LOS ANGELES — Television can peddle soap, cars and political candidates like nobodyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“s business. But in one contrary corner thereÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“s a network selling viewers on an idea: Looking outward to understand the world and how to live in it. “Our goal is to engage Americans and give them the information they need to make smart […]
LOS ANGELES — Television can peddle soap, cars and political candidates like nobodyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“s business. But in one contrary corner thereÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“s a network selling viewers on an idea: Looking outward to understand the world and how to live in it.
“Our goal is to engage Americans and give them the information they need to make smart choices as citizens … and to get involved,” said Link TV co-founder and president Kim Spencer, a former ABC News producer and documentary filmmaker.
“ItÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“s ironic, but Americans with 200, 300 channels really have a very limited choice compared to some in other parts of the world,” Spencer said.
Reports from Egypt, Jordan and Israel and elsewhere are presented unedited and translated, if required, into English. Want to know what Iranians are hearing on their state-run newscast? Tune into Link for Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting.
Among the first areas of attention will be Latin America, which has produced such provocative images as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez denouncing President Bush as “the devil” in a United Nations speech.
On the cultural side, November brings the launch of movie series “Cinemondo,” with the U.S. debut of films including IranÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“s Oscar-nominated “Border CafÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â©” and “May 6th” by Theo Van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker killed over his sharp criticism of Muslims.
“Out of the Box,” an original Link series hosted by actor-activist Peter Coyote , searches for stories and individuals overlooked by mainstream TV news.
The networkÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“s funding is a combination of grants and viewer contributions, with support from celebrities including musicians Dave Matthews (“He became hooked on Link and would watch it on his tour bus,” Spencer said), Willie Nelson , Bonnie Raitt and Cher and actor Brad Pitt .
“Link is the kind of fast-moving, entrepreneurial organization that can do something new without an act of Congress or a stockholdersÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“ meeting,” said Eric Newton, the Knight FoundationÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“s director for journalism initiatives.
Wendy Hanamura, station manager, pledge-drive producer and more for San Francisco-based Link TV—”ItÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“s a small organization. We all wear many hats”—called the network “an exciting place to work.”
“You can have a good idea on Monday and if you can find funding for it … you can be in production in a matter of weeks,” she said.
Some Link programs are available on cable in a few markets, including San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and New York City, and on local cable access and university channels. On LinkÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“s Web site, material including all past editions of Mosaic—some 600—is available.
The network, which marked its sixth year in 2005 by winning broadcastingÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“s prestigious Peabody for “Mosaic,” still is trying to cut deals with major cable operators.
ItÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“s Link TVÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“s vibe as much as a specific program that keeps more than 5 million viewers tuning in on a regular basis.
“Our viewers are coming to Link not necessarily for appointment viewing around a particular program but because all of our programs take them to this connection we make for them to the rest of the world,” Spencer said.
Charles Noble, an Orange County, Calif., businessman, considers Link a valuable alternative to broadcast news and an adjunct to PBSÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“ “NewsHour.”
“I donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“t even watch the networks. You can go from one news channel to the next, even though theyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“re on different networks, and itÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“s the same subject. … ItÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“s not in-depth,” Noble said. “Link takes a subject and really goes into detail.”
The programs “allow you to draw your own opinions because theyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“re not political statements. ItÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“s somebody saying,
HereÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“s what weÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“re doing, or hereÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“s what I experienced,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“” Noble said.
A majority of LinkÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“s programming is acquired from outside sources such as the BBC in Britain and ITVS, Independent Television Service. More than 90 percent of the networkÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“s fare is airing for the first time in the United States.
“These are documentaries that deal not only with difficult social issues around the world but people who are making a change,” Spencer said. “We try not to leave people in a puddle on the couch thinking,
Oh, my God, now what do I do?ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“ We generally try with our programs to offer something you can do,” such as connecting with organizations.
ItÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“s an approach that draws a varied audience. According to research surveys, more than 56 percent of regular Link viewers also watch Fox News Channel. Forty-two percent of them voted for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004; 31 percent voted for President Bush.
“People who watch a lot of different perspectives donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“t close themselves off,” Spencer said. “WeÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“re not trying to be (liberal radio network) Air America. WeÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“re trying to be accessible to anybody whoÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“s a thinking American.”