CPB’s Lo-Co-Motion

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) train has pulled into the Stations, carrying a $10 million payload to boost the quality and quantity of journalism closest to home: local and regional reporting.

At a press conference Thursday at the Newseum, CPB President/CEO Patricia Harrison announced the multi-million dollar investment in the creation of Local Journalism Centers (LJC) in seven regions around the country.

“The LJCs will enhance public media’s ability to meet the information needs of local communities at a time when access to high quality, original report is declining,” said Harrison.  

Local news was once the franchise of the newspaper industry. Few public radio or TV stations could compete with resource-rich dailies that often had more reporters on a single beat than in an entire newsroom at local radio station. But that’s old news. According to PaperCuts, a blog that tracks the demise of newspaper jobs, over 30,000 positions were eliminated in 2008 and 2009 and more than 1600 so far this year. The exact number of jobs lost in public radio and TV is not known, but CPB is planning to do a “census” this year to count the number of jobs in public broadcasting. 

The decline of print news represents an awesome loss to the world of investigative journalism, but an incredible opportunity for public media to serve and engage the public, claim the turf and fill the void. Over the past year, a dizzying array of nonprofit journalism endeavors have launched in the wake, tapping into foundation and major donor largesse. Finally, CPB has hoisted its flag on this terrain, with a significant investment that turns several keys at time: Local. Collaboration. Multimedia. Content Verticals. And the move is creating a buzz in media circles.


Stimulus for the Shovel-Ready

The new Local Journalism Centers promise to create 50 new jobs, as collaborating stations hire multimedia reporters, editors, web managers, social media and community engagement specialists. Each LJC involves at least 5 public radio and TV stations that will converge their coverage around an issue relevant to their region:

Southwest: At “Fronteras: The Changing America Desk,” a bilingual reporting team at stations from  San Diego to Texas will explore cultural shifts along the U.S. border.

The Plains: “Agribusiness Journalism Center” will cover issues of food and fuel, central to the health of our people and economy.

Upstate NY: “The Innovation Trail” will cover the regional economy through the lens of innovation in the technology sector and track New York’s enormous investments in emerging areas such as nanotechnology, alternative enercy and biomedicine.

Upper Mid-West: “Changing Gears” will document efforts to revive and reinvent the industrial heartland of America.

Florida: “The Healthy State” will create a multimedia platform to cover healthcare issues in state with dramatic health care disparities and an aging population.

A full list of stations involved in each project can be found on the CPB website. CPB has issued new RFPs to create additional LJCs in the South and the Pacific Northwest. The RFP is called “Strengthening Local Journalism, Round Two.”  According to Pat Harrison, those proposals may focus on environmental issues of great concern to those regions.


Collaboration Nation

Besides the LJCs, CPB also announced funding for a Public Media Platform, an initiative to prototype a flexible common platform for public media content collection, distribution, and “monetization.” The Public Media Platform is a collaboration between NPR, PBS, APM, PRI and PRX.

“These two initiatives represent the twin paths that public media must travel – expanded original news reporting, and state of the art tools and technology to get that content into the hands of more people,” said NPR President/CEO Vivian Schiller.

PBS President/CEO Paula Kerger was also at the press conference, making it impossible not to notice that three of the most powerful people in public broadcasting today are women. So, it’s no wonder that collaboration is what may give public media a competitive edge.

The press conference was followed by a panel discussion on the role and opportunities for public media in the face of the changing economy and evolving technologies. You can watch an archive of the event here.

P.S. Congratulations to CPB’s Kathy Merritt for her expert midwifery of the LJCs. The original RFP was issued on June 11, 2009. Alas, public broadcasting is a human animal. It took 9+ months gestation (and hard labor) to carry these multiples to term, not to mention lots and lots of questions like, “Do you know WHAT you’re having?” So, Kathy, kudos to you for pushing these LJCs out into the world. And, remember, mothers are innately wired such that the joy of our new babies erases all memory of the painful birth…so that we can do it all again.