Retooling public broadcasting for a digital, participatory age has been a significant area of focus for many media funders over the past decade. On June 3-4, our Media Impact Forum at the Kaiser Foundation’s DC-based Barbara Jordan Conference Center explored how “public media” is expanding to include an array of new platforms and partners, with an increasing focus on impact.
A brand new documentary festival, high-level dialogues among funders and practitioners, illuminating presentations, and hands-on learning opportunities all built upon the conversations sparked by the bustling Media Impact Focus events that we’ve been hosting across the country for the past several months. Below, we recap the events briefly—keep an eye out for deeper coverage of each discussion. We hope you’ll be inspired to join the vibrant ongoing dialogue on public media futures with us on Twitter: @mediafunders.
Celebrating Docs that Change the Debate
Social issue documentaries play a central role in the public media ecosystem. We kicked things off on the evening of June 3 with our first Media Impact Festival, held at the National Geographic Museum. This yearlong celebration of documentary films has evolved from the long-running Film + Video Festival, previously co-hosted with the Council on Foundations, into a rigorous process for showcasing campaigns that move the needle on social issues. Read more about the event and our award winners.
New Public Media Possibilities
Our emcee for the June 4 Remaking Public Media discussion was Matt Thompson, NPR’s Director of Vertical Initiatives (and Mischief), pictured above. Thompson has helped to lead such public media innovation projects as Project Argo, which built a blog network for stations, and CodeSwitch, a team of cross-platform NPR reporters who cover issues of race, ethnicity and culture.
“We hope you walk away from this day with new connections and possibilities,” he told the crowd, and then warmed them up for the next session—Games and Digital Learning: Aligning Investment with Impact—with a quick round of Rock-Paper-Scissors.
Smart Strategies for Investing in Serious Games
Gaming is a growth area for public media stations and allied networks of developers and educators. Jeff Curley opened this discussion of the promise of learning games with a quick look at the successful titles produced by iCivics, the nonprofit he co-founded with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
Thompson then moderated a panel discussion featuring Alan Gershenfeld, President and Founder of E-Line Media; Robert M. Lippincott, Operating Partner, Education for i2 Capital Group; and Robert Torres, a senior program officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They discussed the increasingly sophisticated relationship between game production, education and assessment, and the need for more sustained investment by funders into not just standalone games, but integrated, iterative gaming environments. “New literacies are needed,” not only for students, but funders, parents and educators, said Gershenfeld.
To close, Sandra Sheppard of WNET stepped up to present a few of the public station’s own next-gen tablet and laptop-based educational games, and to welcome attendees to a hands-on arcade to experience them for themselves.
Revamping Local Journalism
Local coverage has long been the bailiwick of public broadcasting stations, but in recent years funders have also poured money into digital-first and collaborative projects designed to shore up gaps created by the collapse of the newspaper industry. Media Impact Funders Executive Director Vince Stehle moderated this session featuring exemplars of cross-platform coverage that engages and mobilizes community members.
Speakers included Laura Walker, the president and CEO of New York Public Radio; Laura Frank, the executive director of I-News and vice president for news at Rocky Mountain PBS, and Clark Bell, director of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation’s Journalism Program. Mike Henry, CEO of Paragon Media Strategies, also stepped up to the podium for a brief presentation on the rise of AAA public stations as hubs for music discovery and civic engagement.
Rx for Healthcare Coverage
Thompson caught attendees’ post-lunch attention with a “mischevious” take on a few of the world’s most pressing health issues by showing a clip from Stand-Up Planet, a Gates Foundation-supported comedy showcase produced by public station KCETLink. He then introduced Rita Allen Foundation President Elizabeth Christopherson to helm an afternoon session on high-powered reporting partnerships that untangle complex issues related to health and healthcare reform.
Kaiser Family Foundation’s Vice President and Executive Director of Health Policy Media and Technology David Rousseau joined Kaiser Health News Executive Editor Peggy Girshman and NPR’s Deputy Senior Supervising Editor Joe Neel to unpack their groundbreaking collaboration, which pairs NPR reporters with the foundation’s national news site to undergird local coverage.
Bill Buzenberg, Executive Director of the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) also presented on CPI’s data-rich and influential online investigations, including a Pulitzer-winning exposé on how the coal industry kept key medical evidence on black lung disease from sick miners.
Representing Identity Via Participatory Photography
We closed with a thoughtful consideration of the ways in which participatory photography projects can revitalize public media by providing antidotes to stereotypical depictions.
Director Thomas Allen Harris spoke about his documentary, Through a Lens Darkly, and the companion Digital Diaspora Family Reunion project, which invites participants to include their family photos in a nationwide archive depicting the African-American experience. Austin Merrill, who co-founded Everyday Africa, showed how this collaborative Instagram project gathers photographers to post depictions that run counter to more common images of a continent constantly in crisis.
Amy Yenkin, the director of the Open Society Foundations’ Documentary Photography Project, presented projects that the foundation has funded which give control of the camera back to subjects, such as a series showing life on the Pine Ridge Reservation by photographer John Willis. He documented the Oglala Lakota Sioux People over many years in an effort to rectify damage done by previous generations of photographers who captured Native American images with little regard for the preferences or beliefs of the subjects.
But Wait, There’s More…
Want to get even deeper into the day? See our Storify, plus this pair of posts about the event from the Center for Media and Social Impact. And watch your inboxes for details on upcoming Media Impact Focus events.