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FOR EXPERT COMMENT: Public Media Need to Become More Interactive, Increase Local Coverage, MU Expert Says

Jan. 04, 2011

Story Contact(s):
Nathan Hurst, hurstn@missouri.edu, 573-882-6217

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

Barbara Cochran, the Curtis B. Hurley Chair in Public Affairs Journalism at the Missouri School of Journalism, recently published a white paper, “Rethinking Public Media,” on the future of public media and how it can be improved.

Barbara Cochran, the Curtis B. Hurley Chair in Public Affairs Journalism at the Missouri School of Journalism, recently published a white paper, “Rethinking Public Media,” on the future of public media and how it can be improved.

By Brad Fischer

COLUMBIA, Mo. – In recent years, the Internet has driven change and innovation, shifting both the economics and the expectations of the media. A University of Missouri journalism expert says public media outlets need to put more emphasis on local news coverage and interactive features in order to enhance their role in creating informed communities.

“Public media outlets are in a great place right now, but they have an opportunity to provide better news coverage, and become more community-centric,” said Barbara Cochran, the Curtis B. Hurley Chair in Public Affairs Journalism at the Missouri School of Journalism. “By taking advantage of the Internet and increasing efficiency, public media can take its news coverage to another level.”

In recent years, newspaper circulation has declined and online revenue has failed to make up for the losses. Cochran says public media can fill the growing void in intensive local news coverage that newspapers traditionally have provided. She believes increasing newsroom staff would enable public media to do better, more in-depth local reporting. Cochran says more than half of public radio stations have one or zero full-time news reporters. She recommends the creation of a $100 million fund to add 1,000 reporters around the country and create new online media outlets. With that initiative, Cochran recommends that public media hire and foster a more diverse work force.

To become more efficient, Cochran calls on federal agencies to ease the path for public radio and television stations to work together. She does not believe any regulatory changes are required, only better interpretation of existing rules is needed. In addition, she suggests public media outlets work together to develop better online presences and find better ways to measure success on the Internet. Also, Cochran would like to see universities, which own more than half of public radio licenses, work with journalism schools to engage students and young reporters.

Cochran recently published a white paper, “Rethinking Public Media,” on the future of public media and how it can be improved. The paper is part of a series on creating healthy, informed communities across the country sponsored by the Knight Commission. The commission is a project sponsored by the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program and the John S. and James L.  Knight Foundation. Cochran’s paper can be found at www.knightcomm.org/rethinking-public-media.

Cochran works in the Missouri School of Journalism’s Washington, D.C. bureau. Previously, she served as president of the Radio Television Digital News Association, which earned a Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism during her 12-year tenure. Cochran has served in several executive roles in commercial and public media including vice president for news at National Public Radio.

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