Saturday, May 2, 2009

Follow the Money

The Corporation of Public Broadcasting announced special funding for stations to cover the economic crisis. 

Excellent, especially in a time where newspapers are crumbling and the money honeys' brains seem to shrink in proportion to their already anorexic dress sizes. 

But I was reminded of how not to always believe what's written in front of me. Public radio in particular likes to emphasize the decentralized system - the affiliate system puts more boots on the ground, allowing Papa Bear NPR to distribute "real" voices. And they do. 

However, my prediction is that most of the money will go to the Central Intelligence of public broadcasting: KQED, Minnesota Public Radio, PRX, and it doesn't reflect this in the statement issued by CPB, shows produced by Minneapolis based Public Radio International. Bruce Theriault is the senior VP for radio at CPB; his previous position was a senior executive at PRI. 

I'm not saying they don't deserve them. These stations have the capital to match with CPB; they have proven track records. The powerhouses, like Minnesota Public Radio and KQED, are well ahead of NPR in developing new technology and interactive games.

But the stations most in touch with their communities - and very marginalized members of mainstream society, like migrant workers, refugees, union activists - will be pushed to the side. On one hand the normalization of public media is great: growth in audience, growth in financial support (for radio, not television), growth in creditability. 

On the other hand the stations that have tried to remain as connected as possible by sustaining access, encouraging media engagement, and open doors to the public, are penalized for sticking to a mission that says even if you're in the minority, you still deserve a place on the airwaves. I wonder with public media nesting in the mainstream, where will that place be where the marginalized, the media disenfranchised, those of us left out of the Grand Narrative told by those who don't know us, and don't care. Who will support those stations who are too controversial for CPB to fund because rather than shrinking from the cacophony of voices, they revel in it? 

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