Today’s public media, according to Ford Foundation program head Orlando Bagwell, is all about stimulating the best conversation, as he explained at the launch of Public Media Corps on June 21. Public Media Corps, a public media-funded experiment, funds 16 young organizers to plunge into District of Columbia organizations ranging from high schools to public television to local community organizations. Each will connect people in the community to public media resources and help people contribute to the pool of public media available to all. Bagwell recalled his early years making documentary film in Blackside Productions, including the historic Eyes on the Prize series; “story is essential in public media,” he recalled. He welcomed PMC fellows as makers and mentors of makers of stories that need to be heard, and went on: “At this moment in public media, you can and must go beyond the making of stories, to connect people to each other with them, to have the kinds of conversations they need to have,” he said. Conversation, he noted, was the heart of democratic life; constructive conversations about the issues we share in common bring us into a common story and help us find common solutions.
The next day, Bagwell continued to the AFI/Discovery Silverdocs International Documentary Conference, where he carried a similar message to filmmakers. “Bring the public in as a problem solver,” he urged filmmakers. “The public is the new fourth estate in this country.” He singled out Waiting for “Superman” , a featured film at the festival, and GasLand, a Sundance hit as films that ask “what does the 21st century look like, and what our role is in creating that future.” He urged them to learn about and participate in shaping media policies that can carry public media to everyone, and enable everyone to be a maker.”We need to be involved in policy, as media makers and as citizens. And we need to bring other people in to contribute to that public discourse.” Finally, he reminded people that when public television started up in the 1960s, it was full of young people trying new things—like digital public media today. Federal Communication Commission chair Julius Genachowski underlined the pay-attention-to-policy message when he spoke two days later at the Silverdocs conference. “True universal broadband is essential for the future of public media,” he said.