Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cuts, Layoffs, Oh My

I recently went on a fact finding mission to Washington D.C. with my cohort in the public broadcasting program at Ohio University. As luck would have it, the day we left was the day NPR announced their cuts...including my mentor and friend, Doug Mitchell. Jeffrey Dvorkin, the former ombudsman at NPR, wrote a glowing tribute much more eloquent than I ever could. (Jeffrey's a great guy as well - I talked to him for maybe all of 10 minutes about reporter training, and the following week I found a package in my mailbox on NPR's reporter ethics guide with a personal note from Jeffrey. That's what we call classy. The man is after all Canadian.)

Chicago Public Radio also laid off 9% of its staff, including a few from its new venture, The CEO's previous decisions to cut music, especially jazz, on WBEZ has now bubbled to the surface as angry listeners question his leadership. 

That's just the tip of the iceberg. Pubcasters around the country are hurting - even powerhouse Minnesota Public Radio had a recent sobering meeting about their budget, and shortfalls in fundraising. 

In my previous post, I wrote about the dangers of nostalgia clouding strategic judgement of public broadcasting. But I think one thing the emotion aroused by these cuts show is that public broadcasting hasn't done a very good job about being transparent. I'm not talking about pleasing everybody. I'm talking about public relations and making the case to listeners, who for the most part, are pretty reasonable, especially when presented with options. 

Public broadcasting isn't a direct democracy, nor would I advocate that it turn into one. But the folks who run the stations are accountable to their stakeholders, some who give money, most who just watch or listen, and now is the time to rally them. Maine Public Broadcasting held a town meeting before making any decisions about layoffs or cuts - what a novel idea. How great would it be if Talk of the Nation did a national call in show with with a group of public radio CEO's and took questions and recommendations. Air it out. Let the sunshine disinfect. 

Let's bring the public into public broadcasting. 

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