News and public affairs provision is a core function of public broadcasting and garners enormous trust ratings a feature that is in short supply in participatory news media.

However, future news and public affairs programming will require genuine interactivity and listener/viewer choice and participation to remain relevant.

This has been a major obstacle for a service that has been rewarded for its feudalistic stability. Efforts to develop nationwide public affairs programming for emerging digital TV channels have been stymied by a lack of funds and the complications of implementing shared solutions in sharply different local contexts.

Public broadcasters have conducted isolated experiments in interactive and participatory media, with mixed results. Tools and funds for reliably measuring the impact of such projects have not materialized, and commercial yardsticks do not track the public benefits of such media.

Public broadcasters have also proposed a variety of common digital platforms, without consensus or resolution. Although several organizations are helping stations to coordinate around solutions, no single organization is positioned to lead the full range of public broadcasting entities through digital and online transitions.

Public broadcasting’s resources and assets are valuable today and hold great potential value for tomorrow’s nonprofit online media sector. The sector will have to transform to fulfill that potential—the question is how.

Scenarios include going local, going national, partnering up, or fighting it out, each of which offers opportunities to those who care about preserving the public service media.