New PBS Digital Studios Series from grows into multimedia project

Posted by Maribel Lopez on

If your station is in search of digital content to engage with newer, younger audiences this election season, look no further! This spring and summer, TPT’s digital publication for young adults, is rolling out “America From Scratch,” a new thought-provoking, civics-themed PBS Digital Studios series made possible by CPB.

The premise of the series is exactly as it sounds:

If we were to build America from scratch today, what would it look like?

Breaking down key ideas relating to social and civic sciences and multicultural issues, “America From Scratch” debates the biases and frustrations in our current system to encourage creative thinking on how we structure our public life, and how we define the common good. Hosted by Toussaint Morrison, each episode poses a different question to viewers, explored through dynamic graphics, archival photos and videos and expert interviews that provide commentary on differing sides of the question at hand.

Of the episodes produced to date, we’ve explored ideas such as: 

Should 12-year-olds be allowed to vote?

Should we have a president?

What if there were no states?

Should we rewrite our constitution?

Should our government have a 50/50 gender split?

Season one of “America From Scratch” consists of 11 episodes, with new episodes releasing every other Friday on YouTube through the beginning of September, following with a Tuesday release on the show’s Facebook Watch page.

A video series and so much more

“America From Scratch” has evolved into a truly multimedia project. In addition to new video episodes premiering every other week, the production of the series inspired Rewire to create more content around our democracy with the aim of engaging further with our digital community. This includes the launch of Rewire’s very first podcast, which goes by the same name.

Toussaint Morrison also hosts “America From Scratch” the podcast and these digital discussions dig in deeper to the topics introduced by the YouTube series. Intended as standalone content to help the series reach a different audience, these podcasts offer companion content  to the video series with different guests and experts. The podcast also often uses the videos and viewer comments as a way to guide the conversation. New podcast episodes roll out on iTunes, Stitcher and other podcast platforms every other week, opposite of new videos.

As we began work on “America From Scratch” we realized we had a significant portfolio of existing Rewire content—mostly written, some video—related to civics and social issues. This encouraged us to aggregate the content on our site and use it as supplemental content for our audiences, especially as thoughtful fodder to push out in between new episodes on social media.

Additionally, Rewire has leveraged the topics from the different episodes of “America From Scratch,” to create new written content tied to the ideas presented. Articles like these allow us to dive deeper into the subject matter and share more substantive ideas and information about the topics at hand with our audiences.

Successes and challenges

The opportunity to produce “America From Scratch” has been great. Within the first few episodes, we built a community of over 1500 subscribers on YouTube and similarly on Facebook Watch, both of which continue to grow. The conversations taking place in the video comments, especially on YouTube, are thoughtful and have proven we have a community that is here to stay. Thanks to support from our stations partners, the PBS social media team and PBS Digital Studios, our episodes have been picked up and shared widely on social media—including shares by PBS and Upworthy. Other civic-minded organizations and projects have expressed interest in the series, interest which we hope will transform into future partnerships.

While we are beginning to see results, “America From Scratch” hasn’t come without its challenges! From tight production timelines, to creative blocks, to maintaining a thoughtful editorial balance, to building and engaging with our online community—we have had our fair share of obstacles. We are a small team, with only one team member dedicated to the project fulltime. Not to mention, on top of the video series, we’ve learned how to produce and distribute a podcast, all while maintaining a regular publishing schedule for Rewire.

How your station can leverage “America From Scratch”

Through the series, it is our hope to get more young people interested in civics and engaged in the political process while creating a community full of thoughtful civil discourse. Striking a balance between YouTube authenticity and PBS brand promises around thoughtful content, the spirit of “America From Scratch” isn't to undermine the existing structure—it’s a fun, challenging and educational thought experiment designed to empower creative thinking and celebrate the incredible opportunities represented by our ongoing American experiment. And with midterm elections right around the corner, the timing for this series couldn’t be better.

If your station is looking for content to engage with newer, younger audiences around upcoming elections and is interested in ways to leverage “America From Scratch,” (start by subscribing to the show on YouTube) here are a few ideas on how you might do so:

  • Share “America From Scratch” episodes on station’s social media platforms
  • Get your station whitelisted with the “America From Scratch” Facebook Watch page
  • Access “America From Scratch” episodes on Media Manager
  • Sign up to be a Rewire partner to get “America From Scratch” and other content delivered straight to your inbox, including written content you can republish to your station’s website

If you are interested in learning more, feel free to reach out to Maribel Lopez

Products and content for member stations to better serve their audience.


PBS has more to help you promote and share local and national content!