Posts Tagged ‘WGBH’


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.

Words to the EIJ wise

Raney Aronson-Rath, the executive producer of Frontline, seen with David Fanning, the executive producer at large in 2011. Aronson-Rath wants to uphold the values of a free press.
(Photo: Peabody Awards/Flickr)

When Raney Aronson-Rath began her journalism career at an English language newspaper in Taiwan in the early 1990s, she witnessed the emergence of a free press, in a time where the country was undergoing significant political reforms.

Aronson-Rath, now the executive producer of the PBS documentary program Frontline, said that witnessing that was an a-ha moment, a moment that would provide guidance to the work that she would do in the future.

“Growing up in America, I had taken the ideas of a free press, freedom of speech, and democracy for granted,” Aronson-Rath wrote in an essay for Current, a magazine for public media professionals. “I never would again. I realized how important it is to protect those ideas, and I decided at that point to commit to journalism as my career.”

Roughly two decades later, the a-ha moment she saw in Taiwan emerged in a new form for me, in suburban Chicago. In the Spring of 2009, I had a medical trifecta which resulted in me completing my junior and senior years of high school as a homebound student. As the days saw me going back and forth with my mom to a plethora of doctor’s appointments, the nights saw insomnia, a side effect of the medications I was taking.

What exactly could I do in those hours so I wouldn’t wake my mom and sister? I turned to the radio – public radio, to be precise, something that night and during the course of my recovery became a friend in the hours where one truly felt isolated and scared. I grew curious about the role stories could have, written and spoken, and the impact they could have on the world.

The values that Aronson-Rath wanted to protect soon became ones I wanted to protect too, as I knew that I wanted to go to college and pursue a career in journalism – and that’s exactly what I did.

This week, my SPJ colleagues are gathering in Anaheim, Calif., for the annual Excellence in Journalism conference. It is a culmination of the current journalism year in which we get to celebrate some of the best and brightest people in this industry.

It is also a time to reflect and to ponder about the future of journalism, and for that matter our crafts, in an age where the cultures of the internet and social media are leading the way in reinventing how we think about both – and how we can be authentic.

The timing of EIJ is also apt – as this month also marks the 50th anniversary of when the House of Representatives passed the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, which also created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. When President Lyndon Johnson signed it into law that November, he spoke about what would come of the Act, and how public broadcasting would enrich one’s spirit and advance the education of the people.

Enriching one’s spirit and advancing the education of the people are hallmarks of all quality journalism. Like our colleagues in public media, we are storytellers, with the desire to inform, educate and engage, with the hope, as this announcement from WGBH put it, help people “cope better with the world” and their own lives.

It’s hard sometimes, especially for young career journalists like myself – with the blunt, uneasy criticism of the Trump Administration, as well as the general economic outlook of the profession – to know that the work you do can matter to your audience. Reminders that the ability to do such work exist help along the way.

It is in that spirit that I’d like to introduce you to the people who occupy a building just off of Cedar Street in St. Paul, Minn., where it just so happens that the organization that employs them is celebrating their 50th birthday this year.

That building is home to Minnesota Public Radio, and the corporate headquarters of American Public Media, home of national programs like Marketplace, The Splendid Table and A Prairie Home Companion, and who distributes the BBC World Service to public radio stations across the US. In that building are people who put their family, friends and neighbors first – who care deeply about the ability to enrich the spirit of Minnesotans and Americans, and advance the education of the people, so they can be at their best.

Indeed, it, and the reminder of why journalism remains important to democracy, is made known on a t-shirt linking the start next Sunday of Flyover from MPR News, a national call-in program.

Since that night in 2009, I’ve had a soft spot for them – a soft spot that has grown exponentially since moving to the Twin Cities. Indeed, that soft spot applies to all who work in public media, and all who look to uphold the importance of a free press and the fundamental role journalism has in democracy, through the output produced each day.

Fred Rogers said that life is for service – and as life is for service, then journalism remains the most important profession you can choose to have a career in. Working together, we can uphold the values of journalism in a democracy, promote the need for quality, ethical journalism and help people be at their best.

If we won’t do it, who will?

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

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.

Education: A global value

WGBH's studios in Boston, whose mission was summarized as helping people cope with the world and their own lives. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

WGBH’s studios in Boston, whose mission was summarized as helping people cope with the world and their own lives. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In the 1970s and 1980s, the public broadcasting station WGBH in Boston began and ended its day with the airing of a small montage, telling viewers in New England about its role.

In that montage was a simple summary of its mission: “Our purpose is to help you cope better with the world and your own life.”

For WGBH, it applied not just to their viewers in Boston and throughout New England, but through the programs it produced nationally, either through PBS or its partnership with public radio distributor PRI.

Embodying that summary was the value of education, and the notion that education can come from mediums like television, and make a difference in the lives of all people. Education can be for everyone, no matter who they are or their background, for at heart, we are all lifelong learners. We can be taught and we can be inspired through thought-provoking, stimulating, engaging, and some entertaining content.

Education is at the heart of journalism, and as the United States celebrates the 4th of July, it is something that remains integral to its foundation, and we as journalists celebrate the ability to be able to produce content that can inform, engage, but most importantly, educate.

Education however is not solely an American value. It is a global value, a value that is practiced by journalists here and around the world. Indeed, education is a global value in a journalistic sense, for in the digital age, content that is made in newspapers, radio, television or online can be construed as education, and ideas for stories can be taken from anywhere.

We enter this profession not to seek fame or fortune. Instead, we enter this profession because of our ability to be able to educate. We enter because our focus is not on financial gain, but on the people to whom we serve in our work. We enter because we know the work we do together can do the most good.

Yet, the culture of journalism that has come as the industry evolves has raised questions on how that education can be conducted, and if it can be conducted at all. As the line between news and comment becomes blurred, and more platforms, especially through social media, become available for this content, can education remain a quintessential focus of journalism, or has it become a lost art?

Raney Aronson-Rath, the executive producer of Frontline, a program that embodies the educational spirit of journalism. (Photo: Knight Foundation/Flickr)

Raney Aronson-Rath, the executive producer of Frontline, a program that embodies the educational spirit of journalism. (Photo: Knight Foundation/Flickr)

As this industry continues through its state of flux, arguments can be made on both sides. On one hand the sole focus is now going viral, and that attention comes solely through the click of a mouse. On the other hand, there is potential, and even though there are questions, it can continue.

Education is at the heart of what I do, and the heart of what we all do. We are in uncertain waters, asking ourselves many questions. Will the young graduate, journalism degree in hand, be able to have a successful, viable career? Will those in the industry be able to adapt to this new age? Most importantly, can the industry we all love, irrespective of medium, survive, and can we accomplish the ultimate goal we have in journalism — the ability to educate?

I believe that we can, though it may appear difficult right now. Education is a value that remains at the crux of journalism, and it is something that we should never take for granted. The platforms are going to change, and how we disseminate and curate news will too, but one thing is for sure — the ability to educate the public, and to help them cope better with the world and their own lives, will remain a constant.

Yet, we must not let it get lost in the shuffle. We must now take the time to support, advocate for and champion this value, whether it is supporting the public broadcasters, the media organizations and the individuals and storytellers that emphasize it, advocating for our ability to disseminate and educate, or championing the ideas that strengthen journalism’s role in education, irrespective of race, gender, or sexual orientation.

Education is at is at the heart of what we can do in journalism, now and in the future. It is a global value, not just through geography, but through the mediums of journalism, and on this day of all days, it is something we must not disregard. Instead, we should do what is best and embrace it, not just for those to whom we serve, but for ourselves.

After all, the world is better when it is informed, and we must never take that for granted.

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 a Managing Editor and 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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