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PBS Sets New Diversity Requirements for Production Talent and Staff, Commits $11 Million to New Initiatives

The network had faced criticism for allotting a disproportionate amount of airtime and funding to Ken Burns programs

PBS has instituted new diversity, equity and inclusion disclosure requirements for production talent and staff and committed $11 million to new initiatives, the public broadcasting network announced Tuesday.

Under the new criteria, producers will be required to “create and share their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) plans for all new agreements, describe how their project aligns with PBS’s DEI principles, and disclose representation data for production team members for both above-the-line talent and below-the-line positions.” The requirements will apply to all new agreements, series renewals and direct-to-PBS programs on all platforms, including children’s programming and digital.

PBS recently came under fire for allotting a disproportionate amount of its airtime and funding to programs from Ken Burns. Back in March, more than 130 filmmakers signed an open letter criticizing PBS for what they described as a “systemic failure to fulfill a mandate for a diversity of voices.” In response to the letter, Kerger agreed to meet with representatives from the group behind the letter, saying PBS would “really take a hard look at what we’re doing and make sure that we are pursuing all opportunities.

In addition to the new requirements, Cecilia Loving has been named senior vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion. She will be tasked with developing organizational strategy, and cultivating partnerships for PBS, reporting directly to CEO and president Paula Kerger.

Loving, a former litigator, most recently served as Deputy Commissioner, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for New York City Fire Department. She previously worked as a law enforcement bureau attorney and EEO Counselor for New York City’s Commission on Human Rights.

PBS also announced on Monday $11 million in new funding initiatives in support of Stanley Nelson and Marcia Smith’s Firelight Media and its flagship mentoring program, as well as short-form content creation at PBS Digital Studios. Read more about the new initiatives below.

Public Media’s Support for Firelight Media:

PBS and CPB will award $5.5 million over the course of three years to Firelight Media, the non-profit filmmaking company founded by Stanley Nelson and Marcia Smith. The grant will support:

The Firelight Documentary Lab, Firelight Media’s flagship 18-month mentoring program, which supports filmmakers from a project’s conception through its completion, will expand the number of filmmakers in each cohort.
Groundwork Regional Labs will serve 40 early career filmmakers in partnership with local stations.
Digital short films will be commissioned from Documentary Lab and Groundwork fellows or alumni and other regional BIPOC filmmakers for the PBS system.

PBS Digital Studios Partnerships:

Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB)

With a $3 million grant from CPB, PBS Digital Studios will establish three Regional Digital Centers of Innovation to partner with up to three PBS member stations located in geographically diverse markets across the country, resulting in up to 15 new digital series coming to its digital platforms over the next two years.

The regional centers will exclusively focus on content that elevates the voices of diverse content creators, both in front of and behind the camera. The first shows under the initiative will begin rolling out on YouTube and, in some cases, Facebook, TikTok and IGTV, in the Spring of 2022.

National Science Foundation

The U.S. National Science Foundation has granted $2.5 million to PBS Digital Studios, which will support a two-pronged PBS initiative to create STEM-related, short-form videos, and conduct follow-up research to better understand how and why these videos attract underrepresented groups.

Currently, YouTube’s most popular STEM creators are disproportionately white and male, and viewer data and PBS surveys suggest that Black and Hispanic viewers, as well as women overall, are underrepresented in audiences for STEM content online. With this grant, PBS Digital Studios aims to remedy this by expanding PBS TERRA to new, diverse audiences and examining its impact.

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