Full unfocus

Other casualties of the Election Day massacre may include the KPBS public broadcasting operation, owned and operated by San Diego State University. The bad budget news couldn’t come at a worse time. Hurting from previous cuts and reductions in contributions, the TV and FM-radio stations have recently given their website a makeover to emphasize local-news headlines. “The new kpbs.org is the perfect platform for all of KPBS’ news content,” says station manager Tom Karlo in a statement posted on the new site.

And Gloria Penner is returning to a weekly TV show featuring handpicked local reporters giving their usually predictable takes on local current events. “There’s nothing more riveting than watching two informed journalists thoroughly disagreeing using solid, civil critical thinking rather than mindless ranting,” Penner says in a news release posted on the KPBS website last week. “If you only watch one news program each week, this is it.”

But the weekly frequency of the show, which airs Fridays at 7:00 p.m., a virtual graveyard for public affairs programming, doesn’t portend well for a growing audience.

The station hasn’t had a regular TV news show since former manager Doug Myrland dumped a far more ambitious daily program, Full Focus, in August 2007, announcing that “future potential for audience and revenue growth is minimal.” He later commandeered the station’s blog to challenge critics of the cancellation. “We aren’t elected officials — every budget line item and every personnel decision and every bit of information we collect is not everybody else’s business. Just because you give a contribution or pay taxes doesn’t give you the right to decide — or even influence — what goes on the air and what doesn’t.”

In the wake of last Tuesday’s election, SDSU president Stephen Weber is virtually certain to be forced to look for even more economies. But current general manager Karlo said in an interview last week that he remains optimistic. Regarding possible state budget cuts, Karlo acknowledges, “I have not been told what is in store.” But he maintains that steps he has taken, including consolidating radio and TV news efforts, have resulted in efficiencies that will let the stations do more with less money. He adds that audiences are growing and he hopes to expand the Penner television show to daily status by September of next year. “We have been suffering the effects of the economy just like everybody else,” he says. “But we don't have to make a profit.”

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They don't "have to make a profit" at KPBS and apparently they are willing to forego viewers as well, given the scheduled return of Gloria Penner and U-T editorialist Bob Kittle to a 7 p.m. Friday night TV slot. What Matt Potter ought to be investigating is what Gloria Penner has on KPBS management that she keeps getting these assignments. There's no fresh face, no new blood over there? Penner's forte is interrupting callers in mid-sentence on her Friday radio program, "The Editors' Roundtable," that also includes Kittle. KPBS has cut its staff and morning programming to ribbons and has now reinstalled Penner as the comeback doyenne of local TV news, but "riveting?" Not really.

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