FAIR presented a petition with more than 11,000 names to PBS on January 13, calling for worthy replacements for the exiting programs Bill Moyers Journal and Now. In all, 14,462 people signed the petition, including names added after it was delivered to PBS.
In a January 22 response, PBS described its new Friday night offering, Need to Know, but gave no indication of whether the program will continue the hard-hitting tradition of its predecessors.
Corporate Communications director Jan McNamara wrote that "PBS is committed to maintaining the highest level of news and public affairs programming" and that "changes to our current schedule are necessary to make it possible for us to experiment with different formats and programming content, both on-air and online."
The new program, Need to Know, will be an "integrated broadcast and online current affairs project" that "will feature documentary-style field reports, both domestic and international, short features and studio-based interviews and conversation to complement and advance the produced reports."
Whether Need to Know will uphold Now and Moyers Journal's commitment to independent, hard-hitting journalism and analysis was not addressed by McNamara, and remains to be seen when the show debuts in May.
FAIR thanks all the activists who added their voices to the petition. McNamara's full response can be read below.
Thank you for delivering your petition and its 11,172 signatures regarding FAIR's concerns about PBS’s news and public affairs schedule.
PBS is committed to maintaining the highest level of news and public affairs programming. Changes to our current schedule are necessary to make it possible for us to experiment with different formats and programming content, both on-air and online, while continuing to serve the evolving needs of the American public. We do not have the financial resources to both maintain our current program lineup and develop new content offerings.
On January 13, at the Television Critics Association in Los Angeles, PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger announced that an integrated broadcast and online current affairs project entitled Need to Know will launch in May 2010.
During this press conference, Ms. Kerger described Need to Know as one of the key components of a PBS news and public affairs initiative, the first phase of which focuses on improving service to the public in three areas--on-air, online and service to communities through local stations.
Viewers saw the first phase of changes to the broadcast line-up with the debut of the redesigned PBS NewsHour in December and the revamped Nightly Business Report in early January. In the spring, as Need to Know premieres, PBS will begin aggregating all of its news and public affairs content along with offerings from editorial partners in an online "supervertical" site at PBS.org, as well as distributing the content across the Web. PBS is also joining leading public media entities in a partnership to develop a local/national system to support stations in responding more effectively to the gaps in local journalism created by the upheaval in the newspaper industry.
Each week's online story development will culminate in the weekly one-hour broadcast, curated from the week's reporting by the various beat teams. The broadcast will feature documentary-style field reports, both domestic and international, short features and studio-based interviews and conversation to complement and advance the produced reports.
Need to Know will air on PBS stations nationwide on Friday evenings, joining PBS's acclaimed public affairs lineup, including PBS NewsHour and Nightly Business Report, as well as Frontline and Washington Week With Gwen Ifill.
We appreciate your interest in PBS.
Director, Corporate Communications