May 18, 2021




By Leslie Fields-Cruz

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: Is Public Media Ready for the Long Haul?

Last week, PBS convened its Annual Meeting virtually. For those of you who wonder about the goings on at PBS, each year they hold a huge conference to introduce the upcoming programming slate to public media station employees. Previous attendance at the two-and-a- half-days conference has, at times, exceeded 1,200. Imagine hundreds of public media people descending on one city for some unabashed revelry. No, I’m kidding. It’s not unabashed, but usually there is some revelry once we’re finished with business. Of course, this year was different. It was virtual. There were opportunities to network, but the spontaneity of in-person networking was gone. Another element of difference I noted was the awareness of the system's need to diversify its programming, its creatives and its executives. 

The sampling of upcoming programs includes a new outdoor travel show, America Outdoors, with host Baratunde Thurston. Indie Lens and POV, which always offer a full slate of diverse content, rolled out their titles, which include BPM-funded films Stateless and When Claude Got Shot. American Masters, Frontline, American Experience, and NOVA also exhibited content with diverse hosts and/or issues represented. Producing stations WNET, WGBH and WORLD Channel presented new programs and, once again, diversity seemed to be front and center — both behind and in front of the screen.


Baratunde Thurston

In the 18+ years of attending PBS Annual Meetings, this is probably one of the most diverse content slates ever. I should be happy, right? I’m witnessing progress, right? All our hard work is paying off, right? WEEEEEEELLLLLLLLLL. Call me in five years and I’ll let you know. 

There’s no doubt BPM’s work, the work of the National Multicultural Alliance and countless others within the system who’ve been championing change for decades, has wrought some progress. PBS is rising to “Meet the Moment,” but will the rest of the system do the same? For instance, will PBS, foundations, corporations, and high-worth donors underwrite a six-hour multi-part documentary on James Baldwin helmed by Firelight Media or Rada Films? Will an all-Black female production team (producer, director, writer) be tapped to produce a four-part series on, say Marilyn Monroe? Time will tell.

Alton Glass
Alton Glass

If you enjoyed last week’s premiere of our new online program, The Technically Brilliant Show, I invite you to join us this week, again at 12:30 p.m. ET, for a conversation with 2019 PitchBLACK winner Alton Glass. He’ll discuss his POV: Points of View project. You can watch on Facebook Live or on YouTube.

Finally, if you or someone you know is interested in science-based nonfiction storytelling, highlight June 3rd on your calendar. That’s when BPM will co-host its first-ever storytelling workshop with NOVA. This event is a rare opportunity for Black creatives to learn about opportunities to work with the award-winning series. Participants are encouraged to ask questions and float story ideas past the series’ programmers and producers. Slots for the workshop will fill up soon, so please register ASAP and help us spread the word.

Have a good week!

Black Public Media is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with further funding from the MacArthur Foundation and the New York State Council on the Arts. Support for Afropop: the Ultimate Cultural Exchange and the 360 Incubator+ Fund comes from the National Endowment for the Arts. BPM is the only nonprofit that offers training, funding and distribution for projects solely about the Black experience. We are seeking foundations, corporations and individuals to help our work. For more information about underwriting and contributions, please contact Alisa Norris (Alisa@ blackpublicmedia.org). To donate, click here! In addition, you can donate to BPM through your Amazon purchases by going to smile.amazon.com/ch/31- 1335950.

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