The Revolution Will Be Publicized

The conservative mantra labels NPR as part of a vast “liberal media,” a view espoused vociferously by the right since the time of Reagan. But saying something loud and long enough does not automatically make it true. “The truth will out in a free marketplace of ideas,” journalism teaches the hapless communications student of today (faced with a job market that’s seen a quarter of journalists laid off in the past decade). The marketplace of ideas has itself been corporatized, with free thinkers relegated to the internet, the new opiate of the masses. The revolution will not be televised, but it will be publicized — on Facebook and YouTube (witness the uprisings in the Middle East). Were Edward R. Murrow alive today, would you have to find him on Twitter?

Legitimate conservative arguments do, however, reveal some interesting statistics, as in this post from the website NewAmerican.com:

NPR’s Demographic

The numbers on NPR’s audience are remarkable.

Their household income is about $90,000 annually, compared to $55,000 for the hoi polloi who listen to normal radio. As well, its audience is 86 percent white. Only 5 percent of its audience is black. And about 70 percent of its audience has a college degree, compared to 25 percent of the American population. Moreover, an NPR fact sheet brags, its listeners are three time more likely to have finished graduate school: 32 percent of NPR listeners hold graduate degrees.

Further on down the page is this admission:

But Susan Schardt, executive director of the Association of Independents in Radio, speaking at an NPR board meeting in February, also said NPR erred in targeting the white liberal elite, which is just 11 percent of the population, and should cultivate all Americans as listeners. According to Schardt:

We have to look at this because the criticisms that are coming at us — whether they’re couched in other things — do have some legitimacy. We must, as a starting point, take on board some of this criticism…. We have to own this.

Yesterday’s Taylor on Radio newsletter carried this related piece:

Worries about a commitment to diversity at NPR.
The National Association of Black Journalists says Vivian Schiller “inherited a culture that was dismissive of diversity” when she got there in 2009, and had taken steps to improve that. She’d hired Keith Woods as Vice President of Diversity, News, then Jeff Perkins as VP of Human Resources and Chief People Officer, and former Radio One executive Deborah Cowen as VP of Finance and CFO. Schiller also created the job of a senior editor to diversify the voices heard on NPR, and a diversity correspondent to cover “race, ethnicity, community and culture”, says NABJ. So that’s another challenge for whoever replaces Vivian Schiller. The last time the top NPR job came open, several commercial radio executives took a shot at it. But with all the controversy, what will the pool be like this time?

The lack of diversity has been a far greater bone of contention at local stations such as KUT in Austin (a city nearing a white minority), where a slavish attention to Arbitron numbers drives the choices made. Arbitron, which is now seeking to weather lawsuits in several states regarding its lack of diversity, leading to a systematic alteration of methodologies in collecting these numbers to address the problem.

This is particularly hypocritical given the clarion call on 170MillionAmericans.org in response to the Republican effort to defund public radio, when the spin meisters so devoutly professed to “ensure universal access to high-quality non-commercial programming that educates, informs, enlightens, and enriches the public, with a particular focus on the needs of underserved audiences, including children and minorities.”

But whatever melts your butter, right? That seems to be the norm in politics nowadays, where talk is cheap — whichever face it’s coming out of…

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Said & Done

  • The LUV newsletter took another shot at the corporatist trend at NPR news with its reporting on the reactor problems in Japan, chiding :

“The radioactive core in a reactor at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant appears to have melted through the bottom of its containment vessel and on to a concrete floor, experts say, raising fears of a major release of radiation at the site,” begins a piece in The Guardian this morning.

NPR’s Morning Edition is reporting this morning that “radiation is just a part of nature.”  NPR “journalist” Renee Montagne thought it important to ask if we should worry about radiation from bananas. There was no mention of the above blockbuster stories. Might offend corporate sponsors, one might think, to point out that it’s dangerous.

“Radiation levels in sea water near Japan’s damaged Fukushima nuclear plant have reached more than 3,000 times the legal limit, officials said, as efforts continue to bring the country’s nuclear crisis under control” begins a piece at al Jazeera this morning. The scary part which follows is “Officials said they did not know what caused the radiation level to rise.”

  • More action on the college-radio front, reported on Tom Taylor’s newsletter here:

Mobile, Alabama’s Jesuit-run Spring Hill College is selling its WHIL-FM. Is this a pattern or just coincidence? The Jesuit-run University of San Francisco is up to its clerical collar in protest over the way it handled the sale of KUSF (90.3) to a group that’s already changed its format from alternative to classical. Now here’s Spring Hill College (“the Jesuit College of the South”) selling its WHIL-FM (91.3) to another school — the Tuscaloosa-based University of Alabama, nearly 200 miles away. We don’t know the price yet, but WALA-TV says the sale process has been quietly underway for a while. Spring Hill president Richard Salmi “said the college had approached a local group of investors to buy the station, but when they couldn’t come to terms, the college made an offer to the University of Alabama.” There shouldn’t be the same kind of format fuss as in San Francisco. WHIL-FM is already basically classical music, buttressed by public radio information staples such as Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Fresh Air and Marketplace. WHIL-FM’s got a robust Class C signal that reaches to the edge of Pensacola to the east and to Biloxi to the west. The U. of Alabama runs the “Alabama Public Radio” network based at WUAL-FM, Tuscaloosa (91.5). It’s also heard on full-power stations in Muscle Shoals (WQPR at 88.7) and Selma-Montgomery (WAPR at 88.3), and on translators in Huntsville at 100.7 and Decatur at 94.7. Obviously, filling in the big coastal market of Mobile would be desirable.

  • Greg Smith sent along this link to a not uncommon occurrence:

I purchased your product, a new Insignia HD digital radio and it has not worked since purchase. I have attempted to return the item, or to exchange it. The seller refuses to communicate with me. Insignia informs me that the radio has a manufacturing defect and that they cannot repair or exchange the radio. They inform me that they are merely a trademark for Best Buy, and that Best Buy is responsible for all Insignia products. I am requesting an exchange of the product for a working model.

Boston Shakedown

Toady up, ‘GBH workers, it’s a new day in your workers’ paradise. Negotiations between the union and management ended without a word exchanged, the suits imposing their will as they saw fit. This post on the Facebook site for the Supporters of Folk and Blues on WGBH came courtesy of Jeff Boudreau in Boston, written by Martin Evans, a Cambridge resident and professor emeritus at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto:

It is sad when an institution that one respects takes a foolish and inappropriate step. I refer, of course, to the imposition on its employees of a contract — based on WGBH’s final offer to its employees.

There are two problems with this action.

The first has to do with timing. WGBH is in the middle of its spring fundraiser. It is hardly conducive to creating a favorable impression of the Station when it is acting like the Wisconsin Republicans in abolishing the union dues checkoff procedures. I am sure that fund raising will suffer. I have already withdrawn my very modest support.

The second has to do with the nature of WGBH as an organization. It is, what Henry Mintzberg called, a Professional Bureaucracy. In a Professional Bureaucracy, the organizations real assets lie in the Human Capital brought to the Station by its employees. It is the Producers, it is the on-air commentators and hosts, it is the technical studio staff who are the core employees and the heart and soul of WGBH. The managers in such an organization need to do two things:

  • Make good hires. This will ensure that the station has the capacity to engage in insightful and challenging programming. Along the way, new hires will need to be be trained and socialized in the ways of the station.
  • Provide a supportive culture for these core workers so they can do their best work and to protect them when outside forces make unwarranted attacks on them.

We can see that over the last seven months of bargaining, the management of WGBH has disregarded these two important roles. Management has alienated their professional staff by insisting on unlimited outsourcing and on the ability to fire employees at will (instead of for cause).

They have shown disrespect for their employees’ union representatives by discontinuing the collection of union dues on behalf of the union.

This is not a culture in which professional employees would want to work. Only the poor job market in the United States will probably keep many of the professionals at their posts.

Over time, under the new contract, WGBH will be hollowed out. What a shame.

The website for Massachusetts Jobs with Justice pointed out what this management move entails:

  • Project contract employees are now effectively at-will employees. They will receive no severance pay if they are given at least six months notice. They are not eligible for severance unless they have been in the same job in the same department for at least five years. Management has no obligation to pay out the balance of their contract.
  • On-air employees and those who direct them can be fired without cause at any time under the so-called Artistic Discretion Termination clause.
  • Employees who are exempt from overtime and work more than 40 hours in a week including a 6th or 7th day will no longer receive any additional compensation or compensatory time for their work.

The site also fact-checks some of management assertions leading to imposition of its position on the work force — well worth a read.

A Paltry Sum, Really

Jeff Boudreau provided this link to an article called “Your tax dollars turn on WGBH” by Jessica Heslam on the website of the Boston Herald. In it, Jessica writes that despite ‘GBH protestations that it gains but a pittance from federal largesse in the form of public funding, truth be told, some $80 million found a home at the Boston public media conglomerate.

WGBH honchos acknowledged yesterday they have received another $80 million in federal money for various programming. including:

  • The children’s literacy show “Martha Speaks.”
  • The children’s early science education program “Peep and the Big Wide Word.”
  • “Design Squad,” an engineering program geared to youngsters.
  • “Teachers’ Domain,” a free online resource for teachers and students.
  • And a pair of history programs, “We Shall Remain” and “Freedom Riders.”

“It’s the money that allows us to launch programs, and WGBH is the biggest producer for PBS,” said WGBH spokeswoman Jeanne Hopkins, adding that slashing federal funds would cost people their jobs. “These are all grants that we apply for. They’re competitive.”

The article notes too that the executives at ‘GBH (who, as reported here, are in a pitched battle with the union) are well rewarded for their efforts.

The Herald reported yesterday that more than a dozen WGBH executives are raking in upward of $200,000 while working in their lavishly appointed $85 million Brighton headquarters dubbed the “Taj Mahal” by one critic.

As Jeff pointed out, in this other Jessica Heslam post on the Herald site, a review of WGBH’s 2009 Internal Revenue Service filings showed the following:

  • Four vice presidents and producers pulled in more than $300,000, and another 10 took home more than $200,000 in pay and benefits;
  • 145 of WGBH’s then-950 employees, about 15 percent, earned more than $100,000.
  • Ex-WGBH president Henry Becton Jr., now the station’s vice-chairman, made $160,873 in total compensation for working just 24 hours a week.
  • Top brass pocketed more than $200,000 in bonuses.

In this Heslam post, there’s also mention of how little ‘GBH, as a nonprofit, has contributed towards city services:

Public broadcasting colossus WGBH — which hauled in over $190 million last year — hasn’t paid a dime to the city of Boston for its fair share of services since moving into its tax-exempt Brighton headquarters four years ago.The last time the non-profit station forked over so-called payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) to the city was in 2007, and the total came to a paltry $10,517, online city records show….

There’s no legal requirement for WGBH to make such payments on its $85 million headquarters. But under Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s new PILOT plan, the station’s voluntary contribution could be about $245,000 a year.

Comments on all three articles run the gamut from hot to cold, with a good share of plain Boston vitriol.

These quotes from Jessica Heslam stand in stark contrast to today’s rally to support ‘GBH workers, who may lose all bargaining rights if management has its way. Shades of Wisconsin. As one comment notes, on the Facebook invitation to the rally, “United we bargain, divided we beg!” Solidarność.

Radio by the Numbers

This post on the Radio Ink website highlights one of the big problems associated with the use of Arbitron by non-commercial as well as commercial radio stations — particularly among the consolidators (Clear Channel, Emmis, NPR):

Here’s one quote from a GM “I could go on for days about how radio is getting screwed by Arbitron’s PPM. We’ve become a reach  medium who programs to the meter measurement and not to listeners or to help clients with marketing issues. The most repulsive aspect is the mediocrity it has caused, meaning all formats sound the same. Very sad. I loved this industry but now we are more of a commodity than a good, tight place that listeners want to go to — to feel good and for our clients to reach those targets.” Another told us “PPM says  you are a ‘listener’ if you are exposed to the radio in a cab while on your cell phone for 5 minutes in a week  even if you didn’t hear the  station and you don’t even like it”

As usual, the comments produced some interesting viewpoints:

Mark Ramsey posted some video this week discussing PPM use. It shows how some PPM families . . . in order to keep the hefty remuneration they receive . . . carried the PPM of younger family members who weren’t wearing them. It told of 2 families who tied their PPMs to a ceiling fan to keep them moving! It told of heavy radio listeners who never even considered putting on their PPM until they left the house, missing all of their early morning at home listening. The PPM is great in theory, but. . . .
Barryob

When you sell for a station that has no “numbers” because it’s too new (as I have), you develop some great arguments as to why Arbitron ratings might not be the best way to gauge a station’s value. Of course, any intelligent person can argue both sides, but these were mine, and I owned them:

  1. “It seems like the only people who have time to participate in Arbitron surveys are the unemployed and retired people; everyone else is too busy. Are these your primary demographics?”
  2. “How many people do you know who would actually carry a PPM around with them everywhere they went? Would you? I think it takes a special kind of quirky person to do that—I always wondered—do they really represent the general population?”
  3. “I remember I got a dollar in the mail and a laundry list of stuff to do when I was a busy professional in another industry. Since throwing money in the trash is counterproductive (and maybe even illegal), I remember I kept the dollar, but threw the rest of the stuff away.”
  4. “Do the busy people you know have time to participate in stuff like this? (shut up and wait for a response) “Hmm . . . I know what you mean. Are most of your customers like that?”
  5. “Seems like the fox is guarding the hen house on THOSE numbers. How many of your customers listen to classic rock? You know, our play list is 1500 songs deep. You’ve heard our morning show, right?”
  6. “You know, stations that use Arbitron have to pay a very, very hefty fee to use their system. I always wonder—do those numbers follow the money?”
  7. “Arbitron is first and foremost a business. They’re a publicly traded firm on the New York Stock Exchange; their symbol is ARB. They’re definitely in business to make money—and they cater to large corporate entities willing to pay through the nose for ammo to give to their sales reps. We refuse to give them money, or participate in their process. Have you listened to our morning show?”

—Will Baumann

Anyone who has ever been to Arbitron and looked at the diaries with their own eyes, and then crunched for themselves how survey results are calculated, knows that Arbitron is an unregulated scam. How can a private company which has monopolized BILLIONS of dollars continue the shellgame? PPM.
— Bryan

Welcome to the Third World

It wasn’t long ago that people left the “public service” — i.e., government jobs, teachers, public safety positions, and the like — because more money could be had in the private sector. Nowadays, those firemen and teachers are being excoriated because those same jobs are suddenly exalted positions held by malingering slackers, the root of all evil in society today. So sayeth our fearless leaders. And this same sentiment is echoed in the comments to this article on the blog boston.com, a piece called “WGBH says offer to union is final.”

When did what remains of the middle class become the bad guys, the root cause of all our economic problems? Excuse me, but did the workers of our world somehow take down the system and nobody told us?

Granted, it’s pretty much axiomatic that politicians need enemies to rally the troops against, and the shills passing as politicians these days seem to have found a suitable target at which to misdirect rage — the embodiment of a frustration at the sorry economic state of the working class in this country as we slouch towards third world status. But to what extent are the politicians and their cronies actually the ones to blame for our misfortune?

This post from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, with its simple conclusion, bears consideration: “[T]he fact remains: Together with the economic downturn, the Bush tax cuts and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq explain virtually the entire deficit over the next ten years (see Figure 1).”

As it posits:

Some commentators blame recent legislation — the stimulus bill and the financial rescues — for today’s record deficits. Yet those costs pale next to other policies enacted since 2001 that have swollen the deficit. Those other policies may be less conspicuous now, because many were enacted years ago and they have long since been absorbed into CBO’s and other organizations’ budget projections.

Just two policies dating from the Bush Administration — tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — accounted for over $500 billion of the deficit in 2009 and will account for almost $7 trillion in deficits in 2009 through 2019, including the associated debt-service costs. [6] (The prescription drug benefit enacted in 2003 accounts for further substantial increases in deficits and debt, which we are unable to quantify due to data limitations.) These impacts easily dwarf the stimulus and financial rescues. Furthermore, unlike those temporary costs, these inherited policies (especially the tax cuts and the drug benefit) do not fade away as the economy recovers (see Figure 1).

Without the economic downturn and the fiscal policies of the previous Administration, the budget would be roughly in balance over the next decade.

As noted, the other part of the equation, of course, is the near collapse of the economic system. Can we lay that at the doorstep of collective bargaining, the boogeyman du jour? The LUV newsletter carried this pithy little piece taking NPR to task again for their pro-business slant:

On NPR’s Morning Edition this morning, host Steve Inskeep asked his guest, Joseph Slater, about public sector labor, “Is there evidence to support the contention that these unions have become much more powerful over time, that is to say too powerful?”

Mustn’t let those cops and teachers get a living wage!

Amazing how they get more like FOX News “journalists” each day. Could it be because NPR gets FOX funding, as we recently reported, to complement their corporate funding from defense cheats, banksters and polluters?

Woof. Hide the guillotines. This is not the first time we’ve posted on LUV’s invective directed at the “liberal media.”

Robert Reich, secretary of labor under Bill Clinton, painted a dismal picture of the plebeian plight on his blog (here), first chronicling the downward spiral of middleclass fortunes and following with this:

Teachers are being fired, Pell grants for the poor are being slashed, energy assistance for the needy is disappearing, other vital public services shriveling. Regulatory agencies don’t have the budgets to pay the people they need to enforce the law. Even if it wanted to the Securities and Exchange Commission couldn’t police Wall Street.

All of which is precisely where Republicans want the nation to be. It sets them up perfectly to blame government, blame public employees, blame unionized workers. It lets them pit workers against one another, divide the Democratic base, and promote the false idea that we’re in a giant zero-sum game and the nation can’t afford to do more.

It diverts attention from what’s happened at the top – so no one sees how well CEOs and Wall Street bankers are doing again, no one views the paybacks and tax giveaways engineered by their Republican patrons, and no one focuses on the tide of money flowing from the likes of billionaires Charles and David Koch into Republican coffers.

No Time to Upgrade

Greg Smith sent along this link to Mark Ramsey’s influential blog, wherein he makes a few observations about what Apple is up to with its iPhone:

Back in December, Apple quietly submitted a patent application that altered the radio experience for its users and introduced three new elements to the iPhone:  FM, AM, and Satellite Radio — all built in.

Besides a much slicker user experience than the standard radio dial, Apple has another trick up their sleeve, according to iPadzz.net:

The radio patents are an indication that the iPhone 5 might offer a unique radio station mapping function which will let users find and select a station with the closest or strongest signal. The folks at T3 believe that Apple might integrate an FM radio receiver added to the top right corner of the device. Apple plans to change the game by displaying all the available radio stations nearby on an interactive map, with names and signal strengths displayed for each station.

The big takeaway from this?

Standard FM and AM are going into the new iPhone — not HD radio.

Satellite radio is getting equal shelf-space to terrestrial on the new iPhones.

As Mark notes:

Pandora has succeeded on iPhones not because FM or AM isn’t there — it has succeeded because it’s different from FM or AM, and that will not be changing.

If you think young folks will wake up and discover a new world of radio heretofore hidden from them, stop fooling yourself. Radio still barely targets these young folks with a limited menu of choices, and they know it. And most of them are already listening anyway when they’re not spreading their media time across a plethora of alternatives, only some of which might be described as “radio.”

Much in keeping with what Jerry Del Collliano of Inside Music Media says about the folly of consolidation in radio and the just desserts of the insanity of seeking the lowest common denominator in music. And, of course, so much for the exuberant “hints” that Apple was about to market HD radio.

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