‘Now more than ever’ — and we really mean it

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Much ink and many tears have been spilled over the coronavirus crisis we are facing. I’ve shed quite a few tears myself. And now, a little ink.

We are all bearing witness to a world of pain and insecurity. None of us is immune from fear about the future. Still, we do our best to rise to this occasion. We provide essential information, take care of one another and, when possible, offer doses of relief from the weight of it all.

And many, if not most of us, are doing this from what used to be called the comfort of home but now is a place of distraction and confinement. Some of us are juggling children and homeschooling, struggling to find a quiet space to work. And some of us are home alone. Our Zooms and Hangouts are keeping us connected. And so is Current.

There’s so much hope and inspiration to be found in how public media organizations have risen to this unprecedented challenge. PBS stations have become our public schools by super-serving teachers, parents and students. NPR stations are telling the stories of nurses and doctors, farmworkers and grocery workers, small business owners and the newly unemployed. You are giving voice to your communities in profoundly urgent and creative ways. The list of what you are doing is long and impressive (you can still add to it).

I’m disappointed that we are not going to see each other during the many public media conferences that have been canceled so far this year. All of us are saving on travel costs at a time of financial uncertainty, but that’s little consolation for the indefinite social distancing from our colleagues.

Without our conferences, what holds public media together? How do you gain insight about our industry? How do we share best practices and learn from one another? How do you find ideas worth stealing? You turn to Current. We are here for you. We’re part of the glue.

The effects of COVID-19 and the recession on public media and local journalism is still unfolding. I’ve been following daily reports of local newsrooms that are boarding up, ending print or cutting staff and salaries to stay alive. Is this hitting close to home? Will the forthcoming federal stimulus funds to CPB be enough to prevent a similar spiral in public media? We know that $75 million is on its way, but we don’t yet know who will get how much, how or when. I truly do not envy our colleagues at CPB who must make these decisions.

Meanwhile, the Tow Center at Columbia Journalism School is tracking cutbacks in the news business triggered by COVID-19. Too often, stories, conversations and scholarship about the local journalism ecosystem in our country barely mention public media. It’s always frustrating to me, but especially in the current climate, when public media’s universally accessible local services are more vital than ever.

If your organization is anticipating staff reductions ­in the coming months or year, or putting a freeze on hiring for a planned news expansion, I do hope you will participate in the Tow survey. As an essential service to our country and our communities, public media needs to be on the radar for anyone who cares about the future of journalism. Your work in the world must not be ignored.

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