WASHINGTON — Public broadcasting stations face a widely disparate landscape of funding cuts, according to participants at the CCLP Washington, D.C. forum in July.
One significant variable is geography and politics – and the state where the station is located: Tom Thomas, who has studied public broadcasting funding for decades, noted that there are five states that devote $70 million to public TV and radio – more than $10 million per state, far more than the other 45 states. So if one of those five states were to cut funding significantly, or zero it out entirely, it would have a huge impact. The demise of New Jersey public radio and television in June is an example of cuts that can close an entire state network.
And all across the U.S., it is the smaller community stations that have experienced disproportionate funding cuts, according to Maxie Jackson, head of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. A majority of these stations are licensed to or are programmed to serve minorities; and 78% have the smallest budgets – under $500,000 a year. Yet those community stations face the largest cuts, according to Jackson.
There seemed an unspoken consensus that government funding of public broadcasting would at best remain level and, more likely, decline. And toward the end of the forum, that sentiment was no longer unspoken.
“The elephant in the room,” said Kevin Klose, is that federal funding could end in a few years. Klose, the longtime president of National Public Radio who is now dean of the University of Maryland’s Merrill College of Journalism, urged participants to begin considering how that would change public broadcasting.
Klose also criticized public television and radio for ineffective and confusing outreach for listener support. Describing an encounter with a New York City taxi driver who “loved public radio” and asked how he could contribute. Klose said he could not tell him, because each station is different.
“Why can’t we have an 800 number,” he asked, that would serve all of public broadcasting?
Surely Klose knows the answer. It is because stations want all contributions to go to local broadcasters, not to the networks.
To verify this, try a simple experiment: go to the home page of National Public Radio and click on the link at the top that is labeled “Support Public Radio.” You are redirected to a page that even former NPR chief Klose finds confusing. And if by chance you were still trying to send a check to NPR, rather than a local station, even assuming you could find the obscure link that leads you to the “About NPR: Support” page, once you land there, you discover there is still no way to make a contribution.
The result, according to Klose: most listeners give up and log off without sending money to anyone.