The following is a guest blog from Norm Silverstein, president & CEO of
WXXI Public Broadcasting Council, Rochester, NY.
I am writing in regard to your interview with Gordon Bava, board
chair of KCET Los Angeles, “A Very ‘Public’ Breakup.”
I have a great deal of respect for Gordon, having served on a national board with him (Association of Public Television Stations). However, the comments Gordon made about public television “losing money” and comparing it to the auto industry are both harmful and misleading.
It is true that overall public television revenues dropped in recent years as a result of the recession. However, there is a huge difference between revenues being down and operating at a loss. Well-run stations, the vast majority, reduced expenditures and continued to meet their budgets. Yes, it meant fewer programs and services and painful reductions in staff, but we didn’t operate in the red. As for needing to “refresh and restructure,” that’s been a constant theme at my station, WXXI in Rochester, New York. You can see it in the investment we make in our web site and online offerings, our partnerships with colleges that have expanded our radio stations (we now own or manage six public radio stations from Rochester to Ithaca), in productions (local and national) that highlight the best of our community, and in the fact that our membership and corporate support has remained constant despite the weak economy.
Government funding helps support our educational mission on television, including non-commercial children’s programming and adult literacy efforts. Taxpayer support for public broadcasting delivers a “bang for the buck” that few programs can match. Certainly, we’re not asking for a “government bailout” like the auto industry. We hope to maintain a level of government funding that allows us to leverage private support and to continue to be “independent voices” for the communities we serve (usually as the only locally owned and operated media left in many cities). At WXXI, community support, including a modest endowment that we’ve built over the years, makes possible programs that make a difference in the lives of the people we serve, and this is true at many stations throughout the country.
I wish Gordon and KCET success as they pursue their own path. But unfairly bashing the system they chose to leave does nothing to advance their cause.