For over 25 years on public television, Fred Friendly Seminars have added a unique dimension to public affairs programming on vital topics as wide-ranging as affirmative action, end-of-life care, national energy policy, and terrorism.
These award-winning broadcasts are often the centerpiece of extensive public outreach campaigns, using the program as a catalyst for civic engagement that encourages the exchange of ideas, new avenues for communication, and problem solving actions.
The objective of a Fred Friendly Seminar is to open minds to the complexity and ambiguity of issues facing contemporary society. The Seminars begin with a story – a hypothetical scenario that leads into a compelling exploration of large ethical, emotional, legal, and public policy questions that are challenging us as individuals and as a society. MINDS ON THE EDGE: Facing Mental Illness is the latest of many Fred Friendly Seminars that have dealt with critical healthcare issues.
Each Seminar program brings together a carefully chosen panel of informed participants who bring a variety of professional expertise as well as personal experience to the discussion. As the panelists wrestle with the issues presented, they are encouraged not just to say what they think about an issue, but to say what they would do in difficult decision-making situations in which there may be no "right" or "final" answer.
The Seminars make ample use of role playing, and the program moderator encourages panelists to talk to each other, rather than shout past each other, as they put themselves in the shoes of the hypothetical characters. As a viewer, you are asked to do the same and to draw on your values and your own real world experience to imagine what you would do if confronted by these issues.
Who was Fred Friendly?
"Our job is to make the agony of decision-making so intense you can escape only by thinking."
Fred Friendly was a towering figure in the history of broadcast journalism, who came to stand for quality and integrity in journalism. Friendly, who died in 1998, was the former president of CBS News and the creator, with Edward R. Murrow, of the documentary television program See It Now.
After he left CBS Friendly worked at the Ford Foundation, played a major role in establishing the PBS network and taught at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Friendly developed Media and Society Seminars, using the distinctive Socratic style of the hypothetical scenario, and they were renamed the Fred Friendly Seminars after his death.
Today, the broadcast newsroom at Columbia University's School of Journalism is named for Friendly, as is a professorship at the school, and the Fred Friendly Seminars are based there.