This is the test of the emergency broadcast system

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Greetings from my dining room table, from another unintended stay-at-home mom.

I know that many of you are working from home, trying to keep your kids from photobombing your video conference calls, pulling your cat off your keyboard and recording in your closet or garage. You may be Slacking, but you are not slacking. You are breaking format and breaking news. You are working 24-7 curating local resources; dispelling myths; educating children; supporting teachers and families; producing call-in shows, PSAs and quarantine diaries; moderating support groups on Facebook; launching podcasts, newsletters and virtual kids’ camps. You are livestreaming local musicians, airing press conferences of local government officials, translating content into multiple languages and sharing the personal stories of your employees who are keeping your station going. I know what you are doing because Current asked and you answered. (Check out our list of your initiatives.)

Public media is proving how nimble our people can be when life demands that we pivot. Journalists are truly first responders now.

This is the test of the emergency broadcast system.

And maybe, just maybe, public media might get a “hand up, not a handout” from the federal stimulus package, which initially included $300 million for public broadcasting. The funding was reduced to $75 million in the final bill released Wednesday. That is such a teensy piece of the $2 trillion rescue package. It’s about a 15% boost in CPB’s funding, but twice as much as the $39 million CPB has invested in local and regional news initiatives over the past decade.

As of this writing, CPB hasn’t said anything publicly about public media’s response to the coronavirus. There’s no mention of the pandemic on the CPB homepage. Perhaps the press release is getting ready to go. I expect that CPB leaders have been Zooming from home like the rest of us, strategizing on how to implement emergency programs to support stations’ efforts to scale up despite revenue losses from canceled events, anxious donors and underwriting clients who have shuttered their businesses. In the coming days, we shall see if CPB is as nimble as the stations its federal funds support.

Meanwhile, tiny, under-resourced Team Current is working virtually, and I emphasize the word “working.” We are busy brainstorming, reporting, trying to anticipate your needs and documenting the ways public media people are rising (and shining) every day to keep local communities informed and safe.

For Current, public media is our community. It’s a pretty small community, too. Our public broadcasting field employs a scant 22,000-ish people. That’s about the same size of the workforce of the Trump Organization. If all pubmedia workers lived in a single geographic community, our population would be midway between Brattleboro, Vt., and Walla Walla, Wash. But our community is spread across the country — in cities, towns, Indian reservations and campuses of all sizes. It’s a community held together by our shared mission and our national organizations, by Current and our conferences.

Many of the national media gatherings that pubmedia people regularly attend have been canceled or postponed: South by Southwest, PBS TechCon, PBS Annual Meeting, Public Radio Engineering Conference, National Association of Broadcasters convention, Public Media Business Association, Non-Commvention, Investigative Reporters and Editors and INN Days. That list will surely grow.

In the thick of this pandemic, Current is here for you. We are here to tell your stories, spotlight your unique initiatives and paint an “American Portrait” of the massive and impressive public service public media is providing to the our country.

We are here to document the impact of the coronavirus on the health and operations of public media institutions. We are here to explore and track the financial ramifications for public media of this national economic emergency. We are here to direct you to opportunities for online learning and support and to share what you are learning about how to lead in a time of unprecedented change. And we are here to keep you connected to one another.

We’re in this together.

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