Public Media Urged to Take Up a ‘Texas Swagger’

BY Lauren Knapp  March 11, 2011 at 3:29 PM EST

AUSTIN, Texas | The agenda for this week’s Integrated Media Association conference — held on the cusp of SXSW — reads like a menu of new media choices, including social media, strategic partnerships, how to take advantage of mobiles tools and how to become a multiplatform news organization.

But there’s one lesson that may prove most valuable for public media journalists: know your worth and take risks.

When it comes to broadening their audiences, public media stations and programs need to know their worth. This also means knowing how your Twitter and Facebook audiences compare to those of similar organizations and to track that evolution in real-time. Keynote speakers Joaquin Alvarado of American Public Media and Mark Ramsey of Mark Ramsey Media emphasized this point in a discussion about innovation.

Bottom line: public media organizations needs to know where they are in order to know where they can go.

A key part of knowing one’s worth, though, is being able to communicate. On Thursday iMA Executive Director Jeannie Ericson urged conference goers to pick up a little “Texas swagger” during their stay in Austin. She spoke of the almost contagious confidence and pride Texans have in their state. They know their worth and aren’t timid about expressing it. This is something public media would do well to adopt, she explained.

Alvarado and Ramsey also touched on the need to take risks. The media landscape is shifting. Traditional radio is giving way to Grooveshark and Pandora. And people are increasingly consuming television programs on the Web. If we don’t take risks, we will inevitably miss the proverbial boat. At a panel on new voices in public media, comedian and vlogger for WGBH’s World Compass Hari Kondabolu said there’s a need to try many ideas to see what gets a positive reaction, hopefully not indiscriminately though.

ITVS is one test case of social media experimentation. While their primary goal is to support independent filmmakers, they are engaging viewers and fans beyond screenings and tweets. They hold live chats about upcoming documentaries (including two recent chats in partnership with the NewsHour), livestream talks by filmmakers and hold community screenings where people can come together and discuss a film. Not everything they try works, but the important thing is they’re not afraid to take the risk with a new platform.

Of course, confidence and taking risks wouldn’t go far unless stations and programs had the content to back it all up. That’s why, everyone in the room nodded when John Davidow of WBUR stated, “content is still king.”

Lauren Knapp is reporting from Austin at iMA and SXSW. Follow her on Twitter.