PBS’s Sepulveda: Stations can do more to engage Latinos, broader communities

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PBS stations need to share more information among themselves as they work to increase their community impact, PBS’s new senior v.p. of station services Juan Sepulveda said at the two-day “Understanding Impact” symposium, convened by the Public Media Futures Forum and the Center for Investigative Reporting April 17 and 18.

The forum, which took place at American University, explored how public media organizations can measure and analyze the impact of their work.


Sepulveda told forum attendees that “a big chunk” of public TV stations could be achieving greater impact in their communities. (Photo: Karen Everhart, Current)

Sepulveda, who started at PBS in January, said he was still trying to get a sense of how actively stations are working on issues of impact and how much information they’re sharing. So far, he’s concluded that a small number of stations are “doing it right,” he said, adding that “if we’re honest, a big chunk of the system is not.”

Sepulveda saw firsthand the success of digital outreach and community-organizing tactics when he worked to mobilize Texans and Latinos for President Obama’s campaigns. Public TV can apply those strategies to get stations “more directly involved in what’s happening with each other,” he said. Stations need to be motivated to change from a position of self-interest, Sepulveda said, and not forced to act in a form of “civic broccoli.”

As stations grapple with questions about their impact, PBS’s national office will be just one of the hubs driving those conversations, he said. The system needs to “feel comfortable with there being lots of different hubs, that it doesn’t have to all come from us,” he said.

In a wide-ranging conversation led by CIR’s chief strategy officer Joaquin Alvarado, Sepulveda also said that public broadcasting is not doing enough to engage the Latino community. “I think we all know that we need to do a better job,” he said. One of the biggest challenges, he said, is to overcome the limited money available for promotion and to make the Latino community aware of all of the “great content” public broadcasters offer.

Asked how the upcoming FCC spectrum auction will reshape public media in the next five years, Sepulveda said that “part of the challenge will be, how do we get the stations to think beyond their own self-interest” as they contemplate whether and how to take part.

If station owners don’t act to strengthen the “public” interest in PBS but instead use the auction to eliminate budget shortfalls at their institutions, “that’s going to be bad for the public sector,” Sepulveda said.

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