Public media workers and aficionados have a new routine: Every Monday at 8 p.m. Eastern Time, they log on to Twitter for Public Media Chat, which is using the #pubmedia hashtag.

The chat, which started about a month ago, is the result of a discussion between a group of public media professionals at PublicMediaCamp in Washington, DC.

“Public Media Chat is something of a passion project for me; for some time now I’ve recognized the need among people who work in public media organizations to have a way to learn, share, and collaborate with each other,” said Jonathan Coffman, a PBS product manager, in an email. “Twitter presents an interesting new way of doing that.”

Coffman said a “lively discussion” on — where else? — Twitter made him take steps to start building a community and recruit participants. The first chat was held in February.

Coffman worked with Adam Schweigert, new media director at WFIU Public Radio and WTIU Public Television in Bloomington, Indiana, and John Proffitt, who recently started working as the director of digital engagement at KETC in St. Louis, among others, to get the chat off the ground. Their goal? According to Public Media Chat’s website, it’s three-fold: increase the conversation among public purpose media professionals and supporters; provide a forum for them to come together and collaborate; and test whether such collaborative efforts are worthy of additional investment.

Boosting Collaboration

“Honestly, the biggest issue we [in public media] have, and one that I hope we’re addressing, is our lack of collaboration,” Schweigert said. “Public broadcasting organizations have historically not been very good at working together, and even worse at working with media producers/organizations from outside the NPR/PBS networks.”

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MediaShift contributor Jessica Clark, who directs the Future of Public Media Project at American University, said, “A lot of public broadcasters are making the transition into social media with no real sense of how it relates to their old skills and practices, and how it might actually serve publics.”

Clark said the chat can offer “support, inspiration, and nuts-and-bolts advice.”

Chat organizers said previous efforts to foster non-competitive collaboration among public media professionals have failed. Clark said these efforts failed because, in part, “public broadcasters often operate in silos — i.e., only talking to other radio or TV producers, or only talking within their own industry as opposed to taking a wider view.”

Hosts believe that Twitter can help foster a better dialogue.

“Twitter is easy, cheap and platform-agnostic — anyone who wants to participate in the #pubmedia chat can,” Clark said. “It strips down the professional barriers and doesn’t require a huge time investment.”

Breaking 140 Character Limit

But Twitter also has it limits — a point raised during Monday’s discussion. Chris Beer, a web developer with WGBH Interactive, created a Google group in response to some comments about the need to have a discussion without a 140 character limit.

“I’m not particularly attached to the idea of a Google Group or a listserv, I just see a need for more collaboration outside of Monday at 8,” Beer said. “Twitter is a fine medium for getting people talking, but I find it difficult to have a conversation, and I hope something like this can supplement the #pubmedia chat. I haven’t found a place within public media to ask very practical questions around public media projects. Because setting something up takes all of five minutes, it seems silly not to experiment.”

Coffman also points out that, although it is easy to organize on Twitter, the hosts still need to reach out to a lot of people in the field for the chat to have ongoing success.

“The participants in Public Media Chat right now are the early adopter[s] and the big thinkers,” Coffman said. “In short order, myself and the other hosts are going to need to start pushing the community to become evangelists and help to spread the movement.”

For last Monday’s chat, @pubmedia posed four questions and one follow-up to spark conversation. The first question dealt with collaboration. The different responses prompted a follow-up question: “Would you rather collaborate by issues (politics, arts) or job function (tech, journalism, development)?”

The second question asked: “Who does #pubmedia need to listen to? If you could bring one visionary to your station/org who would it be?” It prompted several responses, including what was perhaps the most retweeted response of the night from @eric_adler, who wrote: #pubmedia needs to listen to the public. The next question asked chat participants to name their “last great” public media program, and the final question of the night asked for suggestions for future chat hosts.

Top 10 Tweets

You can find raw tweets from the discussion at #pubmedia or look for a roundup on the chat’s website. Below are ten of the more notable tweets from Monday night. (Some @replies and hashtags have been edited out.)

  1. annieshreff I want to get an interactive team to bring reporting from underserved communities to listening audiences. Food/school all good
  2. publicmediagirl Collaboration requires building relationships, not just tools
  3. jdcoffman #pubmedia needs the passion of garyvee, with the entrepreneurship of guykawasaki, and the evangelism of @scobleizer
  4. juliaschrenker #pubmedia could benefit from listening to both upstarts and print – often we’re between them, with startup challenges + legacy issues
  5. johntynan Terry Gross interview with William Hurt. Him telling how he was held at knifepoint during a film. The Story Telling!
  6. ssgowans What was the last great #pubmedia program you watched? Why was it memorable? The War, because it wasn’t about celebrities
  7. publicmediagirl #pubmedia Q3 Am I the only one so far to mention a TV show? What does this say??
  8. SnarkyJones I want public media that goes back to its non-commercial roots. Kids programs have SO MUCH sponsor messaging #pubmedia
  9. johntynan: #pubmedia Q4: Kinsey Wilson from NPR
  10. mediatwit Q4: Y’all are too kind. Happy to guest host w/ or w/o Conan.

Get Involved

> To participate in future #pubmedia chats, be sure to go onto Twitter on Monday at 8 pm Eastern Time, and do a search for #pubmedia.

> Have your say by writing tweets during the time of chats with the #pubmedia hashtag.

> Check out the PubMediaChat site for roundups of recent discussions.

> Follow the @PubMedia Twitter feed to get updates and alerts on chats.

A writer, reporter and media consultant, Jaclyn Schiff is up at the crack of dawn to tackle the headlines of the day for her job at the non-profit Kaiser Health News. When she should be catching up on sleep, she can usually be found updating her Twitter feed or Tumblr blog, MEDIA Schiff (pun intended). Schiff covers non-profit news for MediaShift.

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