I have been a great fan for public broadcasting for a long time since I grew up with Sesame Street and Mister Rogers Neighborhood, and later on working with NPR. I have been paying attention on the #pubmedia backchannels a lot the past month about Congress voting to defund public broadcasting. From those discussions, this has been a blessing and a curse for the sector.
Reasons Public Media is in this predicament
This all started with Juan Williams’s fiasco that Juan Williams was “nervous” when he sees Muslims in airplanes. That prompted NPR to fire Williams without process. Conservatives saw that and took a proactive PR approach to attack NPR not only for William’s stature as a journalist, but as the only African-American reporter/analyst in NPR’s newsroom. After that incident, Republicans took control of the House, Ellen Weiss stepped down as Senior Vice President of News, President and CEO Vivian Schiller did not receiver her annual bonus, and the House passed a section of the budget to defund public media.
This seems more of conglomerate maneuvering than political since the ones that get hurt is rural areas. Nonprofit Quarterly sums it up best that if you take away public media, it will hurt the liberals a little, but hurt conservatives a lot since rural areas rely on public funds to keep a station(s) on-air. However, Tony Budny and I had a discussion about the reason why Republicans want to defund:
Stupid as it sounds, that could just motivate them more. Less public TV in red states= more room for Fox News.
Simply put, it’s like renaming your town or city Walmart or Fox News City.
As a public media advocate, what should we do to save public broadcasting?
- We have to face the fact that the arts and media budget is going to get reduce. Some of the money should be allocated to bigger stations, but most of the money should be going to rural areas that need it the most.
- On the rural side, we need to write to our state and national officials about not only restore funding of public media to rural areas, but call upon officials to approve a Rural Broadband Initiative. This way, it will not only benefit the local stations that have few resources, but it improves businesses in the area since their business can expand state, nation, or even worldwide and provide competition.
- We need to explain to the public better what public broadcasting is. Ira Glass is right that public media needs to explain their brand, what it actually does, and tell different viewpoints of a story. We are not responding to critics and we need to tell them immediately.
- In a worst case scenario that if public broadcasting is cut, this is not the end of the world as we do have innovators in the public media sector. We need to think of innovative ideas of fundraising and outreach like the KQED-Groupon deal or the use of mobile marketing to attract a diverse audience and use technology such as the social media sites, YouTube, and Broadcastr to share stories in their city or town.
- I mention on Pubmedia discussion before that if I want to go into public media with no budget, I would like to travel to small towns to know what the people want is to establish a talent exchange program for the rural and small cities to learn what the people want in those towns and roll with it.
In reality, public media has to take a cut for the betterment of this country, but public media needs to fight for the little people in small towns because stations are at-risk of closing down and as a community nationwide, we need to fight for them. Cities like New York, San Francisco, Boston, and in D.C. are going to be fine in the long run, but we do not want small towns to be outsourced by conglomerates that have interests for themselves and not for the people in the area.
What will save public media is innovation from the government and the 170 Million Americans who are ready to pitch in.