Jun 1 1999

The Cost of Survival

Political Discourse and the "New PBS"


Public television has survived. The high profile assault from conservative critics, which was front-page news in the early 1990s, now seems like ancient history. As we enter the digital television age, we no longer hear Congressional threats to “zero out” public television, plans to “privatize” public broadcasting have receded from the opinion pages, and the often shrill claims of a so-called “liberal bias” on public television are much less conspicuous. Indeed, PBS‘s 1998 Annual Report(1) talks of a “new PBS” that has been in development since 1995, precisely the time when the conservative effort to scale back, even eliminate, public broadcasting petered out.

This new PBS is positioning itself to be a “modern media enterprise” for the next century. But even as the PBS leadership takes steps toward transforming public television to meet the demands of the new marketplace, there are plenty of questions from the current century–dating back to the original formation of public broadcasting in 1967–that public television, whether old or new, still has to address. For starters, public broadcasters have always waffled about what it means to be “public”. And, now more than ever, the meaning of non-commercial broadcasting needs to be re-examined.

Most fundamentally, our public broadcasting system still has to grapple with how it can fulfill its founding mission–to “provide a voice for groups in the community that may otherwise be unheard,” serve as “a forum for controversy and debate,” and broadcast programs that “help us see America whole, in all its diversity”–that the Carnegie Commission articulated so eloquently more than three decades ago.(2) With the airwaves more cluttered and more commercial, and with the public fragmenting into bite-sized demographically-specific audience segments, public television’s mission to provide free, universally accessible programming that is diverse and innovative may be even more valuable than ever before. In an increasingly commercialized media world, the past decade’s expansion in television channel capacity and the explosion of the world wide web, paradoxically, only reinforce the need for the kind of citizen-oriented, non-commercial media that public broadcasting can be.

There are several recent developments that have made public television supporters optimistic about the system’s financial well being. First, Congress approved an increase in funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting from $250 million to $300 million in Fiscal Year 2000, the first increase since 1995 and the largest percentage raise since 1987. Just as important, the most recent appropriations process was noticeably free of the kind of partisan rancor that had so dominated previous debates about funding for public broadcasting, marking an end to the era in which cultural conservatives worked to terminate such Congressional appropriations. Second, the House Telecommunications Subcommittee has raised the possibility of creating a Trust Fund for public broadcasting to give the system more financial stability. The Gore Commission, in its 1998 report on the public interest obligations of digital broadcasters, endorsed the idea of a Trust Fund and called for increased funds for public broadcasting.(3) Finally, a recent survey by the Project on Media Ownership found that a broad majority of citizens support a public broadcasting fund financed by commercial broadcasters.(4)

In political terms, it seems that public television has turned the corner. Indeed, if surviving is public broadcasting’s primary goal, as it surely was in the darkest days of the early 1990s, then public broadcasters have triumphed. Not only did they fend off a very real threat to their existence, but public television has emerged in good financial shape, with new revenue streams, new financial partners, and renewed political support.

There are, however, substantial costs that go along with this kind of survival orientation. While public broadcasting executives scrambled to defend public television in the face of sustained criticism and vociferous threats, the defensive effort left little room for reflection about the mission of public television or the content of its programming. For supporters of a more democratic and inspired public television system, there was hope that the battle to save public broadcasting would provoke its leadership to reexamine the kinds of programs that serve the multi-faceted public interest. There is plenty of evidence that public broadcasters engaged in well-organized political maneuvering, both inside and outside Washington, and explored new ways to generate revenue for the system–with impressive success on both counts. At the same time, there can be little doubt that the public television community missed an opportunity to re-engage their founding questions about public service, community accountability, diversity, and how best to contribute to a vibrant public life.

The new PBS is, by its own definition, more market-savvy and commercially-oriented than ever before. The “PBS brand” is the key to the growth of this multi-media enterprise, a sign that public television has adopted the newest language and strategy of the advertising industry. For the new PBS, the brand becomes the primary asset of the system, marking the shift to a conceptual framework that renders public service a kind of value-generating activity and makes the idea of non-commercial broadcasting increasingly dubious. If PBS is “doing good while doing well,” combining public service with entrepreneurship, as their 1998 Annual Report boasts, it is time that we take a careful look at what, indeed, they are doing.

Studying Public Television: Past and Present

In 1993, my colleagues and I conducted an in-depth study of the 1992 public television schedule.(5) At the time–in the midst of the conservative assault that effectively defined the debate about public television–the context was dramatically different than it is today. We found that the widely-circulating conservative critique of public television was, simply put, inaccurate.

Our study indicated that there was no consistent “liberal bias” as conservatives had claimed, either in documentary programs or on the broader public affairs schedule. In contrast to the conservative claim that public television routinely featured the voices of anti-establishment critics, we found that alternative perspectives were rare on public television, and were effectively drowned out by the stream of government, professional, and corporate views that were the vast majority of sources on public television. While the study demonstrated how the conservative critique was misleading, we identified important shortcomings in what public television offered the public. In that spirit, we noted that “providing room for a more diverse set of voices and giving the public broader access to the airwaves can only make public television a more vital and widely supported institution.”

Six years later, new media technologies are transforming the media environment, the large media conglomerates continue to expand, and the political climate has changed. Amidst this whirlwind of change, the need for a public broadcasting system that is autonomous from government and corporate pressure remains as vital as ever. And one of the few media entities with the capability to serve the public as citizens, rather than as a market, is public television. But how is public television doing? We know that they are doing well–their financial picture and political capital are far healthier than just a few years ago. But this only tells us about the organizational health of public television; certainly, public television no longer faces extinction. It has survived. But celebrating its survival does not provide any insight into the health of the public discourse that public television is intended to nourish. This study returns to the programming and examines the perspectives and ideas that public television brings to the public.

What’s Different About Public Television

In the tradition of public service broadcasting in Europe, the public television schedule includes a range of program types that are aimed at diverse interests and publics. PBS is perhaps best known for its longstanding commitment to quality children’s programming, which has often stood in stark contrast to the network offerings for children. In addition, public television stations have historically been a haven for cultural programs that feature drama, music, and dance, along with regular programs that explore science and nature. For many years, these kinds of programs gave public television a distinctive flavor and the PBS slogan “If PBS doesn’t do it, who will?” seemed a useful metaphor for describing much of the programming.

Over the past decade, however, cable television stations began to offer regular cultural programming, science and nature shows, and even quality children’s programming. In fact, programs that were previously on PBS stations now appear on their commercial competitors. For example, PBS‘s successful children’s science program, The Magic School Bus moved to Fox in 1997. And old episodes of PBS-identified Sesame Street and The Electric Company now appear on the new Nickelodeon-Children’s Television Workshop cable venture, Noggin.

Even if some of the programs on cable are increasingly similar to public television, PBS used to be able to lay claim to providing a commercial-free environment. This made public television a real alternative and it became a preferred destination for many viewers, especially parents of small children. In the age of the new PBS, however, it is harder to tell what makes public television commercial free. Children are sold breakfast cereal and fruit juice, among other products, before and after the morning dose of kids programs. What’s more, children’s programs on PBS serve as daily advertisements for their own repertoire of licensed products, from toothbrushes to stuffed toys to computer games, a textbook example of how a non-commercial climate is undermined by the merchandising of public service. PBS continues to provide a home for quality educational programming, but it is becoming much more difficult to define how it is “non-commercial” or why it is different from its more obviously commercial brethren.

Public television also has a longstanding tradition of broadcasting a range of public affairs programs. As a non-commercial, public service, PBS stations have long identified programming about current issues and events as a central part of their mission. These public affairs programs have been the source of most of the controversy in public television’s 30-plus year history, dating back to the Nixon Administration’s efforts to bully public broadcasters into steering clear of programs that featured critical perspectives. Certainly, the original vision for public television placed public affairs programming at the center of its mission.

The quality of PBS‘s public affairs line-up remains an essential measure of the strength and value of public television. In an era in which fast-paced, celebrity-filled 24-hour news seems to set the tone for much of the public discourse, public television continues to offer the possibility for a deeper, more deliberative, and wide-ranging public discussion about the issues of the day. In theory, at least, public television should be free of the commercial pressures to attract audiences by dramatizing the news, trying to appeal to select demographics who are valuable to advertisers, and creating programs that are consumption-friendly.

It is possible to imagine a public television that eschews short-term considerations of audience size and advertiser satisfaction in favor of a broader view of enriching public dialogue. Since public television’s contribution to public life has, since its inception, been a metaphoric yardstick, most critical evaluations, whether formal studies, insider accounts, or efforts at political mobilization, have focused on the public affairs programs that are the core of these democratic goals.

Data and Methods

This study revisits the public affairs line-up to explore how the new PBS measures up, both to its 1992 performance and, more generally, to the lofty goal of contributing to public life by providing a diverse alternative to commercial broadcasting.

Instead of focusing on only a handful of well known public affairs programs, I sought to include the range of public television programs that regularly examine current events. PBS does not have a uniform national schedule (although there is a national PBS satellite feed), and many PBS stations run programs that are not supported by PBS. As a result, daily program line-ups differ from market to market, and several large markets are served by more than one PBS station. This makes it difficult to identify a national PBS schedule. In our study of 1992 programming, my colleagues and I went to great lengths to construct a proxy for a national schedule by pooling weekly schedules from a regionally stratified set of 15 stations in 10 large markets.

Rather than reconstructing a proxy national schedule for this study, I sought to gather a sample of the most widely-circulating public affairs programs that appeared on PBS stations. This study includes all of the regular public affairs programs (excluding one-time specials) that were broadcast widely on PBS stations during the two week period between November 30 and December 13, 1998.(6) The sample includes all editions of the news, business, talk/interview, and documentary programs from that two-week period. For each program, I gathered transcripts or videotapes of all of the editions of the show during the two-week period. Table 1, which provides a complete list of the 18 programs, shows that the sample included five daily (weekday) programs and 13 weekly programs. This sample consisted of two news shows, one documentary, four business programs, and 11 programs that are primarily talk (involving a semi-regular panel or interviews with guests).

All samples are efforts to represent a larger population; in this study, two weeks of programming is intended to provide us with a window on to the larger universe of public television programming. The sample provides a recent snapshot of the public discourse constructed by public television stations at a particular moment. I am confident that this snapshot is, broadly speaking, typical of what is shown on PBS stations in any two week period. The sample contained a large amount of coverage of the President’s impeachment (which was certainly typical of many weeks in late 1998). In addition, the sample included substantial coverage of the future of social security, anti-trust policy, new mergers and acquisitions, and corporate layoffs.

Overall, the sample consisted of 75 separate programs, which included a total of 276 stories and 651 sources. All stories were coded by topic, geographic focus, and whether they included “live” discussions. All on-camera sources, whether taped or live, were coded for gender, nationality, occupational status, political party, institutional affiliation, and whether they were participants in or analysts of the events in the story. Program hosts and journalists who narrate their own reports were not included as sources.

This sample differs in one important respect from the sample of programs in our previous study. The 1992 sample only included evening programs (between 6:00 pm and 12 midnight); we used this study design because our preliminary research indicated that the major public affairs programs appeared in the evening. In fact, morning business programs did not exist on PBS stations in the early 1990s. It is worth noting that one important development since our previous study is the expansion of business news on the public television schedule; by 1998 many public television stations were airing two daily business news shows along with at least two regular weekly business programs. (The current sample includes both morning and evening programs, and the previous sample included only evening programs, although such morning programs did not exist at the time. As a result, when I focus on direct comparisons between the two samples, I will report both overall numbers from the total sample of 18 programs and numbers for all of the programs that are not explicitly morning programs, a sub-sample of 16 programs which excludes Morning Business Report and Bloomberg Morning News. Appendix A provides all of the comparative data in Tabular form.)

Topics and Sources

Table 2 shows that the vast majority of stories focused on either the economy or domestic political issues. This is, in part, a result of the large number of business stories that appear on the three daily business news programs on public television. These business programs, which occupy a large amount of time on the schedule and often feature many stories each day, accounted for 51 percent of the total number of stories in this sample. (The 276 stories that provide the data for this study do not include an additional 172 very short anchor-read stories which had no sources; 95 percent of these short “tell” stories appeared on the three daily business news programs. By focusing on the 276 stories with sources we get a more balanced view of the overall PBS schedule, mitigating the impact of the short items on the business news shows.)

The most striking finding in Table 2 is the very small number of stories about international affairs. Only 15 stories, accounting for 5.4 percent of the total, focused on international politics; the Middle East was the only international topic that was the subject of more than two stories in the sample. (Without the two morning business programs, international stories made up 7.2 percent of the total.) This small number of international stories stands in contrast to the 11.7 percent from our 1992 data, representing a substantial decrease.

Certainly, coverage of international news has dropped at the commercial networks as well. The substantial drop off in international coverage on public television suggests that public broadcasters are pursuing a similar approach that defines global issues, except in times of open conflict, to be of limited interest to the American public. (In fact, one of the programs in the sample, Freedom Speaks, featured a segment on why Americans are not interested in international news, and why commercial news pays so little attention to international issues, except at times of crisis. The discussion suggested that, due to the absence of commercial pressures, public television could provide an alternative by focusing more regularly on global news stories.)

Since the data for this study came in various formats–including transcripts downloaded from program websites, printed transcripts published by professional services, and videotapes of programs–there was no reliable method for evaluating the specific time spent on each story. As a proxy for time, I sorted stories according to whether or not they included any live guests. Almost without exception, those stories with live guests are longer than stories that include only taped sound bites. These are the stories, regardless of which specific program they appear on, that are most likely to provide depth and perspective on recent events and issues. In the total sample, almost half (49%, n=135) of the stories included live sources. Among these longer, generally more in-depth stories, the daily business news programs only account for 27 percent of the total stories. Even so, as Table 3 shows, the majority of longer stories focus on economic or domestic political issues.

The most noteworthy finding in Table 3 is that coverage of cultural issues is far more common on these longer stories, while the coverage of economic issues, still the most frequent, drops in comparison with the total sample of stories. Still, in both cases, Tables 2 and 3 demonstrate the overwhelming focus on the economy and the domestic political scene, with limited coverage of both international affairs and social issues.

The clearest method for assessing the range of perspectives available on the public television schedule is to examine the sources that appear on camera. Rather than engage in the fruitless effort to determine if the programs are sufficiently “objective,” the constitution of the source list is a more telling measure of the quality of the discourse. Since most of the public affairs programs regularly include interviews and discussions with newsmakers and analysts (17 of the 18 programs in the sample included such “live” discussion segments), the range of sources who are chosen to comment on current events and issues shapes, to a great degree, the content and character of the programs.

Elite News: Is There an Alternative?

One useful approach for analyzing the range of sources is to look at their occupational status. This gives us insight into the social position of those who are granted access to the public airwaves. Two decades of media research has shown that most television news generally highlights the views of a narrow set of elite voices, often to the exclusion of those who lack government or corporate status or “expert” credentials. But there is no reason to assume that news sources should reflect, by definition, such a limited set of perspectives. In fact, research on news work makes a persuasive case that relying on a relatively narrow pool of established sources results from journalists’ efforts to routinize the day-to-day work of gathering and reporting news. In general, it is both more efficient and less risky to draw from the traditional class of news sources.

Rather than some iron law of good journalism, news that highlights the perspectives of elites is the result, in large measure, of the social and economic organization of the newsroom. This kind of elite-centered news is often so taken for granted that it can become the definition of quality journalism, and it can be difficult to envision an alternative form of news that is less oriented toward elite views. The recent emergence of “public” or “civic” journalism is perhaps the most prominent example of an alternative vision of quality news, one that is geared explicitly toward broadening the range of public discourse and helping to make citizens participants in, rather than spectators of, debates in the news.(7)

Public television, since its earliest days, has been defined as an alternative to commercial television. A central part of what it means to be alternative historically has been the absence of pressures to garner high ratings and the ability to produce controversial programs without concern for the preferences of advertisers. As public television has become more focused on its competition and more friendly to corporate sponsorship, there is good reason for concern about its ability to provide this alternative to commercial broadcasting.

Another essential element of public television’s mission to provide an alternative is its willingness to produce programs that extend beyond the narrow formats of commercial television. Public television’s nourishing of the documentary genre is one important example of the value of being alternative. In that same spirit, it is only a failure of our imagination to assume that public affairs programming on PBS stations cannot break free of the constraining conventions that define news as the activities and views of elites. As I explore the characteristics of the sources, my analysis is based on the assumption that public television can enrich our democracy by featuring diverse sources and robust debates, and that such programming is a central component of the public broadcasting mission.

Corporate Views

Table 4 shows the occupational status of the sources on public affairs programs, and identifies the frequency with which each occupational group appeared as live sources. More than three-quarters of the sources were corporate representatives, government officials, or professionals (primarily journalists and academics). Corporate representatives were the most frequent source type, accounting for 26.7 percent of the sources. In addition, another 9.6 percent of the sources were people on Wall Street–brokers or others who work in the financial services industry–whose views (in comments ranging from 2 to 23 seconds) appeared on a regular feature of Bloomberg Morning News, “The Street Says.”

In total, more than one-third of the sources (36.3%) represent economic elites from the corporate world and Wall Street. This stands in sharp contrast to the source profile in 1992, when corporate representatives accounted for 18.4 percent of sources. (Even when we remove the morning business programs from the current sample, the corporate presence in 1998, at 22.5 percent, represented a 22 percent increase from 1992.) These data indicate that corporate perspectives are a regular staple in the public television diet.

The occupational status of sources differs both by program topic and program type. Certainly, no single source type entirely dominates the coverage in any one arena. But the variation across topic is striking and is an indicator of the ways that particular social groups are afforded different opportunities to shape the public discourse. As Table 5 shows, corporate representatives and Wall Street voices are the main sources for economic stories. Coverage of the economy is, more than international or domestic political coverage, dominated by one social sector: the business class. Corporate representatives account for more than half of the sources; combined with the 20 percent of sources who represent Wall Street, three-quarters of the sources in economic stories are from the corporate or investment world.

The only other substantial source category was professionals, who accounted for fifteen percent of the sources in economic stories, many of whom were journalists at business news outlets. Rather than a direct presentation of a corporate perspective, these reporters specialize in summarizing the thinking within the corporate or investment community, reflecting the traditional sources that economic reporters routinely consult.

The economic news, then, is almost entirely refracted through the views of business people, investors, and reporters who explain what corporate leaders and investors are currently thinking. In contrast, voices from outside of the corporate/Wall Street universe are rarely heard: non-professional workers (1.1%), labor representatives (1.5%), consumer advocates (0.4%), and the general public (1.8%) are virtually invisible. In sum, the economic coverage is so narrow that the views and the activities of most citizens become irrelevant.

The visibility of business news programs, by itself, is an important indication of the presence of corporate voices (not to mention the corporate underwriting announcements that surround most of the programs). Significantly, the business news shows focus primarily on developments in the corporate world, especially issues of interest to investors. In that way, perspectives from outside of the corporate-Wall Street world are marginalized or excluded. Table 6 shows the distribution of sources by program type. Each genre of program has its own distinctive source profile and business programs are framed primarily by corporate sources (45.3%) and Wall Street views (19.4%). The business programs are, by a wide margin, the least likely program genre to include the views of citizen activists (2.5%) or the general public (1.3%). As a result, the business programs may be helpful to investors and brokers, but they provide a remarkably narrow view of fundamental economic questions about production, consumption, and exchange. And, tellingly, it is business programming that provides the vast bulk of public television’s coverage of the economy.

Talk Among the Political Class

Sources who appear “live” in interview or discussion segments have much more freedom (and time) to articulate their views on the issue at hand in comparison to sources whose generally brief comments are edited to fit taped reports. And since many of the programs on public television feature lengthy panel discussions, these live sources often have substantial room to advance their own positions. In this sample, 17 of the 18 programs regularly included live sources; many of the programs consist almost entirely of such panel discussions and interviews.

Table 4 shows that government officials (25.6%) and professionals (25.6%) each account for more than one-quarter of the total sources; these two groups, along with corporate representatives, are the routine sources on public television programming. Among the 185 live sources in the sample, however, more than half (54.1%) were professionals. The majority of these professionals were journalists who appeared each week as analysts on such programs as Washington Week in Review, This Week in Business, The McLaughlin Group, and the NewsHour. Corporate (20%) and government (17.3%) sources appear in “live” segments far less frequently than they do in taped segments, although they are far more visible in these segments than other sources (except professionals). Members of the general public did not appear in any of the live segments in this sample. The total absence of public voices from these live discussions is one indication of the failure of public television to create a forum for voices that would otherwise be unheard.

As Table 5 shows, government officials are the principal sources for stories about international affairs and domestic political issues. Professionals (largely journalists and academics, but also writers and musicians) are the principal sources for the limited coverage of social and cultural issues.

Coverage of domestic political issues features the perspectives of government officials (50.2%) and professionals (31.2%, the vast majority of whom were journalists), with very few contributions from other social groups. This is an example of the ways that public television programming produces a discourse by and for a “political class” of Washington insiders. Discussion of domestic political issues gets reduced largely to debates among Congressional leaders and the White House, with analysis, often highly partisan, from a regular group of high-profile reporters who cover the Washington scene. Corporate representatives and Wall Street views make up another 11 percent of the sources in domestic political coverage, with corporate perspectives a regular component of stories about anti-trust policy. Consumer or labor advocates were virtually invisible in stories about domestic political issues.

Interestingly, the topic area that produced the most diverse group of sources was coverage of international affairs. While government officials accounted for 40 percent of all sources, three other types of sources (the general public, professionals, and corporate reps.) were all significant voices in the coverage. This diversity is partially the result of the presence of a large number of voices from outside the U.S., particularly in the Frontline documentary, in coverage of international affairs. Looking at only U.S. guests produces a somewhat different picture: all of the guests are either government officials (41%) professionals (41%) or corporate representatives (18%).

Table 6 indicates that news programs are the domain of government officials (42.8%) and professionals (34.7%), who combined constitute more than three-quarters of the sources. The large number of talk/interview programs on PBS stations revolve around the voices of professionals–largely journalists and academics, but also doctors, lawyers, musicians, and writers–who serve either as expert analysts, or less frequently, as celebrities who discuss their lives and work.

The documentary genre appears to offer a rather different source profile than the other genres; members of the general public (45.9%) are the most frequent sources, followed by government officials (25%). Professionals, corporate representatives, and citizen activists all appeared in the same proportion (8.3%). Given that there was only one regular public affairs documentary (Frontline’s “Nazi Gold”) in the two-week period covered by this sample, there is insufficient data to indicate the source patterns for this genre. At the same time, the source profile on this one documentary is consistent with findings from our 1992 sample, which indicated that documentaries (the 1992 sample included such programs as Frontline, POV, and Bill Moyers’ Listening to America) featured the widest range of sources and were the most likely genre to include the views of the general public and citizen activists.

Gendered Subjects

Previous research on both public and commercial television has shown, with remarkable consistency, that news sources are overwhelmingly male. This sample of public affairs programs on PBS stations fits this traditional pattern, with a relatively small percentage of female sources, who appear in very specific types of stories. Overall, 21.5 percent of the sources in this sample were women, which is slightly less than the 23.1 percent of sources who were women in our 1992 sample. (In the sub-sample that does not include the morning business programs, women appeared at a slightly higher rate, 26.9 percent, than in the 1992 sample.) Among the live appearances, 21.2 percent of the sources were women, no different from the 21.0 percent from 1992. (The sub-sample without the business programs includes somewhat more women, 24.1 percent, among the live sources.) All in all, women’s voices on public broadcasting are heard far less frequently than men’s, with women accounting for about one-quarter of the sources.

Just as important as the overall figures, which suggest the general stability of the source patterns in which men continue to be far more visible than women on public television, is the specific gendering of so much public affairs programming. Table 7 shows the source breakdown, by gender, for each story topic and program genre. One finding is striking, and suggests an accentuation of trends that were developing in 1992. In this sample, women constitute a majority (56.5%) of the sources in coverage of social issues. For all other issues, the percentage of female sources ranges from 16 to 32 percent. Reports and discussions of social issues–including health, family, religion, sexuality–increasingly are becoming the site for including women’s views in public affairs programs. This sample is no exception, as female sources appeared on several different programs to comment on current social issues. Women appeared most frequently on talk/interview programs (43.2%) and were, by far, least likely to appear on business programs (12.5%).

If we look more carefully at these figures, we see that the striking finding that women are the majority of social sources, while noteworthy, is somewhat misleading. That is because the all-women’s discussion program To The Contrary accounts for more than 60 percent of the women who appear in social stories (and 59% of the women who appear in talk/interview programs). In coverage of social issues on all of the other programs in the sample, women make-up 32.5 percent of the sources. Even without the self-defined women’s program on PBS, female sources still appear in coverage of social issues more than for any other topic, but they account for only one-third of the sources.

These two findings–that women are the majority of sources for discussion of social issues and that most of these women appear on To The Contrary–suggest both how certain topics are considered “feminine” and how PBS stations have responded to the demand for more gender equity in their programming. Social issues continue to be defined as women’s issues; this definition can both open space for new voices and, simultaneously, effectively marginalize these perspectives by limiting access to a gender-defined arena.

If a program like To The Contrary represents an opportunity for opening access (and, for some, it is likely to be seen as at least a partial victory in the hard fought battle to change the longstanding practice of largely excluding women’s views from the news), there are also real dangers that a women’s-only panel faces. For one, the program runs the risk of being dismissed by viewers (particularly men) as simply a “women’s” program. Perhaps more significant, the program needs to avoid the pitfall of modelling their discussions on the insider-dominated debates that are standard operating procedure at most political-social talk shows, which would effectively marginalize large segments of the population that the program intends to represent.

New Voices? Citizen Activists and the General Public

One method for expanding the range of perspectives on public affairs programs is to regularly include the views of members of citizen activist groups. Such groups, regardless of their political stripe, often have articulate spokespeople who can offer informed, and sometimes contrary, views on a variety of issues. Moreover, citizen activist groups represent constituencies–for example, union members, those affiliated with a specific religious group, or members of a particular ethnic group or community–who often organize to advocate for and educate about ideas, policies, and issues that are neglected in the public discourse. Citizen activist organizations, sometimes lacking resources and sometimes allied with powerful interests, can add both new ideas and a sense of passion to our televised public discourse. For public television, the value of regularly including perspectives, from both left and right, that seek to challenge a sometimes comfortable consensus cannot be underestimated.

In this sample, citizen activists accounted for 4.5 percent of the sources (5.0% in the sub-sample without morning business shows), representing a decrease from the 1992 level, when citizen activists made up 5.9 percent of the sources. While in the same general ballpark, the frequency with which citizen activists appeared in the current sample is below that of previous studies of ABC‘s Nightline (6.2% in a 1989 study) and PBS‘s MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour (6% in a 1990 study). In the news programs in this sample (the NewsHour and Religion & Ethics Newsweekly) citizen activists constitute 6.4 percent of the sources, matching the 6 percent mark that previous studies have identified as the norm.

Activists appeared least frequently on business programs (2.5%) and in coverage of the economy (2.9%), helping to solidify the single-mindedness of this corporate-oriented coverage. Activists appeared most frequently in coverage of social issues (7.9%) and on the sole documentary in the sample (8.3%). And citizen activists made up 6.5 percent of the live sources, a result of their inclusion on the talk/interview programs where so many of such sources are featured. Two of the talk/interview programs (To The Contrary and Technopolitics) included the voices of citizen activists in both programs in the sample. And three of the programs (To The Contrary, McLaughlin’s One on One, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly) included the perspectives of citizen activists in coverage of such social issues as health, sexuality, and family.

In sum, a variety of citizen activists–including civil libertarians, advocates and opponents of gun control, environmentalists, family values advocates, and campaign finance reformers–appeared on public television’s public affairs line-up. The fact that public television programs do turn, on occasion, to citizen activists to comment on the issues of the day, can only help to broaden public debate. But these voices constitute less than 5 percent of the sources, a blip on the screen in comparison to the regularity with which corporate, government, and professional sources appear. In addition, this diverse collection of citizen activists spans such a wide range, and they appear with such relative infrequency–for example, there is no regular labor voice in discussions of the economy and no regular consumer perspective in debates about anti-trust policy–that they cannot help but be marginal, if intriguing, participants in the public discourse.

Traditional norms at news and public affairs programs are likely to lead producers to select sources from among the “known” or credentialed. The government officials, professionals, and corporate representatives who are the primary sources in this sample all fit within this traditional framework for assessing whose views are fit for inclusion. But public television was chartered with a mission to break free of these constraining norms, and help open the airwaves to a more wide ranging and diverse set of perspectives.

Another method of opening up the discourse is to regularly include perspectives of the general public, not just in the aggregate from public opinion polls, but to allow real people to participate in debate and discussion about current events and issues. Indeed, talk radio appeals precisely to the desire of citizens for a voice in the public discourse.

In our study of 1992 programming, we looked at when and where members of the general public appeared on public television. We found that more than 12 percent of the sources on the public affairs line-up were uncredentialed members of the general public (including persons on the street, students, voters, and victims of crime or disaster). The relatively high frequency with which members of the general public appeared as sources on public television was a noteworthy difference from the norms of commercial broadcasting. When we examined the situations in which these public sources appeared, we found that these public source appearances were almost all very brief soundbites. In fact, among “live” sources, the presence of these public voices was a much smaller 2.3 percent of the sources. We concluded that, despite their unusually high inclusion as sources, members of the general public rarely appeared as political actors. Instead, their comments generally spoke to their personal experiences, and were followed by “legitimate” experts who would analyze and contextualize these personal expressions.

In the current sample, members of the general public account for 5.7 percent of the sources and none of the live sources. (In the sub-sample without the morning business programs, the general public account for 8.5 percent of the sources.) This represents a significant decrease from 1992 in the appearance rate of public sources. In the two most frequently covered topic areas, domestic political issues and the economy, voices of the general public are virtually non-existent, accounting for 2 percent of the sources. On business programs, public views are even less visible, only 1.3 percent of the sources.

The elite-oriented framework of business news is so all-encompassing that investors become a stand-in for the public. Indeed, the December 8, 1998 edition of Morning Business Report featured a segment that began by asking “what average Americans think about social security reform,” and proceeded to explore the results of a new “Investor Poll” about the stock market. In this story, so-called “average Americans” were hastily recast as “investors,” without any explanation of the relationship between the two groups. In fact, after the initial invocation of average Americans in the introduction to the story, the entire discussion referred to what investors thought about a range of investment and economic questions.

As we have seen, the documentary form appears to be the most open to public voices, and the public television documentary historically has been an arena for introducing under-represented voices. As the “new PBS” develops new revenue strategies and forges a new, market-oriented identity, there is reason for concern about the future status of the challenging, public affairs documentary on PBS stations.

The general neglect of public voices on public television can have substantial consequences for the character of political discourse. The major story during this sample (as it was for much of 1998 and early 1999) was the scandal that led to the impeachment trial of President Clinton. Amidst the cacophony of elite voices arguing about questions of political strategy, the general public was relegated to the sidelines. This exclusion of public voices proved to be one of the most telling parts of the unfolding story, as the widening gulf between television’s pundits and public sentiment was impossible to ignore.

The narrow, insider discourse may have become irrelevant to many viewers precisely because public perspectives were consistently dismissed or ignored. With the networks and 24-hour cable channels competing to attract the same high-profile, celebrity commentators or experts on legal and political strategy, public television seems to have missed (at least in the early stages of the impeachment process, which this sample includes) a real opportunity to enhance political discourse by reaching out to include a broader segment of opinion in its public affairs programming.

Prominent Stories

Having reviewed the overall data on program topics and sources, I now turn to a more focused look at the coverage of the major stories of the sample period.

Impeachment Coverage: An Insider’s Game

During my two-week sample, the most prominent story focused on the debate about impeaching President Clinton. With the House Judiciary Committee holding hearings and preparing to vote on articles of impeachment, this unfolding story was covered on 7 of the different public affairs programs in the sample. Impeachment was the subject of a total of 35 stories, which included 111 sources.

Among these sources, 70 percent were current or former government officials (mostly sources from Congress, the White House, and their respective lawyers). Republicans made up 56 percent of these current and former officials, while Democrats accounted for 44 percent of the group. Indeed, more than two-thirds (67.6%) of the sources were participants in the events, explaining their own positions and actions in the unfolding story. In addition, 25 percent of the sources in impeachment stories were professionals, mostly journalists. These journalists were mostly the reporters from the prominent dailies, newsmagazines, and networks–the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, US News & World Report, NBC, ABC, CNN–who were covering the story.

With 95 percent of the sources coming from a political elite consisting mostly of government perspectives and the prestige press corps, voices from outside of the Washington-centered political class were almost entirely unheard. One source (0.9%) was a member of the general public, a short soundbite aired on The McLaughlin Group from testimony before the Judiciary Committee of a convicted perjurer. And there was one citizen activist among the sources, Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity, who appeared on Bloomberg Morning News to comment on the possible expansion of the impeachment inquiry to include campaign finance questions.

Public television’s coverage of the early stage of the impeachment process certainly gave viewers a good sense of what Congressional leaders and the White House were saying and what the next steps in the process likely would be. Still, the result of such a narrow source pool was coverage that focused largely on questions of political strategy. Politicians from both parties appeared as sources to defend their actions. And Washington journalists provided analysis of the motives of the politicians, the political costs of their actions, and the effectiveness of the legal maneuvering by House Republicans and the White House. But without perspectives from outside of Washington, the coverage portrayed the impeachment process as a political game, albeit one with substantial consequences, to be played in front of a passive audience.

Perhaps it is no wonder that citizens became increasingly fed-up with the impeachment story. Even in the early hearings before the House Judiciary Committee, public broadcasting was framing impeachment in the terms of legal and political strategy, implying that the real battleground would be what voters would remember in the next election. There was little visible effort to find out what citizens thought of the events as they were unfolding. Nor did outside-of-Washington critics, from left or right or elsewhere, have a voice in the coverage.

Reporting about impeachment on public television generally eschewed the scandal-mongering tone that was so prominent on the 24-hour cable channels. But the substance of programs such as Washington Week in Review and The McLaughlin Group, both of which paid significant attention to the impeachment story, was little different from the pundit programs on the cable channels or the Sunday morning network shows. Public television’s impeachment coverage largely mirrored that of its commercial counterparts: Alternative perspectives and voices of the public were neglected, while debates among and forecasts by members of the political class provided the only lens for viewing the unfolding story of impeachment.

Corporate Mergers and Layoffs: How Do They Affect Investors?

Another major domestic political issue during the sample period was anti-trust policy, sparked by the Microsoft trial and the announced merger of Exxon and Mobil. There were 11 anti-trust stories on 4 different programs in the sample, with a total of 27 sources. Among these sources, 59 percent were corporate representatives (primarily Microsoft spokespeople). 26 percent of the sources were government officials (in all but one case this was David Boies, prosecutor in the Microsoft trial). In addition, 11 percent of the sources were professionals–rather a single professional, George Washington University law professor William Kovacic.

Coverage of the Microsoft trial consisted almost entirely of daily updates on the legal strategies employed by the two sides. For example, Morning Business Report’s December 8 story focused on Microsoft founder Bill Gates’s press conference to defend his company from efforts “to destroy Microsoft.” Nightly Business Report’s December 2 story highlighted the government’s claim that Gates feared competition from the Java programming language. And Bloomberg Morning News’s December 4 story looked at the “colorful language” in Gates’s videotaped deposition, which was played by prosecutors in court. This kind of coverage produced a daily scorecard of who-said-what (akin to coverage on commercial networks)–but did little to provide insight into the broader issues at stake in the Microsoft case, or the direction and consequences of federal anti-trust policy.

In contrast to the scorekeeping on the business programs, Technopolitics (12/4) featured a more substantive look at federal anti-trust policy, interviewing the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, Robert Pitofsky, about the goals of anti-trust actions. The story provided more depth than the daily updates of the Microsoft trial, noting that the increase in anti-trust actions by federal regulators coincided with a sharp increase in mergers and acquisitions. But even as the interview sought to illuminate the aims of current policy, host James Glassman framed the issue narrowly as whether “anti-trust law has become irrelevant in the digital age.” As a result, the interview served primarily as a challenge to the relevance of U.S. policy, with Pitofsky defensively affirming its importance, without really explaining the potential benefits of anti-trust enforcement. Indeed, the goal of anti-trust enforcement was reduced almost entirely to keeping prices down; broader questions of the concentration of economic and political power were not part of the discussion.

In a similar vein, when the NewsHour turned its attention to the anti-trust implications of the Exxon-Mobil merger (12/1), the focus was on whether there will be “any red flags…that might hold this thing [the merger] up” rather than on questions about the concentration of power posed by the merger of the two oil giants. The underlying assumption, in both the Technopolitics and the NewsHour reports, was that anti-trust enforcement was somehow anachronistic and punitive. (A December 11 Technopolitics discussion of the Gore Commission’s report on the public interest obligations of digital broadcasters was more explicit, dismissing such concerns as coming from a “time warp.”)

Closely related to the reporting on anti-trust policy was the coverage of mergers and acquisitions, which was the subject of 18 stories from 6 different programs. A total of 40 sources appeared in this coverage of mergers and acquisitions. The majority of these sources were corporate representatives (62.5%), mostly from the companies involved in the transactions. In addition, 15 percent of the sources were Wall Street views from the Bloomberg Morning News segment “The Street Says” and 10 percent were journalists who cover the business world. The result of this corporate/Wall Street source pool was that the bulk of the coverage focused on the corporate strategies of the growing conglomerates, the cost savings that consolidation would produce, and the implications of these mergers for investors.

There was only one appearance by a citizen activist and no appearances by members of the general public among the 67 sources in the combined coverage of mergers/acquisitions and anti-trust policy. Christopher Flavin of the environmental research group, the Worldwatch Institute, was a guest on the NewsHour‘s (12/1) panel discussion of the Exxon-Mobil merger. Flavin’s contribution to the discussion focused primarily on the development of alternative energy sources in relation to the oil industry and to Exxon-Mobil’s future. But, even as Flavin criticized Exxon and Mobil for inhibiting the development of environmentally-sound alternatives to oil, he adopted the investor’s perspective in his closing assessment of the merger, noting that “the energy markets are changing very quickly, and if I were a stockholder, I’d watch this very, very carefully.”

The continuing wave of corporate mergers, and their regulatory implications, was a regular story in this sample of public television programming. But the reporting provided only a limited window on these developments, focusing on the economic roots and potential benefits of conglomeration, while largely ignoring the political and cultural implications of recent mergers. Coverage featured an extremely narrow set of perspectives, highlighting the views of the business class, and almost entirely excluding critics of consolidation or voices of the public who will live with the complex consequences of the changes in the economic landscape.

Coverage of unemployment and corporate layoffs, much of which was related to recent mergers, was the focus of 11 stories on 5 different programs. The business programs included news of layoffs as a regular part of the daily business news. These programs covered announcements of layoffs at companies including Boeing, Kellogg, and Johnson & Johnson, linking the disparate announcements into a broader story about widespread job losses. Some of the stories focused on the implications of such layoffs for stock performance, and other stories noted the talented pool of workers available for employers who are looking to hire. The range of perspectives in these reports of corporate layoffs was extremely narrow, with the vast majority of sources coming from either corporate representatives (42%) or Wall Street (44%).

The most in-depth reports tried to make sense of the apparent contradiction between the large number of corporate layoffs and the very low unemployment rate. An outplacement specialist, appearing on the NewsHour (12/4) noted that “it is a very positive, favorable job market. People are finding good jobs, and they’re finding them quickly. The tough part is you have to do that much more often in a career today.” An economist on the same program pointed out the importance of education, noting the large disparity in unemployment rates between the college educated and high school dropouts. And a report on Bloomberg Morning News (12/7) noted that the job cuts are in manufacturing, while new jobs are in the service sector.

However, even this often substantive coverage of the complexities of the current labor market paid little attention to the long-term consequences of changing employer-employee relations or the experiences of those, regardless of education, who have been laid off. Among the 36 sources in the 11 stories about unemployment, there was only one non-professional worker, a Boeing worker commenting on the newly-announced massive layoffs (NewsHour, 12/4) and only one citizen activist, Chuck Doherty of Business Executives for Economic Justice (Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, 12/11). Just as with coverage of mergers, there were no voices of organized labor in the coverage of unemployment and layoffs.

The corporate perspective is a routine part of the coverage of virtually every economic story in this sample of public television programs. In contrast, voices of labor and working people or of consumer advocates are so scarce that they can be easily missed.

Social Security: How to Go About Privatization

President Clinton’s conference on social security occurred during the study period, making social security reform one of the major stories in this sample. Twelve stories on four different programs looked at social security reform, with the President’s conference providing the news peg. A total of 34 sources appeared in these stories; 82 percent were male and 18 percent were female. The vast majority of the sources (67.6%) were government officials, as the stories were generally organized around soundbites from the principal players in the President’s conference: the President, his National Economic Advisor Gene Sperling, and Congressional leaders.

The stories were framed primarily around the question of whether, how, and to what degree social security funds should be invested in the stock market. In much of the coverage, which occurred the same week as the Judiciary Committee’s impeachment hearings, partisan politics served as the underlying story line. All four programs that covered the conference opened with footage of the President imploring the participants to work together. Even so, coverage focused on how the social security debate was tied up with questions of political strategy. For example, both Bloomberg Morning News and Morning Business Report indicated that social security reform was, fundamentally, a Democrat vs. Republican issue. Bloomberg’s December 9 report noted the political fallout for Democrats from the failed effort to reform health care, pointing out that potential Democratic candidates for President will have to be careful about compromising on social security, “an issue that has served them well.”

Nightly Business Report reported on two consecutive nights (12/9-10) that starting private social security accounts was a key theme of the conference. But rather than explore the meaning or consequences of such private accounts, the stories indicated that the real issues were political, and not substantive–which party would take the lead in offering a plan and how the President would handle opposition from within his own party. The NewsHour‘s two-part report (12/10) covered the same terrain, highlighting the differences between Republicans and Democrats in Congress, but the underlying theme of the NewsHour‘s coverage was consensus, not conflict, over the goal of increasing the rate of return on social security funds. The NewsHour used the same array of soundbites as the business programs, but instead of partisan conflict, the report suggested a set of plans for reaching a generally agreed-upon goal. In an interesting twist, the NewsHour framed social security reform as a technical rather than political issue, with health correspondent Susan Dentzer noting that “the trick now is going to be deciding which way” to raise the rate of return.

The reports on the business programs and the NewsHour used the same basic information to construct different accounts, one framed around political strategy, the other around emerging consensus. But despite these different organizing frameworks, both types of stories succeeded in marginalizing perspectives on social security from outside of the inside-Washington debate. The political strategy frame narrowed the story to the conflict between the two major parties and the consensus frame effectively obscured perspectives from outside of that agreement.

When the views of non-politicians were included, they largely conformed to the limited contours of the insider debate. Four members of the general public appeared, all high school students in a Nightly Business Report segment on the views of the next generation. The students were participating in a mock senate, working on a plan to invest social security funds in the stock market. In addition, there were two representatives of advocacy groups among the sources; Leanne Abdnor of the business lobby Alliance for Worker Retirement Security, and Heather Lamm of the centrist generation X group Third Millennium. (Although its segments were brief, Nightly Business Report included the broadest set of voices–including the high school students, Lamm, and the Brookings Institution’s Henry Aaron, along with views of politicians–in coverage of social security.)

All in all, public television’s coverage of social security reform did not give any hint about alternative reform plans, suggesting that the debate is no broader than how or how much to privatize social security. And, tellingly, there were no voices of labor or senior citizens groups, two of the key stakeholders in the reform process.


This study has examined the subjects and sources of two weeks of public television’s public affairs programming. The principal findings of this study are consistent with our previous study of a six week sample of 1992 programming. Indeed, the two studies, despite their six year time gap, found similar elite-oriented sourcing patterns and a shared emphasis on the strategic dimension of domestic political issues. In important respects–both the voices included as on-camera sources and the underlying frameworks employed by producers and reporters–the current slate of public affairs programs on PBS stations is much the same as the public affairs line-up earlier in the decade.

Our 1993 study concluded that “the challenges ahead for public television are to enhance the diversity of its programming and to refocus on the ‘public’ that public television is intended to serve. On both counts, we find that there is significant room for improvement.” The findings of the current study indicate that public television has not improved on these counts; in fact, the trend seems to be in the opposite direction. Public television’s sources were, in several areas, less diverse; the most conspicuous changes are the increased visibility of corporate voices and the less frequent presence of the perspectives of citizen activists and members of the general public. And the increasing commercialization of the system–including the growth of corporate sponsored PBS-related world wide web sites–suggests that the public-as-citizens approach is taking a backseat to the public-as-market model at the “new PBS.”

The views and concerns of the public were substantially less present in the current sample than they were in our 1992 sample, as those who lack institutional power or “expert” credentials are rarely visible on public television’s public affairs programming. The one regular feature that explicitly included voices from outside the standard source list, Bloomberg Morning News‘s segment “The Street Says,” ironically illustrates the narrow definition of legitimate opinion. This segment regularly asked people on “the street” for their views on a different economic or political question each day. But, in this case, “the street” was Wall Street, and the sources were involved in the investment/financial services industry. While these people were not the traditional corporate financial analysts so common on the business news programs, they came from within the same general economic and social sector. Such perspectives can only be considered “public” if the target audience for the program is the Wall Street community.

More generally, corporate voices–and their views on such issues as consolidation, the high tech industry, the stock market, and regulatory policy–are prominently projected on public television. Stories about the economy are organized around the views and activities of corporate actors and investors. The regular daily and weekly business programs are the main source of this narrow economic frame. These programs are, in large measure, focused on and directed at the minority of Americans actively involved in the buying and trading of stock–not necessarily a “minority group” ill-served by commercial television. Viewers learn about the ups and downs of the markets in the United States, Europe, and Asia; get regular reports about company earnings, profits, and stock prices; and are supplied with advice on which stocks to buy, sell, or hold.

Certainly, there is useful information on these programs: for example, Bloomberg reporter Phil Boroff provided thoughtful, and often critical, analysis of the Internet stock frenzy, and the announcements of corporate layoffs were more prominent on the business news programs than elsewhere on the schedule. However, the business news programs rely upon an extremely narrow range of sources and implicitly define the economy as major corporations and their shareholders. (The vast majority of stories about investment-related issues focus on the trading of individual company stocks, and only rarely discuss the performance or economic significance of mutual funds.) As a result, the business news programs recast economic news into corporate news and serve as a forum for a corporate-oriented discourse about the economy. Since most American media are owned by major corporations, one would expect that public television would provide a broader and less corporate-oriented view of economic matters.

In answer to the question “If PBS doesn’t do it, who will?” this kind of business programming is readily available on CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg and other television channels, along with the business press and the Internet. It behooves public television stations to evaluate the reasons why they broadcast programs that are widely available elsewhere, appeal to such a limited audience, and are so narrow in their definition of sources and subjects.

Indeed, concerns of the corporate and investment communities are the principal frame for most economic coverage on public television, making the perspectives and experiences of citizens, workers, and consumers seem tangential to the real economic news. This inattention by public television to the views and experiences of working people is part of a longstanding pattern that was well-documented in a 1990 study by scholars at the City University of New York(8) and confirmed in our study of 1992 programming. The growth of business programs and the increasing visibility of the corporate voice on public broadcasting only reinforce the importance of broadening the range of perspectives that are part of the public dialogue on PBS stations.

Instead of wide-ranging discussions and debates, the kinds that might engage viewers as citizens, not simply as audiences, public television provides programs that are populated by the standard set of elite news sources. Whether it be corporate sources (talking about stock prices) or government officials and Washington journalists (talking about political strategy), public television offers the same kind of discussions, and a similar brand of insider discourse, that is featured regularly on commercial television.

This insider orientation makes it hard to define what, outside of the one-hour length of the evening news and the documentary format, defines public television as innovative, independent, or alternative. Despite the current focus on the value of the PBS brand, there is little about the substance of the public affairs schedule that would give public television a distinctive identity. Some inside public television have called for public affairs programs to be more “engaging.”(9) Given the continuing growth, largely on cable networks, of programs that feature a now-standard set of pundits and insiders carrying on familiar and sometimes overheated arguments, public television’s elite-oriented discussions may have a difficult time engaging viewers because they are a toned-down version of the same format.

Rather than imitating their competitors by becoming more entertainment-oriented or heated, public television can engage citizens by developing public affairs programs that are both substantive and distinctive, broadening the discourse beyond traditional elite voices, and making public television a more genuinely public institution. In the emerging digital age, despite the temptations of commercialization, public television can be a valuable democratic resource if its leadership takes seriously its founding mission to broadcast programs that include fresh perspectives, expand dialogue, welcome controversy, and serve all segments of the public.

See Appendices for The Cost of Survival.


1. Doing Good While Doing Well: The PBS 1998 Annual Report. http://www.PBS.org/insidePBS/annualreport/index.html.

2. Carnegie Commission on Educational Television. Public Television: A Program For Action. New York: Bantam, 1967.

3. Charting the Digital Broadcasting Future. Final Report of the Advisory Committee on Public Interest Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters. Washington, DC. December 18, 1998.

4. Behrens, Steve. “Poll: 8 in 10 Say Commercial Broadcasters Should Aid Public TV.” Current, January 25, 1999.

5. For the most comprehensive presentation of the findings of this study, see David Croteau, William Hoynes, and Kevin M. Carragee, “The Political Diversity of Public Television: Polysemy, the Public Sphere, and the Conservative Critique of PBS,” Journalism & Mass Communication Monographs, Number 157, June, 1996.

6. The most widely circulating public affairs programs were defined as programs that regularly appear on more than 100 stations or reach 50 percent of U.S. households.

7. Grimes, Charlotte. Whither the Civic Journalism Bandwagon? Discussion Paper D-36, The Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, February, 1999

8. CUNY Committee for Cultural Studies. PBS and the American Worker. Unpublished Research Report, 1990.

9. Bedford, Karen. “Public Affairs at PBS: The Pressure Is On.” Columbia Journalism Review, May/June, 1999, pp. 12-13.

William Hoynes

Vassar College

Department of Sociology

Poughkeepsie, NY 12604

(914) 437-7013