Viewers Like Us explores who gets to tell America’s multitude of stories in public media today. Host and independent filmmaker, Grace Lee, along with reporter and filmmaker Akintunde Ahmad, investigate a history of systemic inequities at PBS, the Public Broadcasting System, and envision what the future could look and sound like if PBS centered a diversity of experiences and perspectives.
Explore our website at https://viewerslikeus.com/
Interview Excerpt: Randall Pinkston
In the United States, there’s a “public” element to all broadcasting over the federally regulated airwaves. Audiences have the right to speak up about the changes we expect on the air. That’s why a commercial broadcast license challenge — launched decades ago, yet still within living memory — intrigued Viewers Like Us’s investigative reporter Akintunde Ahmad. Special thanks to Randall Pinkston for this interview. Learn more about his life and career: https://www.thehistorymakers.org/biography/randall-pinkston
Correction: An earlier version of this bonus interview excerpt misidentified the party that assumed control of WLBT’s broadcast license in 1980 as Communications Improvement Inc. CCI was the interim operator of the station for nine years after the FCC ordered the original owner to vacate the license. The excerpt has been updated for accuracy.
It’s Not Over
The Viewers Like Us team has spoken with filmmakers, journalists, DEI officers, a member of Congress, station managers and so many others who care about the future of public media. All provide reasons to stay energized and engaged in the work of pushing PBS to live up to its founding mission. But the exhaustion and burnout that comes with organizing for systemic change is real. In our season finale, we consider what—and who—will determine the vibrancy and sustainability of PBS and its audiences moving forward.
This episode includes an update to Myrton Running Wolf’s story shared in Episode 4, about his painful experience in a mentorship program run out of Boston’s public television station, GBH.
Grace talks with Jihan Robinson, who currently helps lead documentaries at Hulu’s ONYX Collective, a BIPOC-led entertainment brand. Jihan underscores that tangible change will require ongoing investment and work by white people working in media, commercial and public alike. We also hear from filmmaker Kristi Jacobson, who shares what solidarity and accountability in the fight for racial justice and equity in media looks like for her and other white people.
Grace and Tunde reflect on what they’ve learned while making this podcast. And of course, we couldn’t end this series without hearing from you, our listeners.
In 2022, we encourage you to continue following this project as it evolves, on Twitter (@_ViewersLikeUs_) and through our website (https://viewerslikeus.com/). Because we know what it’s going to take for PBS to finally listen: the voices, ideas, care and feedback of viewers like us.
Explore show notes, episode transcript and more at: https://viewerslikeus.com/podcast/episode-6-its-not-over/
Don't Go Chasing Watersheds
In the decades-long struggle toward an equitable public media system, what will it take to move from mere talk to actionable change?
As you’ve heard throughout the series, countless BIPOC creators have dedicated themselves for decades to keeping PBS’s mission and relevance on track. Many people working within the system have done the same. With so many wanting to see PBS thrive, what's holding it back? In our fifth episode, we dig into two essential components for delivering on long-overdue change in public media: data transparency and accountability. We speak to Dacia Mitchell, Director of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion at San Francisco’s KQED, about the necessity of white leaders and media makers moving through their fear and discomfort in order to actively dismantle systemic racism. We hear from Representative Joaquin Castro on why public TV has to be front and center in terms of combating cultural exclusion in media. Darnell Hunt, Dean of Social Sciences at UCLA, shares some revealing data about PBS scripted dramas. Richard Jean So, a professor at McGill University who’s studied racial inequities in the publishing industry, guides us on taking data collection into our own hands. Plus, we embark on our own not-so-scientific study using an official PBS publication: the Shop PBS catalog.
Explore show notes, episode transcript and more at: https://viewerslikeus.com/podcast/episode-5-dont-go-chasing-watersheds/
An American Experience
Grace and Tunde discuss what it feels like to be a token. Myrton Running Wolf, a professor of race and media at the University of Nevada, shares his experiences of participating in an aughts-era Native American mentorship program run by Boston’s GBH—and underscores the lasting harm of whitewashed narratives when telling Indigenous history. Episode 4 also uplifts the work of visionary filmmaker and producer, Henry Hampton. His essential 1987 series “Eyes on the Prize,” chronicling the civil rights movement, offers a relevant example of how to tell stories with authenticity, integrity and nuance, while ensuring that everyone contributing to the creative process is valued. Callie Crossley, veteran journalist at GBH who directed two of the original “Eyes” episodes, reflects on how this series might inform the ways PBS creates space for and invests in BIPOC-led, community-centered productions today.
Explore show notes, episode transcript and more at: https://viewerslikeus.com/podcast/episode-4-an-american-experience/
Viewers Like Us is committed to preserving a history of BIPOC makers and their contributions to PBS over the years. We’ve published a timeline on our website listing the ups and downs of PBS’s record with people of color. We invite you to explore our new resource and submit ideas for this work-in-progress via firstname.lastname@example.org or through the Engage page on our website, https://viewerslikeus.com/engage/
The words “diversity, equity, and inclusion”—DEI for short—seem to be everywhere these days: from Fortune 500 companies to government agencies and...public media. Episode 3 reveals what happened to a PBS Diversity Report filed 14 years ago, and explores the limits of a system whose leaders repeatedly promise to ‘do better’ over the years without building in true accountability and specific goals. This episode also breaks down CPB (the Corporation for Public Broadcasting), the complex system that makes public television’s structure so confusing to grasp, and examines who’s holding it accountable to meeting its mission. And after facing rejections from several PBS gatekeepers, Grace and Tunde are surprised when one major station leader responds right away to join them for a conversation.
Explore show notes, episode transcript and more at: https://viewerslikeus.com/podcast/episode-3-minority-report/
Grace Lee and fellow Beyond Inclusion members meet with PBS leaders in spring 2021. Latinx organizers, journalists and filmmakers confront PBS about the erasure of Latinx voices and stories in Ken Burns’ 2007 seven-part series, The War. And in 1987 at a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing, Chinese American filmmaker Loni Ding asks a prophetic question: “Where is the public in today’s public broadcasting?”
Explore show notes, episode transcript and more at: https://viewerslikeus.com/podcast/episode-2-endless-loop/
So thankful to Grace Lee and team for giving us this compelling, maddening and essential account of the decades long struggle for equity at PBS. This is critical work. Will be reflecting on their words and the way forward for a long time.
Well-produced and engaging (if often infuriating) story of the lack of diversity in PBS. Important listening for anyone in the documentary space and/or concerned about the future of PBS.
This is fascinating!
This podcast is brilliant. I loved the interviews and the sense of history to our current questions of how to move toward diversity, equity, and inclusion in an actual and lasting paradigm.