Ford outlays seek to broaden ‘public media’
The Ford Foundation will more than triple its annual spending on public media in the United States with a $50 million burst of grantmaking over five years, it announced last week [listed in table].
Though PBS and NPR will receive the largest sums, much of the remaining two-thirds will go to smaller organizations that amplify minority voices and bring foreign perspectives to America media.
Public media are “helping us all understand new global realities that affect our society and the ways in which our country affects others,” observed Susan V. Berresford, foundation president. Ford also seeks to develop new media for duty in the public interest.
The initiative is complicated enough that it needs a colon in its title, like a public TV series: “Global Perspectives in a Digital Age: Transforming Public Service Media.”
The outlays together don’t attempt to redirect, renovate or repair public TV — an institution that Ford mightily helped create in the 1950s and 1960s — though the $10 million grant to PBS does back “a national dialogue” on public TV’s future, said PBS spokeswoman Lea Sloan. It also helps with development of the network’s chameleon-like Public Square initiative in public affairs, and it aids startup of the PBS Foundation, which may give PBS capital for more new programming and projects. President Pat Mitchell will describe her vision of public TV’s future in a speech May 24 at the National Press Club, Sloan said.
NPR, which will receive $7.5 million, will establish permanent news bureaus in Baghdad, Iraq; Cairo, Egypt; Shanghai, China; and Seoul, South Korea, and add new in-depth series on international topics, said spokeswoman Jenny Lawhorn. Several other foundations also are backing the bureau expansion, she said.
Ford, like other politically progressive groups, hopes to integrate public TV and radio into a broader “public media” sector, including local cable access centers, community media centers, low-power FM stations and organizations using the Internet and satellites.
With so many things changing in media technology, the foundation sees an opportunity for innovation, said Orlando Bagwell, the prominent independent producer (Africans in America) tapped by Ford early in 2004 to become one of its media program officers for a six-year term.
Ford chose grantees that are innovative, thoughtful about the future and are able to bring more players into public media, Bagwell said.
The foundation has been moving toward the outlays for six years, Bagwell said. A team of program officers presented the plan to the foundation’s trustees in September, he said. Alison R. Bernstein is v.p. of the Education, Media, Arts and Culture Program; Margaret B. Wilkerson directs the Media, Arts and Culture unit. Jon Funabiki, Roberta G. Lentz and Bagwell round out the team.
The foundation will spend $10 million a year on domestic media, up from the usual $3 million, Bagwell said.
Ford, now the third-largest foundation in the country, “virtually invented noncommercial television” in this country, wrote Ralph Engleman in his history Public Radio and Television in America. Since 1951, the funder has spent more than $435 million on pubcasting. It backed the startup of many big-city educational TV stations many years before federal aid became available, and it paid for the national production centers that provided programming for them, including National Educational Television and Public Broadcasting Laboratory. It helped Sesame Street and Eyes on the Prize reach the air.
One of the grantees assisted most dramatically is the Center for Social Media, a four-year-old arm of American University’s School of Communication in Washington. The grant of $3 million nearly triples the center’s budget, said Pat Aufderheide, the media critic who is its director. Ford assigned the center to look at public media—a broader sector than public TV and radio—and see how they can help the public become more active in democracy. To head a new Public Media ThinkTank, the center recently appointed a deputy director, Noëlle McAfee, who has taught philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, and served as associate editor of the political journal Kettering Review.
Ford will also set aside $4 million for a new public service media finance fund to help develop further projects and give them low-cost loans and challenge grants.
The foundation said it’s negotiating with potential partners to set up the fund.
Independent Television Service, given $5 million, will extend its “diverse voices” mission to foreign producers, calling for documentary proposals early next year, said Claire Aguilar, director of programming. “I think we’re going to be swamped,” she admits. Overseas producers will help review the proposals as well. As usual, ITVS is looking for projects already under way that need money to be completed. ITVS will have matching support from the Hewlett Foundation, according to Ford.
Many Americans got their first extended view of several South Asian countries after a natural disaster put them on the news, said Aguilar. “Is the only way to find out about Indonesia through the coverage of a tsunami?” she asked.
The Sundance Documentary Fund, created in 2001 by George Soros’s Open Society Institute, also will get a $5 million boost, which will let it assist more human rights films and add projects on cultural topics, according to Ford.
The foundation split $1.75 million among public TV’s five minority consortia, —Black, Latino, Native American, Asian-American and Pacific Islanders—or an average of $70,000 a year apiece for five years. The consortia plan to extend their programs’ distribution beyond public TV to tap new revenue sources, Ford said.
Ford’s $2.5 million will help Public Radio International increase its global perspectives coverage, strengthen public radio’s online services through PRI’s Public Interactive, and provide seed money for projects to bring new, young and diverse audiences to pubradio, said PRI President Steve Salyer.
Public Radio Exchange, the online market for radio programming that got $1.5 million, will develop curated collections of material for various station formats and topics and increase outreach to youth radio groups, foreign producers and stations — pubradio, college and LPFM — while developing online training workshops for producers, PRX said. The foundation gave PRX money to help it write its business plan three years ago, said Executive Director Jake Shapiro.
With its $2 million grant, Public Radio Capital will be able to increase its help to stations in finding channels and financing for expansion of service, working in as many as 40 communities at once and building a short-term capital fund, said Susan Harmon, managing director. Part of the job, she said, is to persuade present license holders that selling to pubradio can be a winning strategy for them.
The foundation also directed $7.75 million to projects in Internet and satellite media. OneWorld US (us.oneworld.net), the American link in the OneWorld.net international network of websites about social justice and the environment, will receive $1.25 million. The U.S. site is a partnership between the Benton Foundation in Washington, D.C., and the OneWorld International Foundation, based in London, which coordinates the websites in 11 countries. Advocacy videos and other materials are provided by more than 1,600 activist groups who are partners in the network.
New California Media (news.ncmonline.com), a news syndication service founded nine years ago by Pacific News Service, will receive $2 million. The funds will help it develop a national wire service for ethnic news. The group now conducts multilingual polls in 12 states, according to Ford.
Link TV (www.linktv.org), a San Francisco nonprofit channel with an international emphasis carried on both major satellite TV services in this country, will receive $4.5 million to strengthen its operations and look into PBS distribution of some of its programs as a new source of revenue. LinkTV’s Middle East news feed, Mosaic, launched within days after 9/11 and received a Peabody Award last month. ITVS was a partner in founding LinkTV in 1999.
Global Perspectives in a Digital Age: Transforming Public Service
Media (amounts in millions of dollars)
PUBLIC TELEVISION SYSTEM
Public Broadcasting Service $10M
Independent Television Service $5M
Sundance Documentary Fund $5M
National Minority Consortia $1.75M
PUBLIC RADIO SYSTEM
National Public Radio $7.5M
Public Radio International $2.5M
Public Radio Exchange $1.5M
Public Radio Capital $2M
NEW PUBLIC MEDIA VENTURES
OneWorld US $1.25
New California Media $2M
CONVENING, POLICY & SUSTAINABILITY
Center for Social Media $3M
Public service media finance fund $4M
Foundation lists 2005 public media grantees
The foundation's detailed description of projects:
Public television system
Public Broadcasting Service ($10 million)
PBS is the centerpiece of American noncommercial television. Founded in 1969, it is a nonprofit enterprise owned and operated by the nation’s 349 public television stations. PBS distributes a daily national schedule of programming to its member stations and provides online outreach and educational services. Foundation funds would support a new program fund that would give PBS TV for the first time the capacity to develop, pilot and test new ideas. PBS TV also needs to generate new sources of revenue. To date, however, it has lacked the capacity to do its own fundraising. Therefore, the Ford grant also would enable PBS TV to study and implement promising, new revenue-producing strategies.
Independent Television Service ($5 million)
ITVS, founded in 1991 to support the growth and production of Independent Producers in Public Television, has in a little over ten years has become the largest source of independent programming for US public broadcasting and non-commercial media. In an attempt to reinvigorate the media as a vital connection between the American public and people and events around the world, ITVS has proposed a new international programming fund to support and develop independent production outside our borders. With matching support from the Ford Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation over the next five years, ITVS plans to bring new diverse points of view from people and lands around the world.
The Sundance Documentary Fund ($5 million)
The Sundance Documentary Fund was created in 2001 by the Sundance Institute with funds from the Open Society Institute to support U.S. and international documentary films and videos on human rights issues. It has become an important form of support for high-quality documentaries. The Ford grant would help expand the Fund significantly, not only to support more human rights films and videos, but also projects dealing with arts and culture.
The National Minority Consortia ($1.75 million)
The NMC is comprised of five independent organizations working to develop independent producers from communities of color and their work for broadcast on PBS TV. The five organizations are Latino Public Broadcasting, National Asian Telecommunications Association, National Black Programming Consortium, Native American Public Telecommunications, and Pacific Islanders in Communications. Ford funds would be used to augment the consortia’s efforts to provide additional skilled producers whose work would reflect greater diversity of subject matter and perspectives. In a significant shift, the NMC also plans to help producers to distribute shows to outlets beyond PBS TV as a way to cultivate new revenue sources.
Public radio system
National Public Radio ($7.5 million)
NPR is the centerpiece of the American public radio system. Its signature programs, Morning Edition and All Things Considered alone account for 18 million listeners a week. Foundation funds would enable NPR to expand international bureaus at a time when other commercial news networks are shrinking and phasing out their international presence.
Public Radio International ($2.5 million)
PRI, founded in 1983, is the nation’s leading producer and supplier of noncommercial audio content, such as Marketplace and This American Life. Its programming is heard by 15.9 million listeners weekly. Foundation funds would enable PRI to expand international programming and to develop innovative ways to use new technologies to distribute programs and build audiences.
Public Radio Exchange ($1.5 million)
PRX, created in 2003, is an online service that distributes independently produced radio programs to the programmers. Using Internet technology and innovative software, PRX is an innovative distribution model that supplies broadcast-quality audio to stations and calculates all rights and license fees. By transforming the ability of local stations to identify and acquire independently produced programs, PRX is likely to revolutionize the industry and be a boon to independent producers. Ford funds would support continued innovation in the way media is distributed, programmed and received.
Public Radio Capital ($2 million)
PRC, founded in 2001, expands the reach and capacity of public radio by facilitating and investing in efforts to buy broadcast licenses, as they become available, for public radio. Ford funding would support continued investments toward this effort, thereby sheltering at least some broadcast licenses from rapidly expanding media conglomerates.
New public media ventures
OneWorld US ($1.25 million)
OneWorld US, founded in 2001, uses the Internet to publish domestic and international news and perspectives on global issues gathered from more than 1,600 human rights, environmental and social justice organizations that belong to the One World International network. Taking advantage of the Internet’s capabilities, OneWorld US is aggressively moving towards developing and offering video-quality programming to its services. OneWorld US also is investigating whether it is financially feasible to develop a niche market by offering special programs and services to colleges and universities. Foundation funds would be used to launch and test this service.
New California Media ($2 million)
NCM, founded in 1996 by Pacific News Service, is a collaboration of more than 600 outlets that produce news and perspectives about immigrant, ethnic and youth communities via print publications, television, radio and the Internet. NCM also conducts national, multilingual polls in 12 states. Foundation funds would be used to develop and launch a national ethnic news syndication service, similar to the Associated Press. Armed with a national distribution mechanism and its “bottom up,” multicultural orientation, NCM has the potential to significantly reshape news media practices.
LinkTV ($4.5 million)
LinkTV is a nonprofit, 24-hour television network broadcast into 21 million U.S. households as a free service in DIRECTV and Dish Network satellite systems. Founded in 1999, LinkTV’s programming includes a mix of documentaries, international news, foreign films and world music. Foundation funds would be used to significantly enhance LinkTV’s programming, marketing and audience penetration. LINKTV also would investigate the possibility of distributing some of its shows through PBS TV. If successful, the interventions will help LinkTV make a significant leap towards attracting sustaining sources of revenue.
Convening, policy and sustainability organizations
Center for Social Media ($3 million)
The Center for Social Media was founded in 2001 by the School of Communication at American University in Washington, DC. It conducts research on media policy issues that affect the independent sector. It is a multidisciplinary center that brings together broadcast, print and online journalists; documentary and social advocacy filmmakers; and experts focused on nonprofit, government and political arenas. Foundation funds would be used to educate and convene initiative grantees on policy matters and to develop a more strategic understanding of how policy can enhance or restrict the options for public service media.
We have set aside $4 million to create a finance fund for public
These funds would be used to convene initiative grantees on financial matters, to provide technical assistance to research and develop appropriate projects, such as low-cost loan and challenge grant programs for the sector. At this stage, we are negotiating with potential partners to set up the fund.
posted June 2, 2005
Copyright 2005 by Current Publishing Committee