Study evaluates strength of public radio’s “halo” for sponsors

ATLANTA — The positive associations that public radio listeners have with corporate sponsors and underwriters are as strong as ever, according to a report unveiled July 11 during the Public Media Development and Marketing Conference. Results of the 2013 NPR Underwriting Research project, presented by radio analyst Paul Jacobs, showed that the so-called “halo effect” that companies gain from public media sponsorships is unchanged since 2010, the last time researchers looked into it. A 2003 NPR study first identified the power of public radio sponsorships to influence listeners’ perceptions of the quality of the companies who pay for them. “We’re seeing absolutely no decline in how your listeners feel about you,” Jacobs said. “Despite the fact we live in a time of media fragmentation, one of the constants you have is that your audience loves you.”

“You have something that money can’t buy — your listeners trust in you so much that that trust transfers to the companies that sponsor you,” Jacobs told the audience at the PMDMC Thursday. Continue Reading

Arizona radio stations ask FCC for looser underwriting rules

The licensee of KJZZ and KBAQ in Phoenix has asked the FCC for temporary permission to sidestep the agency’s rules governing language in underwriting announcements in a test of whether “enhanced” sponsor messages could boost income. In a March 18 letter to the FCC, the Maricopa County Community College District proposed a three-year trial window “to conduct a limited and controlled demonstration project to test a modified loosening of the Commission’s enhanced underwriting policies.” Under the looser rules, KBAQ and KJZZ would air announcements that include:

“factually accurate information concerning interest rates available at underwriter banks, credit unions, automobile dealerships, and other local businesses”;
notification of sales and special events such as discounts and promotions; and
qualitative adjectives based on factual data, such as “certified,” “accredited,” “award-winning,” “experienced” or “long-established.”

During this experimental phase, the stations would monitor listener satisfaction and revenue resulting from the enhanced announcements. If sales rose and listeners accepted the new language without complaint, other public radio stations could adopt the looser rules as well, the college district suggested. In the letter, submitted by communications attorney Ernie Sanchez, the college district cited the need to experiment as stations grapple with cuts in state funding, declines in underwriting revenue and the possible elimination of federal support for public broadcasting. “Could public radio stations remain financially viable, even with diminished federal funding, if the guidelines were simply relaxed or — expressed another way — enhanced somewhat more than previous levels?” the letter asked. Continue Reading

One of the experts who appeared in Nova's "Rise of the Drones" was Abe Karem, creator of the Predator drone. Critics of the broadcast faulted Nova for not disclosing Karem's business relationsihp with Lockheed Martin, corporate sponsor of the series at the time of the broadcast. (Photo: WGBH)

Nova faulted for failing to disclose funder’s interest in drones

A recent Nova documentary about unmanned aerial drones sparked a flurry of complaints from viewers upset by what the program’s producers didn’t say about development of the technology for military and other purposes: that Lockheed Martin, series underwriter and one of the country’s largest military contractors, is a developer of drone technology. Continue Reading

NPR Underwriting Credit Guidelines, 2012

Retrieved from NPR.org Nov. 25, 2012
Underwriting credits acknowledge organizations which fund public radio programming. Federal law mandates this identification and further allows for the non promotional description of the sponsors products and services. The following guidelines assist NPR and its underwriters in developing credit language that complies with FCC and IRS regulations for non-commercial broadcasters.NPR underwriting credits must contain:
The legal name of the underwriter, to be read immediately after the standard opening phrase, “Support for NPR comes from NPR member stations and…
Credits may also include the following:
Non-promotional, value-neutral, descriptions of organization, products and services. Names of operating divisions and subsidiaries. Continue Reading

NPR budget for 2013 projects $5 million deficit

The 2013 budget approved by the NPR Board Sept. 14 projects a $5.1 million operating deficit, with expenses adding up to $185.5 million and revenues projected at $180.4 million. Management plans to cover the shortfall with working capital and operating reserves. The 2013 spending plan anticipates a 5 percent gain in sponsorship income, which fell far behind projections this year. NPR expects to close fiscal 2012, which ends Sept. Continue Reading

Insistent sponsors put newsrooms on alert

Underwriters of public radio programs increasingly want to link their names more closely to particular stories and reporting projects, according to station executives, a trend that is requiring journalists to be more vigilant in fighting perceptions of potential conflicts of interest. Continue Reading

Underwriting drop leaves NPR with $2.6M shortfall

Facing an operating deficit of $2.6 million this fiscal year due to a shortfall in corporate sponsorship income, NPR is stepping up efforts to cover the gap with additional gifts, grants and underwriting. These measures are being taken rather than “cutting deep into NPR,” a spokesperson told Current last week, after the Washington Post reported that the network had considered cutting Tell Me More, the daily newsmagazine aimed at people of color. The Post’s report cited anonymous sources describing internal discussions. NPR President Gary Knell later told media outlets that there were no plans to cancel the show. NPR hit a record high in corporate sponsorship income last year but is now struggling, with a variety of factors contributing to the slowdown in sponsorship revenue. Continue Reading

Jim Ascendio

No-chat zone ’twixt funders and reporters?

Radio news veteran Jim Asendio resigned as news director of Washington’s WAMU-FM last week after an internal dispute over a private fundraising event turned into a public clash over the editorial firewall protecting the station’s newsroom. Asendio objected when top managers required him and two reporters from his staff to participate in a “Meet the Producers” breakfast and panel discussion that the station hosted for major donors Feb. 22. The choice was stark, the news director said: “I could either not show up and be in trouble, or show up and violate my ethics, so I tendered my resignation.”

The showdown, first reported by Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple, put a spotlight on one of the touchiest subjects in cash-strapped newsrooms — firewalls designed to protect working journalists from undue influence by funders and to prevent appearances that such conflicts exist. Similar conflicts are playing out behind the scenes at public radio stations across the country, according to Iowa Public Radio’s Jonathan Ahl, who is president of Public Radio News Directors Inc.

“Some of our members have given us the indication that people aren’t necessarily crossing the firewall, but they’re walking up to it and peeking over it” too often, Ahl said. Continue Reading