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A TV Program to Keep California Connected

BY Alex Barnum
Alex Barnum
Alex Barnum was a Communications Officer at The James Irvine Foundation from 200
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| Mar 22, 2002
What keeps someone in Bakersfield from participating in state politics? Or a San Jose resident from taking an interest in air quality in the Central Valley? What keeps Californians generally from getting more involved in the issues that affect their communities? The creators of California Connected, a weekly news magazine making its prime time debut tonight on public television stations across the state, have been thinking a lot about these questions. And they've created a show to address them.

The first of its kind in the nation, California Connected is the product of four public broadcasters in the state-KCET in Los Angeles, KPBS in San Diego, KQED in San Francisco and KVIE in Sacramento. In another first, the show will air on eight public stations across the state at the same time: Thursdays at 9 p.m. This simultaneous broadcast will allow the show to use live segments and a dedicated website to form a truly statewide network.

California Connected will be hosted by David Brancaccio, host of Marketplace, the national news show on business and economics that airs on National Public Radio stations.

David Brancaccio, of NPR's "Marketplace", will host the show

One reason many citizens stay away from the public square is that they lack basic information about community issues and what they can do about them, says Marley Klaus, the executive producer of California Connected, from her office at the public broadcasting station KCET, on Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard. Another reason, she says, is the state of local television news.

"Conventional journalism often focuses on things that are broken and who's to blame," says Klaus, who spent eight years as a producer at 60 Minutes. "The thinking is that the public will rise up when they see these stories and demand change. But sometimes just the opposite happens-the relentless focus on what's broken often results in the feeling that, well, this is simply the way things are."

By focusing on solutions as much as problems, the future as much as past, statewide issues as much as local ones, California Connected seeks to "increase people's participation in their own governance," Klaus says, "and encourage Californians to start thinking about themselves as members of the same community."

The story of California Connected actually began in 1999, when the Irvine Foundation conducted its State of the State Scan. To get a handle on the rush of changes shaping California, the Foundation researched major trends and explored their implications with leading thinkers throughout the state. The results painted a picture of a state beset by divides-political and geographic, civic and ethnic-and hungry for connection.

General managers at public broadcasting stations who participated in the scan and read its findings thought a statewide news program might help. "It was really the Irvine State of the State Scan that drew these stations together and got them thinking more about the whole state as a single entity," Klaus says. And in a first-of-its-kind collaboration, they came together to jointly develop a news program that seeks to show Californians the issues they face-and what they can do about it.

Blending magazine-style news segments, original commentary and viewer forums, California Connected focuses on the issues, stories and people that make California unique-from Hollywood and technology to health and an increasingly diverse population. Each episode will include three provocative stories that examine an issue of immediate and future importance to the state. The show will also air the "Get Connected Minute," short pieces informing viewers about issues and activities in their particular region.

"One of the first conversations I had about California Connected was with Tom Bettag, the executive producer of Nightline," says Marley Klaus. "He was not only excited about the show but a bit envious, because in covering California we have a canvas large enough to have an incredible diversity of important stories to tell, but small enough that viewers will understand how these stories have something to do with them."

Where will the show find good stories? One source, Klaus says, will be the California nonprofit organizations that are finding solutions as well as the foundations that are funding them. "Tell us what's working," she says. "Tell us who's making a difference."

"As a statewide funder, we're especially interested in the goal of showing Californians from different regions of the state how they are ultimately connected with each other," says Jim Canales, Vice President of the Irvine Foundation, which has granted $2.3 million to the program. "We also liked the idea of a statewide public affairs program that won't be just talking heads. Instead, it will be a lively program that uses new technologies, features diverse people in front of the camera and engages citizens in finding solutions. It ties directly to the Foundation's mission."

How California Connected was created-public broadcasting executives from different regions joining forces out of concern for the state as whole-is a fitting metaphor for how California itself needs to come together, says Marley Klaus. "We have an opportunity here to rise above our individual regions, and our individual stations, to help change the way Californians think of themselves and their state," she says.

Mary Bitterman, president and CEO of the Irvine Foundation, sums up the rationale for California Connected. "People throughout the world regard California as a whole: the fifth largest economy, the birthplace of environmentalism, the agricultural produce for the globe, and the home of innovation, diversity and creativity," she says. "California Connected will give the residents of the state a rare opportunity to share information, forge alliances, and take action to build a better California for all."

Links:

  • KCET in Los Angeles, KPBS in San Diego, KQED in San Francisco, and KVIE in Sacramento have websites that offer weekly programming and education information.
  • At A Crossroads: Which Way California?
    Read Irvine's 1999 Annual Report on the State of the State Scan that provides critical data about the state and its future.
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Alex Barnum was a Communications Officer at The James Irvine Foundation from 2006 to 2013.

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