PBS Chief: News Audiences Want More Substance, Not Less

[ 0 ] July 18, 2013 |

PBS President & CEO Paula Kerger believes television news audiences seek substance and context, not just short-form stories or breaking news headlines.”If you don’t think people want serious news, you’re selling people short,” she says.

PBS, which has been nominated for 45 News and Documentary Emmy Awards – 18 of which were for “Frontline,” focuses on taking important stories, putting them in context, and looking at them from several points of view, Kerger says. “PBS is not a place to go for breaking news, there are plenty of news outlets for that.”

Watch Paula Kerger of PBS discuss PBS news, the importance of reliable news sources, and how the Internet can provide more substance and context to TV news viewers, with genConnect at the 2013 Aspen Ideas Festival:

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One way in which PBS news is changing, in terms of news reporting, is its increased online presence. “If people are really interested in a subject, they can look at a documentary, which in some respects is almost like an executive summary, or they can really dive down deep into some of the resources and background material that went into the production of those works,” Kerger says.

Kerger believes the Internet can be used to supplement broadcast news. By using the Internet, a person can look at a subject he or she is interested in in more detail. “Over the years, you’ve really got the opportunity to look at the arc of the story through various documentaries, but also through all of the interviews,” she says. “Certainly you can watch videos, which is the same experience as watching television, but you also have the opportunity to really go into directions and areas where you’re looking for more substance and context, and that’s where we see the Web as an important space.”

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Paula Kerger

Paula Kerger, CEO of PBS

Being able to trust a news source is particularly important to Kerger. With the wealth of information available on television and the Internet, audiences need to understand a source in order to properly synthesize the information they take from it. “I think people really need to pay attention, then, when they’re looking at information, particularly online,” she says. PBS is “in an environment where brand matters a lot and I think we’re an organization that has really – throughout our history – tried to get at the heart of important issues. So we’re really interested in the stories that we’re telling, that we’re looking at a multiplicity of viewpoints, and that we’re really trying to verify the information that we’re sharing.”

Video storytelling, she says, will remain popular and accounts for the majority of the network’s growth online. But she believes, unlike many others, that long-form story telling will be significant for years to come. “I know that there are a lot of people who think that our attention spans are shrinking down and that we’re only interested in small-form pieces of information, and I think that there is certainly interest in that,” she says. “But I think long-form storytelling, 10 years from now, is still going to be incredibly important.”

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Tablet accessibility is becoming increasingly important, she says. More viewers currently consume PBS’s multi-platform content through tablets and smartphones than through a computer.

Kerger’s most important advice is to find a mentor and learn from others, particularly ones who will have a different perspective. “Look for the smartest people around you, people whose values you share and really turn to them at times when you need help and support,” she says.

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Category: Aspen Ideas Festival 2013

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About Paula Kerger: Paula A. Kerger is president and chief executive officer of PBS, the nation’s largest non-commercial media organization with more than 350 member stations throughout the country. Ms. Kerger joined PBS as its sixth president and [...]
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