publisher's note
March 6, 2009



Television worth supporting, and disagreeing with
by Bruce Rodgers

Among journalists and citizens with more-than-passing interest in politics and public policy, there’s great concern about the future of journalism as a profession. That concern originates from the fact that journalism — as it should be practiced — keeps democracy alive.

While this recession has many punishing aspects to it, the struggles of journalism, as represented in the daily newspaper, falls below the attention given to failing financial institutions and families losing home and job. Maybe part of the reason for the lower-rung news value comes from journalists naturally hesitant to report on the demise of one of its principal vehicles of practice. But the demise of the daily newspaper is real. The Rocky Mountain News is no more, and this year will probably see more daily newspapers shutting down. The only question is where — San Francisco? Seattle? Detroit? Philadelphia? Miami? Kansas City’s own Star is suffering to the extent it has shrunk its news staff greatly, and rumors are afloat more layoffs are to come.

Commercial newsgathering enterprises, be it television or radio, won’t fill the vacuum. Capitalism demands a return on investment, and serious journalism, as far as most corporate managers are concerned, challenges the means of contributing to a business’ net profit. This leaves the Internet or becoming a nonprofit journalism organization to achieve some measure of freedom from bean counters.

Despite the proliferation of news web sites and blogs, serious journalism on the Internet doesn’t furnished enough of the type of in-depth reporting expected or attract the number of readers wanting their news in daily newspapers. The daily paper remains for many the dominant general interest platform, delivering a lot of topics to a lot of people interested in a lot of things. Left unsatisfied, some gravitate toward nonprofit public radio and public television, including Kansas City’s KCPT Channel 19.

KCPT began transmitting national programs offered by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in 1970. KCPT pays PBS one million dollars a year as an annual license fee, said Michael Murphy, vice president of programming at KCPT.

“(It) makes us a PBS signatory and as such, gives us access to all PBS content,” said Murphy.

KCPT’s access to PBS programming includes Bill Moyers Journal. According to Murphy, KCPT has “references to Bill Moyers as far back as 35 years ago” when it came to televising a Bill Moyers’ show. Moyers Journal is televised on Fridays, part of what Kevin Worley, KCPT’s vice president of Public Information & Special Events, said is the station’s public affairs programming. In addition to Moyers, Friday’s list would include Washington in Review, Kansas City Week in Review, McLaughlin Group and NOW.

Like all — yes all — of the programming on KCPT, Friday’s programming is always at least satisfactory and most times varies between marvelous and excellent, particularly Moyers’ show.

Alice Kitchen, an area social worker, calls Moyers a “crown jewel,” and she, along with other progressives, doesn’t like it when KCPT preempts the program during membership pledge drives.

Last December, Tom Klammer, who hosts Tell Somebody, a public affairs show on KKFI at 6 pm on Tuesdays, had enough. He wrote in an email, circulated among other area progressives, “about the endless pre-empting of Bill Moyers Journal and NOW for pledge drives shows like the Doo Wop special …” Klammer called on other progressives not to make membership pledges to get KCPT’s “attention.”

Kitchen didn’t agree with Klammer about going that far. But Klammer had an effect. A meeting was arranged between Klammer and Kitchen with KCPT staff members and Interim President & CEO Susan Stanton. (Kliff Kuehl will replace Stanton on April 6.)

Kitchen called the meeting “more a conversation than negotiations, and the result was that Klammer and Kitchen would recruit other progressives to man phones during KCPT’s pledge drive and Bill Moyers Journal would not be preempted. The goal was 16 volunteers and Klammer said that was met. He will be manning the phones at KCPT on March 6.

Klammer said KCPT only agreed it would not preempt Moyers during this pledge drive and that the station “seems to be pushing its public affairs programming.”

That’s a good thing. Of course, some political activists don’t really care for KCPT programming one way or another.

“I do not watch PBS on Friday nights, or any other night,” Bob Gough, a prominent conservative from Lee’s Summit, said in an email. “I have not watched any PBS public affairs programming in years.

“The fact that conservatives attempt to defund PBS from our tax dollars should indicate our opinion of PBS. And the fact that liberals support increased government funding of PBS indicates that liberals like PBS.”

But another local prominent conservative, Jack Cashill, does give credit to KCPT.

“I have a lot of respect for KCPT’s local programming as the station makes a serious effort to include all viewpoints,” wrote Cashill in an email. “That KCPT’s Week in Review invites me to appear confirms that. Nick Haines is the most politically neutral moderator on TV, local or otherwise, which is as it should be.”

I can agree with Cashill on “as it should be” point but I also wish that display of journalistic objectivity was more apparent in the mainstream press. And with the exception of some of the programming on KCPT, it appears too infrequent in other media.

(As a matter of disclosure, two KCPT ads appear on eKC online, and I will be manning the phones for the KCPT spring membership pledge drive on March 14. The on-air drive ends March 15 then picks up again for the weekend of March 21-22. Make a pledge.)

Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at


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