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Sunday, 14 September 2014 22:00

Q&A: Paula Kerger President and CEO, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)

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Paula Kerger Paula Kerger COURTESY PHOTO

For eight years, Paula Kerger has worked to grow viewership and diversify the programming portfolio of the Public Broadcasting Service alongside the evolving media landscape. As the role of broadcast media develops, PBS has found its niche partly in educational programming. At the recent 2014 WGVU Fall Preview event, Kerger announced a joint partnership with Grand Valley State University’s College of Education, PBS LearningMedia and WGVU Public Media — the first partnership between a PBS member station and university — to give educators access to PBS digital content in their classroom. Prior to the event, Kerger spoke with MiBiz about the organization’s educational role in the changing world of public broadcast media.

What brought you to West Michigan?

I came in to spend some time with the team at WGVU. I actually hadn’t been here before and wanted to see the work they’re doing with the community for myself.

As the face of broadcast media changes, how do you see PBS fitting in?

I don’t like to define us this way, but one of the things we think about in public media is to look at market failure and to look at areas where other media outlets haven’t stepped up. That’s why all of our work with kids is all based on curriculum and not just on entertainment. I think that’s what the differentiator is between public media and everybody else.

Do you have some examples of that?

As I look at the gaps, I see what the commercial broadcasters are doing and the news channels are doing and it’s a space that we have filled well with our investigative journalism and “Frontline.” The other thing I see is a lot of partnerships with print and radio media outlets in the community. It doesn’t make the work any easier, but better and richer.

PBS recently announced a partnership with GVSU. Can you tell us more about that?

What we’ve created with LearningMedia is a repository of content. We have about 81,000 objects in it right now with the majority of them being video and digital animations. A lot of the content is ours with some of it from our partners like the National Archives. It’s all organized by concept and grade level and then correlated by standards. A lot of kids are visual learners, and it makes some of what seems remote (more) accessible.

In West Michigan, there’s been a lot of concern over a talent shortage, especially in technical manufacturing fields. How do you think education efforts like this help bridge that gap?

I think that what happens to a lot of kids is that they think the topics are dry and they get turned off. Since most of this is STEM-related, you really want to get kids excited about potential careers in engineering, science and technology and a lot of the content that is on the website ties into that directly.

Is there a widespread need for this sort of education in the community?

Definitely. Teachers are really interested in content that they can use in the classroom and that is high quality. A lot of the content teachers had available was good enough, but you want them to have great tools. And that all plays a part in the workforce development philosophy.

Going forward, how is PBS working to help further education and form a basis for talent development?

When we are starting new broadcast projects, before we even shoot a frame of film, we think about what pieces of the story would be great for schools. One of the ways we are thinking differently about the work is that in the past, we would create something and find that it would be good for schools. Now, in advance, we shoot specifically with education in mind so teachers have those assets to use.

You’ve been with PBS for eight years now. What’s it like being the CEO of an organization that touches so many lives?

I feel fortunate every day to work in an organization where I get to work alongside very talented people. And at the end of each day, I feel like I did something that made a difference to someone, even when I have to get up at 4:30 in the morning to travel.

Interview conducted and condensed by John Wiegand. 

 

Read 2177 times Last modified on Sunday, 14 September 2014 22:17

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