news show featuring Jim Lehrer and Robert MacNeil in 1973 — died Aug. 25 at his home in New York City after battling prostate cancer. He was 87. The New York Times described Kotlowitz as “a novelist and editor who reluctantly became a public television executive in 1971 and went on to help shape a lineup of homegrown and imported shows — including The MacNeil/Lehrer Report, Live at the Met, Dance in America and Brideshead Revisited — that represent a high-water mark in American television.”

Kotlowitz had just resigned from Harper’s Magazine in 1971 when John Jay Iselin, then the new president of WNET, offered him a job. Kotlowitz had never been inside a television studio.

Kickstarter-backed comic book will illustrate pubradio series on consciousness

The Peabody-winning pubradio program To the Best of Our Knowledge has successfully completed a $15,000 Kickstarter campaign to produce a comic book that will accompany an upcoming six-hour series. The series, Meet Your Mind: The Science of Consciousness, will air in November and December. Guests include famed brain researcher Oliver Sacks and Nobel laureates Eric Kandel and Daniel Kahneman. The comic book is intended to help illustrate Meet Your Mind. Jim Ottaviani, a writer who specializes in graphic novels about scientists, will pen the comic, and Natalie Nourigat will illustrate it.

WNYC, EarthFix lead pubmedia’s award winners at ONA 2012

SAN FRANCISCO — Public media continues to earn accolades for its online innovations, as multiple outlets racked up trophies at the Online News Association’s awards ceremony Sept. 22. Hosted by PBS NewsHour correspondent Hari Sreenivasan, the gala banquet sought to honor the year’s best work in online journalism across all media outlets. Award categories reflect the size of the operation: small sites, with fewer than 25 full-time employees; medium, more than 25 but fewer than 100; and large, more than 100. With two trophies each, public broadcasting’s big winners were WNYC in New York and EarthFix, the CPB-backed Local Journalism Center focusing on environment issues in the Pacific Northwest.

NPR seeks deal to offer CRM to more stations

NPR Digital Services is negotiating with an unidentified vendor to provide cloud-computing products to member stations, potentially transforming the ways they manage their membership programs and relationships with audiences. Bob Kempf, chief of the Boston-based NPR unit, would not identify the vendor, but acknowledges that NPR has been in close negotiations with roundCorner, a three-year-old company that specializes in designing customer relationship management (CRM) systems for nonprofit organizations. He aims to have a master services agreement with a third-party vendor in place by the end of the year, and launch a pilot program with as many as 10 stations in early 2013. NPR’s goal, he says, is to offer all member stations the opportunity to buy a license to a cloud-based, customizable CRM product later next year. “We are not building a single platform in the sky for stations to sign on to,” Kempf says.

NPR budget for 2013 projects $5 million deficit

The 2013 budget approved by the NPR Board Sept. 14 projects a $5.1 million operating deficit, with expenses adding up to $185.5 million and revenues projected at $180.4 million. Management plans to cover the shortfall with working capital and operating reserves. The 2013 spending plan anticipates a 5 percent gain in sponsorship income, which fell far behind projections this year. NPR expects to close fiscal 2012, which ends Sept.

CPB IG audit questions spending by Capitol News Connection

An audit by the CPB Inspector General’s Office of Pundit Productions, the nonprofit that operated a public radio news bureau on Capitol Hill until its shutdown last fall, found violations of several CPB grant requirements and recommended that Pundit return more than $35,000 in grant monies. At CPB management’s request, the IG examined how Pundit spent a $300,000 grant provided by CPB in 2011 for a “transition project” intended to develop a long-term business plan and pricing model. The nonprofit bureau, run by Melinda Wittstock, relied heavily on CPB’s assistance, receiving grants totalling $2.3 million since its start-up in 2003. For the 2011 grant, CPB covered slightly less than half of the $688,036 budget for the business planning. The IG spotted violations with $81,013 in expenses, ranging in scope from more than $40,000 in depreciation charges to payments of $285 that covered reporters’ parking tickets.

Madeleine Brand departs KPCC

Madeleine Brand has left KPCC “in order to pursue other career opportunities,” the station announced today (Sept. 21). Stepping in for her on Monday is Alex Cohen, the Pasadena, Calif., station’s local anchor for All Things Considered and Marketplace. In August, KPCC announced it was revamping The Madeleine Brand Show, which had premiered in September 2010, as Brand & Martinez, adding another hour and former ESPN newscaster A Martinez as co-host. The expansion was backed by CPB’s $1.8 million grant to the station in December 2011 for reporting and programming for and about Latinos and other minority listeners.

Pubcasting’s push into online news delivery has built-in limitations

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – At a forum of leading public media professionals, participants expressed mixed feelings about whether public media can, or should, replace newspapers as primary gatherers of news. At the fourth Public Media Futures forum, held Thursday at Bloomberg’s offices in San Francisco, more than two dozen public media professionals debated whether the industry’s non-broadcast capabilities are robust enough to allow it to fill the role of a daily newspaper. In some respects, public broadcasting websites have already moved into the up-to-the-minute newsgathering space. Kinsey Wilson, executive v.p. and chief content officer at NPR, said NPR.org functions much like a newspaper website, with breaking news, a story flow that shifts multiple times a day and large quantities of original content apart from radio pieces rewritten for the Web.

Public Media Futures forum to discuss online and mobile news and tech issues

The fourth in a series of Public Media Futures forums exploring the next steps for public broadcasting will be streamed live from San Francisco from 8 a.m. to noon Pacific Time Thursday (Sept. 20). This meeting will focus on new research on the future of news, information and public-service media online and on mobile devices, with special attention to the technological requirements for pubcasters’ objectives over the next five years. The more than 30 participants include Kinsey Wilson, chief content officer, NPR; Carol Varney, managing director, Bay Area Video Coalition; Olivia Ma, news and politics manager, YouTube; Chris Satullo, news director, WHYY; Brant Houston, chair, Investigative News Network; Linda Fantin, director of network journalism, American Public Media; and Stephen Engleberg, managing editor, ProPublica. Co-sponsoring the gathering are USC Center for Communication Leadership and Policy, American University School of Communication (where Current is an independent journalism center) and Media Impact Funders (formerly Grantmakers in Film and Electronic Media).

News service goes the co-op route in Hawaii

The Hawaii Independent began as a small for-profit corporation five years ago. But earlier this year the news venture morphed into a co-op, offering both subscriptions and ownership benefits. “In the past two years,” Publisher Ikaika Hussey tells MediaShift, “one of our newspapers bought the other one and then it was bought by a Canadian company. So there was the feeling of a loss of a local institution. We need an institution that’s going to be here for the long haul.

Mundt: Without innovation, stations may be “pedestrian repeaters of national content”

Todd Mundt, editorial director of NPR’s Digital Services, is concerned for the future of public radio. “I think there’s great opportunity,” he tells Nieman Journalism Lab’s Andrew Phelps, “but what I’m afraid of is that many stations won’t embrace the opportunity and they will have the emperor-has-no-clothes moment. They will be revealed as rather pedestrian repeaters of national content.”