The relationship of PBS and its stations must change before public television can effectively serve the public’s interest in providing the best news programming. Public television stations must let PBS have the resources to produce top-notch news programming, and then command that it do so. This in turn will free them to produce news programming where it is sorely needed—for their local communities.
Let public television’s national component—PBS—focus on national service.
News for the Neighborhood
In his article “News for the World” (CJR, July/August), Lee Bollinger offers an interesting proposal—to create an American World (News) Service to absorb and supersede npr, pbs, and the Voice of America. In theoretical terms, it has much to recommend it. We are pitifully far behind quite a few countries in such offerings.
World news in the San Francisco Bay Area provides a slightly different profile from that he gives. In my Silicon Valley neighborhood, there is a significant reluctance to subscribe to cable (poor reception in some locales). An incidental benefit is that broader news and foreign-language offerings are available on digital TV, which has increased the number of public channels from three to ten over the past two years.
KCSM (San Mateo) holds the strongest hand for (non-US) world services. In addition to the BBC (recently forced to contract its world service) and PBS, its evening offerings also include Deutsche Welle (the go-to place for the Euro crisis), NHK World News (riveting coverage of the Sendai earthquake and its aftermath; excellent pan-Asian review on Thursdays), Al Jazeera (on-the-spot coverage of the Arab Spring), and Russia Today (nothing topical ofnote) on weekdays. A local commercial channel carries CCTV and Xinhua News.
Given the will of Congress and the well-publicized collapse of foreign-language teaching in many US institutions of higher learning, it is hard to see how the US could marshal the resources to mount a competitive world service in the foreseeable future. The percentage of funding that PBS receives from government resources is minuscule. One would need to start from scratch. NPR gives a whole different slant to the news and sustains a much broader array of one-off features capturing real life in America.
What is more conspicuously missing in the Bay Area (and much of the rest of the US) is coverage of local and state government news of any merit. Sound-bite TV journalism, given its obsessions with police blotters, gay rights, and presidential sweepstakes, robs us of any knowledge of budgetary, legislative, educational, and environmental issues in Sacramento and in our local communities. The collapse of in-depth reporting, and of newspaper reading as a daily habit of the educated, doom us to poorly drafted, self-serving legislation at every level of government. Were I in a position to choose between a US-branded world service and beefed-up state and local coverage, I would opt for the latter.
Comment posted on cjr.org
“John Paton’s Big Bet” by Lauren Kirchner (CJR, July/August) is a bold illustration of the struggle that newspapers face. But it is a far cry from the sober, responsible writing that is the hallmark of the Columbia Journalism Review. Paton, the publisher of the recently out-of-bankruptcy Journal Register Company, has undertaken a survival/growth plan that may be fit for a media company at the bottom of the heap, but it is hardly an example for aspiring journalists. The article is full of statistical hocus pocus that is, unfortunately, prevalent in much of recent writing about the brave new world of digital. Paton’s idea is that income from digital will make up the loss of revenue from the traditional print editions. But the statistics, mostly in comparative percentages without related dollar figures, are not convincing. More disturbing is Paton’s prescription for replacing traditional professional writing with writing from unpaid or low-paid outside contributors.
Editor and publisher