Angie (coiro) Sat 22 Jul 06 12:40
Editorial purity also comes in for scrutiny. While I was employed at KQED, I agreed wholeheartedly that I should give up commercial voiceover. How could I discuss Chamber of Commerce pressures on the city of SF, for example, while down the dial you heard me doing a Macy's commercial? The hit to my income was significant. But conflict of interest is obviously a no-go zone. On the other hand, full-time employment with benefits in public broadcasting is only slightly more accessible than the Holy Grail. Like so many others, I was a contract player - paid for the days I worked, no benefits, no paid vacation, no retirement. One of KQED's (and NPR's) longest-working producers died young earlier this year, essentially from lack of health care. NPR did an obit, she was written up beautifully elsewhere. She died in journalistic purity. I'm not alone in thinking that maybe living longer and healthier would have been better. So when we talk about the role of money and funding in p.r., it's necessary too to talk about appropriate pay and benefits for the crews. And to talk about whether funding needs to be tied to appropriate living wages and conditions for the workers. Corporations with big money to give want studios named after them. Under the current model, payroll and benefits coverage is separate from capital giving. For public media to grow and thrive, I deeply believe these standards need to be re-examined. More ...
Angie (coiro) Sat 22 Jul 06 12:59
I've mused about many programming funding schemes that challenge the current standard. For example: Let's say a potential program, through its very content and focus, benefits a certain industry. For example, let's say there's a small weekly program planned on movies - industry interviews, cinema history, current events as reflected in current films, etc. We'll call it The Movie Show, or TMS. Nowadays, TMS isn't limited to distribution through its public station. It can stream on the internet; it can go up on iTunes; XM might pick it up. Any combination of the above is possible. Film distributors know that media coverage is everything. And it's measurable. Comparison: book sales go up in SF when the author is interviewed on Forum. Measured and proven. So Forum gets pitched every time ANY kind of book is published. Let's say a film industry group (FIG) gets together with the producer of TMS. They reach an agreement whereby FIG will be the sole sponsor of the show. FIG will cover all production and staff costs. But the TMS crew retains complete editorial control. FIG, understanding that no publicity is bad publicity, agrees to this hands-off policy. TMS goes on to cover films both good and bad; its shows on film history and social issues go on without being called up to push this or that film. Because of the guaranteed funding, this pseudo-public radio program is available through all the new media alternatives. Everywhere its carried, the Letter of Agreement - specifying editorial neutrality of the sponsor - is linked and public. It's one of a number of scenarios I've played with. Every one of them compromises editorial purity, in appearance if not fact. They all loop back to the same conclusion: the entities with cash to spend and the willingness to spend it might need to be approached in new ways. But it's getting in bed with the devil no matter how you slice it. Can you get the devil to use a condom, and come out journalistically uncompromised? Some would argue this is a wall that's already badly breached. I'd like to hear others' thoughts on this.
Angie (coiro) Sat 22 Jul 06 14:14
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Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Sat 22 Jul 06 16:11
I was wondering what the pay and benefits were like but I figured it was impolitic to ask.
No hablo Greenspaņol (sd) Sat 22 Jul 06 20:05
No hablo Greenspaņol (sd) Sat 22 Jul 06 20:08
130 contains the lyrics to a song for kids by peter alsop called 'you get a little extra when you watch tv' (c)1983
Alan Turner (arturner) Sun 23 Jul 06 08:27
I imagine that from time to time you have to do an interview about something that you have little interest in (correct me if I'm wrong). How do you prepare for such an interview? How do you do an interview that makes it intersting for the audience even if you're not interested in and don't know much about world cup soccer or whatever yourself?
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Sun 23 Jul 06 08:33
Angie, this is all terrific, interesting information. Thank you for being so forthcoming, straightforward and informative. Very interesting about the long-time producer. I heard the obits and you'd have thought NPR's Mary Magdalene had died.
John Adams (bumbaugh) Sun 23 Jul 06 09:30
John Adams writes: I think Angie's idea in #127 makes sense, with an additional caveat: At the start of such a program, the sponsoring entity ponies up a promise (better yet, an endowment) to fund the show for, oh, let's say five years. At the end of every year, the funding for the year five years into the future comes up. That puts the axe blade far enough into the future that the time pressure is off and alternate sources of funding can be found. It also gives the process of public pressure time to work on the sponsoring entity. (I came up with the five years figure though a scientioproctological process--I'm sure others might get different results.)
Berliner (captward) Sun 23 Jul 06 09:57
I like John's idea (as well as the word "scientioproctological," which I may steal), but I wonder how many entities with the cash to do such underwriting have little enough ego to realize that some or all of what they do might come under criticism on the show. I mean, you assume the show wouldn't go after them, but if, say, the seed money had come from Enron, and all of a sudden all these nasty things started coming out, you bet there'd be pressure. But if the endower can't touch the money, then the threat of pressuring the program wouldn't work. Not only scientioproctological, but very idealistic!
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Sun 23 Jul 06 12:22
I kind of wonder about the assumption that all outside pressure is bad.
scientioproctological (coiro) Sun 23 Jul 06 12:45
I like John's word so much I'm wearing it around as my pseud. Thanks, John! Brian, I don't think the assumption is that all outside pressure is bad. Pressure to be accurate, pressure to be fair - all good. Pressure to reflect the priorities, opinions, and interests of a monied benefactor - not so good. The latter contradicts the former. Locals might remember when KQED-TV planned a documentary project on Robert Mondavi. Unfortunately, it was to be funded by Robert Mondavi. Here's a read on what a disaster that was: <http://www.fair.org/extra/9702/kqed.html> Apply John Adams' formula to this probably couldn't have saved it. Despite whatever best intentions individuals might have brought to the project, it was designed to flatter from day one. Look how grey the areas can get, though, when you change a factor here and a factor there: 1.) A docu on California's wine history is in development. It includes critical views of immigrant labor conditions, union fights, and the impact of vineyards on the watershed. The station has a connection in the industry, knows this associate has integrity and will not interfere editorially. But still - the show's not finished, and suddenly wine money is coming on board. Legit? Bad idea? 2.) The wine industry is well-represented in a consortium of new-program funders for the station. The idea for the above-mentioned documentary is floated. There's not a peep of discontent from the consortium, nor its wine-industry members. But consortium money will be used for development. Okay? Not okay? The sticky point here is, people and business with money to fund programming inevitably have their own interests. How far do we go to put up a wall between their interests and the use of their money? At what point are we shutting down good and fair possibilities? At what point is the conflict of interest, or at least its appearance, too big and clumsy to deny, even if no pressure is brought to bear? More ...
Angie (coiro) Sun 23 Jul 06 12:48
Alan, I love, love, love that song! Were my pipe-dream to be realized, it would definitely come along for the ride. And you can imagine the look on a corporate funder's face when that little ditty gets played. Yep - tough sell. To arturner's query ...
Angie (coiro) Sun 23 Jul 06 12:57
Fortunately, there aren't too many topics without some intriguing tendril I can grab onto. If the subject is alienating to me, the humans involved can stir up at least some empathy, if not passion. The area I'm most ignorant of, and least interested in, is US professional sports. Again I'm lucky - first in public radio, then in political commercial radio, I'm not called up to go there. I'm trying to summon up a memory of a topic that start-to-finish bored me silly. I suppose the driest have been the necessary, but dull, public affairs topics like the SF city budget. But even there - intrigue! conflicting priorities! Impassioned advocates on all sides! It's all in the approach, isn't it.
Angie (coiro) Sun 23 Jul 06 12:58
Steve, thanks for the kind words. As to this: >>Very interesting about the long-time producer. I heard the obits and you'd have thought NPR's Mary Magdalene had died. Yep. Talk is cheap. Regular employment and benefits cost actual dollars.
Angie (coiro) Sun 23 Jul 06 13:07
More on John's point: I like the idea of a 5-year commitment. Like a blind trust of a sort. From the funder's side, I imagine that's a more attractive proposition for an established show. Take "Car Talk". It's not going anywhere; it's a proven draw; its format is down to a science. Maybe GM could bear the slings and arrows from Tom and Ray, knowing an attentive, higher-income audience is guaranteed for its product messages anyway. A proposed show, however, is a pig in a poke. Its ultimate identity has yet to form. They're like human infants, morphing constantly and unpredictably in their first year or so. Dig up some of the oldest This American Life broadcasts to see what I mean. It would take a generous, patient sponsor with an adventurous streak several miles wide to sign up for five years while the baby is still in the womb. That said - maybe a one-year development commitment, with a five-year commitment pending once the show is up? A one-year dump clause, with the last four years unbreakable? Worth pondering.
Angie (coiro) Sun 23 Jul 06 13:17
A last thought to Ed - I seem to recall ADM, "Supermarket to the World", continued to fund NPR while its nefarious doings in the corn sweetener biz were being covered by NPR news. And TAL did a great piece on that same legal case. That leads to another consideration: audience reaction to underwriters. I recall that public radio was accused of soft-pedaling the ADM story because ADM was an underwriter. My impression was that they did no such thing, especially in light of the TAL feature. It greatly, greatly upsets public radio listeners that NPR accepts underwriting from WalMart. They find that unconscionable. My thought is, who decides whose money should be turned away? How would NPR justify that? According to what standard, that could be codified and duplicated to apply to all potential underwriters? If WM wants to throw money at public broadcasting, says I, grab it. Just don't for a moment pull any editorial punches. Which brings us full circle. Money makes programming (and print, and some internet sites) possible. It's a non-stop dance to keep editorial and funding separate, and every case has the potential to rework the choreography for the next waltz.
Don Mussell (dmsml) Sun 23 Jul 06 14:08
KKCR on Kaua`i had an interesting thing happen when they added "Democray Now" to the program lineup a number of years back. A big underwriter (King Auto Center) dropped it's underwriting because the owner did not like Amy Goodman's reporting. A couple of community members even joined the board in an effort to force the program off the air. Despite these efforts, the program remained on the air because the program director thought it was importatnt to provide that point of view. And in the end, listeners made up for and exceeded the funding lost to the vacant underwriter, and the new board members realized that the board does not have micro-management powers over programming. Stuff like this is a delicate balance between bottom-line bean counters and the larger public interest. Not always easy or successful. For a small, rural station, this stuff can be fairly clear, but for bigger stations with bigger audiences, it is not as clear or easy. The manager and program director(s) need to see the bigger picture, if they can.
Don Mussell (dmsml) Sun 23 Jul 06 14:10
I meant "Democracy Now!, of course. Typos are caused by the heat, of course.
debunix (debunix) Sun 23 Jul 06 14:31
I've really been enjoying this discussion, Angie, and maybe I can even figure out how to download your show (since I am unlikely to have satellite radio anytime soon). I come to this part of the discussion with a perspective colored by being a physician, where there is an ever-present debate on the effects of corporate money on physician prescribing habits and funding of medical research. Although we all want to believe that free samples and company reps only influence the other guy's prescriptions, it seems clear to me that drug companies wouldn't spend the money if they didn't have data demonstrating effectiveness. There is a lot of skepticism when corporate support is revealed revealed by the authors of primary research as well as reviews and editorials. The emerging consensus seems to be that there is no way to avoid bias in favor of your sponsor, even if it is only unconscious, and you're consciously trying to avoid it.
Angie (coiro) Sun 23 Jul 06 15:03
Don, what's the rest of KKCR's programming like? NPR, BBC, community? Deb, one thing I haven't had to worry about at Mother Jones Radio is conflict with the sponsors. I think I mentioned upstream that Exxon and Monsanto are hardly kicking the doors down to sponsor us! Pshew, one more thing I don't have to worry about. (Our newest sponsor is a socially-responsible investment fund that, coincidentally, I had already contacted as a consumer to look into investing with.) Mother Jones is very outspoken in speaking its truth, which only a few segments of the potential advertising pool are completely comfortable with. Why advertise with an entity that asks questions when there are so many other placid, controversy-free media out there? More ...
Don Mussell (dmsml) Sun 23 Jul 06 15:09
KKCR is a community station, and the only "network" programming comes from Amy Goodman and "Free Speech Radio News". All the rest is locally generated. Hawaiian language and music programming takes up about 11 hours daily during the week. For a place with around 60,000 permanent residents, the 80K they raise every six months in local on-air contributions is pretty amazing. Captive audience? Perhaps.
Angie (coiro) Sun 23 Jul 06 15:12
I saw another facet of this last month, when MoJo went to Seattle to sponsor a panel featuring Randi Rhodes, Dan Savage, and Ron Reagan, with me moderating. One man with a picket sign stood front and center where the Foolproof speaker series audience was entering. His beef: The Stranger, the street paper that Savage edits, accepts tobacco advertising. Predictably, he got in line to register his gripe during the Q&A segment. Are tobacco companies reprehensibly snakelike and immoral? Yep, in my book. Could smaller companies make up the loss of those huge ads that keep The Stranger in business? I don't know - I doubt it would be easy. A dance club, a coffee shop, a vintage clothing boutique - takes a lot of those to compensate for one big tobacco ad. My take is, you do the best you can, and beyond that you choose your battles carefully. I heard someone on the radio say one day, "You're going to offend some people by getting out of bed in the morning." Yep, absolutely. Which means you also have to choose whose criticisms you'll pay any attention to. Don slippage. That's an interesting mix. I wonder how much of the protesting had to do with the mainland, network mentality standing out amongst all that island programming.
Angie (coiro) Sun 23 Jul 06 15:12
And damn, I miss living in Hawaii.
Don Mussell (dmsml) Sun 23 Jul 06 15:21
King Auto center is run by a guy from Oahu, who is some upper-level state republican something or other. He advertises everywhere else. It doesn't matter anymore, although it might to his bottom line, as KKCR is tied for 1st place in the local ratings with KONG-FM radio, one the 5 commercial stations in Lihue. Incidently, I think KONG-AM runs MOJO radio. I'll check in a week when I return.
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