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PBS Can Survive by Filling TV News Void

There is commentary in the New York Times about the decline of PBS; it is becoming more and more irrelevant. For example, the writer Charles McGrath mentions Masterpiece Theater has become Jane Austen fulltime, and as I write this my wife is in the other room watching Jane Austen on our local PBS channel. For me the Antiques Roadshow is a metaphor for PBS.

Public radio thrives because it is so much cheaper and because we spend so much of our time in cars; indeed, public radio insiders talk of the tent poles where listenership peaks on the drives to and from work. Of course, there is plenty of other radio options, but if you want to hear news there are none. So it thrives. To get  where it is today, public radio, in many cases, had to cut back on its classical or other music programming. It got a younger, news passionate audiences with money to contribute.  

Of course, anyone who watches television knows there is a real news void on television. We are stuck with a bunch of talking heads blabbering away, Sunday morning “Gasbags” as Calvin Trillen calls them. But now it is seven days a week. So why doesn’t PBS turn to producing real news. The kind where a reporter goes out and gathers information. Yes, they do it on local commercial TV, but really it is all about blood and gore with no depth. I am talking about news that will make a difference in people’s lives. 

Of course, television is expensive, if you have all those big trucks and million-dollar editing stations. But what if PBS news turned to the television eqivalent of Cinema Verite, hand-held cameras, no big sets, just people out in the trenches collecting information. A kind of professional journalism YouTube, supplemented by the people’s contributions when needed.

Form a community around saving PBS by helping it create better, more impactful news oriented television.  Use that news to boost audiences and push them to better general programming.

Take chances, one chance might be to kick government financing out of bed and then really do some hard hitting journalism with some of it aimed at the scoundrels in government while praising the good guys. Instead of walking on your knees with hat in hand to collect the government subsidies, stand tall and if you go out, go out with a scream and not a whimper.

 I used to love to watch TV news, now it is a waste of time. Bring on real news and bring me back with my donations in hand. Better yet, find out how I and all the folks with cameras in hand can add to your content. Everyone else is trying it, but you already have the brand as in P-u-b-l-i-c Broadcasting. Watch what is about to take place at the Media General station WNCN-TV in Raleigh, North Carolina, which we hear is hiring 40 community embedded reporters plus teaching citizens how to shoot video, imagine that for our local PBS programming here in Georgia.

Come on PBS, stand up, brush off the dust and charge into the bright new future.  

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