DC preps Forum Network for TV debut p.14

By: David Noack The Freedom Forum and WETA, the public television station in the nation's capital, have joined forces to create a new public affairs cable network.
Called Forum Network, the new venture is slated to debut in the spring on local cable television systems in the greater Washington, D.C., area. The cost of the new venture is being borne by the Freedom Forum, which declined to disclose any figures.
The creation of the new regional cable channel includes something for both partners. It's a way for WETA to expand its brand of public affairs franchise into cable and for the Freedom Forum to gain more visibility in the influential Washington area.
The network's new president will be veteran newsman Ed Turner, who helped found CNN in 1980.
Freedom Forum chairman Charles L. Overby describes the network as a cross between C-SPAN and the Discovery Channel.
"The Newseum has a lot of material on the past, present, and future of news, and I expect we will take advantage of the resources we have at the Newseum to do some interesting media programming that relates specifically to media in a way that nobody else is doing," says Overby. The Newseum is a museum of the news media at the forum's $50 million, 72,000-square-foot headquarters.
The arrangement will have the forum, based in Arlington, Va., running the network, creating programming, and hiring staff. It will also be airing programs that appear on WETA, such as The News Hour with Jim Leher, Washington Week in Review, and Frontline, among others.
Turner says the new network will focus on analyzing breaking news events through thoughtful discussions with government officials, academics, and reporters.
"I think there is a lot of, and probably too many, newscasts on the air today. That area of journalism on the air is well covered. ? What there is a great shortage of is what would be the equivalent of the op-ed page," says Turner.
He says one of his goals is to not have the usual Sunday morning talking heads but find new voices.
"I am going to try and find bright, new faces and minds to tell us about the world around us. I'm going to use a lot of journalists from all over. When we started CNN 20 years ago, one of the things I prided myself on was discovering people that have not been seen before. They're now famous. At one time they were unknowns," says Turner.
While no local cable channels have formally agreed to carry the new network, Turner says discussions have been positive enough to begin putting the channel together. He hopes to have a staff of 75 people.
The topics of discussion will range from regional to international events, says Turner.
"I am going to book our guests and our commentary as close to the edge of breaking news as possible because that is the way you give energy to this kind of operation. Make it as close to what's going on an hour ago or last night or this morning as possible," says Turner.
Overby says the idea for the network developed several months ago when they approached WETA.
"They were looking to expand in a number of areas, including a public affairs channel, and some intermediaries who knew us both thought we would be a good fit for one another. We started our discussions, and it turned out they were right," says Overby.
He says the programming the network will develop, which isn't based on ratings, will establish a niche.
"We will never have high ratings. We will have a niche. I think the time is right for niche programming and niche channels," says Overby.
This is the second time within the last couple of months that WETA has become involved in creating a cable channel.
The station's other venture, which they plan to debut in November, is a channel devoted to classical music called Fanfare.
The programming would include music videos, interviews with performers hosted by the channel's main host, Dick Cavett, and news about developments in classical music.
The Freedom Forum is a nonpartisan, international foundation dedicated to free press and free speech issues. It was established in 1991 under the direction of founder Allen H. Neuharth as successor to the Gannett Foundation. The forum is involved in conferences, educational activities, publishing, broadcasting, online services, fellowships, partnerships, training, and research. Its work is supported by income from an endowment worth more than $1 billion in diversified assets.
WETA is the third largest producing station in the public television system and the flagship public broadcaster in the nation's capital. The station produces approximately 350 hours of national programming annually and has won major recognition from Peabody, DuPont, Columbia Journalism, New York Festival, and Ohio State, as well as local and national Emmy awards.
?(Editor & Publisher Web Site: http:www.mediainfo. com) [caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher, January 16, 1999) [Caption]


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