Pubmedia Reading List: Diversity (Part 1)

I’ve been thinking about building a “diversity and public media” reading list for a while now, stashing articles and archival data sets.

The problem: We know that public media must move toward greater inclusivity, but what does that mean? My digital file has grown to daunting proportions, in part because “diversity” is an inexact term.

We spend a lot of time talking about that in our office. Diverse relative to what? Race? Sex? Geography? Political points of view? Who is making public media? Whose voices are heard (and how are they framed)? Who consumes public media?

So my reading list sprawls. At some point, I decided to go back and chop it up into installments – when I got around to it.

Today’s the day, for two reasons:

1. AIR is going to announce the 2014 class of New Voices scholars next week (stay tuned).

There’s something electrifying about reading Lyndon Johnson’s remarks on signing the Public Broadcasting Act and then reading about these new talents in the industry.

I’d like for people to be fresh off of LBJ’s vision when they read about this new class of scholars, how they got to public media, and what they want to do with their storytelling.

2. My boss said something I really liked in an interview with Current last week, and it was a reminder that conversations about inclusivity shouldn’t wait, and can’t wait.

Sue said: “We built the core audience for public radio. It’s predominantly white, affluent, highly educated and powerful. It took us 50 years to cultivate … [these] core investors. They value us more than anybody else in dollars and cents.

“Does that let us off the hook for the founding vision of inclusion? No. It gives us perspective on where we need to go next. Inclusion is our new frontier; this is where the need is.”

(I know quoting my boss might come off as sycophantic, but there’s a reason I work for her, and for AIR. And there’s a reason Sue and our board hired me. We put weight on the same things.)

So here’s the first installment of an ongoing reading list about public media, inclusivity, diversity, and mission. It’s organized by chronology.

Please email me at if you have suggestions or additions.


Remarks on signing the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 
• President Lyndon B. Johnson

The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and paved the way for the establishment of NPR in 1970.

“Today we rededicate a part of the airwaves — which belong to all the people — and we dedicate them for the enlightenment of all the people. …

“I do believe that we have important things to say to one another — and we have the wisdom to match our technical genius.”

“National Public Radio Purposes, 1970” 
• Bill Siemering, first director of programming at NPR

Siemering put together a mission statement to outline the fledgling outfit’s role and priorities.

“Programs in the “by and for” specific cultural, ethnic minorities category could be developed. For example, there could be a linkup of stations in urban areas with sizeable non-white audiences, or student groups studying ecology, or groups with distinct lifestyles and interests not now served by electronic media. As man pulls himself out of the mass society to develop his unique humanness, his minority identification (ethnic, cultural, value) becomes increasingly important. …

“In order to provide minorities access to the medium, it is not only important to establish the identity of that group, but essential if the total population is to understand and appreciate the interdependence of pluralism.” 

“What I Learned at Public Media Camp: Diversity and the Elusive Public Media 2.0 Butterfly”
• Christian Ugbode for the Center for Media and Social Impact at American University, 2009

“As Ernest J. Wilson and Sasha Costanza put it in a May 2009 publication from USC’s Annenberg School of Communication, ‘at this rate, public radio and TV stations will never look like the American people.’

“The question is, what systems are in place for letting ‘unconventional voices,’ into the public media system as creators, stakeholders, community wranglers, and co-innovators? Such a system needs a plan farther along than its ‘embryonic stages.’” 

“Rethinking Public Media: More Local, More Inclusive, More Interactive”
• Barbara Cochran for The Knight Commission on Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, 2010

“Public service media should make inclusiveness a priority. This means increasing diversity in news and information staff at both the national and local levels, engaging a wider variety of communities, partnering with journalism schools to engage young people and creating a Public Media Corps to promote digital literacy.”

“Are we here for 11 percent of the public, or for all of it?”

• AIR Executive Director Sue Schardt’s remarks to the NPR Board of Directors, 2011

“[W]e unwittingly cultivated a core audience that is predominately white, liberal, highly educated, elite. ‘Super-serve the core’ — that was the mantra, for many, many years. This focus has, in large part, brought us to our success today. It was never anyone’s intention to exclude anyone. But we have to accept — unapologetically — that this is the franchise we’ve built.”

“Spot.Us Survey Shows Support for More Diverse Public Media

• David Cohn for PBS/IdeaLab, 2011

“How effective is public media at serving the needs and interests of diverse members of the community? While the responses to this aren’t an abysmal failure, it does show large room for improvement. A total of 11 percent thought public media in their community was doing a poor job of reflecting diversity. The vast majority of responders selected either ‘good’ (33 percent) or ‘fair’ (32 percent)…only a handful of responders thought public media was doing an ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ job of reflecting a community’s diversity.”