Models for Transformation
Models for Transformation
Thirty-nine miles to the north is an example of a local public media entity that could be a model for Akron and other communities. It is an organization that has broken down the silos between platforms and embraced interactivity and the digital space. It sees its mission not as broadcasting but as community service.
Created in 2001, ideastream is the public media organization in Cleveland that combines public television station WVIZ-TV, public radio station WCPN-FM, the statewide Ohio Network and four other educational media organizations into one. The founders seized the opportunity presented by digital convergence to become a seamless multiple media public service organization housed in a new facility in the heart of Cleveland’s Playhouse Square.
A Carnegie Reporter article on ideastream advises, “Think of ideastream as a digital community center or a virtual YMCA, seeking to draw together the resources of ‘heritage institutions’ (museums, theaters, colleges, libraries, medical centers, government agencies, etc.) and make them digitally available on demand to patrons, clients and students.”
The mission of ideastream is to strengthen communities. The organization serves many communities in northeast Ohio, including Akron, with both a regional approach and a local focus. Both the television and radio stations can be accessed in Akron, and ideastream devotes air time and online resources to coverage of Akron news, information and cultural events.
Instead of a newsroom, there is a content center, where a staff of 18 prepares news and information and educational content for television, radio and the web, with support from another dozen technical and support staff. CEO Jerry Wareham, the former president and general manager of WVIZ-TV, and COO Kit Jensen, the former president and general manager of WCPN-FM, share a vision of multimedia community service. “I think this radio and TV stuff is so 20th century,” says Wareham, speaking of the traditional separate organizational structures of the services. Their numerous collaborations include Cleveland’s newspaper, The Plain Dealer, which partnered with ideastream on a four-year multimedia project “The Quiet Crisis” on the economic downturn in northeast Ohio.
In addition to the television and radio stations, five other educational, news and public service media programs that had been housed by various organizations became part of ideastream. They include two Columbus-based operations managed by ideastream on behalf of all public broadcasters in Ohio, the Ohio Public Radio and Television News Bureau and the Ohio Channel, which provides coverage of the Ohio state legislature and state supreme court and carries local programs from public broadcasters throughout Ohio.
With more resources, ideastream could address in depth the information needs of Akron and surrounding communities, possibly in partnership with other public media entities such as WKSU or the new citizen journalism website. Akron could become a laboratory for experimentation in how best to serve communities in the digital age.
ideastream: A New Approach to Public Media
“ideastream is public broadcasting and a whole lot more.” So says the home page of the web site for Cleveland’s unusual consortium of public television, public radio, a statewide cable network, educational and service channels and interactive and digital media. COO Kit Jensen points to “BackStage With…” as a project that utilizes ideastream’s versatility. Hosted by NPR’s Scott Simon, the program originates as an interview of a major artist (John Lithgow and Patricia Heaton, for example) conducted live in ideastream’s studio in Playhouse Square before an audience of students. The program is disseminated live through interactive video and audio to schools throughout the state. Recordings are used for a segment in the daily arts program on the public radio station, for the weekly arts program on public television and are posted online. A 30-minute special is distributed to the PBS system and Scott Simon uses the edited interview on NPR’s Weekend Edition. Online curriculum is supplied to teachers for use in the classroom.
The success of ideastream comes from five ingredients that will prove key to the ability of public media to transform: leadership, a mission rooted in community service, structure, governance and finances. The leaders in the creation of ideastream shared a vision, were willing to break down silos, mobilized support from the community and garnered resources through partnerships and diligent fundraising.
These same ingredients have been key for other successful models that will be described in this paper, models such as Minnesota Public Radio, New York Public Radio, KQED Public Media, Southern California Public Radio, KETC in St. Louis and KPBS in San Diego. Because they are community-based, they are evolving to meet local needs drawing on local resources. There is no one-size-fits-all model, but all have the essential ingredients in common.