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Digital Leadership: Trends Across the System


Amid the long days and sore feet of PMDMC was this gem of a moment. In a hallway, I ran into a sharp young staffer from one of my favorite mid-market PBS stations. What are you up to? I asked. She handed me her new business card. When I saw her last fall at her station, her title was “social media manager.” But her card now reads “vice president, digital.”

Five years ago, you could almost count on your fingers the number of senior digital leaders in the system  - people with digital job responsibilities and the kind of job title (“vice president” or “senior director”) that gives them clout, and direct access to The Boss.

Today, among the Top 50 stations alone, there are more than 30. In fact, here at the SPI Team, we’re kinda struggling to keep up with all the promotions and new hires. (Nice problem to have.) Peek at the CPB job board today and you’ll see another example: Mark Leonard is seeking two associate GMs at Nebraska Educational Television – one for broadcast, the other for digital and multimedia. “NET has a long tradition of content creation that we want to honor and preserve.  At the same time, we need to create some incubation and innovation space for digital projects, whether they be content, commerce, or community,” Leonard  notes.  “In the end, I’m hoping that it will result in a nimbler structure for innovation.”

By my informal count, that will add to this list of stations adding a senior digital leader in the past few months: WCVE, Richmond; KUED, Salt Lake City; KCTS, Seattle; UNC-TV, North Carolina. And several others are pondering such jobs (we know because they’ve asked our team for sample job descriptions).

One station that’s looking is Valley PBS. As CEO Phil Meyer puts it, ““Content will always be our main business. But in addition to increasing digital video viewership, we are finding that more and more of our relationship management occurs in the digital space, especially in social media. “ We are shifting our staff resources in order to fish where the fish are.”

Of course, there’s a persuasive argument that digital isn’t one person’s job at a station – it’s everyone’s job. David Lowe, CEO of KVIE in Sacramento, makes that case: “It’s not about digital. We’re already digital,” he commented in a recent thread on the Digital Media Advisory Council message board. “We create in digital. We communicate in digital. We transmit in digital. It’s about new. It’s about innovation. It’s about beyond television.”

David’s right, of course (and, of course, he’s steeped in digital tools to a degree that not all station CEOs can match – like working at a VC-backed software startup). A digital leader is not a panacea – particularly if others at the station say, “Well, so-and-so worries about that now, so I don’t have to.”

But a peek at history (and business-school studies) suggests media organizations make progress when there’s an empowered senior leader with direct access to the CEO.

What examples around the system have I missed? Comment away, please. (And know anyone who might want that gig in Lincoln? As Mark Leonard says:  “Lincoln is a pretty exciting place to be these days, with a thriving economy, expanding tech/start-up culture, and low cost of living.”)

Tom Davidson | Senior Director | PBS Digital


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