An Eye Toward the Future: KQED News and Public Media in the 21st Century

kqed logo.JPGEarlier this month, KQED Public Media launched, a forward-thinking online expansion of the organization's growing news and public affairs initiatives.  The site features extensive cross-platform content from PBS, NPR, and KQED's own television and radio services.  In conjunction with the launch, KQED has added eight employees to its news staff and ten local newscasts to its radio programming.  With an eye toward the future, the organization has also begun to blur the lines between traditional broadcasting and Internet distribution by making each of its daily newscasts available online in streaming audio formats.

The Internet debut of KQED News marks a growing trend in today's public media industry.  Local and national media outlets are increasingly capitalizing on the growth of flexible Internet frameworks to present cross-platform content to online visitors.  Instead of relying on television or radio content alone, many public media providers are combining text, audio, and video to create multimedia experiences for today's tech-savvy viewers.  KQED joins the ranks of NPR, the upcoming redesign of, and several others as a pioneer of public media's digital frontier.

"KQED is stepping up to help fill the news coverage void created by cutbacks at other journalistic organizations. Although we are already dedicating significant personnel and financial resources to news and public affairs, we determined that an incremental investment at this time, along with further integration of our radio, TV, and online services, will have a significant positive impact," says KQED President and CEO, John Boland. "KQED is in a unique situation. We are a community-supported, public service media organization with television, radio, and online digital services under one roof. We have local and regional reporting capabilities and access to the highest quality national and international reporting through our NPR and PBS affiliations. We are combining all our resources to provide the community with a 21st century news service."

The migration of public media to the online domain has been fueled, in part, by the growth of social media.  For decades, public broadcasting has been made financially possible by 'viewers like you.'  In recent years, however, viewer interaction and discussion have emerged as equally important elements of the public media experience.  Commenting systems, as well as services like Facebook, Twitter, and Digg, allow viewers to share and discuss content more easily than ever before.  Traditionally, publicly-funded media outlets have strived to serve the needs of local communities.  Thanks to social media and other Internet services, individual voices from those very same communities are now being heard louder than ever on destination sites like KQED News.

Despite this recent surge in cross-platform online content, TV sets and radio receivers are not yet destined for a journey to the junkyard.  The vast majority of PBS viewers and NPR listeners, particularly those in older demographics, still listen to traditional on-air broadcasts.  However, interest in public media outlets is rapidly growing among younger, smartphone-wielding age groups.  Although members of the Net Generation are strapped for cash in today's economy, they will likely be the ones financially backing public media in the future.  For this slice of the population, media content is no longer confined to TV sets or car radios.  Computer monitors and mobile smartphones have emerged as windows to a new wave of on-demand media, available whenever and wherever viewers desire.  It may be another few decades before public media completes its sweeping transition into the digital realm, but media outlets like KQED and PBS are taking small steps today to prepare for a future that will likely be more social, and more mobile, than ever before.

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