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The Future of Digital Public Media

03/01/2010 5:45 PM Wong Auditorium
Jake Shapiro, PRX Director; Robert Bole, VP, Dig Strategy, CPB; Marita Rivero, VP and General Mgr for Radio and Television, WGBH ; Kinsey Wilson, Senior VP and GM, Digital Media, NPR; Damian Thorman, Ntl Program Director, Knight Foundation; Sue Schardt, Executive Director, AIR

Description: Public broadcasting executives and producers discuss their changing roles as digital technology transforms the news and entertainment industries, and provides individuals with powerful tools for shaping their communities. Moderator Jake Shapiro asks panelists to discuss ventures that illustrate new dimensions of public media.

As a newcomer to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Robert Bole says he was attracted by CPB's national reach, its "free, universally accessible content," which is not necessarily true in the digital world. Bole is exploring how to reshape content for new digital platforms. He describes a project at WNYC that uses crowd sourcing to get a fix on New York's "economic indicators" _ information that informs the station's radio broadcast. He also hopes to create an American archive of arts and culture material drawn from the many stations in the system, if he can overcome rights obstacles. And while localism is a strength of public broadcasting, he also frets about the challenge of coordinating 800"plus public stations to make the most out of "system wide investments in public media platforms."

Marita Rivero describes World 2.0, a national, online civic engagement project launched by WGBH that enlists the "public to define issues of the day." She believes public broadcasters are uniquely positioned for such expansive ventures, since they are "grand masters at taking complicated issues and presenting them in ways for people to digest," have partnerships with community groups all over the country, and are respected curators and distributors of news content. New communications tools will permit stations to reach out to underserved communities. Our role, says Rivero, is "to think about how to invite participation and development of a shared space with other communities, so it isn't just us talking."

With Makers Quest 2.0, says Sue Schardt, radio producers were invited to invent new formats, blending traditional platforms with new content tools, to tell stories of different communities. One new format, the "participatory documentary," may help redefine the work of the public media journalist. Rather than "go out with a microphone, gather the story on tape and cut the story up" back at the studio, this new journalist is a "mediator" who identifies the storyteller in the community, and provides that person with the tools to shape her own story. This approach will enable public broadcasters "to reflect a more democratic, colorful America."

The technological disruption taking place now, says Kinsey Wilson, creates an opportunity to build news organizations that "can reach more diverse audiences across all platforms." At NPR, Wilson hopes to guide member stations in understanding what their audiences want in terms of new media, and to encourage innovation that might create a common platform of new tools for news"gathering Wilson is optimistic about the ultimate transformation of public radio, especially given its explosive growth in the last 10 years, while other news programming declines. With "the trust of our audience," he says, and the "reach of a vibrant news organization, we can build from there."

In closing remarks, the Knight Foundation's Damian Thorman lauds innovative efforts to move democracy to the internet. Knight is intent on giving all citizens access to news and information that enables them to "decide their own true interest," says Thorman. While the digital age is "creating a communications renaissance," it has not yet touched all citizens, so Knight is investing heavily in reaching overlooked communities. The Foundation has begun projects to make public broadcasting more local and interactive, to build more transparent city hall websites, and to champion news literacy in public schools. It's about improving digital literacy, says Thorman, so "all Americans can engage and use the internet to improve their lives."

About the Speaker(s): Jake Shapiro previously served as associate director of Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. He was a producer for The Connection with Christopher Lydon, a nationally syndicated public radio talk show. Shapiro, a fluent speaker of Russian, has also developed web resources for a variety of Harvard research groups, including the Davis Center for Russian Studies, the Harvard Project on Cold War Studies and the Moscow Institute for Advanced Studies. Shapiro graduated from Harvard in 1993 with a B.A. in History and Literature.

Host(s): School of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences, Center for Future Civic Media

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