Not In Our Town: ‘Public media at its best’ seeks civility

A movement against hate crimes called Not In Our Town, spawned by a 1995 documentary on PBS, has come to represent many things. To the executive producer, NIOT is a way to help viewers counter incidents of bigotry and violence. Public broadcasting stations use it to reach into diverse communities in meaningful ways. A media scholar sees NIOT as a laboratory to breed and study methods of engagement. Most importantly, to citizens frustrated by community issues that seem impossible to resolve, NIOT suggests a way to make a difference in the lives of their neighbors.

High stakes + direct access = full engagement

Noel Gunther remembers the moment when he realized that public broadcasting had to get involved in traumatic brain injury education. It was 2001. Gunther was producing a segment for WETA’s documentary series Exploring Your Brain. He was interviewing hockey Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine, who had been forced to retire at age 34 after several concussions. The first, in 1990, knocked him unconscious and put him into convulsions — and yet LaFontaine was back on the ice 10 days later.

But how did outreach affect life in the real world?

The evaluation — one of the most extensive attempts to assess the influence of a public TV outreach project — found that 26 percent of viewers who called an 800 number after the broadcast said they were motivated to volunteer in schools or donate funds, or take other actions related to youth work.