Posts Tagged ‘PBS’


Raney Aronson-Rath on transparency

Raney Aronson-Rath, Frontline’s executive producer. (Photo: Jonas Fredwall Karlsson/WGBH)

One of the biggest questions that journalism has faced over the course of the past year is how to maintain trust, in an era where the criticism “fake news” has become a norm. It is a conversation that is likely to continue over the course of the next year, as journalists and news organizations try to maintain trust with audiences.

For Raney Aronson-Rath, the Executive Producer of Frontline, the PBS investigative documentary program produced at WGBH in Boston, transparency is one of those solutions. In an essay for the Nieman Lab publication based at Harvard University, Aronson-Rath argued that transparency can be one of the ways that counteract recent high-profile criticisms of the media.

Frontline is no stranger to transparency. They’ve published transcripts of interviews that were conducted for their films for decades. Aronson-Rath said it was a tradition at Frontline, and had an impact on the work she did while she was a producer.

The Transparency Project, which Aronson-Rath runs with former Washington Post managing editor Philip Bennett, took that one step further, and was a way to help the public understand the thought process into the construction of the films.

“There is a skepticism about journalism in general,” Aronson-Rath said in a telephone interview. “We are facing a cluttered landscape.”

For their recent series, The Putin Files, which accompanied the film, Putin’s Revenge (its second part aired on PBS stations this week), Aronson-Rath wanted to put the Project to the test. The complete collection of interviews from all 56 sources was put online for all to see – 32 videos alongside transcripts, and 24 of them transcript only.

For Aronson-Rath, the basics are showing what they’ve gathered and uncovered, and to allow people who were skeptical or who raised questions access to the archives.

“When you’re doing transparency projects across the board, you may not know the amount of work that goes in, but now you know the amount of gathering and thought that goes into it,” Aronson-Rath said, adding that having the ability to emphasize what can be shown is a great way to do journalism in the public interest. “We welcome people under the intelligence gathering tent.”

Aronson-Rath believes in the health of the journalism and the news organization. She is clear to make sure that Frontline does not fall in any inadvertent silos, and was something she wanted to ensure when she took over as Executive Producer. The audience is important to Aronson-Rath as these stories come to light, irrespective of platform.

“I want to reach a wide range of people,” Aronson-Rath said. “That is at the center of Frontline – that we’re fair, we’re tough and we’re telling as much as we can.”

That call is shared in her belief of diversity with the ongoing conversation in the industry on workplace culture, amidst allegations of sexual harassment and assault against some prominent men in media.

“It’s important that women run things,” Aronson-Rath said. “It’s just as important as having diverse producers. I’ve always felt that women should be in positions of power. I hope more women join the senior and executive ranks.”

While transparency can help when it comes to relations between audiences and individual news organizations, it can also help with media literacy, and helping to distinguish fact from fiction. Aronson-Rath says news organizations and social media platforms have a dual responsibility when it comes to trust in media.

“We need to have a conversation on what it means to publish on the platform,” Aronson-Rath said.

Aronson-Rath takes an example from the magazines that are seen in the supermarket lines when you check out. You look at them thinking they aren’t true, but that has gotten more difficult for that to be recognized, especially in this multi-platform digital age.

Aronson-Rath says that for that to happen however, we cannot wait to let things change by themselves, and that news organizations and social media platforms have a dual responsibility to help with trust.

“My belief is that if we can teach people who are younger what a news organization is, what platforms they can trust – what is true, what isn’t and what is verified, we can see a difference,” Aronson-Rath said. “It is crucial.”

When all is said and done however, Frontline’s mission remains the same.

“We’re accountability journalists first and foremost,” Aronson-Rath said. “Criticisms do not change the standards.”

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist in Minneapolis and a member of SPJ’s Ethics and FOI Committees. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

What Jacques Pepin can teach journalists

The work of chef, author and broadcaster Jacques Pepin provides lessons for journalists. (Photo: Edsel Little/Wikimedia Commons)

The work of chef, author and broadcaster Jacques Pepin provides worthwhile lessons for journalists. (Photo: Edsel Little/Wikimedia Commons)

Jacques Pepin and I, through our professions, are different. Pepin is the successful chef, author and broadcaster, known to millions as the host of multiple cooking programs airing on public television. I am a journalist who writes primarily about journalism and digital culture.

Despite our pursuits of different lines of work, there are two things that we have in common — our commitment to quality and our ability to tell stories.

For Pepin, he tells these stories through his recipes, curating the experience of enjoying food with family and friends. For me, it is through the stories and essays I write, not just for SPJ, but for the British publication Kettle Magazine, for whom I have served as an editor and contributor for over 4 years.

Yet, Pepin’s work and philosophy can provide lessons for journalists. In a recent broadcast of the PBS Newshour, Pepin did a segment reflecting on the culture of the recipe, and that at the core of a recipe is the idea that comes from it.

“A recipe is a teaching tool, a guide, a point of departure,” Pepin said. “You have to follow it exactly the first time you make the dish. But after you make it again and again, you will change it, you will massage it to fit your own taste, your own sense of aesthetic.”

The same rule applies, albeit indirectly, to journalism. The ethics and background rules apply and must be abided by the first time you sit down and write a story. You have the information that comes from 6 basic elements — who, what, when, where, why and how. But as the mediums evolve in the digital age, there are more ways for stories to be told, whether through conventional platforms like a newspaper, TV or radio, or through the web and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

What I have come to appreciate about Pepin’s work is the stories that he tells with the experience of food. Every dish, whether he cooks it himself or with the help of his daughter Claudine, granddaughter Shorey or best friend Jean-Claude, tells a story, and though the basic recipe elements either remain the same or differentiate depending upon taste, there is a different story that can be told.

Good journalism and good storytelling has the power to make a difference in the world. It not only informs and engages, but also has the ability to inspire. It is the type of storytelling that I hope to do as I continue my career.

Pepin is curating a unique experience with every dish he makes, which makes his programs on public television (and indeed other public media programs) so worthwhile. Pepin also gives a reminder to all of us about the importance of a good story, and how much benefit it can have.

Happy cooking, and happy storytelling.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributing blogger to Net Worked on social media’s role in the future of journalism. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is Long Form Editor and a contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Point Taken and the new social media conversation

Carlos Watson moderates a debate on the American Dream from Point Taken, airing on PBS. (Photo: Meredith Nierman/WGBH)

Carlos Watson moderates a debate on the American Dream from Point Taken, airing on PBS. (Photo: Meredith Nierman/WGBH)

Social media has allowed us to do many things in journalism, from help tell a story and inform new audiences, to curate a conversation on various subjects. For WGBH, they have shown social media can do that and then some through the new program Point Taken.

Point Taken, a late-night, weekly debate on a current affairs topic, presented by Carlos Watson, premiered last night on PBS and is produced by the Boston based public media station. The subject was the future of the American Dream, and at the core of the conversation was social media, utilizing the hashtag #PointTakenPBS.

Yet, how social media was portrayed was different compared to most current affairs programs on television that discusses topical subjects. Tweets had appeared on screen, but also data of interaction was also present, indicating how many users were tweeting with the subject at that given time. It gave a visual complement to the discussion, allowing audiences to see a full lens of the conversation.

There was also the ability to vote on whether the American Dream was dead or alive, data which was shown on Twitter, as well as the ability to use polls to gain more insight into the thoughts of viewers.

However, the prevalence of social is not exclusive to a half hour broadcast. Other platforms had been used, including Facebook for engagement and interaction, as well as Snapchat, where through a filter audience members could record their thoughts on the subject being debated. Point Taken having a platform on Snapchat is part of a number of WGBH produced programs signing on to the platform, notably the current affairs documentary program Frontline and the science documentary program Nova.

In addition, the first episode is available to watch again (or to view if you missed last night’s airing) on Facebook, through PBS’ fan page.

The subjects will change from week to week, but one thing is for certain. WGBH and Point Taken have revolutionized how social media is used to curate a conversation, and has allowed new ways for public media as a whole to engage with younger audiences. It is a strategy that is inspired, and can go a long way in engaging new audiences and retaining current ones.

Tuesday was a win-win scenario for WGBH and for this industry, allowing not just for a discussion on the future of the American Dream, but also how social media can be used to enhance and innovate journalism, making it better for those curating the content, and, most importantly, those consuming it.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributing blogger to Net Worked on social media’s role in the future of journalism. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is Long Form Editor and a contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

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