Digital Beat Vol. 1, No. 3

Gary Handman (ghandman@library.berkeley.edu)
Fri, 19 Mar 1999 10:24:45 -0800 (PST)

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>The Digital Beat
>Vol. 1, No. 3, 19 March 1999
>
>The Future of Television in the Balance: Public Service Media in Action
>
> Table of Contents:
> Introduction
> Linking with Education
> Community Dialogues
> Commercial and Public Media Partnerships
> Digital Possibilities
> Conclusion
>
>INTRODUCTION:
>
>While the first two issues of Digital Beat focused on policy issues, this
>edition looks at what is in practice in the area we call "public service
>media" -- delivering community service and a diversity of content through a
>variety of media. Examples of public service media:
>
> * engage the community in local public affairs and education;
> * bring depth to local and national news coverage;
> * explore commercial/noncommercial and local/national collaborations; and
> * collaborate across media -- e.g., television, radio, print, and the
>Internet
>
>We believe that the success of public service media in the digital age will
>depend on alliances with local community organizations in order to ensure
>access to diverse voices in programming. As the capacity for broadcasting
>increases with the implementation of digital television, the possibilities
>for public service media will increase as well.
>
>Our ongoing observations of public service media suggest that fertile
>ground exists from which new models might be grown, including putting the
>capabilities of digital television to use for the public interest. We are
>exploring not only public television and radio stations, but also
>institutions that are redrawing the communications and information
>landscape. For example: newspapers exploring civic journalism; public
>libraries offering public access and training in new media; community
>networks putting information in local settings; and public, education, and
>government access centers expanding their traditional roles beyond cable.
>We are compiling examples that illustrate the range of partnerships in
>various settings where public service is being reinvented for the next
>generation.
>
>Over the next several months, The Digital Beat will include highlights of
>projects that we believe exemplify what we mean by "public service media"
>and possible paths for the future of public broadcasting. The lessons from
>such efforts will allow us to describe a future based on demonstrations and
>working models instead of conjecture.
>
>This issue of The Digital Beat focuses on Hampton Roads, a region of
>Southeastern Virginia, rich in innovation and experimentation in the use of
>communications technology for public service. While at least 18 public
>broadcasters produce nightly news or public affairs programming and over
>200 public TV stations now have Web sites, the Hampton Roads public
>television station, WHRO <www.whro.org>, has gone further than perhaps any
>other public or commercial broadcaster in exploring the uses of different
>technologies and partnerships for public engagement, education, as well as
>collaborating with commercial media. The following is a description of the
>successes and challenges facing Hampton Roads in public service media.
>
>LINKING WITH EDUCATION
>
>Angie Callahan, Director of Educational and Children's Services for WHRO,
>produces three local programs that work to provide a resource to the
>community's teachers, students, and policymakers.
>
>"School Talk" runs weekly throughout the school year, and highlights school
>events, projects, and programs that are working well in the surrounding
>community. More generally, the program highlights children involved in
>positive activities.
>
>The show includes a variety of segments that alternate between the studio,
>the field, and the Web. A 3-5 minute "Netwise" segment tours various
>Internet resources for teachers and students. Each program also spotlights
>a different school's Web site.
>
>Two of her shows are linked to the WHRO Web site. On the "School Talk" Web
>site <schooltalk.org>, students and teachers can submit suggestions for
>future features. Callahan says this method of getting program ideas has had
>limited success. Instead, most of her program ideas come from monthly
>meetings she attends with school representatives of the 19 school districts
>in the communities that WHRO serves.
>
>"Netfiles" <www.netfiles.org> is a monthly, innovative, cross-media
>integration of television programming, instructional development, and Web
>site archiving. Sponsored by The Education Connection, a project funded by
>the US Department of Education, "Netfiles" takes viewers into classrooms
>where teachers integrate the Internet into lesson plans and student
>activities. The programs are digitized, archived and retrievable online, so
>that teachers can use them as resources for lesson plans. The program has
>been so successful that more than twenty PBS stations carry it, according
>to Callahan.
>
>"Best Practices," a third show in the WHRO educational arena, began airing
>in 1998. The show airs two times a year and highlights successes of
>integrating technology in the classroom. The show is state-sponsored and
>brings more visibility to the most useful examples of technology in the
>classroom.
>
>When asked about the challenges of educational programming, Callahan admits
>that her programs do not always match up with most kids' experiences. She
>realizes that the teachers and classrooms selected to be on her shows are
>the exception to the rule. On the other hand, Callahan hopes that by
>highlighting what's working, she will inspire educators to improve their
>techniques in the classroom.
>
>The station's public service media doesn't stop with television
>programming. WHRO's "Consortium for Interactive Instruction"
><www.whro.org/cii> advocates for and models appropriate use of technology
>in the classroom. In addition to linking public broadcasting programming,
>such as those mentioned above, with online teacher guides and Internet
>resources, the consortium also encourages students and teachers to share
>ideas and concerns, and submit new lesson plans. One example is "BayLink"
><www.baylink.org>, which includes curriculum, activities, as well as
>programming centered on the nearby Chesapeake Bay estuary.
>
>COMMUNITY DIALOGUES
>
>In addition to engaging local schools and educators, WHRO's programming
>also reflects commitment to community issues.
>
>For example, WHRO is a local participant in the Television Race Initiative
><www.pbs.org/pov/tvraceinitiative/what.html> a consortium of nonprofits,
>national and local media, community groups, interfaith networks,
>businesses, and educational institutions working to sustain local dialogues
>around national broadcasts that deal with race. WHRO is one of six public
>television stations chosen to take part in the initiative, funded by the
>Ford and the MacArthur Foundations. WHRO's version of the initiative is
>called "Colors All Our Own."
>
>Mary Pruess, WHRO station manager, says that the station was already
>interested in doing local programming around the national broadcast series
>of "Africans in America." Station staff believe that race relations need to
>be discussed on a local level. With audience outreach ideas already in
>motion, Pruess says WHRO was happy to apply for and receive funding for
>their local efforts. In addition to airing programs on race, the station
>provides forums for local discussions and promote visibility of community
>efforts. "Colors All Our Own" has over 100 community partners that include
>media, colleges, faith communities, libraries, and museums.
>
> "Colors All Our Own" has focused on existing community events that work
>toward an understanding of diversity. The initiative's current challenge is
>building a pool of facilitators to host dialogues on race in the community,
>Pruess says. Most broadcast-based discussions that deal with race have been
>invitation-only events for community leaders. For example, the national
>broadcast of "The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords" was supplemented by
>a local event in which community leaders were invited to view the broadcast
>and discuss the contribution of the black press to the Hampton Roads area.
>The New Journal and Guide -- a local black press, and the news division of
>the local CBS-TV affiliate, WTKR, also partnered with WHRO in coordinating
>the event.
>
>The audiences of these broadcast-based discussions are expanding beyond
>community leaders. The PBS national broadcast of "Beyond Black and White:
>Affirmative Action in America" will be used as the catalyst for two local
>discussions in March 1999. Nationally broadcast programs by themselves will
>not do anything to bring an understanding of diversity and race relations.
>By providing a forum for local audiences to discuss issues sparked by the
>programs, public service media is able to be a partner in building
>knowledge and understanding where it matters -- in local communities.
>
>COMMERCIAL AND PUBLIC MEDIA PARTNERSHIPS
>
>"This Week in Hampton Roads" <www.thisweek.org> is a weekly news analysis
>show, co-produced by WHRO and the local ABC affiliate, WVEC. According to
>WHRO Senior Producer for Public Affairs, Chris Dickinson, the goal of the
>show is to bring together sensibilities of public television with the
>resources of commercial television by delving further into issues raised in
>local news coverage. "This Week in Hampton Roads" takes ABC news coverage
>and provides a forum for local discussion. The producers of the show select
>one or two local news stories of the week and invite guests who can speak
>to the issues raised. The program features a 3-minute segment of archived
>material to provide background on the issue, which is usually from WVEC
>local news. This is followed by an in-studio discussion with guests and
>summed up with callers' taped comments on the previous show. The show is
>aired twice a week on WHRO TV and the audio is aired on WHRO's local public
>radio station as well.
>
>Now in its third year, "This Week in Hampton Roads" has come a long way in
>building a difficult and uncharted bridge between public and commercial
>television. Commercial news programmers are "in awe" of what WHRO is able
>to do -- bringing depth and new audiences to news they are covering in
>their daily broadcasts, Dickinson says. The contribution of the commercial
>network in its news coverage is not to be underestimated, however. When
>probed further about the benefits of this kind of partnering, Dickinson
>said, "It's simple." The local ABC affiliate, WVEC, has 15 reporters, and
>three hours of live production. At WHRO, however, "There's only two of us
>here who have main responsibility for the show," Dickinson says. WVEC
>reporters are out there every day and know what's going on in the community.
>
>Using commercial resources for public interest goals was not so easy in the
>early stages of the program. Differences between the two entities were
>difficult to overcome -- from what to cover to negotiating work schedules,
>Dickinson said. The commercial sensibilities of the local ABC affiliate
>clashed with what Dickinson called the public TV sensibility of "sitting
>around the table." Public broadcasters and commercial local news have "two
>different ways of thinking" says WHRO's Coordinating Producer Vandora
>Williams. She says her commercial TV news background has been an essential
>factor in her ability to negotiate between the two styles: the "cut-cut"
>method of local news and PBS programmers who "like to take their time." It
>took her 6-8 months to gain trust from WVEC staff that WHRO would maintain
>the integrity of their stories. Barbara Ciara of the ABC affiliate is
>managing editor and co-host of the show. She has also felt this tension:
>"I want to get things done, working for commercial television, and PBS
>'thinks things to death'."
>
>The two broadcasting entities have worked out many of their differences,
>over issues of format and content, through a core team of programmers from
>both stations. One improvement has been to shorten the show from two hours
>to one and fill the time more interestingly. Ciara says "This Week's"
>reputation in the community is growing and that many people who call into
>the show end up being guests. Dickinson says the commercial/public team has
>worked hard to get to a place where all feel comfortable in debating
>programming decisions.
>
>This past year, the show has focused mainly on multi-cultural issues.
>Dickinson sees this as a result of an editorial process in which both sides
>are deciding what is relevant. "I think we've been able to move beyond
>covering stereotypical racial groups," Dickinson said. The program is
>comfortable dealing with multi-cultural issues based on the credibility of
>both PBS and ABC, he said. Ciara of the ABC affiliate sees the show's
>content as coming in part from her decision about which way to push the
>discussion -- beyond what ABC alone offers: "We've not been paying enough
>attention to diversity and women." Recently, therefore, "This Week in
>Hampton Roads" did a show called "Driving While Black" that focused on the
>disproportionate number of people of color pulled over by law enforcement.
>
>WVEC and WHRO are sharing content beyond the program as well. For example,
>ABC did most of the work in setting up a recent "This Week" program
>featuring the local black press. Some of the content was later aired on
>their local news broadcast. Often topics generated by the team at "This
>Week" will end up on WVEC local news as well. Dickinson said, "It's a
>two-way relationship." Williams added that WVEC reporters will call up WHRO
>and provide them with stories that they wish they could spend more time on.
>
>The local newspaper, the Virginia Pilot, is also an ongoing partner with
>WHRO and WVEC. The paper has a history of public service. In response to
>readers' concerns about over-reporting on the immediate, and little
>attention to long term local issues, the paper started publishing "citizen
>pages" three times per week that use "report cards" and other long-term
>measurements to evaluate what's happened in the community over time.
>
>The newspaper, the public broadcaster, and the local commercial station
>partnered during the 1998 state elections. Several public forums were
>organized throughout the region beginning in June to identify the issues
>people felt were important and wanted the media to focus on during the
>election. In another project, the Pilot did a series of stories on Church
>Street -- a Norfolk port that was home to African-Americans, Greek,
>Chinese, Jewish, and Irish immigrants during the late 1800s and early
>1900s, when segregation ruled the region. WHRO produced a documentary using
>much of the research done by writers at the Pilot. Through these
>collaborations, Joe Coccaro of the Pilot says, they are able to utilize
>their talent beyond the printed page. Writers with expertise in certain
>areas, such as the environment, transportation, or education are
>consistently part of "This Week in Hampton Roads" broadcasts as well.
>
>DIGITAL POSSIBILITIES
>
>Although the potential of digital broadcasting has not yet been realized,
>WHRO is using what technological capacities it has available to expand
>local programming in ways that allow viewers to seek more information than
>they could from a conventional television broadcast. The station is
>currently undergoing a $10.2 million capital campaign to purchase technical
>equipment necessary for digital broadcasting and has already raised over $3
>million. In addition, WHRO provides telecommunication services to public
>and private organizations through its Center for Public Telecommunications
><whro.org/telecommunicationsservices/telecommunicationsservices.html>.
>This Center has been the Internet service provider for local schools for
>about 7 years, according to Brian Callahan, Vice President of computing and
>online services for WHRO.
>
>Many locally produced programs digitally integrate audio, video, and data.
>For example, "Netfiles" programs are now digitized and searchable online.
>By March, Callahan says, the program will also be WebTV-ready. Instead of a
>30-minute demonstration of Web use, a viewer with a WebTV unit will be able
>to click at certain points in the program and have access to more
>information on the topic being discussed. Callahan says they've chosen
>WebTV because it is the most widely known and best demonstrates the digital
>capabilities of broadcast.
>
>CONCLUSION
>
>The Benton Foundation believes that the future of public broadcasting rests
>in equal parts on its ability to learn from its past as well as to adapt
>lessons from various media and institutions committed to community service.
>With this edition of Digital Beat, we have explored how one community is
>implementing public service media. A common thread through each example is
>innovative partnerings that work toward local discussion and
>problem-solving. As the interactive potential of digital television
>develops, we will continue to document and assess new public service media
>models. The work being done in Hampton Roads represents an opening up of
>public and commercial television beyond the station walls. Alliances with
>community organizations are being developed and sources for programming are
>widening. However, interactive possiblities could be explored even further.
>(For example, audiences of "This Week in Hampton Roads" can email or call
>in their comments to the show, but rarely get a chance to talk with guests
>because the show is not broadcast live.) Despite some obstacles, WHRO and
>its partners in public service media are serving as a resource and a voice
>for communities, and as models for other broadcasters.
>
>*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*
>
>(c)Benton Foundation, 1999. Redistribution of this email publication -- both
>internally and externally -- is encouraged if it includes this message.
>
>The Digital Beat is a free online news service of the Benton Foundation's
>Communications Policy & Practice program <www.benton.org/cpphome.html>. Our
>aim is to equip you to be engaged in the public debate on the public
>interest in digital television and the Internet. We will chronicle the
>action at the Federal Communications Commission and in Congress, the
>efforts of public interest advocates, the work of nonprofit organizations
>and government agencies to create new public services, technology
>developments, and communications trends.
>
>Benton houses the legacy of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Public
>Interest Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters
><www.benton.org/PIAC> and is committed to using its report and
>recommendations as a starting point for achieving access, diversity,
>equity, and education in the new media. Additional contributors to the
>Digital Beat include the Media Access Project (MAP), the Center for Media
>Education (CME), and the Civil Rights Forum on Telecommunications.
>
>The Benton Foundation's Communications Policy and Practice Project is a
>nonpartisan initiative to strengthen public interest efforts in shaping the
>emerging National Information Infrastructure (NII). It is Benton's
>conviction that the vigorous participation of the nonprofit sector in policy
>debates and demonstration projects will help realize the public interest
>potential of the NII.
>
>Media Access Project (MAP) <www.mediaaccess.org>, is the only
>freestanding public interest law firm which is primarily devoted to
>representing the public's interest on electronic media issues through policy
>advocacy at the Federal Communications Commission and the Courts, advocacy
>in the media and other public fora, and day-to-day counseling of civic
>organizations and individuals.
>
>The Center for Media Education (CME) <www.cme.org> is a national
>non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of electronic
>media, especially on the behalf of children and families.
>
>The Civil Rights Forum on Communications Policy works to bring civil rights
>organizations and community groups into the debate over the future of our
>media environment that environment is the key to the future of the nation.
>
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