Public TV's 'convention of stations' moves to November, at Austin

Adapted from Current, July 21, 1997

The "convention of stations" to adopt changes in public TV's national governance has been rescheduled to Nov. 5 [1997] in Austin, Tex., during the last day of the annual conference of Southern Educational Communications Association (SECA).

The convention was called by the Core Working Group, a committee of 13 public TV station execs delegated by America's Public Television Stations (APTS) to propose a new decision-making process for the fractured field.

The group originally set the convention in Philadelphia, Nov. 10-11, with a nod to the city's role in U.S. history. [Earlier article.] But the group decided to piggyback on another major meeting so that station reps could attend without taking additional trips.

For a while last month, the group considered convening Oct. 24, following three days of the PBS Fall Planning Meeting and Annual Members Meeting in Washington, but that would have extended a long series of sessions already full of issues, said Eric Douglas, leader of a consulting team from BMR Associates hired last year by APTS to facilitate the discussions. It also was difficult to find meeting space in Washington, Douglas said.

The convention was moved to Austin when SECA "generously agreed to devote a full day" of its conference to the convention, said Douglas.

In the meantime, the Core Working Group will meet regularly by phone and three times in-person, while making presentations and releasing documents to build a consensus for change among stations, he said.

The group has scheduled several in-person meetings to wrap up its deliberations, going into the Austin convention:

The whole group has met only once in person since it expanded its membership from six to 13--before the PBS Annual Meeting in Dallas.

The six original Core Working Group members, selected by APTS' consultants, BMR Associates, were: Mark Erstling (WPSX, University Park, Pa.), Ginni Fox (Kentucky ETV), Dennis Haarsager (KWSU, Pullman, Wash.), Mike Hardgrove (KETC, St. Louis), Al Jerome (KCET, Los Angeles) and Jim Pagliarini (KNPB, Reno).

Those six announced seven more members in June: Carole Cartwright (WYCC, Chicago), Bryce Combs (WMVS/WMVT, Milwaukee), Trina Cutter (WNIT, South Bend, Ind.), George Miles (WQED, Pittsburgh), Bill McCarter (WTTW, Chicago), Al Pizzato (WSRE, Pensacola, Fla.) and Mel Rogers (KOCE, Huntington Beach, Calif.).


Earlier article

Governance reform group calls convention for Philly in November

Adapted from an article in Current, June 2, 1997

Apparently welcoming comparisons to an earlier convention in Philadelphia that ratified the U.S. Constitution two centuries ago, the panel devising a new governance system for public TV has chosen that city as site for a "convention of stations" Nov. 10-11 [1997].

The convention will conclude a process began last year by the Association of America's Public Television Stations (APTS) to give the stations an effective way to make national decisions. Hotly contested questions such as national scheduling of programs ("common carriage") and a proposed new experiment in limited airing of commercials beg to be debated and put to rest, but the public TV "system" remains unable to reach agreement.

The first six members of the Core Working Group, which will propose the overhaul, were appointed in March by BMR Associates, a California-based management consulting firm. The first six are top station executives from a variety of stations: Mark Erstling of WPSX, University Park, Pa.; Virginia Fox of Kentucky ETV; Dennis Haarsager of KWSU, Pullman, Wash.; Mike Hardgrove of KETC, St. Louis; Al Jerome of KCET, Los Angeles; and Jim Pagliarini of KNPB, Reno.

Those six were preparing in May to expand their membership and begin deliberations on the proposal to put before that convention.

They also released a draft "case for change" that spells out reasons for the reform of public TV's national decision-making process. The system needs a process that will let it act decisively in programming and financial deals, legislative strategies, guidance of its national organizations and collaborative efforts, the statement says.

"There's no process by which we can understand competing views," according to the statement. "Absent understanding, we demonize opposing views. This spawns aggression, turf fights and splintering." And the splintering "steals energy and time from positive pursuits, such as how to develop new programming."

Hints of the final proposal

Core group members in May also revealed aspects of their preliminary thinking last month during the CEN/EEN Annual Meeting in Baltimore.

Eric Douglas, project chief for BMR Associates, described elements of a decision-making process that the panel has been discussing for proposal to the convention in November:

Mike Hardgrove, a member of the Core group and president of KETC in St. Louis, said during a CEN/EEN session that a new means of conducting research is needed because public TV lacks "any objective source of information." The only available information on a subject usually comes from interested parties, he said. "If it's a PBS issue, we get research from PBS; if it's a CPB issue, we get research from CPB."

Building consensus

The process of coming up with a new governance system may resemble the eventual process that public TV adopts to try solving its most fundamental disputes.

BMR began building consensus for governance changes in fall 1996 and winter 1996-97. Three preliminary discussion groups of station leaders, assembled by BMR, agreed with the consultants' findings that public TV lacks a forum for hearing, debating and resolving the conflicting views within the field, according to Douglas. They also agreed the situation is unacceptable and that BMR itself should start selecting the core group, he said.

The discussions were held in November at Cincinnati, in February at New Orleans and in March in San Francisco. BMR picked two representative and articulate managers from each session to constitute the nucleus of the new group. But the full group will need to broaden its membership, adding a voice from overlapped stations, for example, to bolster its credibility, Douglas told Current.

BMR is teaching the pubcasters "tools for productive conversation," not unlike the techniques introduced to hundreds of U.S. congressmen during a mass retreat in March in Hershey, Pa., said Douglas.

Most policy controversy amounts to debates for and against various actions, he explained, but the discussion doesn't lead to mutual understanding unless the opponents dig down to the underlying interpretations of data. "It's harder still to get down to the data itself," he said. "We try to take conversations down that ladder of inference."

In its work analyzing the public TV system, BMR said it was a "chaordic" alliance, with mixtures of chaos and order.

One attendee at the CEN/EEN meeting in May, Ansel Doll, general manager of KWCM in Appleton, Wis., wasn't sure why the Core Working Group is so eager to replace the semi-chaotic way that public TV makes decisions. "Chaos," he said, "has generated some pretty nice things."


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