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.

UNC-TV lays down its press shield

Is a public TV station licensed to a state university system an agency of the state if a legislative committee says so? Attorneys and management at North Carolina’s UNC-TV network conceded that it is, and earlier this month obeyed a General Assembly committee’s demands that it turn over reporting materials from a journalist’s investigation into the licensing of hydroelectric dams by aluminum giant Alcoa.

Abortion issue heats dispute over WDUQ underwriting

Pittsburgh jazz/news station WDUQ finds itself in the middle of an abortion-politics hardball contest between its licensee, Catholic-run Duquesne University, and Planned Parenthood. Soon after WDUQ began running Planned Parenthood underwriting spots Oct. 8 [2007], the university ordered the station to stop accepting money from a group “not aligned with our Catholic identity,” even though the underwriting went solely to the station. Though abortion is one of the reproductive health services offered by the local Planned Parenthood affiliate, the word wasn’t used in the spots. The text for one spot said: “Support for WDUQ comes from Planned Parenthood—reducing unintended pregnancy by improving access to contraception.” Another spot mentioned optional abstinence training.

We should charge ahead — with thought and civility

The producer of Eyes on the Prize and other major PBS documentary series keynoted the PBS annual conference in San Francisco in June 1992. [He died in 1998.]

I have warm memories of the last time I addressed this body. It was in St. Louis, my home town, and I came to receive an award for Eyes I. The meeting was in the old Union Station building in downtown St. Louis — now a fancy hotel.