The SPI Files: Mark Ryan, WFWA PBS39

by Rachel Lim, PBS Station Products & Innovation

Welcome back to The SPI Files, where we highlight some of the talented people around the system who make the magic happen. Last week, we talked to Lauren Saks of PBS Arts Online. This week, we're traveling to Northeast Indiana to speak to Mark Ryan, Creative Services Manager at WFWA PBS39 Fort Wayne, where we discussed the latest happenings at his station and his insight into the rapidly shifting public media landscape. 

How long have you been at PBS39? 
I was hired in in December 1997 and began work as the promotions manager here in January 1998. Prior to that, I did a lot of pro-bono design work for the station. My job as promotions morphed into its current iteration. I still do promotions, publish a monthly program guide, manage the website and station's social media, and do various kinds of graphic design work.  

Before PBS39, what did you do?
Before I came here, I worked in advertising as a creative director, art director and graphic designer/artist for over 15 years. 

If you didn't work in public media, what would you be doing?
That's hard to say. I came here at a point in my life where I thought I had gone as far as I could professionally. I was looking for a professional mission rather than just another place to use my skills. I suppose I was looking to be part of something bigger than myself. Kind of by accident, I found it. If I couldn't work at PBS39 specifically, I'd try to find another job somewhere in public media because I believe in the value of what we do so deeply. 

If that didn't work out, I have been playing with creating and publishing a web comic for a while, or self-publishing editorial cartoons. I got my start in media as a cartoonist; who knows, maybe I'll wind up back there someday. If I were younger, I'd probably like to be a firefighter or paramedic. I've been a volunteer firefighter/EMT with a local department for 17 years now.  

Something we noticed when we checked out PBS39 are the video field trips the station does. Tell us a little bit about this great resource for teachers. How did Video Field Trips get started?
From "How Ice Cream Is Made."
Our Video Field Trips sprang from an idea as a result of conversation I had one day with our former education outreach coordinator, who used to work in a local public school district. She was telling me how teachers were feeling the economic pinch and could no longer take their students on as many field trips as they had in the past, and how it was cutting into their ability to teach beyond the classroom. The idea sprang up to use our production capabilities and people to produce video field trips for teachers. We also wanted to create standards-based materials to ride along with the videos so that teachers could cherry-pick lesson plans and use them in their classroom. 

One thing led to another. The idea got momentum with the management and a go-ahead from the sales/development department. A production schedule and funding for the first project were fleshed out, and "How Ice Cream Is Made" came to be.  

What do you see as the future for public media?
Public media's mission is, and always should be, service to its audience with the content we provide. Whether we have a news department or not, public media is the last bastion of impartial and educational content. Being broadcasters, we offer this content for free. Being local, we tailor this delivery our service regions; geography still matters as far as our mission of service is concerned. We are the viewers' home team and we ought to never give that up. Given the stats showing how much people trust us and rely on us, that's something we need to take seriously and keep in the front of our minds every day.

As far as our future, we have to move forward into new media and keep doing what we are doing if we are to serve everyone equally and not just those who can afford a broadband hook and the gear to watch it on. I think some of the media usage survey statistics are seriously skewed to a reality that is not our own and not inclusive to everyone. In the end, our future is going to be dependent on our ability to prove our value to those who rely on us every day and repay their trust in what we do, no matter what media we do it with. 

How does PBS39 fit into this future?
We have to keep bringing the world at large into homes, screen-by-screen (or device by device) in the areas we serve. We're moving ahead into new media as we can and using as many tools as we are able to do this with the resources we have. We're doing this by listening to our viewers and partners in the public media world to follow what they are doing, too. 

What's the next big thing for PBS39?
For us, tomorrow is always the next big thing. Keep to the mission, accept and work with the challenges and make sure we serve our viewers. We want to be here doing what we do for a very long time. 

What would you like to tell your fellow public media colleagues?
One thing that really disturbs me is the generational gap that no one really talks about. That's a whole other issue. Technology is not the exclusive dominion of younger generations, nor should it be. Younger generations being unwilling to teach or mentor or discounting the input of older experienced media veterans is just as dumb as older generations believing they don't need to learn anything new. Both generations need to meet on even ground in sharing information. Oldsters need to learn from youngsters. Youngsters need to do the same from oldsters because while the technological context or media may have changed, the reasons why we do what we do and human nature and behavior have not. For both, the story and content matters most - as does the mission - and always will. 

What are your favorite words of wisdom?
If I had to pass on anything it'd be this:

-Communication begins with listening.
-When you're wrong about something, learn from it and move on.When you're right about it, enjoy the moment, thank those that helped you do this and move on.
-Tomorrow's a new day and a new challenge and because you're in public media, you have a mission, not just a job. That's pretty special.


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