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Public Broadcasters Tackle World News

Oct 5, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Two different weeks are bringing two different world news programs to public broadcasting audiences.
On Oct. 1, the BBC relaunched its “World News,” altered for public broadcasting stations’ audiences interested in what’s going on in other countries.
Today, New York’s sister public stations WNET-TV and WLIW-TV unveil the competition: “Worldfocus,” a half-hour weeknight program conceived for public broadcasting viewers who want to know how events overseas might matter to them on their home turf.
“Worldfocus,” born of renegotiations gone sour for “BBC World News,” has been picked up in 28 of the top 30 markets and about 85% of the top 75 markets, according to Neal Shapiro. The former NBC News president became president of WNET in 2007 and last winter took over as CEO of Educational Broadcasting Corp., the licensee of WNET and WLIW.
“BBC World News” is being distributed by Los Angeles’ KCET-TV to public stations (and their Web sites) in 46 of the top 50 markets.
“The idea here is to bring you stories that you aren’t going find anywhere else,” said “Worldfocus” anchor Martin Savidge, who has trotted the globe for CNN and NBC News.
Those stories could range from a piece about cholera in Iraq from a Syrian station that views the U.S. as an occupier in Iraq, or a look at Somalia as a growing launch pad for terrorism.
“I don’t think many newscasts have done a good job of making foreign news interesting,” said Mr. Savidge, who will be commuting between his family home on the northern fringe of Atlanta and the “Worldfocus” studio in Midtown Manhattan.
While Mr. Shapiro somewhat wryly promised the newscast won’t have sports scores or celebrity stories, Mr. Savidge said that in one of the run-through shows last week, it was pointed out that at least two newspapers in Iran noted the death of actor and philanthropist Paul Newman.
Partnerships with news organization operating throughout the world are crucial both to amassing the content for “Worldfocus” and to making the show financially feasible.
The intent is to meld the editorial integrity of public TV and traditional media with the diverse perspectives of journalists, bloggers and local citizens from many countries and walks of life.
“Worldfocus” executive producer Marc Rosenwasser is a 25-year veteran of ABC, NBC and CBS news operations whose list of awards starts with 23 Emmys.
Producers and associate producers, some schooled in network television news environments, some with public TV credentials—and most fluent in other languages—will divvy up responsibilities by continent or region.
Mr. Shapiro would not comment on a New York Times report that his new show’s startup budget is about $8 million—a fraction of a network newscast’s expense sheet.
He expressed optimism that the current economic climate, while difficult, will not present more of a challenge than usual in seeking funding for “Worldfocus.”
“I think there are a lot of funders who will see their dollars are going to go far,” he said.
In addition, he said some “very clever” plans for the program’s Web platform will include ways for stations to localize stories in the newscast, and the program itself will offer many new business and outreach opportunities to the WNET-WLIW education department.
Mr. Shapiro said it’s been a treat to pitch public broadcast stations compared with trying to sell to commercial counterparts. The public stations “did not immediately ask how it’s going to do with 18-49 women in the Midwest. They say, ‘Tell me about the show,’” he said.

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