While it is unusual for the Board of Trustees of a public media organization to so publicly thank its management and staff, the Ideastream Public Media team is too extraordinary not to celebrate widely. Their execution of our collective vision, complemented by the trust and focus we’ve developed across the organization and with our communities, are the reasons the organization is experiencing explosive growth at this critical time in its history.
Over the course of the past two years, Ideastream Public Media – Ohio’s largest independent, publicly supported media organization serving 3.6 million people in 22 counties across radio, television and digital platforms – assumed operations of its market’s competing NPR station and created a statewide news collaborative with other NPR stations across Ohio. These are two once-in-a-generation achievements for any public media organization. And, Ideastream did all this while expanding its classical radio signal, launching a public media workforce collaborative with three other public media stations, growing its paid internship program, developing a new strategic plan and renovating 32,000 square feet of its office space.
Lest we forget that all of these successes occurred in the context of a global pandemic, full-to-now-hybrid remote working arrangements, and the “Great Resignation.” It’s been both an exhausting and exhilarating 24 months. As Chair of the Board of Trustees of Ideastream Public Media, when I reflect on how all of these remarkable achievements were possible, two main factors rise to the surface: focus of priorities and trust among the Board, Executive Team, staff and community.
For many years the organization was involved in a flurry of projects and initiatives across multiple platforms. From producing a nightly news television show and multiple hour-long documentaries to implementing various multi-station, multiple media content initiatives, we served our communities in what felt like hundreds of different ways. Like so many public media stations, we did so because many opportunities presented themselves after decades of proof-of-performance and partnerships fostered by our then leadership.
But the world around us began changing fast with the rise in digital content production, distribution and consumption and the increasing consolidation of media entities. A little more than five years ago we began to shift from a predominately broadcast focus to a more user focus across many platforms, namely digital ones. Our founding leaders were set to retire, so we hired a public media innovator, Kevin Martin, as our President and CEO to usher in the next stage of Ideastream’s evolution and growth.
Over the course of his first few years, Kevin built Ideastream’s exemplary Executive Team, complete with the organization’s first ever Chief Content Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Experience Officer, a General Manager to oversee all of our transmission properties, a General Manager to oversee all statewide responsibilities, and a Chief Financial Officer that is comfortable being at the center of everything we do. In the fall of 2021, the Executive Team and the Board began work on a new strategic plan. Together, we took a macro view of all of Ideastream’s efforts and aligned them into what is now its Core Services model comprised of News and Information, Arts and Entertainment, Classical and Jazz and Education.
This model has allowed Ideastream to better focus and prioritize activities across the organization, allocate resources more strategically and drive deeper impact in each service area. This is primarily evidenced by Ideastream’s expanded local news and information service which, by virtue of its successful merger with WKSU, has expanded from 18 to 22 counties and allowed for more news coverage in urban, suburban and rural areas of Northeast Ohio. The prioritization of operations and resources into the News and Information service has also fostered the hiring of more reporters and producers of diverse backgrounds and lived experiences, increased the number of locally-hosted news broadcasts, grown the volume and quality of digital content, and expanded the number of paid editorial internships. At this writing, leadership is mounting a multi-county market study that gauges the extent to which citizens across Northeast Ohio trust Ideastream Public media and determines what strategies we need to focus on to grow current and new audiences moving forward. There are those two words again… trust and focus.
None of Ideastream’s success is possible without the exceptional talents and expertise of the Executive Team, led by a CEO with vision, as well as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the State of Ohio’s Broadcast Educational Media Commission, all working in trust and tandem with an active and engaged Board of Trustees committed to the growth and future of Ideastream Public Media. Moreover, our success wouldn’t be half of what it is without our talented and passionate staff, a generous community willing to support our efforts in word and action and our 47,000 members that provide the necessary fuel to fund our aspirations.
I’ve served on many boards over the years and I can say that Ideastream is one of the best run organizations in Northeast Ohio, non-profit or for-profit. There is much work ahead and the board is both focused on and excited about the future because we have great confidence and trust in our CEO, our Executive Team, our staff and our community. So, while this article may be a little unusual it is nonetheless deserving.
Sandra Kiely Kolb, Chair
On behalf of the Board of Trustees
Ideastream Public Media