(Note: A version of this post first appeared at Free Press's "New Public Media" page here.)
I'm not in any way convinced that the present public media system, which is controlled by elite trustees, professional journalists, corporations, and government, is worth funding permanently. Respectfully, unless we first address the more fundamental issue of who controls "public" media, we doom ourselves to repeat the mistakes of the past, only on a bigger scale and with better technology and software.
The waste in the PBS and NPR system nationally and locally is shameful, particularly executive salaries. (We'll talk more on executive salaries in a future post.) The fact is that public access and community radio operations are able to do much more with much less money.
Let's instead make the best of the innovative, vibrant community production we already have - programming that actually serves and engages and is from, of, and by marginalized communities.
We ought to make some of the better public access and community radio programming of limited circulation available to lots more people through the respective local, larger public broadcast outlet(s). Pay these creators $10-$50,000, provide training and a little cash, pay a little to lease the community facilities where these shows are made and you make a good news or public affairs show great and available to the masses. Under this scheme, a weekly show could be brought in at maybe $200,000 - $350,000 a year. That sure beats the millions spent on "quality" "professional" shows like Moyers' replacement "Need to Know" and its local kindred. We require larger programming spaces where community groups and their needs and concerns are royal.
Therefore, we first need governance structures that permit approaches like this to happen and that don't perpetuate old, tired failures. Committed journalism workers have a limited but important role to play in station governance - don't get me wrong. But they need a lot of oversight, lest they help take us to war, misery, and ruin yet again. No, the elite at PBS and NPR outlets who call themselves professionals are not our gods, our parents, or our "partners".
We, the public, must instead, and at all times, be their bosses. Or they can hit the road.
So before we talk about money, we have to completely change the power relationships that determine the way decisions are made at the PBS and NPR outlets.
If it's to be more money for a programming product aimed at an advertising consultant's disappearing - dying - target demographic, count me out.
(This was written by Scott Sanders, but James Owens contributed a few thoughts too.)
see also -- "A Neutral Network Alone Will Not Build a Just Media System for Us and Neither Will Professional Journalists: Control of Public Media as a Social Justice Issue"
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