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‘Ohana > More OhanaWinter 2010 IS Magazine

Breath of Fresh Air

PBS Hawaii expands its presence from the airwaves to online.

By Craig DeSilva

For more than 40 years, kids could tune into PBS Hawaii to learn that C is for cookie. For many of those youngsters, watching Sesame Street on TV was good enough for them.

In today’s new technological age of getting what you want, when you want, you don’t always have to wait until a PBS program airs on TV to watch it. You can now watch insightful, quality PBS programs online, including Frontline, Antiques Roadshow and Nova. And it’s not just national programs. Video segments of many popular local programs are also available on PBS Hawaii’s website – including the community affairs talk show Insights on PBS Hawaii, the Leahey & Leahey sports show, and Long Story Short. You can also find PBS Hawaii on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

Leading PBS Hawaii into the age of new media is its President and Chief Executive Officer Leslie Wilcox. A familiar face in Hawai‘i, Wilcox is a 30-year veteran of local TV news. She’s excited about public broadcasting’s future and expects Hawai‘i’s younger generation to play a big role in PBS Hawaii’s local presence in the community.

PBS Hawaii has been in the Islands in some form for more than 40 years. In today’s fast-changing technological society, where do you see the station headed?
We’re not just a television station anymore. TV is only one of our screens. We’re a multimedia organization with an online presence affording a great deal of interactivity. In the near future, we’ll send content to mobile phone screens as well. Also, in this digital age, we are multi-casting with several channels, including a high-definition version of our main programming (PBS Hawaii channel 1010 on Oceanic Cable) and PBS Kids (channel 443). We’re available over the air, on cable, satellite, online, and on audio player. With the Web, there are no physical borders.

We’re also proud to be a local broadcaster, sending our TV signals farther than any other TV broadcaster in Hawai‘i. We make a point of reaching households in rural areas of Hawai‘i Island where it’s not profitable for commercial broadcasters to operate. We intend to continue to be a trusted community resource with diverse, high-quality programs fostering lifelong learning and the spirit of discovery.

How does PBS Hawaii use the Web to expand its mission to inform, inspire and entertain?
We used to talk about our “audience.” Now we enjoy ongoing conversations with the “online community.” PBS Hawaii has always connected and convened residents in civil discourse, culture and the arts, drama, science, education. Digital media make it easier to connect. People share different viewpoints and we get broad input in shaping this noncommercial media organization for the public good. The Web allows us to add value by directing television viewers to online programs that provide background information, behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews that didn’t make it into the TV format. Some programs and other features, such as educational games, will be developed for the Web only.

So it’s not just about putting video online. It’s about creating a conversation?
That’s right. Earlier this year, we added live online moderated blogging and Twittering to our interactive tools. In no time, they became second nature. When I arrived at PBS Hawaii in early 2007, I began writing a CEO blog to offer more transparency and to get to know viewers and Web users. We asked them what they want and what they don’t like. There’s a lot of fresh air blowing in!

Can you tell us about new local programs that PBS Hawaii is developing?
We’re spearheading a statewide educational initiative involving public, charter and private schools. Scheduled for broadcast launch in late 2010, PBS Hawaii’s Hiki No: First Statewide Student News Network of Hawaii will use an intranet portal and video uploads to enable students from different schools on different islands to collaborate on half-hour television and Web newscasts. Students will hone their storytelling and journalistic skills, reporting on school and community activities, and sharing interests and perspectives. This will be an added resource for schools statewide in the wake of education cuts. Hiki no means “can do,” and we’re confident that students will keep raising the bar in the quality of their newscasts.

Who will be involved in this project?
All are invited to participate with high-quality work. With so few dedicated education beat reporters remaining in local commercial media, these students have an opportunity to truly inform the state. What Wai‘anae High School has done with its national award-winning Searider Productions inspired this ambitious project. Some Neighbor Island schools, including Chiefess Kamakahelei on Kaua‘i, are also doing fine work. In fact, so far, we’ve identified well over 20 schools – public, charter and independent – that already have noteworthy media programs. We know that more will follow.

How will this benefit students?
Nationally and locally, educators and employers speak of a fundamental disconnect between what our schools currently provide and the skills that potential employers need most. Harvard University professor and author Tony Wagner says that critical thinking and collaborative leadership are two of the most desired skills. Hiki No will help students frame questions, seek answers, and work as a results-oriented team. We think that the highly interactive learning strategies of Hiki No will augment school education and that this will be good for the workforce, too.

Is this the direction PBS Hawaii will be headed – producing more local community programs?
No worries – we’ll still carry a full schedule of superb national and international programs. But yes, you’ll see more locally produced programs. With the consolidation of media, there’s less high-quality local content. It’s important that our community has access to media programs that reflect who we are, celebrate Hawai‘i/Pacific cultures and arts, and encourage civic engagement to keep improving our island home.

In Hawai‘i, HMSA is proud to help underwrite the PBS series Second Opinion, which helps viewers learn first-hand how doctors navigate their way through tough medical decisions.

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