Building the House of Ideas

March 18th, 2008

Thirteen blogger: Barbara Bantivoglio, Vice President, Institutional Advancement

Today is nine months to the day since I reported to work at Thirteen. I came here from WNYC, so I guess my love for public broadcasting shows!

I’ve long cherished New York’s cultural institutions and the sense of community they foster within our huge city, so it’s great to be here during what is an exciting and, yes, challenging time for Thirteen.

We titled our most recent annual report to you, our community, “Building the House of Ideas,” and I think that’s an apt metaphor for what we try to do day in, day out here at Thirteen. We want Thirteen to be a constant source, on the air and online, of education, inspiration, and cultural enrichment, a place where the most important issues of the day get a proper public airing. (Our annual report will be available on thirteen.org soon).

With fewer and fewer locally owned and accountable media outlets, such a service seems more important than ever. As Vice President for Institutional Advancement, it’s my job to make sure that Thirteen has the funding we need to keep “building the house” and making it a vital place for future generations to gather.

Another part of my job is making sure the public has accurate information about us. One area in which I think there’s a common misconception is the level of funding that public television receives from government grants. I used to think it was much higher myself, until I began this job.

The truth is that Thirteen receives about 10 percent of our annual revenue from government grants. For the rest, the vast majority of our revenue, we rely on philanthropic support from foundations and individuals, corporate sponsorships, and, of course, “viewers like you.”

If you’ve been keeping up with this blog, you know that there’s a lot of change happening here “Inside Thirteen.” The excitement around our hallways is matched by the challenges we face in a time of dizzying technological innovation and a rapidly changing media environment (who’d have thought blogging would be part of my job description?). But with your support, I believe we will continue to be a vital cultural institution and public service as this new century unfolds.

Thirteen’s Digital Makeover

March 17th, 2008

Thirteen blogger: Nan Otek, Project Director, Preserving Digital Public Television

Picture this – an obscure room in the sub-sub-basement, filled with a chaotic jumble of 60,000 broadcast-format videotapes going back 40 years, lined up on rows and rows of metal shelves, stacked up on the floor, and spilling into every aisle. No one knows what’s there.

When Thirteen moved in 1999, this ‘tape library’ almost got dumped. Thankfully, the station changed its mind and decided it wasn’t such a good idea to throw out its own broadcast legacy. Instead, it came to its senses and created the Thirteen Tape Archives.

That’s how, by helping save the tapes, I became the informal but outspoken guardian of all things archival at Thirteen.

Not just analog, but digital archives, too. Unlike videotape, digital stuff is hard to preserve, and major collecting institutions like the Library of Congress are really afraid of losing moving images like public television programs. So the Library gave us $ 3 million for Preserving Digital Public Television and I coordinate the project as part of the Library’s National Digital Preservation initiative. (Sorry, but DVDs are NOT the solution!)

Preserving digital video is closely tied to managing online video, and I go to a lot of ‘new media’ meetings. There were a few hundred geeks at the recent Public Media Conference, struggling to bring public radio and television to the Internet near you. These folks had great enthusiasm and talent — but many had been at their jobs for less than a year. They knew nothing about public television. Broadcasting, hey, what’s that?

Meanwhile, down the hall at the invitation-only ‘Management’ track, I heard it was a whole different story. Forget about the interactive Internet. These CEO’s were afraid that public broadcasting was already missing the online boat. They didn’t know what to do and were a little desperate.

What a disconnect — The new-media types jumping right in trying to make us relevant and timely, while their bosses are keeping their feet on the brakes. The mood was so different, it almost seemed like two unrelated gatherings.

I know we won’t survive without reaching the non-broadcast masses, but we’re tied to our ‘musty,’ aging, over-the-air service. For a poor broadcaster, it’s pretty scary.

Public television needs one of those makeovers. You know how it works — before any of those women become stunning and self-confident, they have to let go of things first. They have to throw out all their dowdy clothes, get a new haircut, and try on a lot of stuff that doesn’t fit. And they need a serious attitude adjustment.

Are we bold enough to try something like this? Thirteen is working on it, and even though there’s a lot of inertia here, I can feel the undercurrent of excitement growing. We’ve thrown out some of our old clothes and are starting to try on a few new things. I hope it won’t take too long before we see what finally fits…

— Nan

Behind the Scenes: The Perfect Pair

March 13th, 2008

Thirteen blogger: The Thirteenth

What shall I share with the curious in my first Inside Thirteen post?

There’s the election. Too political. There’s the economy. Too sad. There’s sex and violence. Too too cable. Nope, I think to start, I should play it a little safe, so I’m going with the suspenders.

My new boss and your new president of Thirteen, a dashing man of unparalleled skill sets, wears them. Beautiful ones, as you already know if you’ve tuned in to Reel 13 or were one of the 8,000 educators who heard him speak at our recent Celebration of Teaching and Learning event.

As a staff writer for business materials at Thirteen, I am uniquely qualified, as I often say in my proposals about our television shows, to ask the following question about his suspenders: Do they say everything they really can about how we envision public television for the 21st century?

Yes. But perhaps we could design a pair tailor-made for the Thirteen universe. I thought I’d ask Arnie Levin, our Thirteen program guide cartoonist to give it a shot. Arnie is an award-winning cartoonist for The New Yorker and head of computer animation at the School for Visual Arts, whose recent show at the Century Club was called “Finally, My Own Show.”

Date: March 10, 2008
To: Arnie Levin
From: The 13th
Re: Neal’s suspenders

Please select a concept “that works for you” and respond asap:
–How to express hope and vision on suspenders.
–How to promote primetime series on suspenders.
–How to demonstrate that suspenders can draw millions of new viewers to PBS.

Date: March 11, 2008
To: The Thirteenth
From: Arnie Levin
Re: Neal’s suspenders

Feel free to cut and paste his original design into your personal fashion files if you, too, need to align your clothing with the power of public television.

Tune in next month, when The Thirteenth returns on the 13th, for the 13th, and by the 13th, with poems about television.

The Thirteenth

The Spitzer Scandal Roundtable

March 11th, 2008

Last night, Thirteen’s Rafael PiRoman hosted a live roundtable discussion about the scandal surrounding New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. With reports from public television stations WXXI/Rochester andWHMT/Albany, Thirteen examined the situation and its possible impact on the state of New York.

The panel of guests included political commentator Fred Siegal; Andrea Bernstein, Political Director at WNYC radio; former New York City Parks Commissioner Henry Stern; Susan Arbetter, host of WHMT/Albany’s New York Now and Errol Louis, political columnist for the New York Daily News.

The Spitzer Scandal

March 10th, 2008

Thirteen blogger: Neal Shapiro, President

It’s a very busy day here at Channel 13. We decided to put together a half hour program on the revelations about Governor Spitzer’s involvement in a prostitution ring. In the news business we call this “crashing,” and believe me, we’re crashing away this evening!

We’re going to find the best interviews in the city as well as in Albany and in other places.

If you have any questions or something you want to discuss, leave it for me here. Otherwise, I hope to see you tonight at 10!

New York’s Cultural Diversity

March 10th, 2008

Thirteen blogger: Neal Shapiro, President

Note to Karl Kettler, who posted a comment:

March 7th, 2008 at 9:37 am

Dear Mr. Shapiro,
I realize that New York City has many Jews and they, no doubt, enjoy viewing stories about themselves BUT Jews aren’t the only ones living in New York. What about them? How about Germans in New York, after all they had more to do with creating New York City than anyone else? What about Italians, Irish etc. in New York? One begins to tire of so many Jewish programs and #13.

You are absolutely correct that our area is shaped and enriched by so many different cultures, nationalities, and faiths.

We want to continue to explore all of them.

As you may know, I have tried to do more local programming…especially around big national programs.

So, when Ken Burns brought us The War, we did three local hours that I think did capture the diversity of our area.

Then, when there was a national program about The Jewish Americans, we did The Jews of New York.

I am going to be commissioning more local programming and we’ll be looking at a wide variety of topics.

Thanks for writing.


Highlights of Teaching & Learning

March 9th, 2008

Thirteen blogger: Neal Shapiro, President

I’ve just returned from the two day Teaching & Learning Celebration at the New York Hilton hotel.

It’s been a long but exceptional two days for educators and administrators….dozens of short lectures and several panels in the Hilton Ballroom.

There were so many highlights but what stands out for me is how many educators were touched by what they had seen and heard:

–The teacher from the Bronx who was moved to tears by Jane Goodall;

–Another who said the Judy Woodruff panel discussion with New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and former Colorado Governor Roy Romer was the kind of discussion he wished all Presidential candidates would have

There were so many other great moments but what stands out for me is that this event goes right to the core of who we are as a public television station.

Who else would do this? Who else would be committed to a mission to bring educators and those who work with them together?

And some critics wonder if we are relevant. I guess we can teach them a thing or two!


Third Annual Teaching and Learning Celebration

March 7th, 2008

Thirteen blogger: Neal Shapiro, President

I often say one of the best things about my job here is having an education department to work with and all the great things they do…things only public television can do.

That’s a long way of explaining why I will be joining thousands of teachers from all over the tri-state area at the Third Annual Teaching and Learning Celebration at the NY Hilton.

Our entire education department works on it but the man who is the center of the storm is
Thirteen’s Vice President and Director of Education, Ron Thorpe. Ron, a passionate and very skilled executive, is a former teacher himself and for the last several months he has been sweating every detail of our two-day professional development conference for educators.

Dozens of In The Classroom sessions will teach educators to plan lessons using online resources from PBS programs like Wide Angle, Cyberchase, History Detectives and others. There will be interesting, inspirational speeches from a who’s who of educators and influentials like world-renowned primatologist Jane Goodall; explorer and environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau and even Sudanese supermodel Alek Wek, who serves on the U.S. Committee for Refugees’ Advisory Council.

And, this evening Governor Eliot Spitzer — joined by former Colorado Governor Roy Romer and others — will participate in a Forum called “Where We Stand: America’s Schools in the 21st Century”. We hope to make a television program out of it.

I’ll be doing some interviews with some of the famous people down there and you’ll be able to see them on Thirteen on Friday and Saturday.

As usual, our own people here can describe it better than I can so here is the website. thirteencelebration.org


Pledge Personalities

March 4th, 2008

Thirteen blogger: Neal Shapiro, President

Does a Grammy award winning artist still get nervous? I was chatting with Willy Chirino last night and he doesn’t get nervous at all..not on stage.. not in front of the cameras.

Wish all of us could say the same!


It’s pledge time.

Last night, I walked off the set around 8 pm and stopped in the green room where we keep refreshments and a very nice guy said to me how much he enjoyed the Newshour..and it was Jimmy Osmond.

I think he was worried I might be asking for the latest news about Marie Osmond but it turns out that he is really into technology so we ended up talking about what kind of cameras and studio equipment he really liked.

Then, on the air, he talked about his childhood memories of Walt Disney, Andy Williams and Frank Sinatra, which I guess is more interesting than which camera he liked.

Thanks to all of you who have written in to share your questions and thoughts on Inside Thirteen. I’d love to hear from more of you so send me an email.


Letter to NY Times Editor

March 2nd, 2008

Thirteen blogger: Neal Shapiro, President

February 19, 2008
Letters to the Editor
The New York Times

To the Editor:

In cherrypicking through the TV schedule to make his point, Charles McGrath misses the range and depth of Thirteen/WNET’s programming. From science and history to culture and public affairs, Thirteen has been at the forefront of creating and broadcasting some of PBS’s finest programs. We are still innovating and bringing additional relevance to public television’s tradition of intelligence, quality and integrity.

Mr. McGrath may not be aware that we’ve just premiered a new season of “Exposé,” the only series on American television devoted to investigative reporting. While cable and commercial newsmagazines have gone “crime all the time,” this series is a fresh take on the genre.

We’ve also just launched “Reel 13,” a weekly series that lets viewers submit and pick short films and that showcases quality independent feature films.

We’re about to launch “Sunday Arts,” a new series created in partnership with New York’s cultural institutions to celebrate the fine and performing arts – from established greats to undiscovered talents. And in a unique collaboration with ABC News, Thirteen is bringing the New York Philharmonic’s historic concert in North Korea to PBS.

In March, we’ll host the third annual Teaching and Learning Celebration, a one-of-a-kind professional development conference for educators. And with a grant from the Gates Foundation, we’ll be using the Celebration as a jumping-off point to produce a national PBS program examining critical issues in education. I think Mr. McGrath would be hard-pressed to name one other television outlet that is doing this kind of work.

What Thirteen/WNET offers its community – and all America – is unique, relevant, and, yes, necessary.


Neal Shapiro
President and CEO

Read more responses to the NY Times article.

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