Public radio and TV stations across the country will receive more than $10 million over the next two years to boost local news coverage as newspapers decline.
On Thursday, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting announced the creation of local journalism centers in five regions. NPR and PBS stations in each region will collaborate on covering key issues, including immigration, agribusiness, the economy and health care. They will jointly hire about 50 multimedia journalists.
"This is a commitment to journalism," said Patricia Harrison, president and CEO of the Corporation, which is a nonprofit organization created and funded by Congress. "As we look at this environment and the impact on newspapers, we just felt we had to ... try something innovative and ensure that we hired real journalists as part of this initiative."
Experienced journalists shed by failing newspapers could provide a pool of applicants, she said.
The funding initially targets the Southwest, the Plains states, the upper Midwest, upstate New York and central Florida. Proposals also are being accepted from stations in the South and Northwest.
It will involve 37 local stations, though at least 100 applied. To date, 13 radio stations, 13 joint ventures operating both radio and TV outlets, and one stand-alone TV station have signed on. Stations were selected on the basis of a business plan that included an outline for becoming self-sustaining within two years.
"The idea of pulling together radio and television for content that is broadcast and online ... this is going to be our template going forward," Harrison said.
The Corporation will provide $7.5 million for the project, while the stations involved contribute $3 million. Officials hope the arrangement could serve as a model for other stations and leverage private support.
Tom Karlo, general manager of KPBS in San Diego, said his station already has combined its radio, TV and online news operations to increase local content.
"Television news in our market has gotten so sensational," he said, so the public station will devote itself to "thoughtful analysis."
PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger said the initiative will help public stations adapt to changes driven by the Internet. She noted public participation in the news, by posting stories and pictures on Twitter, Facebook and blogs, has increased dramatically.
"The bottom line is this: In an era of crowd sourcing, journalism must rebuild itself from the bottom up," she said.
Funding also was announced to create a technology platform to be administered by NPR for all public broadcasters to collaborate and share content. Another $2 million project funded with the Knight Foundation will place journalism bloggers in public stations in several cities.
In total, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting — the primary channel for federal funds distributed to public media — has invested $90 million in new journalism initiatives over the past two years. The organization does not have authority over the networks or the stations, most of which are locally owned.
The new regional news desks could feed content to national news shows on PBS and NPR, as well as to local stations, officials said.
PBS recently announced it will begin airing a new news program called "Need to Know," anchored by Alison Stewart and Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, on Friday nights in May. It has also revamped the "PBS NewsHour," hosted by Jim Lehrer.
The local news effort must be self-sustaining within two years, Harrison said.
"If it's of value to the community, there's potential to get foundation support or individual support," she said, "even in this troublesome economy."
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