With the rapid advance of artificial intelligence applications, broadcast and publishing media stand at an uncharted crossroads. Jason Jedlinski thinks public broadcasting can lead the way forward.
Jedlinski, 44, assumed duties as WQED Multimedia’s new president & CEO on July 1. He’s been exploring innovative ways to market newspaper and television programming since graduating with a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University in 1999, just as digital technology and the internet began to revolutionize the way consumers process and use information and entertainment media.
Newsroom writing and production stints at WGN-TV and WFLD-TV in Chicago grounded his later success in developing a host of digital outreach and engagement strategies for major media entities such as Tribune Broadcasting, Gannett, The Wall Street Journal, USA TODAY and, most recently, The Hill, where he launched a streaming channel and new digital products that attracted several hundred thousand subscribers.
Today’s U.S. public broadcasting system is diverse with approximately 350 television stations and 1,200 radio outlets that reach more than 98% of the American population. Jedlinski believes this offers a business model well-suited to navigating an industry grappling with unpredictable technological change.
“WQED was rooted in innovation,” he says. “For nearly 70 years it has followed a mission to educate, entertain and inspire. Our goal now is to make sure we contribute even more to the community. That’s the North Star.”
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NEXTpittsburgh: WQED television and radio are well-established brands in the Pittsburgh media market. Where do you see opportunities for growth and innovation?
Jason Jedlinski: The opportunity is, what can we do in addition to our broadcasts that will be even more relevant, more impactful, more connecting with more communities? Whether it be live events, whether it be other types of programming, engagement, outreach or education teams doing a lot in schools and libraries. WQED’s mission is a lot broader than the confines of “we own a TV station; we own a radio station.” Those are tools. The opportunity is all the other ways we can show up as a convener of community, as an amplifier of people doing good in the community or making a difference. That can take so many other forms.
Jedlinski: Yes. The CPB grant is part of a public media initiative called American Graduate: Jobs Explained that informs young people about career and postsecondary education options. WQED is one of 10 stations that received the grant, and our grant is specific to cybersecurity education. Anyone can now check out WQED’s cyberjobs_explained channels on both TikTok and Instagram.
It’s early days, it’s very experimental, but it goes to the question of, “How do we resonate with more people in different ways?” It’s a way to responsibly experiment, to test, to learn.
NEXTpittsburgh: In early August you’ll be speaking at the national conference of the Local Media Association and moderating a session called Strategies to Grow Audience. In terms of Pittsburgh’s local media environment, how might that work for WQED?
Jedlinski: I think the key is relevance: How do we show up where people want us? And provide services and information they’re missing in their lives today. My aspiration is that over time we move beyond pledge drives to a world where people say, “WQED helped me find my house, helped me pick a neighborhood for my kid’s school, helped me get a promotion at work, helped connect me with a meaningful nonprofit I volunteer for.”
NEXTpittsburgh: That’s a lot of relevance!
Jedlinski: It’s the type of impact where WQED the brand can help you live your full life in Pittsburgh, help your family, help your neighbors, help your temple community. It’s real loyalty and relevance that is far less transactional than a pledge and thank-you gift and really gets into enduring relationships.
NEXTpittsburgh: WQED has an abundance of original documentaries and Pittsburgh-based shows — “Filmmakers Corner,” “Pittsburgh Eats,” “Pittsburgh 360,” “QED Cooks,” “Gumbands,” “Voices,” “Pittsburgh Classical Network,” “Voices of the Arts” — to name a few. Do you envision more locally-themed programming?
Jedlinski: You can expect to see us do more new programming, and “local-local-local” will be the mantra. WQED is proudly the voice of the arts. We’re amplifying cultural assets across the city. We’re connecting you better with your neighbors. We’re helping you find things to do for you, for your family.
Why not have tasting tours going between hot new restaurants? Or be in the kitchen with hot chef X,Y or Z? In-person experiences, whether they’re educational in terms of tax prep or continuing education, even getting a college degree if you’ve never had one. I think there’s fantastic storytelling happening in Pittsburgh every day.
There is also a tremendous amount of creative programming occurring across the PBS system from coast to coast and robust sharing between stations. The Public Media Development and Marketing Conference is starting in Atlanta … and I fully expect our team will come back with a host of “We’ve got to try this!” ideas.
NEXTpittsburgh: And WQED has the resources to put these ideas in motion?
Jedlinski: We have several million dollars set aside for innovation and experimentation, a nest egg that’s been built up with a huge credit to former CEO Deb Acklin and to the management team. How do we responsibly experiment, innovate, learn, try new things? How do we responsibly use that in a way that serves the community?
We want to be more deeply ingrained in more communities across the area. There are so many arts organizations here, and we’re proud to be the biggest megaphone they have and send them subscribers and others who show up and attend. But local is definitely the focus.
NEXTpittsburgh: When you started your career, did you ever think you’d end up being head of a public TV station?
Jedlinski: No, it wasn’t the planned goal or horizon. But it feels like a more pure form of the types of things I’ve been working on for the last 15 years. How do we become more relevant? How do we grow our reach? How do we grow loyalty? I’ve always been drawn to purpose, mission, service, so it’s not surprising I ended up in public media.