Public radio stations routinely ask listeners for money, but lately are finding their fund raising abilities are diminishing. Why is money drying up for public radio? Is it the economy? Is it the perceived programming bias of public radio stations causing listeners not to contribute?
I received the following two letters from a reader in Jacksonville, Florida stating his belief on what public radio does well and what it fails to do. These letters were in response to a fund raising plea from WJCT in Jacksonville. As you read them, ask yourself how the radio programming issues he raises might relate to public education issues:
Dear WJCT :
I realize you are in need of funding. My wife and I enjoy some of your programming, but some of it I find so disheartening and troublesome that we don’t give to NPR in any fashion.
When you are ready to dump Diane Rehm (who seems to despise the America I love – or at least us conservatives), Michelle Martin (who recently highlighted and gushed over a father’s day story about two gay fathers adopting) and “Being” with Krista ?? Tippet (a vapid program that she seems to enjoy hosting immensely), then I’ll start writing checks. . Garrison Keillor was good when he stayed out of politics, which he can’t seem to do anymore. He is leaving none too soon. The news also has a liberal bias, but I usually learn something from it. However I always assume it tells the story from a progressive perspective. On the other hand, while I occasionally disagree with some things said, I don’t feel the same disdain from the hosts or for the content of This American life, Car Talk, What do you Know and others. Locally, Melissa Ross seems to try to be balanced. Far cry better than Rehm. And Florida History is excellent.
The other story that really scorched me recently was the ancestry Prof. from Brown (Lannie something with either Diane Rehm or Martin) who decided it best not to have children learn about their family trees anymore (in 4th and 8th grade) because they are all so complex and fouled up. She felt it might upset their little minds. She also concluded that family genealogy really doesn’t matter anyway – we are all raised by each other without boundaries. Just Lovely. I have the exact opposite view - it would be a valuable teachable moment to let all children see their family trees – and the more disastrous they are the more likely a child will make a commitment never to create one like it of their own. Why didn’t anyone on the program bother to make such a central point?
The view of the world by programming execs at NPR is not aligned with mine. If ever it becomes such – or at least includes hosts and writers who have respect for those of us who are apparently behind the times - then I’ll start writing checks. I am a believer in the exceptional nature of the American experiment in spite of our flaws and in the principle that one very simple family structure is the ideal. These are the difference between the American experiment succeeding or failing. Most NPR folks seem to see nothing special about America and the critical importance of the traditional family to its endurance. All of our institutions and us as people have warts, but if we lose site of the ideals for which we stand, we deteriorate and people stand for nothing of significance. NPR doesn’t stand for the ideals that I do and seems intent on making them irrelevant under the banner of providing insight and intelligent discussion.
The best thing that might ever happen to WJCT (and NPR nationally) is to have to cut some programming. Should you decide to do so, you might find a lot more Jacksonville people willing to give.
The next day, I received another email from the reader regarding the response he received from WJCT:
Mike – thank you for a quick and thoughtful response. I really appreciate your willingness to take the time to write to me. I didn’t expect to hear back at all. I have counterpoints to many that you raise and will make a couple, but it probably isn’t productive to get into all of them.
You say public radio is intended to be provocative and “challenge popular thinking”. You and I are together to this point. The problem is your definition and mine of “popular thinking” are different. I think in your definition, popular really means conservative. I don’t hear any programming guests that criticize, as an example, the gay marriage movement (which I would argue is quite popular these days) and instead propose traditional marriage as better for our society. Where are those guests? It sounds intellectually enlightened to “challenge popular thinking”. The way we define the words makes a difference.
It is not intellectually honest to promote only one view of a central societal issue. In the case of gay marriage/fatherhood, I think public radio does. If you can point out any public radio programming/guests in the past year that promoted the importance of the traditional family as opposed to gay marriage/parenting (without being ostracized in the process), point me to it.
You also intimate that I am asking for the programming to say “what I want to hear”. I did not and am not. I don’t know where you saw that in my note. What I do want (and what I did not see you respond to) is for my perspective to be represented in discussions on public broadcasting, for my views to be appreciated as legitimate alternatives, and for them to be represented by leading alternative (my definition for alternative being “more conservative”) thinkers in their field.
Mike, one of the reasons I wrote was the recent plea I have heard on WJCT for money. Only 6% of Jacksonville listeners give while 14% give nationally and you challenge us to step up. You are seeking more givers as is public radio nationally. The problem is the same here and nationally, just more concentrated here because we are a more conservative community.
I wrote to tell you why I and many people refuse to give. Nothing you wrote seemed to indicate you are inclined to change as a result of my feedback. You spent most of your response justifying why you do what you do, why it is the right thing to do and trying to convince me to reconsider the way I think. From a product marketing view, you have told me that I should like your product just as it is and buy it. I didn’t hear anything in your response indicating how interested you are in trying to serve this customer’s product needs. Do you see the irony in that as I do?
One thing that would help me would be to see the specific mission/charter that defines what WJCT is and what its mission is. Also – something that defines the criteria used when deciding which programs WJCT purchases for broadcast. Could you point me to where I could see this info? Perhaps it is on the website. The root of this issue for me is to better understand how WJCT makes decisions. Maybe I’d be presently surprised and become a contributor. But with what I know right now, I can’t support you.
Thanks again for writing.
I posted these letters because the same arguments he makes to a public radio station are the same arguments being made about the lack of local control of schools. Public radio stations use taxpayer dollars and the taxpayers have little to no input on programming. The Federal Government, state governments and local school districts take taxpayer money, and similar to this NPR/public radio fund mode of operation, the taxpayers have little to no input on standards, curriculum, or how their money is spent to educate their children.
Taxpayers are becoming frustrated paying into systems that reflect little to none of their values. Taxpayers are beginning to ask "why should we be supporting public radio stations or public school districts that don't speak to our needs or beliefs?"