Mountain Lake PBS Productions

Colin Powers reflects on PBS programming for the Adirondacks, Lake Champlain, & Quebec, public broadcasting, and the future of media distribution.

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Let’s Put the ‘Public’ back in Public Broadcasting

May 20th, 2010 · No Comments · Future of public media, News, PBS, Public Affairs, Public Media

I usually try to shorten reposted blogs, but this Gwen Ifill/Jay Rosen dialogue has really caught my interest. I’m convinced that public media needs to be looking at itself HARDER and with more real concern than we are. Because the tidal wave is about to wash over us… (for more background on the Ifill/Rosen story click on the “The Nobility is Annoyed” link near the bottom)

Cutting edge… 1962

Yesterday, while I was sitting at my kitchen table typing out my angry screed about Gwen Ifill, I was also listening to NPR, as I do every morning.

NPR happened to be running their annual beg-a-thon, their fundraising drive, which reminded me that Public Radio and PBS, the PUBLIC Broadcasting Corporation, are paid for by us, the listeners, or viewers. That is, PBS is ‘our’ network.  Viacom may belong to Sumner Redstone and NBC may soon belong to Comcast, but PBS belongs to us.  As Ronald Reagan said, “I paid for that microphone”.

This is particularly annoying when it comes to Ms. Ifill and the pure arrogance of PBS.

Initially irritated with Ms. Ifill and her cavalier treatment of Prof. Jay Rosen, I posted a response on her PBS’s website, on which she writes a blog.  I posted a response because the blog calls for comments. And even if responses are limited to 500 characters (think of this as a kind of super-twitter, I suppose), I was rather astonished that Ms. Ifill did not deign to publish my response.  I was so astonished,  I posted again. In fact, I posted five times.


Now, what responses did Ms. Ifill choose to post?

Here they are:

thank you Gwen the lone voice whispering reason in the wilderness


Thank you for your good job of hosting and presenting the views of the reporters on washington week. It is one of my favorite media presentations. I am not one who is pleased with the divergence from “Cronkite” news to opinion dominated media programs. I applaud the program and your hosting of it. I will continue to be a faithful viewer.

or this one:

Double thank you for reasoned, focused, in-depth reporting and analysis. Thank you for not letting us know your own opinions, and thank you for giving me the information I need to make up my own mind. Thank you for being you. We love you for your generosity of spirit and for being professional in your work. And lastly, thank God for PBS which allows us to get NEWS and not opinions! What in the world would we do without you.

You see. And all this time I thought Ms. Ifill was working for “Public” broadcasting.
She is not.

She is working for Pravada. Or so she seems to believe.  Perhaps she has confused ‘public’ broadcasting with ‘The People’s Broadcasting’ as in ‘The People’s Democratic Republic of China Broadcasting’.

Now, here is the interesting thing about ‘Public’ Broadcasting.

When it was founded in the 1960s, (thank you Ed Murrow), the technology of television and video was so expensive and so complex that it cost millions (even a lot then!) to put someone on the air and push that image through the em spectrum into millions of homes. So PBS gave voice to those who could not get onto NBC or ABC or CBS (as that was all there was).  It was a good idea for 1962.

But that was a long time ago.

The technology has changed.

Today, the Public uploads 23 hours of video to YouTube every minute.

The Public posts 240 million blogs on the web.

The Public has something to say.

Perhaps in the 21st century Public Broadcasting should be reflective of what the Public is talking about.  Perhaps Public Broadcasting should put itself front and center of the new technologies that are liberating millions of voices. Perhaps Public Broadcasting could be about becoming a publisher and editor for those millions of voices and giving them a larger and more focused platform than YouTube does, as opposed to becoming a highly controlled vehicle for Ms. Ifill to express her opinions and bathe herself in praise.

The Public has a voice and an opinion and wants to be heard. Freed of the constraints of the need to sell commercial time and appeal to the largest possible audience, perhaps Public Broadcasting could place itself on the cutting edge of the obvious revolution that is happening before our eyes in public discourse and become the pinnacle of that vibrant discussion.

This, I think, we would all be more than happy to pay for.

Instead, what is our money buying us?

Gwen Ifill… that ‘one voice whispering in the wilderness’.

Come on.

Lone Voice?


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