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This I Believe: I Believe In Public Media

Greg Petersen in a radio studio
Bill Wallace

This is my second This I Believe essay. The first was in 2008 when I extolled the virtues of the Chicago Cubs as a metaphor for the game of life. You may have setbacks, but like the Cubs you have to persevere. Now that my Cubbies have reached the pinnacle of baseball, it’s time to set new sights.

I’ve just retired from a 45-year career in public broadcasting and to say I believe in pubic media, would be an understatement. Besides having a mission to inform, educate and even entertain, public media’s role in today’s society is more essential than ever. 

Our country has a robust cacophony of voices, opinions, and points-of-view that many other nations don’t. The “freedom of speech” and “freedom of the press” protections in the first amendment to the Constitution are essential tools that bring us together, and that can also keep us apart. I believe that it’s public media’s unique role to be the place that can explain complex news and bring context and thoughtful discussion to a wide variety of issues.

There are so many outlets for news and information that it’s becoming harder and harder for the public to know where to get their information, much less what sources to believe. I believe that it’s public media role to be a trusted source. A place that the public can turn to that’s dedicated to honest, un-biased reporting that honors all sides of a discussion. Only shows like TV’s PBS NewsHour and radio’s Morning Edition have the luxury of time to explore stories in an unhurried fashion, instead of just a 90-second news package. 

Bill Moyers may have said it best when he said that public media is about the joys of working on important questions and sharing the wonders of human creativity without the commercial pressure to exploit the lowest common denominator.

I believe that public media is the place to serve the needs of our youngest citizens. It comes as no surprise that PBS, the service that made Mr. Rogers an essential touchpoint for early education, is also widely considered the most educational media brand. In fact, very early in my career I met Fred Rogers. His dedication to children and his TV ministry, confirmed my belief that public TV had to be a trusted and safe place for children, and that’s a trust that everyone I’ve ever met in the public media industry takes to heart.

Finally, I believe that the people I’ve worked with, my colleagues from other stations, and the officials at the national public media organizations, all share a common purpose . . . to serve in the public interest. In my career, I’ve seen many struggles in public media – self-doubt about our identity, intra-family squabbles between stations and the networks, the ever-present need to raise funds, and the seemingly constant threats to federal funding. But through it all, the pubic media professionals, like the Cubs, persevere. Not for a trophy, but for the privilege of serving the public.

Greg Petersen was the director of broadcasting for WPSU/Penn State Public Media. He is still a host of the WPSU Jazz program and occassionally fills in as on-air host during Morning Edition and All Things Considered. He is also now the Chair of WPSU's Board of Representatives. He worked in various positions at WPSU for more nearly 30 years.
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