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Editor’s Note: Encyclo has not been regularly updated since August 2014, so information posted here is likely to be out of date and may be no longer accurate. It’s best used as a snapshot of the media landscape at that point in time.

PBS is an American public television network owned by its member stations.

The network was founded in 1970 and is funded by a combination of private donations, foundation funding, and state and federal money, primarily through the nonprofit Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It has been named as the most widely trusted media organization in the U.S.

PBS distributes, but does not produce, a variety of television programming. Its most popular news programs are PBS NewsHour (MacNeil/Lehrer Productions) and Frontline (WGBH). In May 2010, PBS added distribution of the hourlong newsmagazine Need to Know (WNET). PBS launched a U.K. channel in November 2011.

The NewsHour, founded in 1975, is an hour-long nightly news program known for taking a relatively sober, in-depth approach to the news. It faced a severe funding shortfall in recent years and underwent an overhaul in late 2009 to enhance its digital news operation.

The changes included a merger of the show’s television and online staff and tweaks to the broadcast, as well as a revamped website with more blogs and social media involvement. They also included an international reporting partnership with the online startup GlobalPost. In announcing the changes, Jim Lehrer also listed the show’s guiding principles, saying they would remain unchanged.

Frontline is a documentary series that has won numerous awards since it debuted in 1983, and which has also worked to expand its digital and online presence, notably in social media and emerging platforms.

While PBS does not produce television programming, it does produce web content. PBS redesigned its website and launched an iPad app in October 2010, with a focus on making local public stations’ content available alongside national content. It has also announced plans to launch PBSNews.org, a specifically news-oriented site. PBS has been one of the most successful media organizations on the social media site Pinterest.

PBS launched PBS Digital Studios in 2012 to produce original online content, developing more than a dozen original YouTube-based series and drawing more than 200 million monthly viewers of video at PBS.org in 2013. It also had 250,000 registered users of its Roku app and 46,000 YouTube subscribers as of 2013.

PBS also runs MediaShift, a website founded in 2006 that examines changes in media and journalism, particularly online.

In early 2010, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting announced it would create five regional journalism centers focusing on local reporting through partnerships with PBS and NPR stations. The centers would feed content to national shows on the two broadcasters through a $10 million initiative.

Critics have occasionally called for PBS to be dissolved, or to be weaned from federal funding. PBS officials have responded by arguing that the network provides a valuable counterpart to other broadcast news outlets, particularly through its thorough reporting and measured tone.


Jim Lehrer announcing changes to NewsHour and a description of the show’s principles in December 2009:


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Primary author: Mark Coddington. Main text last updated: October 2, 2013.
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