Intern Angle: Breakfast with Paula Kerger

As a part of the PBS internship program, the interns were invited to have breakfast with Paula Kerger as she shared her professional experiences, advice, and vision for PBS and public media in general. SPI interns Joche Angbazo and Taylor Berglund pulled their thoughts together from this event to bring you the following takeaways.

Before working her way up to her current role as president of PBS, Paula Kerger began her career at WNET in New York, where she loved being able to see the direct impact of her work on the local community. However, working at the corporate office has given her a different perspective since she is able to see how issues can affect one local station and community and not another. Through her experiences, Paula has noticed the most successful stations focus more on engaging and educating local communities, rather than “just serving as the home for Downton Abbey.”

Paula explained that the way to measure success in PBS has evolved from simply ratings to now encompass three major pillars.

  1. The first is to just see what connects with the audience by measuring content views. However, success goes far beyond just view count.
  2. The second measurement for success is assessing what resonates well critically which can be represented through awards and other recognition. This is what tells content producers that their work is of high quality. 
  3. Finally, having an impact on the audience is a huge success indicator: “If we can get viewers to comment on our content, it means our work has had an impact on them. This feedback is even more important than page views.”
When asked her opinion on success in the digital space, Paula began by addressing a widespread negative belief.

“The mistake with digital that people often make is they just take their broadcast content and plop it on a digital space," Paula said.

This is wrong because some things can be done digitally that wouldn’t work on television, so while there isn’t a wall between the two entities, one must take advantage of the unique possibilities in both realms. She points to PBS Digital Studios as a prime example. While many of the shows wouldn’t work as television programs, they are perfect on YouTube because of how easy it is to adjust and improve content based on viewer feedback.

“It takes years to develop a television series and when it’s put out to the public its perfect, but with digital content it doesn’t have to be perfect at first; that isn’t the prime goal,” Paula said.

Paula left many words of wisdom for the interns on how she achieved her own success as a leader.

“Anyone who is successful in media is successful because they find great people. I am lucky to be surrounded with extremely smart people who have grand ideas,” Paula said.

Paula expressed that it can be challenging, however, when it’s time to pull all these great minds together to follow a common goal.

She closed the event by reminding us that networking is vital, so we should keep in touch with everyone we meet, that we should always be willing to help others, and most importantly, “find you own voice.”

By Joche Angbazo and Taylor Berglund | Station Product and Innovation Interns | PBS Digital