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The End of NOW-PBS-04-30-2010
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The End of NOW-PBS-04-30-2010

Yes, folks, it's true. NOW on PBS has come to the end of its broadcast run. The last episode will air on April 30, 2010. PBS announced last fall it was canceling NOW and providing funding for a new public affairs show called "Need to Know."

NOW had a great run. I was privileged to see it from start to finish—I was the executive producer when the show launched on January 18, 2002. NOW with Bill Moyers (as it was then called) got its start because of the terrible events of September 11, 2001. PBS wanted to provide the country with a new source of analysis and insight, saying in a press release that NOW "will explore the whys behind timely top stories."

This is how Bill described the aim of NOW: "Americans are saturated with events in the headlines, but in this pounding news cycle it is hard to grasp the bigger picture and the larger forces driving daily developments. NOW will report on the reality behind and beyond news-making events."

And report we did. Bill headed the program for three years, then passed the baton to David Brancaccio as host and Maria Hinojosa as senior correspondent. Moyers conducted extraordinary interviews and pushed the NOW team to dig deep into the nexus of power and money in government—all part of an effort "to provide tools for the engaged citizen." Brancaccio and Hinojosa worked to understand the realities of working Americans and the diverse nation and globe we live in, always looking to lift up and celebrate people making a difference—a style we came to call "solutions-oriented journalism."

Our work resonated with both audiences and our peers. Over the course of our eight years, NOW on PBS reports and journalists have won four national Emmy Awards, the USC Annenberg Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Television Political Journalism, and citations of distinction from The Sierra Club, The Alliance for Women in Media, the Overseas Press Club, The National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and The Radio Television Digital News Association.

Our commitment at NOW has been to follow the facts where they lead us. That has not always been easy. In 2004 the chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Kenneth Tomlinson, initiated a secret probe of NOW's interview guests and stories, which he concealed from the board of directors of his own organization. Tomlinson made no secret of his distaste for Moyers and for NOW. Since CPB is the conduit for much of the federal funding that PBS and NPR receive, the rift was a serious one for public media. Tomlinson resigned in 2005 after investigators at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting uncovered evidence "that its former chairman had repeatedly broken federal law and the organization's own regulations in a campaign to combat what he saw as liberal bias."

Over the past eight plus years NOW has shot stories in almost every state and in several dozen countries. Our last three broadcasts provide an overview and a narrative. First, we begin with the economic meltdown and connect the dots all the way to warrantless wiretapping by the NSA—which a federal judge just ruled was illegal. Next, we take an in-depth look at NOW's coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—which have lasted longer than the U.S. involvement in World War II. Finally, we lift up stories of hope and heartbreak along the fault lines of inequality of income and power in America and the globe. Taken together, the three shows make a case that investigative reporting is vital for the health of our democracy.

Two of these three shows are already online and I encourage you to watch and share them. And don't stop there—you can watch thousands of NOW shows online.

So why was NOW cancelled? PBS made a strategic decision to reallocate resources as part of a broad effort to reinvigorate public affairs coverage on the network. Here's how Paula Kerger, the CEO of PBS, put it in a speech last month:

"Journalism doesn't need simply a rescue; it needs a reinvention....The latest Pew research tells the tale. Forty percent of Americans are participating in the creation of news by posting stories to Facebook, highlighting stories on Twitter and debating the issues of the day through duelingvideos. News has become a social experience and journalism must consider those implications."

Kerger described "Need to Know", the new public affairs show funded in large part by PBS, as "a series where reporting will originate online before it moves on air." The series premieres May 7th. I will be watching, and I hope you will too.

You can also join the national conversation about the public affairs coverage on PBS. Michael Getler, the PBS ombudsman, has gotten thousands of emails and letters; he commented on the end of Now in his March 25, March 18, December 4, and November 23 columns.

If you have interest in what the team at NOW will be doing in the future, you can follow me on Twitter or stop in at the NOW web site, which will continue to be a resource for audiences old and new.

My thanks and admiration to the thirty staff members of NOW who made the broadcast and the web site so extraordinary, and most of all to you, the audience, for your support and encouragement.