One morning in late June, I made the trek out to the outer mission area to interview two KQED QUEST producers: Sue Ellen McCann and Craig Rosa. I first met Sue Ellen and Craig a couple months prior, when we had an informal discussion about possibly CC licensing some of QUEST’s raw footage for a new program called the Science Media Commons (see below). Since then, KQED and QUEST have made definite plans to open up some of that raw footage, in addition to a whole bunch of their photos that are already CC licensed.
QUEST is KQED‘s science and environment series about the San Francisco Bay Area. Through various multimedia, it examines the work of the larger scientific and environmental community and its impact on our daily lives. QUEST operates inside the KQED offices, which are grey on the outside, but impressive on the inside. A bridge-like walkway connects the upper stories, and it was at the end of this walk that we entered Sue Ellen’s office, where she, Craig and I sat down to have a nice, lengthy chat. Craig offered us some of his breakfast cornbread, while I started the recorder. The following is an edited transcript of the interview, my questions in bold.
Could you say a little about yourselves, your position at KQED and QUEST and maybe how you came to be here? What personally interests you in the work that you do here?
I’m the executive producer for QUEST. I work on the editorial concepts, fundraising and organizational structure of QUEST. My biggest role is to figure out ways to support and incorporate the innovative thinking of the team into the project.
Prior to coming to KQED, I worked on long form documentaries and produced a lot of education materials working on what was at that time cutting edge technology—touch screen kiosks that included video, laser discs and early web sites and CDroms. In many ways, QUEST is a return to the kind of experiementing I did prior to coming to KQED.
I’m the interactive producer on the QUEST program. My background, before coming to public media a year and a half ago before this project, was in the museum world, specifically the natural history and science museums/science center world.
As an interactive producer, what exactly do you do?
As the lead producer of the interactive team, I work with others on the interactive web perspective for each of the QUEST stories and try to figure out which of the kinds of media are going to help us tell this story the best. Is this a story that is very visual, so perhaps maybe a web-only video presentation would be good? Does it have data that’s very geographically located? If so we view maps, interactive maps, as being another kind of media to the story. Is it told very well from an audio perspective or in combination? Is it something that really aligns very well with the California science standards that the education producer is very involved with? So one thing I definitely do is that I’m involved in the editorial process, first and foremost.
The second is that I’m in charge of the design, development, and operations of the QUEST website, which is the hub for all the different pieces of media. Anything that’s produced for QUEST, aside from the education workshops, is available on the QUEST web site. And we also have content that is exclusive to the web. So I keep the website going and I work with all the producers to get their media on the site.
A third piece, I collaborate with them on creating media that is specifically for the web media. I’ll work with a radio or a TV producer on a series of photographs, a photographic set—so photography, digital photography, annotated digital photography is definitely another type of media that we take advantage of and use. We’ve published over a thousand photographs now in the first year and a half of the project. Another type of media that I might produce: I might collaborate with a producer on a piece of web-only video. So far the model has been: the producers put together a rough script and then we collaborate; I’ll edit that piece, and collaborate with them and produce it. We also work with the radio side—they’ve become more interested lately in multimedia presentations, so they’ve been taking some of their radio pieces and making audio/video slide shows out of them.
If you could say a few words about QUEST, the program and how the need for it arose at KQED, and how it became.
After talking with local science and environment groups, other media reporters and educators, we identified two needs. One is the shrinking reporting that’s being done on science and environment. Print organizations do the best job of covering science and the environment, but with the current cut backs that is shrinking as well. But the number one source for science coverage remain television and there has been very little coverage on broadcast news. QUEST is an opportunity to increase local science and environment reporting and hopefully encourage our citizens to become more informed about topics that effect their lives everyday.
The second need is in the education realm. We heard from educators that there is very little local media that is accurate and appropiate for use in and outside the classroom for K-12 use. So, we have created a broad range of formal and informal education materials, and professional training opportunites for science educators.
So you’re targeting different audiences then, because I noticed on your website you have an education section, explorations [section] or you have TV, but then you’re [also] trying to meet California curriculum standards. So do you have one specific target audience, or are you trying to pull in more than one?
What we realized very early on from bringing all four platforms (TV, radio, interactive web site and education) to the table was that we could actually reach an audience that was 99+ years old through fifth graders. So the way the audience breaks down is: Education concentrates on fifth grade through high school and also professional development with formal and informal educators. Interactive’s audience is solidly in the 25 to 45 age range. Radio is 35 to 55, and TV is 55 plus. So it kind of works out really well because whatever age you are we have something to offer you.
So is a lot of the science audience only locally based? Like in local environmental issues? Or is your audience from all around the world?
When we look at our analytics for the web visitors, it tends to be fairly local. The bulk of the web page traffic is local, but it does spread out nationally and even on certain stories, internationally. So I think from a web perspective, we are succeeding at one of our goals—at being a real local voice and serving a local audience.
We do however distribute the content beyond the website, nationally on NPR, and we work with the PBS news hour, as well as Nova Science Now, so some of our content actually does reach a national audience and has been very, very successful that way. We also made the video and audio content avaiable through iTunes, Miro and Adobe. At the moment, 40% of our video audience comes through downloads and embeds.
Embeds is the third major way that our video and now, most recently, our audio content can be distributed. Just like YouTube, where there’s a little box that says embed this, you can grab that code and you just paste it into your blog post or into your web page [and] it will put a little mini player. And we’ve done the same thing, but we just kind of wrote our own little one. Lauren, our associate media producer, contacts blog science editors directly via email or through contacts to make them aware of the QUEST embeddable content. Oftentimes, she’s gotten many of the top twenty blogs on the internet to feature our stories because we present with them a very easy to use and very content appropriate piece.
I was just talking to some folks at the California Academy of Sciences yesterday, and said one of the most important things you can do for your content is to make it as shareable and open and distributable as possible while of course still retaining the appropriate rights to manage that content.
Well I think all the multimedia that you produce is great and it seems like you’re really getting it out there and people are really accessing it. It’s a great way for getting awareness to the issue and educating the audience. Is that how you view your audience interacting with your video? [What about] when it comes to actually being engaged and remixing? Because I noticed that your photos for the Humboldt squid are CC licensed so you’re encouraging derivations or adaptations of that. Maybe someone can use that in a report without specifically asking for permission. So I was wondering what you thought about that?
I think PBS and in particular, KQED, is in a really unique position, given the community that we have here and the interest in remixing and the knowledge and access. For many years we’ve had very soul searching discussions about what does that mean for an organization that creates media and pushes it out. We’re really trying to figure out how do we stay relevant and what’s our role in this particular arena. And I think more and more what QUEST is proving out is that it’s important to make media available, particularly in the education arena.
But I think beyond just letting it be available, I think our role as media makers is also to help educate and professionalize those people who make media. So it’s wonderful that there are people out there that want to make video for YouTube; it’s a great expression and extension of someones identity and I think that’s a really important part. But then how do you then take that person that wants to communicate visually or even through telling stories orally—how do you move them to another level? I think that’s the space that we would really like KQED to move into. So we are definitely making our photographs available. I think the next step for us is community contributed and created content.
One of the projects that we have in mind right now is creating something called the Science Media Commons. We cleared the rights for our video and for our audio content, as well as many of our photos, maps and graphics. We’d like to be able to put those online and make them available for educators and students to actually use in educational situations.
So then are you looking to license that content in an open way? So that it can be remixed?
We have cleared the rights so that it can be remixed. We would definitely put it under a CC license.
I’d say 95% of [our photos] are Creative Commons licensed. And we use a noncommercial attribution license. And we have seen our photographs used quite regularly and we’re very happy when we see that they’re used. We’ve seen government and international agencies use it for reports; we’ve seen many blogs use it; oftentimes they use it to show people about our stories and then link back, which is perfect. Certainly on the environmental side, when people are talking about certain issues, there have been a number of photographs which have been very popular. There’s one of solar panels that have been used, that has been viewed thousands of times, because it’s probably one that comes up on Flickr under the Creative Commons search when you look for solar panels. So I can think of half a dozen times where online publications have used it as an image to illustrate solar. There’s one about household chemicals and pollution. It was a very unassuming photograph; it’s just a bunch of household products and things on a dusty old shelf, but that image has been used many times to talk about household hazards. The squid photographs have been used numerous times because there’s a great shot of one of the fishermen pulling back the tentacles and there’s a great big beak coming out.
- CC BY-NC KQED QUEST
Over all, KQED sees a future for user and community generated content. I think the website is and has been the very first place where we have experimented the most with it. But I do see it leading into TV broadcast. And also we are in the process of talking with the California Academy of Sciences; they’re developing a very large exhibition space for media display and they’ll be using some of our content and they’re going to be creating their own so we’re hoping we’ll be able to use some of theirs, whether it’s on the website or in the broadcast.
I’m really happy to hear that, because one of the issues with user generated content is that not all of the content available online [is] interoperable. For instance, you can’t just use something from PBS [with] the CC licensed stuff from KQED because the stuff from PBS might not necessarily be Creative Commons licensed, and maybe not in the same ways. So I guess part of the whole web phenomenon is [to] encourage remixing, not just within QUEST.
Or, they can go out and shoot their own. And I think that’s the one area that we’re interested in—we’re interested in releasing the raw media. We’re not interested in people remixing our stories. But they can certainly embed it; they can certainly call us and if they want it to be shorter we can talk to them about that, but we want to maintain editorial control over those particular [branded pieces].
This is a native language for a lot of young people. It’s a far more engaging and, I think, educational application. So we’re looking forward to inspiring the foundation community to support those kinds of works.
I did want to say one thing, too, though. There is an ongoing tension around this (and it’s just kind of inherent in this particular space) and that is monetization issues. One of the areas that public media has always been able to raise money, whether you’re an independent producer or a public television station, has been through educational sales of your content. So for public media institutions like PBS or KQED, to give content away like this means that we have to find other ways to actually sustain these kinds of activities. And we don’t have an answer for that yet. I think it’s a bigger concern for independent producers because they probably spent three or four years of their lives paying themselves very little to actually produce content. So to ask them to then somehow relinquish the only way they’re actually going to be able to pay themselves back is a pretty hard task. And it’s also true for institutions like KQED. So while we have agreed at least with QUEST to make this content available for free we’re still trying to figure out, okay, what’s the money that’s going to come in and replace that source of income.
So then you haven’t yet seen… a monetary benefit to CC licensing your photos? I mean, I guess you haven’t CC licensed anything but the photos yet, so you can’t really gauge…
Right. I mean one of the things we do talk about is when we do make the footage available under a nonprofit attribution license, if there’s a commercial entity interested in the footage, that may be the pay-off. But we don’t know that, and it’s part of a whole movement within the station to actually digitize our video so we can at least make a library available so somebody can access if you are a commercial media maker and you’re interested in licensing our footage. That’s certainly a way that we could do that, and we have talked about that. We’re also experimenting with messaging; about seventy percent of our income comes from our membership, so we’re wondering if there would be interest in people [becoming members]. Like if they’re doing a download [and] we message them and they’re not a member of KQED, [if] through using our content they would actually be interested in becoming a member of KQED. It’s just a big question mark for us.
About the open education movement in general… Everyone’s into openly licensing their stuff, especially for education because there’s no real taboo there; everyone thinks educators and students should have access to this stuff, and they should be able to remix and use it in their classrooms. I was wondering about your general view on the OER movement.
PBS has actually been in the Open Educational Resources movement since its inception. Its mission has always been to produce a media for the public. So for years and years and years, when particularly television broadcasts were made, educators were able, for the first seven days of that broadcast, to record whatever program they wanted and use it for free in their classroom. So it’s not a new concept for public media. And while there have been restrictions on how it can be used, that comes from two reasons—one is rights that is connected with the content which limit the way that that content can be used. The second one is economics, as I mentioned before.
The rights issue: So if you’re a signator to AFTRA, or you’re a signator to the Writer’s Guild, or you’re a signator to any of the other kinds of guilds, they have regions and they have different aspects to whatever your contract is with them, [it] can trigger different kinds of license fees. And as those license fees go up, it becomes more and, in many cases, unattainable for you to actually clear those rights. Or you can only clear those rights for a certain time period. So I think the big thing that PBS or any kind of media producer faces in making that available for free is an expense, and so if you can bear that expense so that you can make it free, that’s one thing, but to put that burden on a producer when it’s onerous is something that really needs to be examined by the open educational resources movement. I think there’s been a lot of conversation about this. And believe me, artists should get paid for what they do; I’m not advocating that they don’t. But I’m not really sure what that solution is. There has been conversation about foundations stepping up and creating some kind of a collective pool… having some pool of money somewhere so that these classics can continue to remain in the public—that might be a viable way to do it.
I was talking with somebody—this was a couple years ago when I was doing research…which led to my understanding of how we would ultimately end up distributing QUEST, which was going around and interviewing a lot of folks. And this particular individual was very, very impassioned about how, not only do we need to make the programs available for free but also the raw footage. And I remember asking him at the time, saying, you know as a professional who works in this field who makes media all the time, the last thing I would want to do is go home and remix something; it’s just not really of interest to me because I do it all day long. So please tell me from your perspective, why is this of interest to you? And he used the word ‘cognitive artifacts’. He used the word ‘cognitive artifacts’ and he said, you know, if you were born of my generation (so he was about Craig’s age) and the only way that you’ve experienced the world is through media, through film, through TV, through games, through in front music—that is how you come to experience the world, but it’s also how you communicate what your experiences have been.
So for my generation it’s, where were you when John F. Kennedy was killed? But for a younger generation it might be, do you remember the concert? Do you remember when such and such a character in a TV show did something really outrageous? And it creates a common knowledge and a common language. And he was really advocating for… as this becomes more and more the dominant way that we communicate, it will become more and more important that if you want to communicate a concept or an idea that you have access to that particular image. And to the extent that copyright stops you from having this common and universal experience, it limits your ability to communicate with your peers, but also to ultimately have a sense of expression…
Anyway it was a pretty profound experience for me and I came back and got online and started doing some research. I have probably taken his concept and made it my own in the description I have just given you, but it made me really clearly understand why it’s important to make this kind of material available to people so that they can actually create and communicate.