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Can We Count on PBS's New Program 'Need to Know' to Report the Truth?

Billed as part of an effort to "revitalize public media," a new planned public affairs series on PBS hosted by Newsweek editor Jon Meacham has many doubters.

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Stewart, who like Meacham is forty-something (“on the youngish side for public broadcasting,” as she cheerfully admits,) says Need To Know will not be “your father’s PBS” and that she has no intention of trying to be “edgy or groovy.” Instead, she believes in tradition – “but not convention!” – and would rather make the show “post-modern, something really classic in design but updated and more modern.”

Need To Know and its vaunted “multi-platform” hybrid template sure sounds modern – but the proof will be, as ever, in the execution. Stewart, who once worked on NPR’s short-lived  Bryant Park Project, is thus familiar with the form, and thinks one key to successfully integrating web and broadcast operations is to have just one editorial team, working on both sides of the newsroom. “We can begin things on the web, add to it and let it grow all week, then have a chance to sit back a little and go more in-depth in the weekly broadcast,” she told me. “Then hopefully they will feed each off each other – content and context, perspective and analysis…”

And opinion?

“I don’t plan to offer my opinions,” Stewart stated forthrightly. “I’d much rather offer people a lot of information instead, and try to help them understand what’s going on.

“Look, it’s totally understandable that people were attached to what came before us,” she concludes. “It was something unique and valuable, and they wonder if what comes next will live up to those standards. So we have to focus on offering high quality and rigorous journalism – that’s what will carry us forward, rather than trying to ‘replace Bill Moyers.’”

As for Jon Meacham, Stewart chose to let him – and his absence – speak for themselves, other than to note that “the poor guy has fifteen jobs, he’s knee-deep in the news and maximizes every working hour – but for me, Need To Know is my primary focus and full-time job.”

I for one am glad to hear it — and willing to give Stewart and her new show the benefit of the doubt, and enough time to work out the kinks that inevitably come with the launch of anything news – especially television programs… But like a lot of people:

“I’m sick and tired of hearing things from uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocritics. I’ve had enough of reading things by neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians, and no short-haired, yellow-bellied, son of tricky dicky is gonna mother hubbard soft soap me with just a pocketful of hope.”

So I’m counting on you, Alison, and expecting you to live up to that promise. Please — just gimme some truth!

Filmmaker and journalist Rory O'Connor is the author of " Shock Jocks: Hate Speech and Talk Radio " (AlterNet Books, 2008). O'Connor also writes the Media Is A Plural blog.

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