In the News: Reactions to KCET Leaving PBS

Over the coming weeks and months, we'll be sharing articles and links that shed light on the many changes KCET is undergoing.

It's likely no surprise to anyone reading this that there were many strong initial responses to the news that KCET was ending its relationship to PBS. But there were also those who were excited by the prospect of locally-minded, independent public television. Web luminary Doc Searls, one of the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto, and currently fellow at both the the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and the Center for Information Technology & Society at UC Santa Barbara, called leaving PBS a brave move:

[T]he real story here is the death of TV as we knew it, and the birth of whatever follows.

Relatively few people actually watch TV from antennas any more. KCET, KOCE and KLCS are cable stations now. That means they're just data streams with channel numbers, arriving at flat screens served by cable systems required to carry them.

What makes a TV station local is now content and culture, not transmitter location and power. In fact, a station won't even need a "channel" or "channels" after the next digital transition is done. That's the transition from cable to Internet, at the end of which all video will be either a data stream or a file transfer, as with a podcast.

All that keeps cable coherent today is the continuing perception, substantiated only by combination of regulation and set-top box design, that "TV" still exists, and choices there are limited to "channels" and program schedules. All of those are anachronisms. Living fossils. And very doomed.

KCET bailed on PBS because it didn't want to pay whatever it took to stay affiliated with that program source. This means KCET has some faith -- or at least a good idea -- that Whatever Comes Next will be good enough for lots of people to watch. If we're lucky, what's liberated will also be liberating.

I sure hope so. Dumping PBS was a brave move by KCET. They deserve congratulations for it.[full story]

Similarly, Jessica Clark - Knight Media Policy Fellow at the New America Foundation, and the research director at American University's Center for Social Media - and Ellen Goodman - law professor at Rutgers University - wrote in today's Los Angeles Daily News that "KCET could redefine local programming:"

The real question that the divorce of KCET and PBS raises is what service a well-funded public station can provide when it no longer transmits a national TV schedule. KCET now has the chance to redefine what it means to be a local broadcast station in a digitally networked world.

Public broadcasting was always supposed to be about local communities. While PBS and NPR were created in the early 1970s to develop and distribute national educational, cultural, kids, and news programming, this was supposed to be in addition to vibrant local fare.

Over the decades, local production capabilities have atrophied, especially on the TV side. Too often, public TV stations now serve as little more than passive conduits of PBS programs. While the national content is valuable - usually programs that neither big commercial media nor amateur digital media makers are producing - it's not clear that the nation needs or can support more than 350 stations to provide this service.
The old hub-and-spoke, national-to-local distribution model is outdated. Digital networks create new possibilities for production and content sharing from local-to-national and even local-to-local. Wildly diverse communities also create new needs that a national program service can't hope to meet, especially in markets like L.A.'s, which trends more multiethnic and younger.

A reinvented KCET - poorer for the lack of PBS content but richer for the freedom to innovate - could bring a whole new kind of public media service to Los Angeles. The station's online Departures project suggests the possibilities, combining vibrant neighborhood profiles with community engagement and digital literacy tools. [full story]

Properly reflecting the richness of diverse communities is hard enough, but it is impossible for the local affiliates of national networks forced to carry full national schedules. A recent Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting report charged that "public television is failing to live up to its mission to provide an alternative to commercial television, to give voice to those 'who would otherwise go unheard' and help viewers to 'see America whole, in all its diversity,' in the words of public TV's founding document:"

In a special November issue of studies and analyses of PBS's major public affairs shows, FAIR's magazine Extra! shows that "public television" features guestlists strongly dominated by white, male and elite sources, who are far more likely to represent corporations and war makers than environmentalists or peace advocates. And both funding and ownership of these shows is increasingly corporate, further eroding the distinction between "public" and corporate television. There is precious little "public" left in "public television." [full story]

The goal of the new KCET is to put the public firmly back into our public television - and not just any public, but the many diverse, local voices of Southern California.


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