Pacifica executive director report
Rebuilding Pacifica in 2003
by Dan Coughlin
It's been just over a year since new leadership took over the network and I wanted to take an opportunity to brief you about what's happening around the system as well as to sketch out the road ahead.
First, on behalf of the National Office and the interim Pacifica National Board, I want to thank listeners and staff alike for the hard work and devotion to Pacifica during this incredibly challenging year. We've not only managed to pull the network back from the brink of bankruptcy, but we've also made important strides in providing ground-breaking and informative programming for Pacifica audiences nationwide.
These gains are reflected in the stunning growth of the network this past year. Just to give you an idea, Pacifica's revenues in the 2001 Fiscal Year (Oct. 1, 2000-Sep. 30, 2001) totaled $10.98 million. In FY03, they are projected to reach $13.8 million, a 25 percent increase in just two years. This is truly remarkable, especially given the present nationwide economic crisis. Something special is happening at Pacifica and listeners nationwide unanimously agree that the network is needed now more than ever.
But a warning -- we still have a long way to go. The network faces serious financial and organizational challenges. At the National Office, and at the iPNB, the No. 1 and No. 2 priorities this next year will remain strengthening the network's finances and completing the task of rewriting Pacifica's bylaws and creating the nation's first democratically run national broadcast network.
As you know, the national network and most individual stations clawed their way back from insolvency this past year. In January 2002, Pacifica faced a debt of $4.8 million and a projected budget gap of $1.5 million for the 2002 calendar year. Independent accountants said it would take the network as long as five years to recover. Today, Pacifica's debt is down to about $1.1 million. This drop is largely due to sharp cuts at the national level, successful negotiations with creditors, a big insurance payout, and extraordinary fundraising by local stations.
But the fact remains Pacifica will have to deal with a major financial burden for the foreseeable future. Maybe not five years, but certainly over the next two years. We will probably be faced with paying off another $500,000 in FY04 and we may not be fully clear of the debt until FY06. Therefore, it is imperative that we raise as much money as possible while remaining fiscally disciplined. This is the network's No. 1 priority and we all must raise funds – LAB members, iPNB members, listeners, and staff alike.
An important part of ensuring the network's financial stability over the next year is strengthening Pacifica's accounting systems and procedures. The National Office's financial decentralization measures have been welcomed system-wide. But they also require an increased level of station responsibility. It is critical for the smooth functioning of the entire network's finances that station bookkeeping be accurate and up-to-date. When one station has problems, the entire network has problems. We are only as strong as our weakest link.
Despite our financial difficulties, we must rebuild and move the network forward. The National Office has mapped out a series of priorities that we are collectively working on this year. These are the crucial building blocks for the new Pacifica:
1. Rebuilding the National Office
The National Office is due to move back to California in the spring. This is a big job and will set limits on the capacity of the National Office to deal with other system-wide issues. We will be hiring an entirely new staff over the course of the next few months, including a Chief Financial Officer, a Controller, and a National Development Director. These are important steps and we believe we can locate the kind of staff that will help manage the network better and put the best possible programming on-air.
2. Strengthening Local and National News Programming
The founders of Pacifica created a visionary mission statement that included the following:
• To engage in any activity that shall contribute to
a lasting understanding between nations and between the individuals
of all nations, races, creeds and colors;
Today, it is imperative that we redouble our commitment to the Pacifica mission. With the rapid erosion of democratic rule here in this country, the dramatic increase in the concentration of media ownership, the deepening world economic crisis, and oil wars raging from Latin America across the Middle East to South Asia, our listeners and supporters will be tuning in and expecting the kind programming excellence that has distinguished this network for the last 54 years. We have a special responsibility, and a unique opportunity, to respond with the highest quality and the most informative and compelling radio that we can possibly produce at this critical time in world history.
To carry out this work, we need to reach out to our allies, to partner with other independent media outlets, and progressive organizations across the country. We can't do it alone. One initiative that we've recently taken is to arrange Pacifica programming to be broadcast via satellite radio. The arrangement, with Hispanic Radio Network, opens up a potentially vast new audience for Pacifica at little or no cost and gives the network an important foothold in an emerging new media market.
As we build similar strategic partnerships, we must begin an internal discussion on a new programming paradigm for the network. Staffers, iPNB members, academics, and other progressive media activists are organizing around this issue and we hope to be having a series of programming conferences this year.
In the meantime, local news initiatives are actively being developed. Many stations are looking at introducing news headlines at the top of the hour. News training is on-going and strong links are being developed with Free Speech Radio News teams nationwide. We are also laying the foundation for a robust news and public affairs presence in Washington, DC. With the Pacifica National Office transitioning back to California, Verna Avery-Brown will assume responsibility for programming out of the nation's capitol as Washington Bureau Chief. Already, Verna has been producing a number of specials and, in conjunction with our local stations, a daily one-hour program covering the Iraq war drive and the growing worldwide peace movement – Peacewatch. In addition, Pacifica will continue to deepen and strengthen our relations with programs signatures programs like Democracy Now! and Free Speech Radio News (FSRN).
3. Training and Apprenticeship
The devastation caused by the previous regime has seriously impacted personnel and programming. Talented staff have left the network and Pacifica's editorial capacity has been deeply compromised. So, as we rebuild, we need to ensure that we rebuild with a strong, diverse base that can sustain the network for years and decades to come. Indeed, if we are to establish a viable media outlet for underserved communities, we will need to train a whole new generation of radio broadcasters.
At Pacifica, there exist important examples of community driven processes that have a proven track record of training broadcasters while at the same time bridging the barriers of diversity. KPFA's First Voices Apprenticeship program was designed to provide an equitable path for access and training. It is both an invitation and a greeting to underserved communities. The National Office has asked Amelia Gonzalez, the current KPFA training director, and Norman Jayo, who started and developed the program, to adapt the First Voices curriculum, instructor's handbook, and other documents for distribution to other Pacifica stations. By the end of the year, First Voices will be firmly established as a national training program.
4. New Media Technologies
A critical component of the apprenticeship and training programs, and Pacifica's future broadcasting model, is another keystone in the rebuilding of Pacifica – New Media Technologies. Already, we've seen six beautifully revamped Pacifica web sites emerge in recent months, including www.kpft.org, www.pacificaradioarchives.org, www.pacifica.org, and www.wpfw.org. And we are aiming to further integrate our programming into the Internet across all Pacifica stations. This is critical for the network's future. We need to embrace the new media revolution and position Pacifica as the premier source of alternative news and information on the World Wide Web. We can do it. After all, we have five stations producing originally programming 24/7 365.
Over the past few months, you may have noticed some major changes at Pacifica.org -- and the next few months will see even more. After beginning a complete re-haul of the old site, we are now introducing on-line forums. We also plan to offer a secure, web-based email. Most importantly, we are planning for Pacifica to own and maintain the mail servers for security and confidentiality, a critical requirement in the present political climate.
The page at Pacifica.org for programming is being renovated, to include written summaries of Pacifica's programs. When we can afford it, Pacifica.org will be archiving .mp3s of Pacifica programs, from all of the five stations. This new Pacifica.org will allow us to bring Pacifica's programming to listeners around the world like never before.
5. Pacifica Radio Archives
Across the network, people have recognized the need to immediately address some of the key issues facing the archives. Already, we've taken some important initiatives, including developing the archives web site. The Nov. 19th fund-raiser generated some $180,000 in pledges as well as a plethora of positive news stories on Pacifica's national and international treasure – the 47,000 tapes documenting the last 50 years of North American and world history. Our main objective this year is to be able to develop and launch a strategic fundraising campaign that will enable the archives to properly acquire, catalogue, store, and digitize this historic audio treasure. Ultimately, the goal is to make the archives mostly self-sustaining.
6. Staffing, Diversity, and Trade Unions
Pacifica has many riches, but none is more important than the diversity and commitment of the paid and unpaid staff around the country. Some 170 paid employees work at Pacifica, and more than 3,000 people labor in various capacities at our five stations during the course of one year. Two trade unions – AFTRA and CWA -- represent paid workers at four stations as well as the Pacifica archives and at Pacifica national programming. We are proud to report that network management has recognized the Unpaid Staff Organizing Committee as the representative of unpaid workers at WBAI in New York. We will respect the right of all Pacifica workers to organize as they see fit.
Despite the severe fiscal crisis of the network, we have made it a top priority to secure health benefits and wage increases and/or living wages for staffers network-wide. We also are working hard to win health care for part-time Pacifica workers, as well as domestic partner benefits system-wide. This past year, the National Office has reached agreement with four separate collective bargaining units – CWA in Berkeley, AFTRA at KPFK, AFTRA at WPFW, and AFTRA at WBAI.
But as the network moves to respect all Pacifica workers, we must be mindful of growing labor costs. The increase in Pacifica's total wage bill has been significant. It grew from $5.07 million in FY2000 to $5.94 million in FY01, a 17 percent jump. And between FY01 and FY03 they are projected to grow another 20 percent. This means that much of the revenue gains from the last two years will be going straight into the wage category. Pacifica cannot afford this. Wages simply must come down as a percentage of total revenue. This will be a challenge but we believe it can be done without harming our top priorities: the securing of health benefits and a living wage for our staffers.
I also want to say a few words about what we expect of all Pacifica workers. As the new WBAI General Manager Don Rojas reminded us, each Pacifica contributor is an ambassador for the network. We are representatives of Pacifica, of its mission and its ideals, and our conduct both on and off the air reflects an image to the world outside the station's boundaries. Therefore, let us all behave responsibly and with the highest integrity. This will be especially true in the months ahead as the bylaws are settled and elections for Local Advisory Boards are held. Competition for power may be fierce, but it is critical that staff stay disciplined and neutral and carry no water for any faction or clique.
Pacifica is arguably the most diverse national media organization in the country. According to a recent analysis, the senior staff and management of the network comprise half women and some two-thirds people of color. While we celebrate this diversity, and continue to build our multi-cultural character, we must redouble our efforts at ensuring equal access and equal opportunity for all the communities we serve. This is particularly true for new immigrant communities that are daily changing the face of the country. Together, we can strengthen Pacifica's diversity as a means to fulfilling its mission.
7. Pacifica's Affiliate Network
The final keystone to Pacifica's immediate future is our affiliate program. When the new administration took over, there were only 17 affiliates left. Today, that number has more than doubled. Taking into account all Pacifica-related programming, we believe another 30 are open to officially rejoining the network by the end of next year. Affiliate rates have been reduced to 2/3 of the 1997 levels and all affiliates have been offered a new contract. This is an important recognition on the part of Pacifica that our service to and relationship with the affiliates has been less than satisfactory. We recognize that we have a long way to go. As we rebuild our programming, and our network infrastructure, we are certain that we can relaunch a stronger, more diverse, more effective relationship with the community radio movement.
Earlier, I spoke about the successful on-air fundraising system-wide. Yes, this is due to external factors like the war, the deepening economic crisis, and the alarming erosion of inalienable, millennia-old rights, like habeas corpus. But we believe that listeners around the country are responding to the New Pacifica, to the fact that all of us are making progress in revitalizing this network, that we're moving forward with integrity, that we're preparing ourselves for the battles ahead, and that we have a vision for a new, democratic media organization. Yes, we have our work cut out for us. And many times it may seem that we take two steps forward, and then one step back. But Pacifica is back on track and listeners around the country are again looking at the network as a beacon of light amidst the storm clouds of war.
top of page | iPNB index | home