Alexander Heffner has stepped into some big shoes.
The journalist is the host of the series “The Open Mind,” aired on PBS.
The series premiered in May 1956 and was created by Heffner’s grandfather, Richard.
The series is designed to elicit guests’ insights into the challenges Americans face in a variety of contemporary areas of national concern.
The next episode airs on Sunday, July 10, on PBS and features Santa Fe resident Ottmar Liebert.
“I have a personal affinity for New Mexico,” Heffner says. “I spent time as a lecturer at University of New Mexico. While I was out there, the area grew on me and I sought out ideas.
Heffner was a special correspondent for PBS’ “Need to Know,” chronicling the millennial vote in 2012.
He founded and edited SCOOP08 and SCOOP44, the first-ever national student newspapers covering the 2008 campaign and the Obama administration, and taught a civic education/journalism seminar in New York City public school classrooms.
In the episode, Heffner and Liebert talk about music and Liebert’s performances.
Liebert, a German-born guitarist who often performs with his eyes closed, is asked about his style.
“I am not really thinking, I am just, um, working with the music,” Liebert says. “And people have asked me, why, why don’t you say more, or why do, you know, why do you not have singers, or why don’t you sing? Um, and I think it’s because, um, if I, if I would have words for what I am doing, I, you know, I could write.”
Heffner has been the host of “The Open Mind” for nearly two years.
He took over the series after his grandfather passed away in 2013.
Heffner credits his grandfather as his mentor and says he also instilled his love for public broadcasting.
His focus on the series is on finding a new generation of guests who will stand up over time and often discuss public policy from an oblique angle – musicians, technologists and humorists, as well as writers and university presidents.
“I want to start new conversations,” he says. “We do a lot on artists, arts and culture. And we use the show as a vehicle for social change.”
In addition to Liebert, Heffner has recently interviewed musicians Macy Gray and Aloe Blacc.
“These artists are trying to bring a calm through their music,” he says. “What I found fascinating about Ottmar’s focus on music is how he brings that meditative calm that we can find in his music.”