It all started with him…. Edward R. Murrow and Channel 13’s first broadcast….
After I graduated from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 1983, my first job was with WNET/13, the PBS station in New York.
It is not, technically, in NY. WNET/13 is actually licensed in Newark, New Jersey.
And my job was as a production assistant for a program called Mainstream, a local public affairs show out of the Newark office. The show was created to protect the license. It aired at 6:30 am on Saturdays. No one watched. Not even my mother. And I had the lowest job in the least significant show in Newark!
The job of a Production Assistant is to make the coffee, slice the bagels and xerox the scripts.
In the early ’80s, becasue I was working at PBS, I went to a conference on the ‘future of PBS’. Channel 13 was there. They showed an extremely mediocre video about some really banal local show they were about to produce. Highly unmemorable.
Then came a talk by Jennifer Lawson, then President of PBS. Droning on and on… I had trouble keeping my eyes open.
They were followed by a talk by Nick Davitsis, then president of A&E. He asked that we watch a video about A&E. It was very slick. A&E. Deft, literate – theater, arts, music, comedy, & politics (this was A&E in the ’80s). I was impressed.
When the video, which ran about 5 minutes was over, Davitsis turned to the audience:
“Future of PBS?” he said. “I don’t think they have a future”.
Fortunately, Davitsis’ prediction turned out to be wrong.
Having worked with The BBC for five years, I know how important a non-commercial broadcaster can be. (Particuarly if it is well funded. The BBC receives an annual guaranteed budget of just over $5 billion a year). PBS has enormous potential, even if we, alas, don’t fund it the way the British do theirs.
This Saturday afternoon, I will be at the Grand Hyatt in NY, addressing the news directors from all of the Public Broadcasting stations in the country. I was the keynote speaker at the Public Broadcasting Conference in Boston in March. This is the follow up. Now we get to specifics.
It’s a big step up from being the Production Assistant in Newark.
I think there are enormous opportunities for public broadcasting, if it is willing to embrace, really embrace, new technologies and new opportunities….
What should I tell them?