Saving public broadcasting

Saving public broadcasting

: I have a humble suggestion for how to save public broadcasting:

Make it truly public broadcasting, supported by its public instead of by government.

The hooha going on over the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is precisely the danger of taking government money: It’s taking political money. It is a worse compromise than taking advertisers’ money, for advertisers’ agendas are clear — selling things, making money — while politicians’ agendas are far more slippery. So I say it’s time to take the bull by the horns:

1. Get Howard Dean’s fundraising geniuses to get out a bat and start a combative fundraising campaign: For every dollar the politicians try to cut, you vow to raise two dollars (as when, in the Dean blog, every troll attack brought in more contributions).

2. Use that money to underwrite just the kinds of programs the conservative opponents of public broadcasting will hate most: Alan Alda narrating a five-part series on the wonders of stem-cell research…. Sex education, the series…. Probing televangelists…. An investigation of America’s health-care crisis….

3. Get celebrities signed up. Guarantees free publicity. Might even get you in their wills.

4. Send the stars — and Jesse Jackson — into companies to get them to pay up, concentrating on the companies of new media that are upsetting the old. Hey, Google, if you’re getting into the news business, why not start supporting the content you so love to link to? Hey, Apple, if you really want to support education, pay for Sesame Street? Hey, Bill Gates, if you want to improve public health, throw some money to PBS for an informative series on AIDS? Yahoo, you want content for online, why not underwrite a broadcast series and tie it to online presentation?

5. As the money is raised, get PBS supporters in Congress to go along with the cuts in CBP budgeting on one condition: Every dollar that leaves public broadcasting goes into education.

In addition, PBS especially needs to get smarter about new media. Follow the BBC’s example and start putting all programming up online for free distribution (with underwrwiters’ and pledge messages included): If your mission is to serve the public, then serve them where and how they want to be served. And:

: Involve the public more in the creation of programming. I won’t replay that sermon here.

: Reexamine the mission of public broadcasting in an era when the public can broadcast.

: Reexamine the mission of public broadcasting and when cable provides so much more value, like historical and educational programming (and I’m sorry that 11 percent of the country don’t get TV via cable but, hey,

: Here’s the tough one: Try to raise money based on quality programming, not on John Tesh specials. Get rid of those named touchy-feely cultish self-improvement bullshit shows. Have some pride in quality again.

This is the long-term strategy public broadcasting must follow if it is going to avoid complete politicization. Yes, we can argue that it’s a shame that the government does not support public broadcasting. But taking money from politicians gets you politics.

: AMEN: See Doc Searls.

: Ernie Miller says:

We really should reexamine the mission of public broadcasting, not only in the context of cable, but in the context of the internet and the coming of broadcatching. Perhaps we may want to figure out how to democratize distribution, rather than subsidize flawed distribution schemes.

  • http://itinerantlibrarian.blogspot.com Itinerant Librarian

    Hmm, there are some very interesting ideas here. It does boil down to “he who pays the piper, picks the tune.” Maybe we the people should be paying for it for a change? I love the condition of if Congress takes a dollar away to put it into education. God knows we need more for education, but sadly, that seems like such an impossible dream. Anyhow, great idea to work from at least.

  • Ethan

    Good ideas overall, but #4 needs to be rethought. Why concentrate on new media? And how to ensure that corporate interests and the public interests coincide?

  • fan of real news BBC

    when on Earth did PBS ever do anything called “disclosure,” as in “transparency” and “open-books?” there are drill down acount reporting software tools tyat will tell you who REALLY made how much – how much DOES Ken Burns get, and how much gets skimmed off by PBS-favored “distribution,” and how much do there middlemen (and women) make? Why? Do they REALLY add value, or are they simply exquisitely well-connected politicans themselves – or front people for politicians?
    So, how’s this – every program links to the drill down budget for that program, nad you can SEE where your momey REALLY goes.
    I have always looked at PBS as being a program of welfare for the rich – limousine liberals cloaking themselves in gracious righteousness, while acting in ther own pecuniary interests, first.
    You could try a breakdown on the real money received for, say, Sesame Street, as an exercise in the real politics of journalism – and entertainment.
    Who made how much, and why didn’t the taxpayers get a bigger piece of the pie?
    Can you imagine?
    “The News-Hour”
    salaries:
    fringes:
    production costs:
    equipment rental:
    all with breakdowns as to WHO actually was paid WHAT, and why>
    this is all standard stuff, and they can print it out and have it on the web as .xls spreadsheets tomorrow at nine.
    we can all learn about transfer costs, and accounting for intangibles, and will probably realize the PBS budget can easily – and proftiably – be cut in half…
    In the meantime, my NEWS folder in Mozilla has tabs for five different BBC websites, and no room whatsoever for the Peoples/Petroleum Broadcast Service.

  • Holding My Breath

    All good ideas with this one being the best; Reexamine the mission of public broadcasting in an era when the public can broadcast.
    I’d like to add a couple.
    If you are going to hold yourself up as PUBLIC radio, attempt to understand and treat with respect the repeatedly and democratically elected majority, even if you disagree with them. Do not hijack the PUBLIC airwaves and tax dollars to push your private agenda.
    Recognize a terrorist when you see one. Failure to do so should be your cue to exit stage left, taking your blame America first flavor of relativism with you. Good riddance.

  • Ethan

    “Recognize a terrorist when you see one. Failure to do so should be your cue to exit stage left, taking your blame America first flavor of relativism with you. Good riddance.
    Posted by Holding My Breath at June 20, 2005 11:08 AM”
    In God’s name, what and who SPECIFICALLY are you talking about???

  • Holding My Breath

    In God’s name, what and who SPECIFICALLY are you talking about???
    I am talking SPECIFICALLY about all of the puff pieces and kid gloves used in the coverage of, just by example, a murderous terrorist like Yassir Arafat, who they only spoke of with the respect due a world leader, and not that due a mass murderer.
    I am talking SPECIFICALLY about their clear slant in covering the war in Iraq. They are not alone in this, and not everyone at CPB is responsible for this, but I have no doubt that they do in fact tend to blame America first when it suits them, ie when a Republican is in power. I think they do this because some in CPB hate some Republicans who have been cutting their funding for years.
    I could go on. I could be wrong.
    I hope that answers your question.

  • Ed Poinsett

    Great ideas except for the money being funneled to education. Major reforms needed there before more dough is wasted on the NEA. We’ve been “doing it for the children” for so long that they can’t even read, write, and add anymore. My son graduated from the academic curriculum at his high school and did not know which was larger, one half or seven sixteenths.

  • John

    Ed…so your son doesn’t know the difference between 1/2 and 7/16′s. Could is just possibly be that he didn’t pay enough attention in math, or is simply not very good in the subject rather than this being an example of money wasted on the NEA. So, based on your logic, we need to cut funding for the arts and this will help make our kids smarter?

  • http://healthy-elements.com Lynn

    Send the stars — and Jesse Jackson — into companies to get them to pay up,
    Do you know what your advocating Jeff? If so, shame, shame on you. May you have a business someday, be following all the rules (costs the same to defend yourself,…innocent or guilty) and have JJ stroll thru YOUR door!
    I had no prior knowledge of this particular website, but with vague memories of past controversy, googled “Jesse Jackson” and the word “blackmail” on one line. Interesting what came up.
    http://www.issues-views.com/index.php/sect/1004/article/1072
    http://www.issues-views.com/index.php/sect/1004/article/1070

  • Thom Moon

    Some great ideas here. Couldn’t agree more that public radio and tv must wean themselves from the political $. Plus, if public radio and tv control their own destinies (i.e., not receiving money from any governmental entity), then all of you who gripe about supposedly slanted Iraq coverage, Jesse Jackson, etc., can just stick to Faux News Channel, Rush “I’m Not a Drug Addict, but I am a Nazi” Limbaugh and their ilk and leave America’s only reliable news sources (NPR and PBS) alone.

  • Holding My Breath

    Thom- I hate to inform you, but you are in the minority.
    I don’t listen to Rush, and I wouldn’t want to be in the position of defending his hypocrisy, but if you think NPR and PBS are more reliable simply because they agree with your world view, you might be as naive as the passionate viewers of ever loathsome Bill OReilly.

  • http://cellar.org/iotd.php Undertoad

    In Philly the local PBS station is WHYY. WHYY’s offices and studios take up a block of the most expensive real estate in the city. It resides literally next to Independence Mall. Its signal was always of the highest quality. Its studios are full of state-of-the-art gear. Its bumper graphics are impressive computer animations, and have been for quite a while. They buy all the most expensive programming and they are sorry they forgot to send you the Dr. Who mug as a premium for your $60 pledge.
    In college I ran the radio station. We upgraded the equipment to broadcast to the entire city of Reading PA. Since the real estate was a few rooms that the college paid for, and the only paid staff was an on-call engineer, a budget of $10,000 (1985 dollars) was all that was required to operate 14 hours a day.
    Of course, it was a sandbox of student shows, as is most college radio. But the differences were always very striking to me, and when I visited WHYY, all I could think was, you don’t really need any of this to broadcast; all you need is, y’know, two turntables and a microphone. The CHANNEL is the expensive part, which can’t be had at any price.

  • deesnutz

    Well put Jeff! Let us take back our media. I am tired of this country and everything it does being tainted by “Corporate Whore-a-lism”. Public television should be just that … for the public and by the public. I wish democracy today had the same meaning, instead of for the rich and by the rich.
    You see, “Corporate Whore-a-lism” (CW) is when corporations (which are treated as an entity (a soulless one at that)) use its power and wealth to achieve one primary goal. That goal is to generate more power and wealth for itself, the corporation, and it’s shareholders.
    It is like a virus that spreads to no end, and does not care who or what it infects (as long as the primary goal is achieved). It is obvious, that our government (both parties) have a bad case of CW.
    American’s need to find the cure for CW. Moreover, eradicate it from public television, our government and all other entities that have become tainted. CW is not something that one could live with like the herpes virus. Due to itís infectious GREED, CW will eventually overcome and destroy itís host.
    So again, let us take back our media and government. In addition, put an end to “Corporate Whore-a-lism”.

  • Whodat

    As someone who used to work for PBS, I will say these are…all bad ideas. In the immortal words of Homer J. Simpson on PBS: “Especially now, when the rich mosaic of cable programming has made public television so very, very unnecessary.”
    This is the best: Reexamine the mission of public broadcasting in an era when the public can broadcast. They have that already–public access on Cable. Or even webcams. What is going to be so spectacular about people who have no idea how to craft a compelling show? ZZZZZZzzzzzzz.
    And Dees, you might want to shine a light in another direction. The problems, at least when it comes to finances, didn’t come from the government. That’s a PBS problem.
    It had its run. The quality shows that people want to see will still show up elsewhere. There is nothing unique about it anymore.

  • Ethan

    “I am talking SPECIFICALLY about all of the puff pieces and kid gloves used in the coverage of, just by example, a murderous terrorist like Yassir Arafat, who they only spoke of with the respect due a world leader, and not that due a mass murderer.
    I am talking SPECIFICALLY about their clear slant in covering the war in Iraq. They are not alone in this, and not everyone at CPB is responsible for this, but I have no doubt that they do in fact tend to blame America first when it suits them, ie when a Republican is in power. I think they do this because some in CPB hate some Republicans who have been cutting their funding for years.
    I could go on. I could be wrong.
    I hope that answers your question.
    Posted by Holding My Breath at June 20, 2005 11:25 AM”
    Those aren’t specifics. Point me to a transcript of a PBS show immediately following Arafat’s death that did not seriously deal with him as a “terrorist,” a sponsor of “terrorism,” whatever. And then point me to a transcript that was indicates journalistic bias against the Iraq war from an ostensibly objective PBS’er.

  • Ed Poinsett

    John, the points you make are certainly valid, but I believe the nearly total breakdown in discipline in many public High Schools is a major source of the problem. I would agree that my son is partially responsible for his own behavior, but as I watched the discipline in that school, and it was non-existent. I blame the NEA for that.

  • Ethan

    The NEA is responsible for the lack of discipline in schools? Do you have any idea what percentage of your son’s school’s budget NEA money comprises? Hey, maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but it’s probably very, very low. You sir–yes, you–are “partially responsible” for your son’s behavior. Not as much as your son, but certainly more than NEA.

  • Mike

    Ed, as much as I disagree with Ethan on other things. He has a very valid point about your son’s lack of ability in math. You, Ed, are much more responsible for your son’s poor performance than the NEA’s or your son school’s lack of discipline.
    Now that is not to say that education as a whole needs overhauling, it certainly does. And the NEA can be abolished for all I care, they certainly are in education for the benefit of the students. And in no way do we need more money for education without making some reforms, that suggestion is almost laughable. You can’t just throw money at a problem and call it solved.
    And PBS is just way passed it’s prime. With the programming choices out there today, there is no need for it anymore. Like Whodat says, the good PBS programs will be picked up elsewhere, otherwise just let the market decide what happens to PBS, right Jeff?

  • Holding My Breath

    Those aren’t specifics. Point me to a transcript of a PBS show immediately following Arafat’s death that did not seriously deal with him as a “terrorist,” a sponsor of “terrorism,” whatever.
    No. I have given you the general topics of complaint. I feel exactly zero obligation to meet your idea of specifics. If you feel I am incorrect, I can only surmise that you have not been listening to NPR or watching PBS, or have such a tin ear that I would be foolishly wasting my time by jumping up and down at your request to satisfy you. I assume your position is that I am wrong in my hypothesis. So be it.
    Additionally, how they spoke of that murderer after his death is just a little too little a little too late if you know what I mean, and I’m betting you don’t.

  • http://www.Wematter.com Mike Liveright

    The federal government only pays for 15-25%
    1) I agree with the concept on un-matching contributions , e.g. that we commit to replace any funding eliminated by the current administration.
    2) It seems to me that since we are directly contributing more money to PBS than the government is, we should elect the management of PBS rather than the government administration. I propose that PBS’s charter be re-written so that the management be elected by the contributing members rather than the government.
    3) Though I think that PBS is a social good and it makes sense for it to be partially supported by our taxes, I do realize that this has laid it open to be politicized. On the other hand, we do have a Multi channel set of corporate radio/tv, and so it still seems reasonable that there be another way of funding TV/Radio, and this that PBS should be modernized from a Federally supported station to a Public Supported system, e.g. supported by Members, Local sources, and business, and reporting directly to its membership.
    Note: If you have suggestions, you may want to contact the CPB Ombudsmen , and of course you may want to go to MoveOn.com to sign their petition.
    Links:
    .
    http://www.cpb.org/ombudsmen/
    . http://wematter.blogspot.com/2005/06/unmatch.html
    . http://www.moveon.org/publicbroadcasting/

  • Estragon

    Do not apologize to the 11 percent of the country that don’t get TV via cable. We can all get satellite dishes if we really want more television.

  • Whodat

    Ed, the fact that your son does not know simple fractions by age 17-18 speaks more to your involvement in his education than it does to the educators themselves. I’m sorry if this sounds cruel, I was just trying to be honest.
    And finally, PBS is obsolete. Why do so many of you want to put a band-aid on a patient gushing blood?

  • http://wapolitics.blogspt.com Carl

    Holding My Breath,
    “No. I have given you the general topics of complaint. I feel exactly zero obligation to meet your idea of specifics. If you feel I am incorrect, I can only surmise that you have not been listening to NPR or watching PBS, or have such a tin ear that I would be foolishly wasting my time by jumping up and down at your request to satisfy you. I assume your position is that I am wrong in my hypothesis. So be it.”
    I have listened to NPR and watched PBS for some time, and find your argument sorely lacking. I’ve found their coverage of Mr. Arafat to be well balanced and making every attempt to include the controversy surrounding his role as leader. By basing your argument on unsubstantiated generalities, your argument becomes weak (and perhaps irrelevant). Without specifics, your appear to simply be blathering right-wing screed.

  • http://www.elflife.com/ carsonfire

    I’d hate to see PBS just go away because cable exists; PBS brings a variety of programming to people who can’t afford cable.
    Networks certainly don’t serve the public the way PBS does. However, making PBS more dependent on the public, and less dependent on government, should lessen the sorta careless effete liberal mindset. You’re certainly not going to get *more* Alan Alda. If anything, you’re gonna get more conservatives. Imagine! A Ken Burns documentary on Rush Limbaugh. *heh*
    Seriously, my local PBS station has just ended its current pledge drive, and during one of the schpiels, an on-air executives put everything in context by comparing giving $2 a day to PBS to spending $2 a day for a cup of coffee. Apparently she’s salaried well enough to frequent Starbucks.

  • Menlo Bob

    The above poster repeats the oft said line..”PBS serves the public”. Ha. What crap. Everything that gets sent through the air or satillite or cable serves someone. All those someone’s make up what we call the public. What the writer means to say is that the public doesn’t support it enough and so the government must be forced to make up the short fall.

  • http://ari.typepad.com Steve Rhodes

    The reason the BBC can be soo good is they have so
    much more money than public broadcasting here.
    There needs to be more public funding of public media (including public tv and radio). It just needs to be an independent source which can’t be cut.
    People are buying new HDTV’s. Put a small tax on each one. Tax each media merger. Tax advertising (it can currently be written off as a biz expense).
    Then put it all in an endowment for public media (including citizen’s journalism).

  • Matt

    I’m not sold on this idea that government funding of public broadcasters is more compromising than advertising. The BBC has a pretty damn good tradition of independence and attempting to call the British Government to account. During the Thatcher years, it essentially acted as the opposition. And all this on government money.
    The BBC has won a bunch of ‘world’s best’ awards for its websites over the past few years and the BBC News site is often quoted as the best of the web. Again, all paid for by government money.
    So does your theory hold up here? Should the BBC cut its ties with the government and ask the public to fund it instead??

  • Ted

    1a) Transparency is a must. I think people would be shocked at what the “insular” little PBS community makes and where the money goes.
    1b) Is public broadcasting really “non-profit? Not in all cases and definitely not in Minnesota. Investigate all the inter-relationships between KTCA, MPR, PRI, etc. The profits are taken through other non-profits owned by the same executives.
    2) Don’t throw the money into the biggest black hole on the planet, education.
    3) Quite using 1970′s fund raising techniques. Just as one is getting into watching PBS they go and annoy everyone and break their viewing habits with their out-dated pledge drives (couldn’t agree more on John Tish specials)
    4) Remodel. Get rid of the “gag me with a spoon” local on air personalities that never change. The PBS employees I’ve known remind me so much of govt. workers. And every single one has been a die hard liberal so far to the left it’s incredible. But don’t replace them with the far right, they are even worse.
    5) Enough, the list could go on forever.

  • Holding My Breath

    I’ve found their coverage of Mr. Arafat to be well balanced and making every attempt to include the controversy surrounding his role as leader.
    What is “balance” when discussing the islamist murder-bomber Yasser Arafat??! Oh yeah, people like you think that one person’s murderer of babies is another person’s freedom fighter.
    Would you treat Hitler with balance? I guess you would hope that the CPB would treat Hitler with balance. And anyone who thinks that there isn’t a valid comparison to the Jew killer Arafat, and the Jew killer Hitler, is stupid and blind.
    As for satisfying your threshold for valid argument, as I stated before, I don’t even know you, let alone would I jump through your hoops to fail to change your left brain assumptions.
    I am not saying that all CPB coverage is slanted, just a lot of it. I will repeat, if you can’t see that, you are as bad a viewer of FOX who can’t see their bias. Is everyone at FOX biased, no. But are many of them, yes. Why is it that I can see the bias on the right and the left, and you can only see bias on the right?? Is it because you are a partisan?

  • Prime

    I love how the federal government is this magical money factory which can solve all of the problems with the public education system. Never mind the fact that the feds one-size-fits-all approach to public education is a big reason the system is failing anyway.

  • Ed Edwardson

    One of the online companies who helped Dean for America was Convio, which was founded by a guy who volunteered at his local public TV station for a fund-drive and wrote software to help them do it online.
    It may be to the larger benefit of public TV and radio to be cut loose from government funding. They have a much larger technical and people infrastructure than Pacifica, which seems to be doing interesting broadcasting. It would suck for rural and small-market (poor) stations and it would suck for people in old-school markets which would retreat into classical music. It would be good for taking money away from big-money NPR and putting money in locally relevant programming.

  • whodat

    So now someone wants to create new taxes designed to fund PBS? Are you high on dope? I’ll tell you what you should all do. Go look at the “non-profit” 990s of your local PBS station. Check out what their leaders are making. There’s a lot of money that can be skimmed off the top to compensate for loss of government funding.
    And for Thom Moon, I’m still snickering at your “PBS & NPR” are the last reliable news sources.

  • Sandy P

    Alan Alda discussing the wonders of stem cells doesn’t bother me. Now if he waxed lyrical about federal funding of same…..
    Especially when the multimillionaires and billionaires can fund it on their own.
    Didn’t Warren Buffet say most of his money’s going to med research upon his death?
    I would hope a few billion here, there, would “do something.” Maybe they can get him to ante up walking around money now. Might be a better bet at this time than his bet against the $.

  • http://www.elflife.com/ carsonfire

    Menlo Bob on “serving the public”.
    I’m referring to public television’s broadcasting of educational programming which is of course “not serving the public” in the same way as more popular “reality” shows which clog the networks, but are nevertheless a service to students and children. Programming entertainments that appeal to a youth/consumer demographic and programming Sesame Street can both be defined as “serving the public”, but they are very different things.
    Small children can’t create a demand for programming on networks because they aren’t consumers. Since PBS appeals more directly to people’s wallets, they are actually *more* responsive to adults who want programming for children; the networks are actually less accountable to much of the public, in that their advertising rates are determined by a narrow demographic. Network TV does serve the public — the 18-30 male with disposable income public.
    That doesn’t mean that another entity couldn’t provide children’s programming within a better model, and without government assistance. That better model probably is cable… I’m just hoping that non-cable subscribers can hold on to some programming that doesn’t involve bad sitcoms and uninteresting dopes eating bugs.

  • Ethan

    Hey, Holding My Breath: if you can’t point to examples, then you’re babbling into the air.

  • http://home.earthlink.net/~carlsdesk Carl

    What is “balance” when discussing the islamist murder-bomber Yasser Arafat??!
    Why is it the Palestinian people followed him? They were inspired by him? If you simply paint the man as simply evil, you lose everything necessary to understanding the conflict. Self imposed ignorance is still ignorance.
    Oh yeah, people like you think that one person’s murderer of babies is another person’s freedom fighter.
    Yep, that sums it up nicely.
    Would you treat Hitler with balance? I guess you would hope that the CPB would treat Hitler with balance.
    Of course I would. If you don’t wish to fully understand the Hitler the Germans adored, you won’t understand the holocost or any of the rest of WWII. Mr. Hitler didn’t commit these acts all by himself. How did the guy inspire this? That requires a balanced look at the man.
    And anyone who thinks that there isn’t a valid comparison to the Jew killer Arafat, and the Jew killer Hitler, is stupid and blind.
    There certainly is. Who knows what Arafat might of done with more resources? However, the comparisons come out weak for a number of reasons. I’ll just leave it there, since that’s really a side discussion and totally off topic. Besides, all the shows I’ve listened to and watched have included discussions about Arafat’s role in terrorism. Nothing I’ve heard has been whitewashed.
    As for satisfying your threshold for valid argument, as I stated before, I don’t even know you, let alone would I jump through your hoops to fail to change your left brain assumptions.
    If you wish for me to believe you are a rational chap, yes, I would expect you to put forth a thought-out debate. Otherwise, your ideas come accross as half-baked drivel. Support your argument or not, it’s your choice. I’m sorry you feel intellegent and civilized debate is unworthy of your time. You obviously find MY opinion worthy enough of slinging muck.
    I am not saying that all CPB coverage is slanted, just a lot of it.
    Actually, your comment was just that general. This is a modification from your original position.
    I will repeat, if you can’t see that, you are as bad a viewer of FOX who can’t see their bias. Is everyone at FOX biased, no. But are many of them, yes. Why is it that I can see the bias on the right and the left, and you can only see bias on the right?? Is it because you are a partisan?
    There are a huge number of shows on PBS and NPR, and I will not pretend to have listened to even half. The shows I watch and listen to on a regular basis (NPR’s Marketplace, for instance) have a very center-right viewpoint. This is what I meant by PBS and NPR having a balanced platform.
    Oh, and by the way, I’m not partisan. I’m argumentative and ornry. There is a significant differance.
    Tootles!