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KQED: Disrupting Public Media
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This monthly series explores KQED's journey to transform into a 21st century public media organization through disruptive innovation. Working with KQED, researchers Elizabeth Bandy and Scott Burg will cover new strategies and lessons learned in real time across topics such as audience engagement and sophisticated data analytics, education restructuring and expansion, the spread of design thinking and innovation initiatives, developments in local and digital journalism, and the adoption of new technologies to support these efforts.


Investing in Innovation 

It had the feel of an Apple product launch. The SRO crowd at KQED headquarters in San Francisco was stirring, texting furiously on their phones or taking selfies with their friends. Video cameras lined the aisles while ’80s Motown and funk blared over loudspeakers. Anxious presenters were huddled in the wings, making last-minute changes to their product pitches. It was Demo Day at KQED. Wait, what? Why would a nonprofit public media station be hosting an event typically used by innovators to pitch their ideas to potential investors?

The audience of KQED staff and local business entrepreneurs had gathered to see presentations from five KQED staff teams, all recent graduates of the inaugural KQED Lab. KQED Lab is a ten-week design thinking boot camp where participants develop, test and refine ideas for engaging and retaining new audiences. The Lab grew out of KQED's partnership in Matter Ventures, a startup accelerator to support media entrepreneurs.

Operating in the San Francisco Bay Area exposes KQED to innovative and disruptive organizations. In order to stay relevant, management needed to better understand how the station could weave innovation into the public media space and find a way to adapt Silicon Valley’s startup accelerator model to create a similar opportunity for public media. How could lessons learned in Silicon Valley ferment fresh ideas and incubate new products and services that would drive the station’s “audience first” strategic focus? To address this question, in late 2012 KQED became a co-founding limited partner in Matter (, along with the Knight Foundation and PRX, as part of a deliberate corporate strategy to participate and invest in the Bay Area’s culture of innovation.

Matter, located in SF and NYC, is a start-up accelerator that supports and invests in media entrepreneurs. To date Matter has helped to launch nearly 36 companies. Involvement in Matter has provided KQED an inside-out opportunity to partner with and mentor a new generation of media entrepreneurs. Matter promotes an environment where entrepreneurs are encouraged to take risks, experiment and apply a disruptive lens to their product or service idea. Over a five-month period, participants are run through an intense, human-centered, design thinking process that provides a framework for empathy with their intended customers or audience.

Matter teams have benefited from KQED’s perspective and feedback, learning firsthand the challenges faced by a large public media organization. The Matter collaboration has also shifted the perception of KQED within Silicon Valley from an old media company to an active participant in the region’s technology ecosystem.

Read more about the disruptive impact of Matter on KQED, including the introduction of design thinking and KQED Lab