You can buy a study that will say just about anything you want (look at the low-power FM interference issue, on which both sides are right, according to their studies). But you can't juggle the books to make a station sponsor a community program to stem teen pregnancy. You can't skew the numbers to make a station hold a telethon to raise money for scholarships for African-Americans. And no matter how much money a station makes with its regular programming, that doesn't make its employees less praiseworthy for dropping everything to cover a tornado, provide life-saving information, then follow up with food and toy drives. That is why we have no qualms about adding our names to the charities and government agencies that joined with NAB to celebrate the industry's $8.1 billion in public service.
And as for the accuracy of that figure: We can only say that it wasn't that long ago (OK, it was, but we have long memories) that this magazine did its own annual survey of station public service, breaking news and investigative reports. It often ran to 40 or more pages and, at that, merely scratched the surface. Armed with that knowledge, we were particularly surprised at the ungenerous tone of some of NAB's professional detractors last week. "They [broadcasters] are sucking up to charities and doing self-serving public service campaigns rather than providing serious local news and information that citizens need," said one. That is a person who not only sees the glass as half-empty (and incorrectly so, at that) but also breaks the glass and leaves the pieces where someone can step on them. If raising millions for charity is sucking up, we're all for it. And we'll also agree that since broadcasters are parents and drivers, PSAs against violence and alcohol abuse are indeed self-serving.
Broadcasters can work on being ashamed of the money they make some other time. For now, broadcasters should take pride in that $8.1 billion figure, which, we hasten to add, is divided among thousands of station employees who are not cleaning up on mergers or station sales or spot prices but are simply doing good things to help people.