PBS President and CEO Paula A. Kerger Address at PBS Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas

Posted by PBS Publicity on

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Thank you, Bill.

It's wonderful to be in Austin, a city that occupies a special place in public broadcasting's history.

After all, this is where Lyndon Johnson - the president who signed the Public Broadcasting Act into law - began his political career.

Luci Johnson, the president's youngest daughter, had planned to join us for today's opening session.

Unfortunately, she is ill and unable to make it, so I know you join me in wishing her a speedy recovery.

I also hope you'll join me in taking a few moments to reflect upon President Johnson himself.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about LBJ, who truly is one of the grandfathers of public broadcasting.

And it occurs to me that when most of us remember President Johnson, we tend to think of him only through a political prism.

I think this does a great disservice to his memory.

Because the fact is, Lyndon Baines Johnson was much more than a political leader.

He was also a great innovator in public policy.




Head Start.

The national endowments for the arts and the humanities.


These weren't just political achievements - they were also imaginative solutions to problems that plagued America for decades.

Think about how unconventional the idea of creating a national system of local public television stations must have seemed in 1967, when President Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act.

Back then, most people thought of television as nothing more than the box that brought westerns and sitcoms into their living rooms each week.

But Lyndon Johnson - who began his career in public service as a schoolteacher - knew that television could do more than entertain.

It could also:


- Educate,

- Illuminate, and

- Inspire.

And we should all take pride in the knowledge that, for 40 years, this is precisely what we've done - succeeding in ways that even LBJ couldn't have envisioned.

Even in these difficult. turbulent times, PBS and local PBS stations continue to succeed.

Today, I'm proud to announce new research that shows - on average - PBS now draws 118 million viewers each month.

This is the first time our monthly cume has risen in 5 years.

I think that bears repeating: PBS has a monthly cume of 118 million viewers - the first increase in 5 years.

And that's not all.

So far this season, our prime-time ratings are up almost 10%.

This is the first increase we've experienced in prime time in a decade.

Together, PBS and local PBS stations reach more viewers in prime time than HBO, CNN, Discovery, History, and almost every other major cable channel.

Our children's lineup is also on a roll.

Ratings for PBS Kids this season are up 19%.


But wait - there's more.

In April, PBS.org welcomed 12 million unique users - up 15% from one year ago.

And since its December launch, our preschool video player has averaged 69 million video streams every month.

This essentially makes PBS the third most popular source of children's video online.

Together, we should really take great pride in all of these numbers.

But from where I stand, the greatest measure of our success can be found in the results of this year's Roper poll.

Once again, Americans have named PBS the most educational media brand for children, and the most unbiased news source.

Most significantly - for the 7th consecutive year - the American people have ranked PBS as America's most trusted public institution.

This trust - forged through more than 4 decades of public service - represents a very special bond between PBS, every station, and the American people.

It represents something else, too.

It also represents a call to action.

It's not unlike the call we answered in the '60s, when the public television system was created.

Back then, our challenge was to fulfill President Johnson's vision and demonstrate that television could educate, could illuminate, could inspire.

Today, the challenge before us is this:

Can we re-create ourselves for the Digital Age and use media to help every American - of every age and from every walk of life - reach their full potential?

Can we help America come together again and find the common ground that is so essential to solving our greatest problems?

Can we rise to the occasion - even in this time of limited resources - and empower every citizen to be more?

Can we be more?

I think we can.

In fact, I know we can.

But if we are to meet this challenge, then we must think anew about what it means to be public media.

We must summon the courage to let go of old conventions and traditions and embrace:


- New strategies.

- New methods.

- New approaches.

And so this morning, I want to discuss how we - PBS and every station - can meet this challenge.

I want to outline a three-part Innovation Agenda for America that calls upon us to work together:


- To re-imagine children's media,

- To re-invent journalism, and

- To help Americans re-engage with the arts and culture.

This is an agenda for our nation, designed to maximize our strengths so we can help move America forward and ensure its continued success.

It's very much a "bottom up" agenda that was born at the grassroots - a plan that reflects your needs and the issues facing your stations and your communities.

The Innovation Agenda is also a framework for our financial success - designed to help make every station more secure.

Above all, it represents my vision for the future of public media - what I know we can be, and how I believe we should get there.

And so let me begin with the Innovation Agenda's first item - the re-imagining of children's media.

Research clearly shows that the most critical period in a child's life are the years before the age of 5.

This is when children learn how to learn - when their educational, emotional, and social skills begin to take shape.

New research also shows that 75% of all 4-year-olds attend some kind of preschool program - whether it's Head Start, state-funded pre-K, or private preschool.

This is good.

But what it also means is that one-quarter of all 4-year-olds are still being left out.

We all know that the benefit of a high-quality preschool education cannot be over-stated.

Early childhood education really does give children a "head start" in life.

The flip side is also true: Research clearly shows that children who start behind, stay behind.

Specifically, young people who never attend pre-K are:


- More likely to be placed in special education classes,

- More likely to become involved with juvenile crime, and

- More likely to drop out of high school.

So this is why PBS and local PBS stations are invaluable resources for children.

We're accessible in almost every home - in every community - across America.

No government agency - no social service - has the reach we do.

This gives us a responsibility to offer high-quality, educational content for all children - but especially for those who'll never see the inside of a pre-K classroom.

It's a responsibility that Maryland Public Television has embraced with enterprise and enthusiasm.

A few months ago, MPT introduced the PBS Kids Island learning site in local Head Start centers.

One of the teachers began using the site with her students and discovered how helpful it is to students falling behind in developing their speech and language skills.

The City of Baltimore - my hometown - has now embarked on a pilot to use PBS Kids Island throughout the city to help close the achievement gap.

I commend MPT President Rob Shuman and his team on their success.

Now, at PBS, we're working to help your stations serve your community's early-childhood needs by building on the success of our PBS Kids lineup.

We're introducing new series like "The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That," which debuts in the fall.

We're also continuing our work on new platforms like iPhones and iPads.

I'm proud of the new research that shows our "Martha Speaks" app is proven to help children strengthen their vocabularies.

In other words - to put this in the parlance of our times:

If you want your kids to achieve their full potential, well, now there's an app for that, too.

And that is very much what my vision for children's media is all about.

I want public media to use every platform at our disposal to put children first, using media to help them open their minds and broaden their horizons.

Because they deserve nothing less.

My colleague Lesli Rotenberg will have more details on our work in children's media during tomorrow morning's breakfast and PBS Kids sessions, so please attend.

Of course, the thing to remember is that while education is important, it isn't the only area where Americans need PBS and local PBS stations.

The crisis in journalism also demands our attention.

It begins with newspapers, which remain the largest source of reportorial journalism in America.

Yet, since 2000, the newspaper industry has lost 30% of its reporting and editing capacity.

Think about that for a moment.

This means there now are one-third fewer newspaper reporters covering school boards, town councils, and other vital local institutions.

But the cutbacks don't end there.

The broadcast networks have cut their news divisions in half since the '80s.

And since the Great Recession, local TV newsrooms have laid off hundreds of journalists.

All of these numbers bring to mind the words of Jefferson, who said:

"Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press."

The thing to keep in mind is that even though journalism's reporting base is shrinking, opinion-oriented journalism is growing.

Talk radio, cable television, the blogosphere - each seems to grow louder, rowdier, and more hyper-partisan by the day.

Perhaps it's no wonder, then, that 70% of Americans feel most news sources are biased in their coverage.

Another 70% feel overwhelmed by the amount of news they see, hear, and read.

And so this is why journalism is the second item on our Innovation Agenda.

Because as a nation, we cannot begin to come together to confront our problems if we don't have reliable, accurate reporting to inform our opinions and decisions.

But we also recognize that journalism doesn't just need a rescue - it also needs a re-invention.

This is one of the driving principles behind KETC's work in St. Louis.

This station - under the leadership of Jack Galmiche - is boldly re-inventing journalism at the grassroots.

KETC has partnered with the St. Louis Beacon - an online, non-profit newspaper that now operates out of the station's newsroom.

KETC is also empowering its viewers to become citizen-journalists, training them in the art of digital storytelling, editing, and reporting.

In drawing upon the contributions of citizens, KETC offers us a window into the future of news.

It's a combination of:

- Professional journalists who report the issues and put them into context, and

- Engaged news consumers who are eager to share their perspectives.

These concepts are also driving PBS's work at the national level.

Our News and Public Affairs Initiative is about re-affirming our commitment to professional journalism and welcoming fresh new voices into public media.

PBS is re-invigorating series such as "PBS NewsHour," bringing them into the Digital Age while preserving their commitment to the fair, objective reporting that our nation so desperately needs.

Allow me to make two quick asides here.

Since we are here in Texas, I want to salute our friend Bill Moyers, who - of course - recently concluded his weekly "Bill Moyers Journal" series on PBS.

Bill may no longer be with us on a weekly basis, but I know Bill very well and I'm confident we haven't heard the last from him.

I also want to say what a welcome addition Hari Sreenivasan is to the "NewsHour" team.

I'm so pleased he's brought his talent to public media.

PBS also remains dedicated to the investigative reporting exemplified by "Frontline," which continues to serve as a fearless monitor of our nation's most powerful people and institutions.

In addition, we're strengthening our partnership with our friends at NPR, which is without peer when it comes to in-depth, daily reporting.

Together, PBS and NPR want to collaborate more online and build a concrete, common infrastructure that will allow us to better serve the public.

We're also forming new partnerships with other organizations that share our values, including:

- The Sunlight Foundation, which specializes in digitizing public data to make government more transparent, and

- ProPublica, the Pulitzer Prize-winning nonprofit newsgathering organization, that's producing top-notch investigative journalism.

Taken together, all of this work reflects my vision for the future of PBS's journalism.

We want to raise our courageous, independent voice in the national media chorus.

We also want to throw open the doors to public media, welcoming new voices, new perspectives, and new partners.

We'll have a session devoted to PBS's News and Public Affairs Initiative tomorrow afternoon, so please be sure to attend to learn more.

And as we work together to engage citizens in civic life, let's also remember to re-engage them in the arts and culture.

Consider this:

Between 2007 and 2008, 35% of Americans went at least once to:


- An art museum or gallery,

- A ballet,

- A classical music concert,

- A jazz performance, or

- A play or musical.

This figure comes from a nationwide survey the National Endowment for the Arts conducts every few years.

Now, that 35% participation rate is the lowest percentage since the survey began in 1982.

But here's what really interesting: The public's participation in the arts has slipped just 4% during the past 25 years.

Contrast this with the public's attendance at movies, which has fallen twice as fast, and the percentage of adults who attend sporting events, which has fallen 4 times as fast.

I, for one, am not surprised.

I know from my own experience how enriching the arts can be.

The writer Thomas Merton said it best:

'Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.'

And on this subject, let me be clear.

When I talk about the arts, I'm referring not just to the works you find hanging in museums and the performances you see on theater stages.

I'm referring to the whole range of creative expression.

Multi-media art, experimental theater, slam poetry - it's all part of our cultural heritage, and all Americans deserve access to it.

This is why I'm so enthusiastic about what's happening here in Austin at Bill's station.

KLRU has been a leader in the arts since Willie Nelson took to the stage on the first installment of "Austin City Limits," more than 35 years ago.

Today, the station is building on that success through an online spinoff series called "ACL Stage Left" that showcases independent music.

KLRU is also producing "In Context," an award-winning series that is shot and edited in HD and showcases Austin's leading artists and cultural organizations.

KLRU's work is drawing the attention of the NEA, which just awarded the station a $25,000 grant to support "In Context" specials.

So Bill, congratulations on your success, and keep up the excellent work.

At PBS, we want to help stations like KLRU increase the public's access to the arts.

Our PBS Arts Initiative has two goals: to strengthen the presence of the arts in our television lineup and to use new platforms to help more Americans to engage with the arts.

Because when it comes to the arts, I don't want us to think of PBS as some airless theater, or a museum where great works are kept behind glass.

I want us to think of PBS as an arts festival that never ends.

There are no walls - it all happens outside, under the sky, in the open - and everyone is welcome.

And when they arrive, they see it all - poetry recitals, musicians, open-stage performers.

They also see people making art - children learning to paint, their parents learning to sculpt, seniors learning to play musical instruments.

That's what is so great about art - you can lean forward and participate if you wish, or you can sit back and be entertained.

But regardless of your choice, you know you'll have an extraordinary experience.

This is my vision for public media's role in the arts - to do our part to ensure all Americans have access to it.

You'll hear more about the Arts Initiative this week and in the months to come.

Now, does PBS's focus on children's media, journalism, and the arts mean we're abandoning other genres?

No, absolutely not.

Let me be clear: We remain committed to delivering outstanding science, nature, and history content, too.

"Nova," "American Experience," and Ken Burns remain important parts of public media.

They help us deliver the experience that our audience values most - the opportunity to broaden their horizons and expand their sense of possibility.

Consequently, these transformational experiences are what motivate people to want to give to their local PBS stations.

And that's key, because re-imagining children's media, re-inventing journalism, and helping Americans re-engage with the arts won't happen on their own.

This is why PBS is committed to strengthening our system's financial well-being.

Here again, it begins at the local level, with local PBS stations.

As you know, we've reconfigured PBS's development operation to focus on helping your stations raise money in your communities.

We're creating training programs to help station fund-raisers, with a special focus on individual-giving programs.

We're also creating a major online fundraising initiative.

Our goal is to amass a large database of e-mail addresses, segment that database, and craft and send messages that are designed to appeal to each segment.

This is a model that requires scale, and so we are moving aggressively to create it.

Our goal is to raise money and send it back to you.

This isn't about replacing the work you're doing in your communities.

This is about sharing revenue, growing your prospect list, and expanding our pool of individual supporters.

I also want to say that the online fundraising initiative won't replace pledge - it will supplement it.

Think about this: the average member of a local station is 70 or older, while three-quarters of PBS.org's visitors are people under the age of 50.

The time has come for us to tap the valuable resources that await us online.

Beyond this, we're also establishing a new, long-term vision for funding public media.

This initiative will be similar in size and scope to the seminal Funding the Vision initiative of the early 1990s.

The first Funding the Vision established a road map for station and system development in the decades that followed.

20 years later, we want to convene a panel of national leaders in philanthropy to update this vision for a 21st century media landscape.

This effort will bring together leaders in non-profit management, public media, and philanthropy.

Together, we'll evaluate the changing media and philanthropic landscape, assess our opportunities, and identify our priorities for the future.

Ultimately, this work will strengthen our collective ability to:


- Attract new funders,

- Inform the training and development efforts that PBS provides to stations, and

- Reap significant gains in net revenues for the system.

What I want every person in this room to know is that I am more committed than ever to securing our system's financial strength.

Let's face it: For 40 years, PBS and your stations have performed miracles on shoestring budgets.

But those laces are growing threadbare.

We must bring new resources into this system - and we must work together to do it.

None of us can succeed on our own - nor should we try.

That's why these difficult economic times call for:


- New strategies,

- New methods, and

- New approaches.

That's why we didn't just reconfigure PBS's development area - we re-organized the entire enterprise.

We tore down the walls that once divided departments and pulled employees out of their silos.

In many ways, this annual meeting reflects that same spirit.

Look around you.

You see general managers.

But you also see professionals from communications, community outreach, education, content, development, fundraising, marketing, and programming.

We're all connected - and so is our work.

The station stories that I've shared today demonstrate this.

Look at how Maryland Public Television's education and children's media teams are working together to use PBS Kids to help close the achievement gap in Baltimore.

Look at how KETC's content and outreach teams have collaborated on the station's citizen-journalism initiative in St. Louis.

And look at how KLRU's development and online teams came together to promote the arts here in Austin.

Your stations have inspired us.

You've inspired us to offer this Innovation Agenda for America, which calls on us to re-imagine, re-invent, and re-engage.

You've inspired us to re-invigorate our fundraising and development.

And you've inspired my vision for the future of public media, which is:


- To use every platform at our disposal to put children first and help them open their minds and broaden their horizons;

- To throw open the doors to public media, welcoming new voices, new perspectives, and new partners; and

- To ensure all Americans have access to the arts.

And so as we gather here in Austin, where Lyndon Johnson - one of public media's grandfathers - began his career, let's remember his beautiful words, when he described America as having a "rendezvous with excellence."

Because once again, we hear the call of a nation in need, and we must rise together to answer it.

I want to conclude today with the story of one more local PBS station - WCTE in Cookeville, Tennessee.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of visiting WCTE, which isn't the smallest station in Cookeville - it's the only station in Cookeville.

And under Becky Magura's leadership, WCTE does a tremendous job serving Tennessee's Upper Cumberland region.

This is a place that's rich in music, and culture, and character.

It's also rich in characters - including a gentleman by the name of Hippie Jack, who moved to Cookeville in the '60s to start a commune.

Since then, Hippie Jack has become the unofficial historian of the Upper Cumberland Plateau, and especially its music.

He began by organizing campfire sing-alongs and now he organizes an annual summer music festival for the whole community.

But Hippie Jack isn't the only one out there, combing the hills of rural Tennessee, showcasing music and collecting artifacts and stories from the local residents.

WCTE does this, too.

Becky and her station are preserving their community's past and immortalizing its culture and traditions.

Jack does it with campfire sing-alongs and music festivals - and actually, Twitter, which is how he and I stay in touch.

WCTE does it through digital television and online video and community outreach.

But the end result is the same: Both help the people of Cookeville to be more and to be connected.

My friends, these are challenging times for us all.

But that only makes the work that we do that much more important.

We owe it to the citizens we serve not only to persevere - not only to rise to the occasion - but to rise above it.

Because there are a lot of communities depending upon us.

We really do have a rendezvous with excellence.

And PBS and every station will meet it - together.

Thank you.

And now, it's my privilege to introduce my partner in leading PBS' Chief Operating Officer Michael Jones.



About PBS
PBS, with its nearly 360 member stations, offers all Americans - from every walk of life - the opportunity to explore new ideas and new worlds through television and online content. Each month, PBS reaches more than 118 million people through television and nearly 21 million people online, inviting them to experience the worlds of science, history, nature and public affairs; to hear diverse viewpoints; and to take front row seats to world-class drama and performances. PBS' broad array of programs has been consistently honored by the industry's most coveted award competitions. Teachers of children from pre-K through 12th grade turn to PBS for digital content and services that help bring classroom lessons to life. PBS' premier children's TV programming and its Web site, pbskids.org, are parents' and teachers' most trusted partners in inspiring and nurturing curiosity and love of learning in children. More information about PBS is available at www.pbs.org, one of the leading dot-org Web sites on the Internet.