Map showing Local Journalism Centers and Argo Project stations, 2010
Three dozen public stations, mostly radio, will be involved in the Local Journalism Centers announced in March, while 12 (blue pushpins) were chosen last year for the NPR-coordinated Argo Project. All are partly funded by CPB.

CPB to aid 7 ‘local journalism centers’

About 50 new employees will staff
stations’ specialized regional teams

Public broadcasters sought to recast themselves as part of the solution to the crisis in ad-supported journalism with a March 25 announcement of big spending on local newsgathering projects.

CPB and up to 37 participating stations will invest a total of $10.5 million in seven Local Journalism Centers — hybrid news organizations that will produce multimedia coverage on focused topics of regional interest. Each center will be backed by CPB and a regional consortium of stations—the largest spanning five states — and is expected to become self-supporting after two years. About one-third of the licensees operate both TV and radio stations; the rest are radio-only.

CPB selected five centers — in the Southwest, Upper Midwest, Plains, Upstate New York and Central Florida (details below) — from those that sought funding last summer and is soliciting proposals from two other geographic regions, the Northwest and the South.

“This collaboration will enable public media stations to pool their resources and enhance their capacity to produce local journalism,” said CPB President Patricia Harrison. Each center will hire new reporters and editors to report for broadcast and online platforms. “All of the LJCs will be hiring new journalists and recruiting a diverse workforce,” she said.

The LJCs will operate on a larger scale than Project Argo, a similar NPR-led online news initiative backed with $2 million in CPB aid (see top of sidebar). The 12 stations participating in that initiative are hiring journalist/bloggers to report on topics of special local interest. The Argo Project team plans to begin rolling out its new websites this summer, according to Kinsey Wilson, senior v.p. of NPR digital media. 

The television studio of the Freedom Forum’s Newseum in Washington, D.C., was packed with pubcasting leaders and other stakeholders when Harrison described the LJCs as an “innovative new grassroots collaboration to leverage public broadcasting’s journalistic resources and strengthen the information health of America’s communities.”

Harrison announced a CPB planning grant to the proposed public media platform (Current, March 1) without going into detail; the contract is still being negotiated. The project, coordinated by NPR and involving major pubradio program distributors and PBS, would expand on NPR’s Open Application Programming Interface launched in 2008.

Nishat Kurwa of Youth RadioiThe corporation also put a spotlight on Youth Radio, which plans to seek CPB aid to start an online news service called Turnstile (working title) for young adults — official target ages, 18-34 years. Youth Radio News Director Nishat Kurwa said it will feature work by alumni of Youth Radio’s media training program and creative producers working in local public media or “on the margins of public media.”

“Many of these people feel that their voices aren’t recognized in conversations in legacy media,” said Kurwa during a panel discussion of public media’s role in journalism. “We are enthusiastic to bring this to public broadcasting. . . . We see ourselves as a broker in establishing this new service.”

To introduce the LJCs, CPB chose the same venue where last October the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Citizens in a Democracy urged public broadcasting to “move quickly toward a broader vision of public service media.” The commission’s report called for reforms to make pubcasting “more local, more inclusive, and more interactive.”

Harrison, Rosenstiehl, Irving and Carlo

Panel at Newseum: Harrison, Rosenstiel, Irving and Tom Karlo, g.m. of San DIego's KPBS. (Photos: Karen Everhart.)

This time, pubcasting leaders weren’t taking heat for their “mixed history” of meeting the news and information needs of their communities. Instead, they were making the case that local stations are uniquely positioned, as Harrison put it, to respond to the “contraction of local journalism and the disruption of the news industry.”

The Newseum event, which was webcast live, also addressed criticism from a study by Columbia University’s Journalism School, which concurred with the Knight Commission that public stations must devote more resources to creating in-depth local journalism.

The Columbia study focused on the need for new sources of accountability or “watchdog” reporting and was sharply critical of the field for failing to produce local reporting of any significance.

More recently, the FCC’s plan for national broadband build-out acknowledged the important role public broadcasting can play in the world of ubiquitous, high-speed Internet connections, but it also called for its transformation into public media, a term that public broadcasters are adopting for themselves even though it has yet to be defined in policy terms (Current, March 22).

Context: papers losing $1.6 billion

Advertising sales supporting all forms of commercial news media except cable news are suffering double-digit percentage declines, according to the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism annual report, State of the News Media. “The crisis in journalism is more of a revenue problem than an audience problem,” project director Tom Rosenstiel said during the panel discussion. Newspaper ad revenues dropped 43 percent in three years — much faster than the papers’ circulation, which slipped 17 percent. If online audiences for newspaper websites were factored in to circulation data, some newspapers may have gained readers, he said.

“There’s a lot of promise in new media, but the scale there is quite small,” Rosenstiel said. About $142 million in nonprofit money has been invested over four years in new media start-ups outside of public broadcasting, he said, citing an analysis by Jan Schaffer of J-Lab at American University [Shaffer speech at University of Southern California].

That philanthropic investment can’t begin to replace newspapers’ losses, estimated at $1.6 billion annually by Rick Edmonds, media business analyst at the Poynter Institute. “That gives you a sense that what’s growing in the new media culture does not come close to what’s being lost in commercial media," Rosenstiel said.

Unless commercial and nonprofit media outlets resolve their revenue problems, the balance of overall news output will continue shifting toward more opinionated coverage and less fact-based, objective journalism, Rosenstiel said. 

To panelist Larry Irving, a longtime media-access advocate who is v.p. of global government affairs at Hewlett-Packard and a PBS Board member, the decline of reportorial journalism creates a “a huge opportunity for public broadcasting to be the media of record. There is a need for an objective point of view,” he said. 

But Irving, an architect of telecom policy during the Clinton Administration, offered three burning questions about whether pubcasting is up to the challenge. “Will public broadcasting not just talk about serving the underserved, but actually do it? Is it nimble enough to deal with the technical changes? And do people really want objective journalism?”

Selective aid to journalism

Pubcasting’s leaders are betting the Local Journalism Centers and Argo projects will find appreciative listeners and engage them in new ways.

The projects don’t aim to duplicate the coverage lost from the nation’s newspapers but to bolster newsgathering selectively. Their primary aim is to experiment with new forms of journalism by “finding ways to build a loyal online audience around significant topics or beats,” said Kinsey Wilson, NPR’s senior v.p. of digital media.

The Argo Project will help stations launch “content-vertical” websites devoted to narrow topics on which the author can report with expertise, while the Local Journalism Centers will expand that idea to multimedia teams of journalists reporting on a local and regional basis for online and broadcast audiences.

“Our plan is to get these up and running, and then we would have a model and a template for doing more,” Harrison said. Twenty-seven stations in 14 states are collaborating in the five LJCs announced last month. CPB expects to involve 10 more stations with LJCs in the Northwest and the South.

Funding contracts for some LJCs have not been signed, but CPB’s budget provides $7.5 million for the seven centers while participating stations will collectively invest about $3 million, according to Tim Isgitt, v.p. of government affairs.

Meanwhile, contract negotiations are not complete for a project to create a prototype of a shared online news platform for public radio and TV. American Public Media, Public Radio Exchange, Public Radio International and PBS are NPR’s partners in planning the public media platform. “Basically, this is an investment in infrastructure,” Harrison said, one that will eventually allow stations, independent producers and other stakeholders to their share digital content with each other and the public at large.

NPR already has begun adding station productions to the big multimedia database tapped by the API. Last month it began ingesting content from pilot stations Oregon Public Broadcasting and the Northwest News Network, the reporting collaboration of stations in the Pacific Northwest.

The Public Media Platform is the same concept on a much grander scale — an ingest and retrieval system that reaches the broadest possible audience by letting web publishers discover and redistribute material from public media’s content storehouse.    

5 centers detailed,
2 in the offing

When the seven CPB-aided Local Journalism Centers are up and running, they’ll bring about 50 journalists into regional pubmedia collaborations.

CPB described plans for five of them. Although exact grant amounts for most are pending, the corporation expects to invest roughly $1 million in each center over two years. CPB is recruiting proposals for centers in two more regions —the South and the Northwest (RFP, deadline April 14).

Each of the LJCs will cover topics of special interest in their regions. Their output will be offered to other public media outlets and the public at large via digital media and broadcast platforms.

The largest collaboration funded so far, among seven stations in the Southwest, will focus on the region’s cultural and demographic shifts and immigration and border control issues. In other regions, centers selected specialties in economic redevelopment, agribusiness and healthcare.  

While public radio outlets dominate the list of participating stations, the centers in Florida and Upstate New York involve several dual TV/radio licensees.

Southwest—Fronteras: The Changing America Desk—reporting on Latino and Native American life and border issues that “affect American politics, social order and environmental landscape,” according to KJZZ in Phoenix, one of seven partner stations. This LJC, backed with $1.5 million from CPB, will recruit a bilingual reporting team. Partner stations include, besides KJZZ, KPBS-TV/FM in San Diego; Nevada Public Radio/KNPR in Las Vegas; KRWG in Las Cruces, N.M.; Texas Public Radio/KSTX in San Antonio; KUAZ in Tucson, Ariz.; and KNAU in Flagstaff, Ariz. The team will include seven reporters, two editors, and a social media editor, according to CPB.

Upper Midwest—Changing Gears: Remaking the Manufacturing Belt— reporting on the Rust Belt’s transition to a post-manufacturing economy. The center will produce personal stories of families and workers adapting to the difficult economy, features on individual “innovators” and tech-savvy companies, and reports on the impact of federal stimulus dollars, according Michigan Radio, one of three partner stations. The others are Chicago Public Radio/WBEZ and Cleveland’s ideastream, which operates WVIZ-TV and WCPN-FM. With the $972,000 grant from CPB plus local funds, the center will hire three reporters (one for each station), a senior editor and a senior producer for social engagement.

The Plains—Agribusiness Journalism Center—covering agribusiness topics such as farming practices and issues related to food and fuel production. Partner stations are KCUR in Kansas City, Mo.; Iowa Public Radio; Nebraska Educational Television, which operates statewide public TV and radio networks; KBIA in Columbia, Mo.; High Plains Public Radio/KANZ in Garden City, Kan.; and Kansas Public Radio/KNAU in Lawrence. The center will use Minnesota Public Radio’s Public Insight Network, a sourcing database that helps a newsroom find people willing to share pertinent expertise and experience in news reports. The staff will include one part-time and three full-time reporters, an editor and an outreach coordinator/PIJ analyst.

Upstate New York—The Innovation Trail—examining economic redevelopment projects tied to tech innovations. The partner stations are WXXI-TV/FM in Rochester, WMHT-TV/FM in Schenectady, WNED-TV/FM in Buffalo, WRVO-FM in Oswego, and WSKG in Binghamton. The news team includes five new reporters, one managing facilitator and an editor.

Central Florida—The Healthy State—reporting on health issues from both policy and consumer perspectives, including health-care disparities among ethnic groups and urban and rural populations. Partner stations are Tampa’s WUSF-TV/FM, WEDU-TV and community radio station WMNF; WGCU-TV/FM in Fort Myers; WMFE-TV/FM in Orlando; and WUFT-TV/FM in Gainesville. The center will hire five reporters, a multimedia manager, a community engagement specialist and an executive editor.

CPB anticipates that the LJCs for the South and Northwest will involve as many as 10 more stations. “We don’t know what topics the stations will propose, but early indications are that the environment and education are among issues being considered,” said CPB President Patricia Harrison. 

Comments, tips, questions?

Web page posted April 5, 2010
Copyright 2010 by Current LLC


In fall 2009, NPR announced a joint initiative with a dozen stations, the Argo project with funding from Knight Foundation and CPB.

The participating stations:

KALW and KQED in San Francisco;

KPCC in Pasadena, Calif.;

KPBS in San Diego;

KPLU in Seattle;

Minnesota Public Radio;

WAMU in Washington, D.C.;

WBUR and WGBH in Boston;

WNYC in New York;

OPB in Portland, Ore.; and

WXPN in Philadelphia.


Analysis of new-media startups and newspaper losses by Poynter Institute's Rick Edmonds.

CPB asks stations to propose Local Journalism Center projects, June 2009.


Video coverage of CPB announcement event at Newseum in Washington, D.C.

CPB's second-round RFP seeking projects in Northwest and South.

The State of the News Media 2010, annual report from Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Veteran news exec and Newsosaur blogger Alan Mutter: Nonprofits can’t possibly save news coverage.

Selections from the newspaper about
public TV and radio in the United States