The Future of Public Television

Can Public Television News Step Up?

Television has long been our most popular news medium, the format that unites us and brings the world to our living rooms each night. Public television news is cherished by many in America, even though—resource-starved, politically beaten, and reportorially unambitious—it has always danced a step behind.

In the following pieces, we try to envision what public television could be, in an era in which we desperately need it to be more than it is.

Emily Bell, a newcomer to America, considers what she senses is missing in US media: a place to go when big things are happening. She misses the BBC, the UK’s national campfire, but also understands why the US won’t get one, and what realistic possibilities do exist. Bell, the former director of digital media for The Guardian, runs the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Lee C. Bollinger argues that just as regional institutions, including the press, necessarily evolved into national ones, national institutions must go global to meet the needs of our time. He argues for an “American World Service,” a publicly funded US news outlet for the global age. Bollinger is the president of Columbia University and the author of Uninhibited, Robust, and Wide Open: A Free Press for a New Century.

Finally, Elizabeth Jensen examines the DNA of local public television stations, which some people hope can help fill a yawning information gap by increasing their hunger and capacity for news. But in her examination of public TV culture, Jensen doesn’t locate many journalism genes. Jensen covers public broadcasting for The New York Times.

We hope you find these three perspectives illuminating.

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.