Oregon Public Broadcasting president Steve Bass dropped by the Turnbull Center last week to share his insights around three key topics:
- The past, present and future of the media
- The factors impacting that change
- The responsibility of media producers to shape or influence society
Past, present and future
Bass began with a brief history of Oregon Public Broadcasting, showing a studio photo of its original AM radio station, KFDJ, that went on the air at Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University) in 1923. He made the point that, in spite of OPB’s broad digital reach and the technological advancement of “new media”, the same station that started it all nearly a century ago is still on the air and going strong.
Factors driving change
Obviously, the major factor driving changes in media is the rise of the internet and its associated technologies and applications. This technological factor is followed closely by economic ones. “The fact of the matter is, reporting is expensive; punditry and opinion [are] cheap,” said Bass. “We’re going to see a splintering of the media more toward opinion and punditry, in my view.” Bass said he spends a lot of time trying to figure out what the next disruptive element facing the media will be, pointing out that the newspaper industry was warned for years about the coming of the internet and still didn’t adapt in time. The economic collapse of 2008 had an especially destructive effect on newspapers because of the loss of classified ad revenue.
Click here for a 1980s-era news report that Bass showed exploring a precursor of the modern internet.
One threat facing media organizations such as OPB is the fact that barriers to media production are much lower now. Virtually anyone can produce high-quality content now, whereas in the past media companies had near-monopolies on production.
OPB’s role in society
The current media landscape demands a great deal of collaboration among news organizations, even those that are unaffiliated, Bass said. Since most audiences are getting their news from multiple sources, it is imperative that a media company be as ubiquitous as possible. No longer is OPB divided along lines of medium (i.e. TV vs. radio); now the company is organized by subject matter across platforms.
Bass also pointed out that the reporter’s role is changing. Whereas at one time a journalist might get an idea, file a report and be done, today a reporter has to do all those things and market the story, as well as be available to interact with the audience via web comments, e-mail and the like. But this interaction makes for better reporting, Bass said.
Bass expressed optimism about the future of public media, citing OPB’s diversity of funding sources as a saving grace. Less than 10% of OPB’s funding comes from tax dollars, and much of its money comes from member donations averaging $130.
Bass concluded his remarks with a nod toward eventual expansion in mobile technology for OPB.