Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Public radio and me . . .a thoughtful blast of professional sentiment and a question

There's that circle around those crossed lines again -- the crosshairs that, according to Sarah Palin should never, ever, ever be confused with gun sights. I found this particular crosshaired image of NPR on a CrosstalkBlog posting from November of last year, which reported that "Americans for Limited Government (ALG) President Bill Wilson today urged members of the House to vote in favor of a Republican motion to recommit on HR 1722, a motion which would eliminate federal funding for National Public Radio."

The threatened NPR de-funding didn't happen then, but maybe it's just a matter of the wheels of Congress slowly grinding on until it does. Last Sunday WMRA's General Manager Tom DuVal sent all of us who work for the station a note confirming that:
The House of Reps will most likely vote this week on the FY 11 budget continuing resolution, which includes a 100% cut of public broadcasting funding.  That is funding for FY 13, but there is also talk of rescinding some of the current FY funding. [This represents a loss of 16% of our total budget.]
Starting tonight, we are airing a brief message saying that the vote is happening and directing people to our website for lawmakers' contact info.
Yes, once again public broadcasting is back on the Endangered Government Funding List -- right there with Americorps and  The Office of Science. The reality is that times are tough, for everything there is a season, and perhaps the season of publicly funded broadcasting in this country is about to end.

I promise that sometime I'll wheedle Tom DuVal into writing about  how public funding trickles down through the public broadcasting system to be spit out as its wide diversity of programs. Today, I'm writing about public broadcasting from a purely personal point of view.

I was doing features for NPR, before I listened much, having met NPR's Wendy Kaufman at a Charlottesville party -- where I lived and where you couldn't pick up NPR very well at the time. In between rounds of a back-porch high kick contest, she and I talked about journalism. You should come work with us, Ms. Kaufman said. You'd love it. And she was right.

I  remember, as a journalist fresh from commercial television, producing my first freelance features for NPR back in the late 1980s. It made me feel as though I'd wandered into Valhalla and been invited to pull up a chair to Odin's table.

My first feature was on Ralph Sampson's adjustment to life as a pro basketball player for the Houston Rockets. It was more about the guy than the game. I was given enough on-air time to talk about the counter tops in Ralph's kitchen, which were of chest height to 5'8" me. I've always thought that this one particular detail took you straight into what it's like to go through life at 7'2".

Such telling details are, to me, what makes public broadcasting so essential to our national conversation. It's those details that, more than anything, allow us to understand what it's like to be someone else. To my mind, such understanding fuels compassion; its absence fuels judgment.

If public broadcasting loses all government funding, small stations such as WMRA will go from struggling valiantly to stay part of the community conversation to struggling pretty durn desperately. But maybe in these troubled economic times, that's as it should be. Tough federal and state choices do need to be made. My hope is that lawmakers will make them based on their value to society and not as political panders.

It's an interesting experience to be in your sixties and have attached your professional and personal economic wagon to an organization prominent on the Endangered Government Funding List. Especially when the ethics of your job prevent you from voicing your own opinion about what Congress and the General Assembly should do. It's quite liberating to realize you want to dance with the one who brung you, no matter what.

Where will I go, what will I do if public broadcasting should founder?

Well frankly my dear, I don't give a damn. Every day I get to be a part of public broadcasting is a good day.

If public broadcasting loses government funding, its most legitimate hope of survival is you -- stepping up and giving. We couldn't sell advertising even if we wanted to -- it's against the law for those broadcasting on non-profit airwaves. So, no matter how you look at it, the future of public broadcasting is in your hands.

Right now this is the pressing question: Is having public broadcasting in your life worth a call to an elected official?

U.S. Representatives in the WMRA service area: 
VA District 5 Congressman Robert Hurt                           202-225-4711   
VA District 6 Congressman Bob Goodlatte                       202-225-5431  
VA District 7 Congressman Eric Cantor                           202-225-2815   
VA District 10 Congressman Frank Wolf                          202-225-5136  
WV District 2 Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito       202-225-2711     

1 comment:

  1. Martha...you moved me to do it. Robt. Hurt is an old acquaintance, through his grandmother, Francis--a grand lady. I think that cancelling public radio is akin to book burning. So, today, I called and took a stand.

    Keep up the good thinking, and reporting...and high caliber programming, please.

    Tom Fowler