Digital Future Initiative Co-Chairs Address PBS Showcase Attendees on April 12, 2005
On Tuesday, April 12, Jim Barksdale and Reed Hundt, co-chairs of the Digital Future Initiative, addressed the attendees of the PBS Showcase in Las Vegas. The DFI is a panel of national experts brought together to explore the future of public television in the digital age.
The transcript of their speeches is below:
JIM BARKSDALE: Thank you very much. Thank you. It costs a lot of money to get up here to speak. (Laughter.) Welcome to Vegas, the city that proves once again in America if it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing. (Laughter.)
Look, it is a great pleasure to be here. I want to start with a little story that has always meant something to me. The little girl, Alice, in Lewis Carroll's story comes to the fork in the road. And she says, which way do I go? Well, about that time, the Cheshire Cat beams from the tree above her, and he said, little girl, are you lost? She said, well, I just want to know which way do I go. He said, well, where are you going? She said, I don't know. And he said, then any road will do. Truer words have never been spoken.
I'm here to talk a little bit today and then my co-chair, Reed, a little more about what we have learned and what we think we can provide to you and this country's users of your medium in the digital future's initiative report, which we have now been working on since December.
To do that, I'll give you a little quick background to establish some of my credentials because I'm not a member of your elite group. About 10 years ago in the valley when we starting Netscape and when the Internet phenomenon was exploding all around us because we had made the Internet usable by mere mortals with the explosive use of the Netscape Navigator browser, numbers that nobody had ever seen on this planet before.
Friends of mine and I started a group called TechNet, the Technology Network, which now has over 350 CEOs of America's technology corporations in it, primarily to present our case to the regulatory bodies of the states and the nation on the needs of technology. And one of the rules was every year we would set our agenda for that year's advocacy and we would keep it to a minimum of three objectives. Every year since that year, the number one objective has been to improve public education in America. The reason is very simple: it is not altruistic; it's business.
This country suffers from a serious, serious problem. Many would call it a crisis. We are not educating our children to the level we need to to be competitive. Almost 50 million American adults over the age of 16 are functionally illiterate; they can't read a newspaper and understand it, they can't make sense of a map. That is almost a fourth of our nation. It is not just a crisis; it's a sin. How did we let this happen?
People sit around and wonder, well, why are our jobs going off shore? It's pretty simple. What do we have that is competitive with the world anymore? There are some marvelously well educated people in India and China, and Japan. At the DFI's very first meeting in December, we quickly decided that tackling the nation's literacy and learning crisis is the single-most important mission for Public Broadcasting. And we decided we need to make it very clear what Public Broadcasting would do with more funds before we ask for money - build a case.
No other institution in this country has the public trust, the national reach, and the community contacts or expertise in relating to children with media as does Public Broadcasting. Over the past four months, the DFI deliberations have focused on the connection between two growing problems. One is the urgent need to face up to our country's education crisis. America's youth are falling further behind their international peers especially in math and science.
More than 30 percent of our children are not even completing high school. This leads, as I'm sure you know, to criminal behavior and all sorts of social problems. And as a former CEO, I can tell you that American business leaders are very concerned as we all should be about whether today's kids will have the skills they need to compete in an increasingly global economy. And I'll talk a bit more about that.
The other problem, which Pat alluded to, is that although Public Broadcasting is uniquely positioned to play a leading role in combating the nation's learning crisis, the system lacks the resources it needs to complete the digital content transformation and to play and expanding leadership role in educational media, copyrighting production, and distribution.
From the earliest age, millions of our young people are consigned to a future without opportunity because they never learned how to read. The Barksdale Reading Institute has now worked with over 50,000 children in the state of Mississippi in our poorest schools, which I can tell you, the poorest schools in Mississippi are poor. We have the lowest per-capita income of any state in the nation.
We have learned two things in the four school years we have been at work. By the way, an independent research group that evaluates every child's reading capability, with the objective of getting them to third-grade reading level by the end of the third grade - the key metric in reading progress.
There are two things we have learned. One, the program works if it's implemented correctly, which is always the most difficult thing to do with any of these programs. There are plenty of sexy, neat media experiences; the trick is how do you implement it. And the second thing we have learned is it must be implemented before they get to kindergarten.
There is a great book about great research in Kansas City - goes back about 15 years ago - about working with children on observation after observation of all interaction they have with adults from birth to 36 months called "Meaningful Differences." Children of poor families have one-fourth the working vocabulary of children of affluent families by the end of 36 months. In fact, the children of affluent families at 36 months have a larger working vocabulary than the parents of the poor children.
The other problem is that of the interactions - 80 million recorded per child by the end of their third year - in the affluent families, most of those interactions are positive. In the lower socioeconomic families, most of them are negative. That doesn't mean the mother loves the child less; it means they are more afraid for their future - don't touch that, don't do that, put that down.
Former Secretary of Education Rod Paige observed last year that while technology has transformed every other industry, schools remain unchanged for the most part, despite increased investments in computers. Actually, our children are heavy consumers of information technology, just not at school.
A recent study of the media habits of children by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that young people under the age of 18 - and I know we were talking about this a minute ago - consume an average of 6.5 hours - hours of media per day, 45 hours per week, much of it inappropriate.
Children now spend far more time plugged into entertainment media than they spend in school or in reading. This reality suggests that while media is a big part of the problem, media is also essential to the solution. Learning for future generations will come increasingly through new digital media - your forte - in and out of the classroom, in a more hands-on and interactive ways than today.
All of America's classrooms and homes could better boost academic achievement if they had ready access to high quality, multimedia resources designed to engage students and teachers in information age learning. Without a doubt, the Public Broadcasting System, with its national network and local presence in every community is the institution best equipped to be a resource and delivery platform for new multimedia education, content, and learning tools.
We believe it should be the core mission of Public Broadcasting to partner with schools, with industry and others to develop e-learning applications and content which are universally accessible, affordable - that is very important - and aligned with curriculum standards.
One of the reasons I got so excited about seeing what Mississippi education television and WGBH were doing with the revised version of "Between the Lions" was that it's affordable; it can be used in all of the childcare centers in our state or anywhere for little money as DVDs that are, , accessible on an indexed basis to appeal to a specific child for their specific needs so that you can teach the concepts of print - a book opens this way, you read left-to-right, it goes top-to-bottom - because many of these children have never seen a book or a magazine in their home. They don't know what a book is. And the other is phonemic awareness.
The digital future initiative would call on PBS in particular to play a leadership role in convening the public and private organizations that care deeply about nurturing an educated society and leaving no child out of it. There needs to be a powerful coordinated set of new national initiatives that provide the new multimedia content and teaching tools needed by students, parents, teachers, and pre-K caregivers.
In our report next month, the DFI will outline several initiatives. First, literacy 360 Ready-to-Learn Initiative - an essential educational goal is to make all children ready to read by kindergarten. The most effective means we believe is to provide teachers, parents, and the nation's 2 million pre-K caregivers with the training and tools they need.
It would provide for personalized multimedia literacy learning packages, which is what we're working on with this between-the-lines package in Mississippi, for the nation's benefit, both on demand and through active outreach programs that have already been successfully tested - and that's very important: tested, research-based.
How many of you saw the article where the Los Angeles School District just cancelled their computerized reading contract? - $50 million. You know why? Despite what the providers of this package say, it really didn't improve reading scores significantly enough.
Second, a lifelong learning initiative should be anchored by an on-demand multimedia treasury of digitized learning content and e-learning tools that are easily accessible and tied to state curriculum standards. While PBS can play a leading role in aggregating this content for education, this new gateway to digital learning, resources should be the product of partnerships with stations, with museums, with libraries, with industry and other contributors through an entire open-digital media network.
We believe a third related learning initiative should focus on developing new interactive and multi-player instructional gaming, online tutoring and virtual stimulations. Studies show that interactive hands-on learning enhances student motivation and achievement. It's a project - a technology project we have going on in our reading institute, and billions are being spent annually, far more than we spend and produce in the motion picture industry, for example, spend annually to develop video gaming for youth. The problem is that these same interactive video technologies are not being harnessed for education.
In partnership with industry, academia, the Defense Department and others, we believe that public broadcasting can leverage these interactive tools to provide far more for education than a programming archive. These new e-learning services reflect the best thinking of public broadcasters and education experts that the DFI has consulted. However, our report will mark only the beginning, not the conclusion of an ongoing national dialogue about the role of public service media in improving literacy and learning. Although the DFI expects PBS to continue its leadership role, we need feedback and participation by every local station and content producer to refine this vision.
The DFI also will issue a call for new partners from both the public and the private sectors to join with public broadcasting. I hope that this month each of you will contribute your best ideas on the digital future for multimedia learning services. During the next stage we will be coming to you as well as museums, libraries and others in your area.
During the next stage it will be essential for all of you to participate in building a coalition in your own local communities to insist that public broadcasting receive the resources it needs to turn this e-learning vision into reality. America's children deserve no less.
So if Alice had answered the question differently, such as, where are you going, and she had said, I'm going to a better place, then perhaps the wise old Cheshire Cat would have said, then, little child, take the road to the marvelous public digital media for a lifetime of learning.
And now it's my pleasure to introduce one of the wisest cats - (laughter) - in the world of digital media, my co-chairman, who many of you know. Reed Hundt is a senior advisor to the McKinsey and Company, but you probably all know him best, of course, as former FCC chairman under President Clinton, where he was a very good friend of public broadcasting in that role. As FCC chairman he recognized the enormous potential for telecommunications to help improve education opportunities for children. He played a critical role in bringing technology to the nation's classrooms. The enormously significant E-Rate program is among his important legacies.
As my co-chair on the DFI panel he has used his significant expertise and intellect to think long and hard about the legacy of our work. The need to ensure that the nation takes advantage of the significant assets public broadcasting can bring to Americans in the digital age if they are properly resourced - the big "if." His commitment to this effort has been tremendous and I am anxious to have him share with you his thinking.
REED HUNDT: Well, like the Cheshire cat I've got a big smile. It's a privilege to be here, for three reasons. The first is that it has been a great privilege to work with my friend Jim as the co-chair of the Digital Future Initiative. It is really a fact that Jim is one of the great entrepreneurs in American history. He's a serial entrepreneur, and I found when I was the chairman of the FCC in the first half of my term, he came in and told me what to do about the cellular industry, and in the last half he came in and told me what to do about the Internet industry. And fortunately I followed his advice both times and those industries are now glories for all Americans to be proud of.
Jim is also one of the greatest benefactors of education that history has seen in the United States. You've heard something about it here today but the record book, when it's completed, will show that what Jim has done in literacy is very similar to what Andrew Carnegie did in putting libraries in every town in America. And for generations to come we will be grateful to him. (Applause.) That's really true.
Now, about Pat Mitchell, I was moved yesterday to a comparison that maybe isn't exactly what she expected because she might have been working instead of watching the masters, but for those of you that did sneak away, there was a time right at the end there when Tiger Woods was in real jeopardy and he pulled off an amazing shot - chipped the ball in and it curved and it hooked and went right in, and the announcer said something that I thought applied to Pat, and that was this: it's when somebody is under real pressure that you find out what a great, great, great person can do. And Pat has been in Washington, in this job, under more pressure in the last six months, in my personal observation, than has ever been placed on anybody who has held this job before. She has behaved with style and grace and with leadership and with courage, and you all owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude. (Applause.) That's the truth.
Now, I told you there were three reasons why I was happy to be here, and the third reason is that I'm really happy that I no longer get introduced in the way that I used to get introduced when I came to Las Vegas when I was the FCC regulator. I was introduced by somebody who read from the regional newspaper called the Washington Post, and he said, I give you Reed Hundt, aloof and arrogant. (Laughter.) And I went home and I said to my wife, who is a psychologist - when you're in government your spouse is either an official or unofficial psychologist - 'what about this, you know, being introduced as aloof and arrogant?' And she said, 'Honey, if you're arrogant, you're doing people a favor to be aloof.' (Laughter.) So that was a comfort. (Laughter.)
Jim said at the very first meeting that one thing that he learned in his different business successes is that the main thing is to make the main thing always be the main thing. I'm going to try to do that today by telling you what is mainly on my mind. I'm going to just speak for myself and a lot of the things that I'm going to say to you I believe that there will be people here that disagree. Some of the things that I say to you maybe nobody here will agree with, but I have spent a number of months thinking about these things and working with the very distinguished members of the panel. We've brought in lots of other people to talk to us, and I think it just wouldn't be right if I didn't tell you where I was on my thinking and give you all a chance to tell us and tell me what I've got wrong. So I'm going to tell you straight from the shoulder what I think: I think that the public broadcasting system is in one of those slowly developing, hard to spot, emerging situations that in fact is a crisis. But it doesn't come all of a sudden and it's hard to identify exactly what it consists of. Nevertheless, it is a real crisis.
And I think it is this: I think that the American public desperately wants a public broadcasting system. They want that system to be an open forum. And they want to maintain their historic trust in public broadcasting. But they are wondering if the threats to close that system are going to be met with the necessary resistance by everybody in this room and everybody else who's part of the system.
When I talk to you about being an open forum, I have in my mind four kinds of openness: first, keeping the doors open; second, being open to content experiment; third, being open to the new challenges of technology; and fourth, being open to discovering the truth and debating it in public.
So let's turn to the first of these, the literal job of keeping the doors open. In a public park somebody has to pay to clean the walkways and keep the trash out. In a public library somebody has to buy new books, and in a public university they have to pay the faculty and build the laboratories. And so to keep the public broadcasting doors open you need enough money to stay open, and the path that public broadcasting is on right now will lead to the result that the doors are going to be able to be kept open for that much longer.
Public broadcasting cannot make plans at any level - stations or network - that are commensurate with the demands of the new digital era. It can't be confident, with today's funding, that it really has the ability to keep the doors open. It is too dependent on the vagaries of congressional appropriations. It needs those appropriations but it can't be so dependent on them. It is too dependent on the vagaries of the various drives for charitable contribution. It needs to have some serious consistent way to be sure that the doors can be kept open.
The second kind of openness is that public broadcasting needs to be open to any kind of new content development. It needs to be open to the possibility of experimentation and development along all the lines that Jim Barksdale just talked to you about. Everything he was talking to you about - and he could tell us a lot more and it would be worth us listening - costs money. And to pursue those particular goals, public broadcasting has to be willing to experiment, to try new things. It can't do that while it's worried about making money from these new things.
So both these goals - keeping literally the doors open, and second, engaging in all the new product development - require new sources of funding. My own view is that what is necessary is an endowment. It ought to be private, it ought to be independent, it ought to be managed professionally, it should try to beat the stock market, it should try to produce a big and growing source of income for public broadcasting. That's the endowment that they have at Harvard and Yale, at Stanford and numerous other places. It should be independent of political opinion. It should be independent of politicians. It should be an independent endowment that grows over time.
The third kind of openness is this: we need to be open to technology and to its constant change. It needs to be the case that public broadcasting aspires to be the non-commercial content in iPods and in satellite radios and laptops and WiFi mesh networks and cable systems and over DSL video and over digital broadcast. It needs to be the noncommercial content that is the jewel in the crown of our society no matter what technology delivers that content to whomever at any particular place.
To achieve that kind of openness is going to require new thinking between stations and networks. I want to be really, really direct about this. I have had the experience of witnessing an awful lot of conversations between station and networks that are like the classic conversations about the pie and who's going to get how big a slice. What I'm talking about is we need a new oven and we need a new recipe and we need to be making totally different kinds of goods. And if we can all find a way to make those goods, we're going to have so much more opportunity to take advantage of them, that our previous discussions about slices of the small pie seem like a discussion of the past. But we need to be open to the new ways of working with each other in order to find ways to be open to technology and its changing demands on all of us.
That gets me to the fourth kind of openness. Public broadcasting needs to be open to any and all points of view. I think we want public broadcasting to be about finding facts and debating them from as many rational points of view as can be found. The topics should be intelligent design and evolution; Christian marriage and civil union; heterosexuals and gays; choice and the effort to overturn Roe versus Wade; taxation and tax cutting; staying in Iraq and pulling out the troops. The points of view should be from the left and the right, from the public sector and the private sector, from buyers and sellers, from Americans and from non-Americans. We should want churches to use some public broadcasting spectrum; we should want some agnostic science professors to use some public broadcasting spectrum.
This is nothing more than a principle of tolerance that I'm talking about. That principle of tolerance - (applause) I appreciate that very much -- I think you must already know, from time to time, in certain eras, not always just at one time or from one party, runs into the disapproval of figures in government.
Now, every political leader is entitled to a point of view. It ought to be a criterion for election. It ought to be a criterion for serving, provided that the point of view is sincere. Hypocrisy is not a virtue but having a point of view is a good thing.
On the other hand, as Americans fight and die for freedom around the globe, none of us should stand for the proposition that someone else is compelled to accept our point of view. And no one in the government should ever contend that the public airwaves should only transmit one point of view. Those airwaves ought to be as open - (applause) - those airwaves ought to be as open as our ideal of America is open for the whole world to embrace.
Now, we might each of us feel differently about Iraq or Social Security, or women's rights, or the culture of life, but we should all feel the same way about the reasons for openness in America. We should all be confident that America will find the right path whenever as a society we can discuss openly and forthrightly truth and falsehood, right and wrong, good and bad ways for the country to go, future problems and future solutions.
Now, folks, I don't think the American people would find anything controversial in what I'm saying here, and that is why I believe - I'm just speaking for myself - that is why I believe the American public wants Public Broadcasting to put itself on the frontline of the battle for free speech and tolerance in America. (Applause.)
I have two qualifications: a point of view that consists of hatred and violence cannot be tolerated because it is the sworn enemy of tolerance. And second, an open medium does not give equal time to lies as well as truth, to madness as well sanity - (applause) - to irrationality as well as rationality, to accusation as well as defense. Those balances are the negation of clear thinking like plus one and minus one - they produce nothing.
And I don't think anyone in America wants public affairs programming to become another version of cable news. After John Stewart did a smack down of "Crossfire," we should want that format to be in its grave. (Applause.) I think the American public knows that the commercial media are not going to achieve the goals that I have just talked to you about. And I think the American public wants Public Broadcasting to play an even bigger role in the discovery of true facts and in the conducting of reasonable debate about the meaning and consequences of those facts.
Now, we are all aware that American discourse today is as uncivil as it has been in many a year. Accusations, insults, dark threats are hurled over matters that you would think deserve reasoned discussion. And as the poet said, it sometimes seems that the best lack all conviction and the worst are filled with passionate intensity. And in this environment, anyone would be tempted to compromise, to accommodate, to go along in order to get along, and frankly, if you're dependent upon the government for money you do have reason to fear the consequences of candor and the risks of telling the truth.
But I think that a bigger fear might be this: if Public Broadcasting is not an open and tolerant medium, if Public Broadcasting is not where you can find the facts, if Public Broadcasting is not where reason has a hearing and a viewing, then it will lose the trust of the American people. If Public Broadcasting is not a forum for truth and open debate, then sooner, rather than later, the public won't want to see its tax dollars support that system.
And I believe when the drumbeat of political anxiety is heard, the best strategy for the Public Broadcasting System is to use the words of the now departed Pope to the people of Poland: "Do not be afraid." The American people do not want Congress or anyone in the government to shut down Public Broadcasting; they do not want Public Broadcasting to be closed to different points of view.
The burden is on Public Broadcasting not to be typecast as liberal or conservative, blue or red, left or right; the duty is to be open. But if that is what Public Broadcasting tries to be, then all of us should trust the people because the American people will support the openness of free speech; you need only tell them what is at stake. And you know how to do that.
Thank you very much.