The Center for Public Interest Journalism at Temple University shuttered nonprofit news website AxisPhilly June 13 after two years of reporting that earned national recognition but failed to meet the school’s expectations for local impact. Yet CPIJ, which is operated by Temple’s School of Media and Communications, is embarking on another digital news venture. It is helping to launch Brother.ly, a Philadelphia-focused news startup headed by Jim Brady, former editor-in-chief of Digital First Media. CPIJ launched AxisPhilly in 2012 with a two-year, $2.4 million grant from the William Penn Foundation. The site’s first director, Neil Budde, left after the first year as CPIJ looked to restructure the site to make it self-sustaining.
This month Philadelphia’s WXPN launched the Mississippi Blues Project, a concert series and website featuring eight musicians who have had limited exposure outside of their home state. “We wanted to bring awareness to a somewhat obscure form of blues from Mississippi,” said WXPN’s Bruce Warren, executive producer of the project and assistant station manager, in a Philadelphia Inquirer article. “The Delta blues is always the foundation of the blues. We wanted to focus on … dozens and dozens of incredible blues guys and women who rarely play outside of juke joints and areas of rural Mississippi.”
The concert series kicked off Aug. 19 with a performance by Big George Brock and the Cedric Burnside Project.
Two pioneering pubcasters in Philadelphia, John B. Roberts and Bruce Harrison Beale, died on the same day, March 8 . John B. Roberts, one of the founding directors of WHYY-FM/TV in 1957, died of a spinal infection at his home in the retirement community of Rydal Park in suburban Philadelphia. He was 94. In 1953, Roberts had founded the Temple University public radio station, WRTI-FM, now an outlet for classical and jazz music, and taught communication at the university from 1946 to 1988. “When I was an undergrad at Temple in the 1970s, “WRTI was staffed and managed by students,” said Temple faculty member Paul Gluck, who served as station manager of WHYY-TV from 1999 to 2007.
Mumia Abu-Jamal, the onetime radio journalist, activist and convicted killer whose planned jailhouse commentaries were dropped by NPR after an outcry 17 years ago, is off of death row. However, he’s likely to stay in prison the rest of his life, without the possibility of parole. Abu-Jamal is now jailed at State Correctional Institution Mahanoy, west of Allentown in eastern Pennsylvania. Philadelphia’s district attorney, Seth Williams, said Dec. 7  the death penalty was a just punishment for killing a city policeman 30 years ago, but he wouldn’t prolong the legal struggle by asking again for execution. Twice the courts had ordered execution, and appeals saved him — to the relief of his partisans and to the outrage of those of Officer Daniel Faulkner.
From the opening moments of its 2001 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, PBS drew on the city’s role in U.S. history and a series of in-person presentations to foster pride and other warm fuzzies among 1,300 conference attendees. In a spoof of Antiques Roadshow with actors as the founding fathers, APTS President John Lawson presented a letter by Alexander Hamilton to appraisers Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. “We must secure our union on solid foundations — it is a job for Hercules,” Hamilton wrote. Lawson feigned amazement when the letter was deemed to be of “immense worth.” For plenary sessions in a convention center ballroom, PBS put on highly produced shows, with musical performances, staged interviews, scripts rolling on multiple teleprompters and program-related stunts replacing many of the clip screenings of past years.
If Frederick Wiseman’s High School works like a time machine, transporting viewers back to their own coming of age experiences in this quintessential American institution, the journey will be bittersweet for alumni of Philadelphia’s Northeast High School, where the landmark documentary was shot. Most alums have never seen the documentary, but they remember the local controversy over how it depicted their alma mater. Threatened with what he describes now as “vague talk” of a lawsuit, Wiseman in 1968 agreed not to screen High School within miles of the city. More than three decades later, the documentary has achieved classic status among independent films. PBS will present it as such Aug. 28  as a P.O.V. Classic, a new strand developed by Executive Producer Cara Mertes.
The prospect of radio commentaries by a controversial death-row inmate “accelerated” Temple University’s decision to pull Pacifica news off WRTI, the university said. In a memo to Pacifica News Director Julie Drizin, Temple Vice President for Public Relations George Ingram said he was canceling a half-hour news feed and the one-hour Democracy Now to make room for additional jazz and university-related programming. But he also said: “Quite frankly, the decision was accelerated by the news Democracy Now would air the Mumia Abu-Jamal radio commentaries. . .
Even from a concrete cell where he is locked up 23 hours a day, Mumia Abu-Jamal — convicted murderer and former public radio journalist — draws attention.The governor’s, for example. Pennsylvania’s newly elected Thomas Ridge last year promised a state legislator pushing for Jamal’s execution that he would sign cop killers’ death warrants first. Ridge later reneged — putting cop killers up top would send the message that certain murders are more grievous than others. But he has significantly accelerated the signing of warrants. Where former Gov. Robert Casey signed 25 warrants in eight years, Ridge has signed five since his January swearing in (a ceremony that took place amidst the chants of Jamal supporters: “No death row!
NPR’s decisions to air, and then not to air, Mumia Abu-Jamal’s death-row commentaries might yet take another turn. The network is committed to airing prisoners’ voices — perhaps Abu-Jamal’s, in a form different from the stand-alone commentaries originally planned, NPR Vice President Bill Buzenberg said Wednesday. “I see this as a decision to pull back” and “postpone,” he said. “We’ll make other editorial decisions down the road.”
The silence from prisons allows a public hysterical about crime to maintain its stereotyped image
of prisoners and not think about them as complex human beings, says Sussman. The NPR-distributed Fresh Air interview program, meanwhile, may hire an inmate commentator (separate story below).