A letter from our executive director

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This package of special coverage about diversity in public media has been a year and a half in the making. It is the result of introspection, research, brainstorming, outreach, planning and reporting. For Current, it reflects our aspirations for our journalism and for the public media system itself.

Before I started here as executive director, I collaborated with the Aspen Institute to convene a meeting to explore the intersection of race and journalism. That gathering, held at Aspen’s Wye River campus in December 2014, was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Award-winning journalists and editors from the nation’s top newspapers were there, along with many prominent public media people: Maria Hinojosa, Keith Woods, J.J. Yore, Bruce Koon, Ray Suarez, Al Letson, Joaquin Alvarado, Eric Deggans, Alana Casanova-Burgess and A.C. Valdez.

Drizin

Drizin

Our discussions over two days were frank, painful and hopeful. It became clear that everyone in the room took personal responsibility for being or creating the media they wish to see in the world. (Read the final report.)

When I began working with Current’s editorial team a month later, I initiated a conversation about what we could do to deepen ­— perhaps lead — a dialogue about diversity in public media. I wanted Current to produce provocative coverage that would motivate people to remake public media to look and sound more like America.

To me this is not just a moral imperative (as in the right thing to do); it’s about ensuring the relevance, value and sustainability of public media in a nation undergoing seismic demographic and political changes. And diversity is our shared mission, as written in the Public Broadcasting Act.

DiversityButtonI turned to the Annie E. Casey Foundation for a small grant to help fund production of this special coverage, and to support its wider distribution to public media, universities, foundations and attendees of the joint conventions of the national associations of black and Hispanic journalists next month. For the first time, Current will be present at the NABJ/NAHJ conference, in a space in the exhibit hall that’s being designated as “Public Media Village” because it’s dedicated to promoting public media careers. NPR has led the effort to create and coordinate that space, where Current will shoot video and interview journalists of color about why they work in public media, or why they don’t.

We also turned to CPB to request data. Those of us who attend conferences know very well the “unbearable” whiteness of public media, but we wanted to see what employment looked like across the system. At this year’s PBS Annual Meeting, Current Managing Editor Karen Everhart and I met with nearly every chief executive and general manager of color to learn about their experiences working in the field. Many have grown weary of being among the few African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-American executives in a system that calls itself public media. Local stations and national organizations can do better, and they must.

CPB provided data showing public media workforce demographics over five years, so the editorial team could analyze hiring trends in various job categories at public radio and TV stations. The data showed very little change, and that a significant portion of minority employment in the system is attributable to minority-operated stations. But the data did not answer this burning question: Besides the black and Latino “-owned” stations ­largely staffed by people of color, which stations in our system are doing best when it comes to racial diversity?

We wanted to identify broadcasters with the most diverse staffs so that we could shine a spotlight on them and report on how they recruit and retain employees, how they engage audiences of color and the impact of diverse staffing on their service to their communities. We have talked with leadership at several stations, and plan more coverage of their efforts, but hope to find more examples.

StoryCorps, a project that amplifies the voices of the broadest swath of Americans, has made great progress in building a staff that truly reflects this mission. Jill Goldsmith’s feature story explains how Dave Isay and Donna Galeno accomplished that over the last decade. StoryCorps is an example of what is possible when diversity is a top priority and a measure of success.

But does that example hold for the rest of public media? Here’s the $400 million dollar question system leaders must confront: Do institutions that don’t reflect and serve diverse local audiences deserve federal investment? Or should diversity metrics and efforts be considered in CPB’s formula for Community Service Grants?

What do you think? What are you doing to ensure that your station or organization reaches beyond the core audience into diverse communities? Which strategies are working? We want to hear directly from you.

This is our most comprehensive dive into diversity, an issue of urgent importance to public media. We know there are many more stories to surface and report. We couldn’t include everyone we talked to or report on every diversity-focused program initiative that was pitched to us, but we intend to expand our reporting online and invite your story ideas, commentaries and feedback.

And as you think about how this coverage can inform and shape the work you’re doing, consider ordering additional copies for your staff and board of directors. Perhaps our reporting will provide resources and inspiration for you to develop a diversity strategy with goals and benchmarks and public accountability. We hope you will share these plans with Current, so that we can do our part to help move the system forward.

We’re in this together.

  • Sanpete

    The kind of diversity that would most directly affect content, which is as necessary as any to sound like America, and which is by far the most lacking in public media, also receives by far the least attention. In fact, the subject is actively avoided.

    Public radio will never be relevant except as something to react against among a large part of its potential audience as long as it fails to seriously address ideological diversity. Public radio will never adequately serve any part of its audience as long as an ideological monoculture dominates, for the same reasons it fails for all when it lacks other kinds of diversity.

    It’s way past time for liberals in public media to start applying the logic of diversity where it leads, not only where their politics allow them to follow it.

  • Julie Drizin

    There is more ideological diversity in public media than you think. Certainly, people who cherish creative expression, free speech, independent thought, and genuine commitment to equality are drawn to public media. If those individuals skew left instead of right, then that’s just a reflection of democratic values at work.

    • Sanpete

      Please say more about your first sentence. Do you know of anyone in public media planning to vote for Trump, or who voted for Romney, McCain or Bush? America has a lot of such people, about half, well within its mainstream, many well educated and articulate. Public media will never sound like America without them, and it will always fail to adequately represent their views without them, just as with other groups.

      • Brad Deltan

        So all the Nazi salutes and racist chants among many Trump supporters are just a big misunderstanding?

        “Both sides do it” is a bullcrap rationalization by lazy thinkers, and it’s endemic in modern mass media…even now after a year plus of one “side” being a thousand times more extreme than the other.

        Public radio is under no obligation to seek out and pander to people who reject independent thought, embrace inequality and racism, and demand conformity and insist on censorship. My god, man, you had the entire convention floor screaming “LOCK HER UP, LOCK HER UP” when Chris Christie was talking about Hillary Clinton. This isn’t a fringe minority, it’s the goddamn Party platform.

        Julie’s spot on: if people who self-identify as “conservative” also happen to have the values that public radio believes in…and she listed them and they’re good values…then I think they’ll come to the mountain. Those who don’t? You could move the mountain to them but they still won’t accept it.

        • Sanpete

          “Public radio is under no obligation to seek out and pander to people who reject independent thought, embrace inequality and racism, and demand conformity and insist on censorship.”

          Indeed, and no one has suggested such a thing. Again, contrary to common prejudice among liberals–no doubt also strong in public media–virtually everyone in America values creative expression, free speech, independent thought, and genuine commitment to equality. Many on both sides imagine the other side doesn’t value some of those things, because they have different views about them.

          The rest of your remarks I can’t connect to anything I said.

        • JR

          Prove Trump supporters did Nazi salutes and chanted racist stuff. Garbage.

          Clinton is close friends with a Nazi Jew killer from WW II – George Soros, who also heavily funds her campaign. Soros is a Communist, and proud of killing Jews.

          • Can you cite a source for this claim that Soros killed Jews and is “proud of killing Jews”?

        • Brim Stone

          “Public radio is under no obligation to seek out and pander to people who
          reject independent thought, embrace inequality and racism, and demand
          conformity and insist on censorship.”

          There it is in a nutshell. Anyone who does not strictly follow the Leftist party line is labeled with the pejoratives you list by those who do…and those are the folks who control NPR.

          Example: Dozens of pieces sympathetic to illegal aliens have aired on NPR. I have never heard a single piece discussing the very real negative economic effect these foreigners have on especially low income Americans. Anyone even suggesting such an effect exists is quickly labeled with pejoratives similar to those you list.

          Very hypocritically the very labels you list obviously apply to those, like the folks who run NPR, who would suppress dissenting views. Case in point: the decision to close comments by listeners.

      • Julie Drizin

        Recall that the Koch brothers have served on public television station boards and there are many conservative, Republican bankers and community leaders who also serve in that capacity. I don’t know who public media people are voting for as there is no litmus test to work in this field. My guess is that public media probably has more ideological diversity than racial diversity. Indeed many politically conservative people’s voices are heard on the air all the time, but perhaps they aren’t just talking about politics, they are talking about their lives, their faith, their families. Unlike C-SPAN, people aren’t identified by political party or persuasion at every turn.

        • Sanpete

          “My guess is that public media probably has more ideological diversity than racial diversity.”

          It would be easy enough to find out with an anonymous survey about both. Public media organizations like NPR eagerly track racial diversity, but they don’t attempt to track ideological diversity. The results of that neglect fly in the face of the journalistic goals of public media, which largely depend on diversity. Maybe you know the most recent Pew survey on trust in the media found that only 3% of consistent conservatives trust NPR, arguably the flagship of public radio. That’s abysmal by any standard, but it receives very little attention. NPR doesn’t sound like America, and it shows in the trust numbers.

          If you’re talking about personnel who affect content (as I am, so not board members), the evidence is very strongly against the view that public media has more than a very, very few conservatives, e.g. who vote Republican for President. Your own Adam Ragusea has pointed out the overwhelmingly liberal constitution of public media personnel. Bob Garfield asserted it in regard to public radio, and his point was accepted by Ira Glass, in their show on the topic of liberal bias. Other insiders have said the same, all of them people with no axe to grind.

    • Frank Roosevelt

      Do you really understand conservatives? or just think you know what conservatives believe by the caricature that is perpetuated by the dominant, left-wing, establishment, mass media.

      Do you know that many conservatives see themselves as realists, and that progressives are idealists? That “trickle-down economics” is an attack that progressives have been throwing around for over a hundred years? Or that there is more to the conservative thought that the social issues?

  • JR

    The Koch brothers are liberal socialists masquerading as “conservative”.

    Political motives are very visible in public television and radio. Pushing : Diversity, global warming, climate change, etc etc etc.

    There is nothing wrong with “diversity”, but it is being pushed at the expense of other groups, so how diverse is it really? It isn’t. It is communist propaganda.