Now might not seem like the best time for the public broadcasting system to be pondering philosophical questions of identity and purpose, since its unwanted promotion to high-profile partisan punching bag in Congress. The official ponderers of the system’s Editorial Integrity for Public Media initiative beg to disagree. Now more than ever, they say, public broadcasting must make its case by defining its purpose and identity to the larger world — because if it doesn’t, its critics will. “In this political environment there’s a lot being thrown around about integrity, bias, and ‘just who are these public broadcasting guys, anyway?’” said Tom Thomas of the Station Resource Group, co-director of the editorial initiative. “We should be able to say, here’s how we do our work, here’s the way in which we make decisions, here’s what money we take or not, here’s how we balance funding and content.”
“In the work I’ve done, facilitating Dynamic Inquiries and Round Robins, one of the key things that comes up is, we don’t have an articulated vision for public broadcasting — and, frankly, that has gotten louder,” said Ted Krichels, director of Penn State Public Broadcasting and chair of the Editorial Integrity project’s 20-member steering committee.
NPR should have its journalists phase out any long-term contracts for appearances on other media outlets, monitor those appearances more carefully and make clearer distinctions between reporting, analysis and commentary in its programming, the network’s ethics-policy task force advised Feb. 25 . Bob Steele, head of the task force, presented recommendations for revising the ethics code to the NPR Board last month. Steele, director of the Prindle Institute for Ethics and distinguished professor of journalism ethics at DePauw University and a journalism values scholar with the Poynter Institute, was retained by NPR President Vivian Schiller to head the task force. The 13-member task force included NPR employees, outside journalists and citizens at large.
The leadership of WNET said a federal investigation into the station’s use of federal grants totaling almost $13 million is wrapping up, and the organization is financially sound. “There was sloppiness as opposed to real wrongdoing in terms of our accounting systems, which has been addressed,” said James Tisch, chairman of the WNET Board, in an interview.
Bill Lichtenstein, executive producer of pubradio’s The Infinite Mind, got a phone call Nov. 20 from a New York Times reporter with troubling information: the program’s host, psychiatrist Fred Goodwin, had been paid more than $1 million by drug giant GlaxoSmithKline since 2000. “My first question was, where did you get that information?’’ Lichtenstein said in an interview with Current. When the reporter said that Goodwin had told him, Lichtenstein was stunned. “When he began to read me the dollar amounts of fees, year by year, I went from stunned to shocked.”
The $1 million-plus figure had been uncovered by Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking Republican in the Senate Finance Committee, which has been investigating the lack of financial transparency in medicine.
Before Nancy Kruse’s fundraising company closed, leaving more than $400,000 in expected public radio proceeds unaccounted for, Kruse’s company bio described her as, among other things, “director of The Writing Center in San Diego” who “has a master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University and, in 1997, was awarded a Eureka Fellowship for her leadership in nonprofit management.”However, Georgetown University has no record of her graduation and Eureka Communities does not list her as a past fellow. She did indeed run the Writing Center, once a nonprofit fixture of San Diego’s literary scene, but Kruse’s former co-workers, who knew her under the name Delaney Anderson, say she presided over the center’s collapse. The center’s last days in 1998 were marked by double-talk and creative accounting, they say, which also characterized the rapid decline and closing of Washington-based Nancy Kruse + Partners this year, according to many of that firm’s employees. The Writing Center’s leaders say Anderson/Kruse suddenly resigned weeks before the center’s demise amid eviction notices and bad debts. Kruse, who ran online fundraising auctions for more than 40 pubradio stations in her company’s 16-month existence, has not explained to stations what happened to more than $400,000 in earnings she had reported from September’s multistation auction.
A revised ethics guide for public radio asks journalists to "remain reportorial" instead of spouting opinions when they're off the air, and it urges that they apply the same standards to call-in shows and websites as they do to newscasts.
The bad news: Public radio is a small part of a rapidly expanding nonprofit sector. Competition with other nonprofits for mind-share and donor support will intensify. Moreover, public radio lacks the financial transparency that donors increasingly expect.
A manager in ethical hot water can be compared to a frog in a soup pot, says Carter McNamara. If you put a frog in a pot of hot water, it will immediately jump out, McNamara writes in The Complete Guide to Ethics Management: An Ethics Toolkit for Managers. But if you put a frog in a pot of cool water and very gradually increase the heat of the burner, you can boil the frog before it knows what’s up. The point here is that most ethical problems are created not by management mischief but by poor decisions made by managers under stress. For public broadcasters struggling to manage rapid change, stress is constant.
WGBH acknowledged that one of the most compelling segments on Antiques Roadshow — the so-called "watermelon sword" appraisal — was faked without its knowledge. The station severed ties late last month with Russ Pritchard III and George Juno, former partners in an antique weaponry dealership who frequently appeared on the series.