Sunday, June 22, 2008

"Ew, It's 'Annoying Man'"

"Ew, It's 'Annoying Man'... get him off my TV."

That was my 4-year old son's reaction to a loud, obnoxious detergent commercial during the Good Night Show on the Sprout network, which is a partnership between PBS, Sesame Workshop, Comcast, and HIT Entertainment.

With a click of the remote, he was gone.

It's a shame that the same research, thought, and care that goes in to Sprout's content wasn't applied to the advertising acceptance policy.

The inappropriateness of the detergent commercial's production values are obvious because of the setting -- the audience is primarily children (even if Mom is in the room), this is public television content, and the Good Night Show is supposed to be calming.

Inappropriate sponsorship choices are increasingly common in public broadcasting. They aren't always as obvious as "Annoying Man" but they will likely have the same effect. Click, click.

It would be nice to think that the industry could avoid this fate, but evidence suggests otherwise. The PRADO listserv in public radio is always fielding questions about whether specific sponsorship language will pass FCC muster. Some of the examples are so far from public radio's core values it's amazing that any station would ever consider putting the announcement on the air. The same can be said of certain network sponsorship announcements as well.

The trend in the business is to focus on what's legal, not what's appropriate. The letter of the law is more important than the spirit of the law. Not getting fined by the FCC is more important than maintaining core values, even during underwriting announcements.

This is no small issue as public broadcasting becomes more reliant on commercial dollars. Accepting more underwriting is a necessity. Competing for those dollars will be tough. Finding the industry leadership to defend our core values in this environment is essential.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Vetted Journalism

About 10 years ago, Walter Cronkite helped out with some public radio on-air fundraising by recording an interview to be used in pledge drives. One of his central points was that you could hear "good editing" in public radio news. He talked about the importance of continuing to invest in the editorial process.

That's why this article in the New York Times about the vanishing copy editor caught my eye. Web 2.0 makes Mr. Cronkite's point more important than ever. A public radio listener said to me the other day, "Think about the number of times you see something on the web, often forwarded to you by a friend, and when you read it you say 'that can't be true.' And a quick check on Google proves it is not. Then think about the number of times you listen to Morning Edition and say, 'that can't be true.' Almost never. It just doesn't happen."

The amount of unedited, unchecked content will grow exponentially faster that fact-checked, well-edited content. This creates what might be one of the most significant niches for public radio in a Web 2.0 world, vetted journalism. Put another way, there will always be a market for accuracy and the well-chosen word. Maybe that's why services such as are starting to pop up. (I have no financial interest in this service.)

Investing in the editorial process should be a priority for public radio (or public media if you prefer). This is true at the network level and even at the smallest stations. The phrase "everyone needs an edit" applies universally. If applied consistently, public radio can become a shining star over the new media landscape.

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Still Not As Big As Public Radio

The experts were wowed by Sex and the City's box office take last weekend. Nearly $60 million in ticket sales.

At $10 per ticket, that's about 6 million movie goers.

Which means that more people listen to public radio in a single day than went to see Sex and the City over the weekend.

Just another reminder that public radio, and radio in general, has incredible reach and influence. Yes, we should be mindful of the changes that new technologies bring. But we should also stop selling ourselves short. If we don't believe in the power of radio, why should anyone else?

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