The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which manages the federal money (about 15%) in public broadcasting, has diligently been trying to drag public broadcasters into the 21st century for a while. Inside that building, they know that the most important thing pubcasters can do now is to leave their buildings, and build community relationships for a stronger public culture. The latest CPB initiative, Local Journalism Centers (or LJCs, like pubcasters need any more acronyms), was showcased yesterday at the Newseum—watch the whole podcast if you really can’t think of something else to do. Me, I loved every minute. It sounded to my absolutely unbiased ears like one long lovefest for the Public Media 2.0: Dynamic, Engaged Publics white paper Jessica Clark and I wrote last year.
The LJCs—there are seven so far, with more to come--are regional collaboratives, partnerships between several public stations in a region around a common topic. For instance, the Southwest collaborative will target border issues; the plains group will tackle agribusiness. CPB money helps hire reporters, an editor, and…this is the good part--a community organizer. They’re called things like “social media expert” or “community engagement specialist” but they had better be something in the nature of a community organizer. Because the job is to build networks of participation and collaboration in making local news and making it meaningful. These are networks that largely do not exist yet in a service that has been organized under a mass-media, one-to-many model. They will have to be built across lines of class, ethnicity, and culture. Once connected, they will also be networks full of people who don’t have any real practice in responsive, respectful, informed engagement on gnarly topics. Public broadcasting is in new territory here. But it’s great territory to be in.
The LJCs, once in motion, will connect with other local journalism initiatives in public broadcasting, such as the Argo Project ( at NPR on local and specialized reporting. They will connect with some station initiatives as well, and with longstanding news programs such as The NewsHour, which now has integrated its online and broadcast newsrooms. Pubcasters could be building new strength in a decentralized, participatory media environment, and facilitating public culture.
At the Newseum, pubcasting’s great and good said things we have rarely, if ever, heard from them. CPB head Pat Harrison, asked how CPB would measure success, said, “The real evaluation will be the community saying that the information was important to them.” PBS’ Paula Kerger said, “News has become a social experience…Journalism must rebuild itself from the bottom up, beginning with the citizen journalist.” Wow. NPR’s Kinsey Wilson, digital media guru at NPR, said, “This is about reinventing the news business,” and “This is about connecting the audience with each other.” The show included other welcome voices as well. Larry Irving, beaming in from corporate America (Hewlett Packard), argued for paying attention to wireless, phone-based communication, and Nishat Kurwa from Youth Radio once again showed how exciting professional-amateur partnerships can be. She also nicely debunked the idea that young people don’t value professionalism.
Shadow on the thrill: it was tough to find great learn-more links to this (admittedly just born) project. And when someone asked how to "get in" to the project, Pat Harrison offered her own email. There has to be a better answer, real soon. Maybe there is, and someone in the middle of the hubbub knows the answer and didn't tell Harrison yet.
Anyway--great day. Now I can’t wait to get the news.