The last stop of our trip was a very different network. The national flagship of PBS, Channel Thirteen, welcomed us and walked us through their main shows including Emmy award-winning American Masters, World Focus, and The Human Spark.
Students had the opportunity to compare this public programming to that of commercial outlets. Some of these shows would never appear on broadcast or cable networks. The perfect example is Cyberchase, the math-oriented adventure program targeted to children between the ages of 8-11. As one of the Channel Thirteen’s representatives explained to us, a show challenging children to handle fractions and think critically wouldn’t exisit without PBS. To the right are the animated stars of Cyberchase, charcters which were created to promote diversity and female interest in math and science. Another show filling in the gaps of commercial media is World Focus, Through various partnerships and orginal content, the show presents a diversity of perspectives on the daily world events often left out of cable and network news.
While public broadcasting provides unique, educational programing, it also comes with its own set of challenges. The people we spoke with at Channel Thirteen described the long process that goes into planning and executing a new show because of logistics and funding. Public Broadcasting in the United States is mainly funded through donations and corporate underwriting. Other financial support comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) which operates under an annual approapriations model through Congress. As you can imagine, this form of funding can prove inconsistent and challenging. This sometimes means years of fundraising for a program to come into existence.
Public Broadcasting…More Like Public Media
PBS Thirteen emphasized their online presence. When possible the station puts its content online to build a following and outreach through social media applications. In a way, seeing public broadcasting as public broadcasting might be old fashioned. With the changes in our media environment, public content doesn’t just exist on the airwaves anymore. Perhaps in the future PBS will explore more community projects and programing exclusively for the web.
I couldn’t end this blog post without mentioning my favorite PBS Show, Secrets of the Dead. It’s a show that uses history and science to debunk conventional knowledge. Topics include the Salem Witch Trials, Aztec Sacrifices and Nazi Scientists. Check out the video below!