Neenah Ellis has been station manager at a small station for two years and she loves it. She loves it because she gets what local radio is all about. I am thrilled that a public radio talent like Neenah has decided to wade in at street level.
I went back and re-read a piece I did for Transom nine years ago. None of the essentials have changed. Better yet, I wasn’t embarrassed to have written what I wrote about local radio…which I boiled down to these four elements:
A natural disaster
A sense of humor
People on both sides of the mic (or digital screen, 2011 addendum) who care about each other and the world around them
A decade ago, those of us who had been investing in local news for a long time—and intended to continue—were a minority seen by our system as either a) quirky and charming, or, b) just plain dumb and uninformed about broadcast trends.
A decade ago, I indicated that we were spending equally on local news and news programs acquired from NPR, or about 13% of our spending on each. Today, the percentage for NPR has not changed significantly (still between 10-15%), while we spend about 25% on local news. I never said it was cheap. I will re-assert unequivocally that it is essential, more essential than ever. And I think everyone knows why.
A map, to remind you who you serve; a natural disaster, to remind you to take your work seriously; a sense of humor, to remind you not to take yourself too seriously; and passionate commitment to doing the work well and inviting those around you to participate. Would I add anything to the list today?
It’s time to open our station doors, our hearts, our minds and our bank accounts to the next generation of public media makers. So many of us started at small and mid-sized stations—even Neenah started at a station, albeit a larger one, before moving over to NPR.
At North Country Public Radio, whenever we’re on the cliff edge, ready to make a big decision about doing something new—like maintaining and building out a regional news department or investing in a robust and equal-to-broadcasting digital service—it comes down to two questions:
Is it important?
If the answer to this question is “yes,” then:
If we don’t do it, will anyone else?
Look around your community or region. Who’s left in town to do the local news? A local calendar? Who’s left to turn the spotlight on local arts and performance? And who’s left to connect the local narratives to the stories being played out on national and international stages…and vice versa? “Local” doesn’t mean in an airtight vacuum, it means, what happens at this dot on the map matters to the people who live here, and is connected to stories from other dots across the country and the globe.
You know what I took away from Neenah’s piece? She lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio and people in her community come to WYSO to hear their stories told. I bet we could swap a few…
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