AFP Interview Series: Nominee Rich Homberg
Shaping the future of Detroit through public broadcasting
Rich Homberg became president and CEO of Detroit Public Television in 2008, at the height of the Motor City's recession. While Detroit was on the verge of financial collapse, he kept apprehensive metro Detroiters' spirits high with strategic and compelling programming, capturing the untold stories of community members that needed to be heard. Today, DPTV has one of the most diverse audience of any PBS station, a monumental broadcasting achievement. As the landscape of media, specifically television, continues to change, Homberg takes action by deeply immersing the station, and himself, into the future of Detroit.
Give Detroit: You’re originally from Florence, New Jersey, and moved to Detroit with your wife, Tracy and son, Nick, in 1996. Why do you have such a strong connection to Detroit?
Rich Homberg: There are only a handful of cities that compare to Detroit when it comes to the importance of the news and information business. On top of the automotive industry, Detroit is home to huge sports franchises, major universities, and the Great Lakes. At DPTV, we always say that Detroit is the most important city in America, because it truly is. If you want to understand the 20th and 21st century issues concerning race, diversity, education, mobility, the environment, or the future of American urbanism, you’ll find answers here.
When I first came to Detroit, not only did I love the city, but I fell more and more in love with it. There's a candor here, there's a genuine, authentic quality to Michiganians. Of course, there are challenges, but Detroit always seems worth the effort and investment. My wife jokes that sometimes, I try to convince people I grew up here.
As President and CEO of DPTV, how are you molding Detroit?
We start our day understanding the informational needs that we have to address in this town. While metro Detroit has many prominent commercial television and radio stations, we're the only nonprofit public television station in the area. And because of that, our role is different than any other media outlet; we have to do things that no one else is doing.
We face the topics that we cover head on, which means stepping outside of our offices and in front of folks to understand how we should represent issues concerning education, diversity, arts and culture, public affairs, energy, environment, and health. The better we get at our game, the better we can move to address those needs.
In a time when the media is under constant scrutiny, how do you maintain trust among DPTV viewers?
Media is being challenged at every level, but DPTV has programming standards that are unmovable. We want our viewers to understand that we always strive to deliver balanced and deeper content, while having a service mindset. Factually, PBS is often cited as the most trusted brand in America. In reference to One Detroit, American Black Journal or Detroit Performs, it all starts with trust, care and a deeper understanding.
Through your broadcasting choices, how are you solving Detroit’s problems?
DPTV’s Roadshows are not simple broadcasts, but an internal leadership opportunity that helps us identify, understand and connect with a community that needs to be addressed. From discussing the future job market in Detroit and to Brightmoor’s preschool readiness and parenting issues, it's a process that not only involves producers and talent, but an opportunity to learn. Figuring out what is important to broadcast, outside breaking news, is vital. With our Great Lakes bureau and the launch of our early childhood 24/7 channel, we're trying to be very focused on a tight group of things.
DPTV has one of the most diverse audiences of any PBS station. How do you unite the many different metro Detroiters through DPTV?
Honestly, we're halfway where we need to be to fully address our entire metro Detroit audience. We do have an array of programs, but the next step for us is to figure out how we can effectively embrace, engage, and pull in every community at a new level. Our world is changing and people want to be heard and appreciated.
How do you plan to build for the future of Detroit through DPTV?
Embracing every single platform is critical because the way people watch TV is changing. The amount of local content that's produced to serve audiences is shrinking and national trends suggest what direction we must take, which includes bringing in a new generation of voices. We’re becoming more local, more connected. We want the public to discover what they need and want from a public television station.
By its very nature, broadcasting was a one-to-many platform. We air shows, you watch shows, and the world gets better. Today, we listen to communities, we create content with communities, we share with communities, and then we reload and double down and return to the next level of content.
What does it mean you to be receiving the Neal Shine Award for Media Commitment?
Just to be mentioned in the same breath as Neal Shine is quite an honor. He is a legendary journalist, member of the immediate community, and great citizen. I was nominated by a staffer, Dan Halpert and he has been with the station well over 30 years. The fact that Dan, a highly trusted and committed public broadcaster, nominated me is at least as important as the award. Because Dan is a highly trusted, highly committed public broadcaster.
What are you looking forward to at the Association of Fundraising Professionals Awards Ceremony on November 8?
So much of what is pushing Detroit forward is credited in part to the philanthropists being honored at this ceremony, because philanthropy has been a critical driver of Detroit's future. Inevitably for everybody in that room, there's somebody at home who had to deal with the late nights and the too-many weekends and all the additional hours it takes to work in this arena. And in my case, that's Tracy and Nick Homberg, my wife and son.
For more information, visit dptv.org.