New Policy Paper Recommends Transformation of Public Media

Washington, D.C. – Today the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation released a policy paper aimed at federal support for public broadcasting, a subject of considerable debate in recent months, and the reforms necessary to obtain that support. This paper offers five broad strategies and 21 specific recommendations.  Leaders and critics of public media and policymakers gathered to discuss the paper and move it to action.

The paper, Rethinking Public Media: More Local, More Inclusive, More Interactive, is authored by Barbara Cochran, the Curtis B. Hurley Chair in Public Affairs Journalism at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. In it, Cochran details a set of steps that public broadcasting stations and networks need to take to become more relevant and improve service to their communities.  The strategies include strengthening local news operations, sharing digital platforms among public entities, recruiting more diverse workforces, and reforming public media structures.  Cochran is a journalist and former news executive who led both public and commercial newsrooms.

The policy paper is the third in a series focused on implementing the 15 recommendations by the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy.  The Commission released its landmark report, Informing Communities, last year to help promote healthy informed communities across the country. The bipartisan blue ribbon commission called for increased support for public service media predicated upon reforms in the areas of local programming, diversity, and interactivity.

“Above all, public media leaders need to embrace a new definition that is more local, more inclusive and more interactive and become more involved in the development of the nation’s broadband policy, guaranteeing access, reducing costs of streaming and other technology and overcoming copyright roadblocks” said Cochran in the report. “Only public media leaders can convince government and philanthropic supporters that they have a new vision worthy of their investment.”

This paper focuses on the three “mores”—more local, more inclusive, and more interactive—as the new requirements for providing public media in the digital era.  Cochran encourages stations to develop innovative models for delivering more local news coverage and collectively to invest $100 million to add 1,000 public media reporters to boost local coverage. She also advises public broadcasters to seek new ways of engaging diverse and traditionally underserved communities such as youth and minorities, and to define better the role of public entities in meeting the needs of communities.  Recommendations include expanding the diversity of news and information staff at both the national and local levels, partnering with journalism schools to engage young people, and creating a corps to promote digital literacy in underserved communities. Cochran’s plan also looks at the value of digital media and shared platforms and recommends that the public media sector invest in efforts for improving digital delivery, including the development of meaningful metrics. Connecting public media content through a shared platform is essential. 

Cochran’s plan for more local, more inclusive, more interactive can only be completed with the transformation of the structural and funding models that have governed much of public media since its creation, she points out.

Specifically, Cochran calls on Congress, public media entities, philanthropic organizations and others to:

  • Restructure the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as the Corporation for Public Media. Break down barriers between television and radio and consider a new structure based on strengths in types of content;
  • Allow public media entities to operate with greater efficiencies by making it easier for stations to consolidate and merge;
  • Improve community governance structures and increase digital experience among board members;
  • Increase congressional support through a special appropriation to enable public media to offer content more broadly on digital platforms as key community anchor institutions under the national broadband plan, and restore reauthorization;
  • Encourage investment from government, foundations and corporations;
  • Seek foundation partners to jump-start the process and engage community foundations to support fulfillment of community information needs; and
  • Keep digital content free.

By building on existing strengths, replicating successful models, nurturing experimentation and developing leadership capacity, Cochran argues, public broadcasting can transform itself into public service media that meet the needs of the American people.

The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy was a blue ribbon panel of seventeen media, policy and community leaders that met in 2008 and 2009. Its purpose was to assess the information needs of communities, and recommend measures to help Americans better meet those needs. Its Report, Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age, was the first major commission on media since the Hutchins Commission in the 1940’s and the Kerner and Carnegie Commissions of the 1960’s.

The Commission’s aims were to maximize the availability and flow of credible local information; to enhance access and capacity to use the new tools of knowledge and exchange; and to encourage people to engage with information and each other within their geographic communities. Among its 15 recommendations the Commission argues for universal broadband, open networks, transparent government, a media and digitally literate populace, vibrant local journalism, public media reform, and more local public engagement.

The Knight Commission is a project of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Contact:
Erin Silliman
202.736.5818, c 614.286.6501
erin.silliman@aspeninstitute.org 

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.