The budget debate is heating up again as Congress discusses whether to eliminate more than $400 million a year in federal funding of public broadcasting, including PBS and NPR.
This is an old debate that seems to crop up every five years or so … but this time, the tone is different and the possibility of defunding public media is real. It has definitely been a tough six months for NPR and its leadership, but setting aside the politics, there is a deeper discussion happening here at SXSW: What role does Public Media play in the digital age?
Panelist Jacquie Jones, Executive Director of the National Black Programming Consortium opened with, “The role of Public Media is to support content creators. Ensure that diverse voices are represented on public television.” There was head nodding among the other panelists as each took turns showing power examples of stories Public Media has produced over the years.
But as I listened to the panel, I was struck by the fact that everything being discussed sounded more like a defense of the existing Public Media model and less about its role in the future.
The real question is, with today’s social web and global connectivity, is a government funded public media truly needed? Before the Internet, it was vital as no one had the ability to speak and be heard in public. But now that everyone has the power to create, publish and distribute anything at anytime with the click of a mouse, is Public Media as a corporate entity still needed?
I think the answer is Yes. But the discussions have to evolve from talking about the past and move to how Public Media 2.0 can create an ecosystem that is more local, more inclusive and more interactive.
“Branding is Public Media’s real problem,” said Jones. Really? It’s a branding issue? I’m reminded of J. Paul Getty’s quote: “In times of rapid change, experience could be your worst enemy.”
The social web is public media on steroids. So the challenge is how do you curate, highlight and tell stories that add value to the public good? We have to move away from our learned instincts of marketing and creating content for people and embrace authentic storytelling that creates content with people.