Executive Director's Report, June 2007
[Pacifica] Executive Director's Report, June 2007
This report includes material of the status of pending hires; a preliminary PNB agenda for July; programming material on evaluation status, the dynamics of major grid changes; announcement of new affiliate stations; plus updates on legal issues, Democracy Now! negotiations, obscenity policy, and mail drives.
DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION: This opportunity was posted on Pacifica station websites and the national website, and was sent to sister station staff e-mail lists. Press releases were sent to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Participatory Culture Foundation, Creative Commons , and Center for Digital distribution. Eleven applications were received. ... It is my judgment that Rob Robinson's application is clearly superior, and my intention to develop and sign a consulting contract with him this month.
HR DIRECTOR: This job was posted to station and national websites, Craigslist, Opportunity Knocks, National Association of African American HR executives (NAAAHR), and Idealist.com. Over 30 applications were received. Special attention was given to affirmative action considerations, and to the experience of applicants in dealing with diversity issues. ... I recommend an interim hire as soon as possible, leaving the permanent job posted until August. (NOTE: This hire was completed June 15, and Dominga Estrada began work as Interim HR Director June 18.)
ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT: Zakkeyah Jackson was hired in late May to cover the period up to the end of June. Over 35 applications for the permanent position were received. ... Since the position involves work mainly for the finance division, I have sought consensus in the hiring decision with Lonnie and Phil Osegueda. (NOTE: Decision to be made June 22.)
JULY PNB AGENDA
At the request of the Interim Chair, a preliminary agenda for the July in-person PNB meeting has been generated. It takes into account the need for a thorough discussion of pending budgets, as requested by the CFO, and ADA compliance issues. The Coordinating Committee normally reviews the agenda and will meet soon. In any case, issues remaining for Board action include: 1) Topics & times for discussion and/or training on Friday, July 27. 2) Thematic Discussion topic for Saturday, July 28. 3) Selection of second focus station. According to past practice, KPFK will be the leading focus station.
NOTES: The Coordinating Committee has recommended that the role of Pacifica as a network, with attention to the local-national dynamic, be the focus of discussion of Friday afternoon. They further recommend that technology and digital distribution be the thematic discussion topic on Saturday, and that the Board forego a second focus station, but receive brief reports from managers at the four sister stations.
DEMOCRACY NOW! NEGOTIATIONS
The first teleconference meeting with Democracy Now! took place on June 5. The Pacifica team (Acie Byrd, Dave Adelson, Eva Georgia, Pete Korakis, Dan Siegel, Lonnie Hicks, and yours truly) met with Julie Crosby, DN's general manager, and presented a series of proposals for the new contract.
LEGAL INDECENCY RULING
As you probably know, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down the FCC's policy on profanity and expressed serious doubts about the constitutionality of its indecency policy. However, John Crigler, our FCC counsel, says that the holding of the case is fairly narrow. The decision says only that the FCC has not clearly explained its decision to apply its indecency and profanity policy to "isolated and fleeting" expletives. It remanded the FCC's profanity rulings to the FCC for further consideration. FCC Commissioner Copps has issued a statement urging the FCC to appeal and warning broadcasters that the decision should not prevent the FCC from enforcing its general indecency policy. Nevertheless, Crigler suspects that, as a practical matter, the decision will make it unlikely for the FCC to rule on the two WBAI complaints any time soon. Both of those relate to "isolate and fleeting" language.
On the other hand, if the FCC issues a future Notice of Liability (NOL) to one of our stations and we choose to appeal, our legal fees could be substantial. According to Programming Coordinator Nathan Moore, KBOO in Portland, OR paid a considerable amount defending itself against a spurious NOL concerning the "Your Revolution" poem. They won the case, but accumulated a debt despite increased fundraising from supporters around the country.
The good news is that the court said the time might be right for the unique treatment of the broadcast medium to end, given the media landscape that has arisen with the advent of cable and satellite TV and the Internet. The decision could be one of the first to undermine the scarcity doctrine expressed in the U.S. Supreme Court's Red Lion case or the underlying Pacifica case that defined the commission's ability to regulate indecent speech. "This is a huge shift away from Red Lion and Pacifica," one network executive said.
The 1978 Pacifica decision established First Amendment protection for indecent speech, but also said the commission could regulate it to protect children from the language. The 1969 decision in Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC said broadcasters get First Amendment protection, but granted the government the power to regulate broadcasters to preserve openness in covering the news because they operate with a government license on scarce radio spectrum. The New York court, however, said the judges would be foolish if they failed to note the advent of cable and satellite TV and the Internet.
The decision is one of two free-speech cases the court is expected to decide soon. The decision on Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show also is due out of the Philadelphia circuit court of appeals.
Under federal court rulings and commission rules, material is indecent if it "in context, depicts or describes sexual or excretory activities or organs in a patently offensive manner as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium." Broadcasters today can face a fine of as much as $325,000 per violation. (See recent discussion of Pacifica's policy below)
WEBCASTING FEES ORGANIZING:
Numerous webcasters have filed a request for an emergency stay in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit could delay "D-day" for the webcasting industry should the CRB rates remain unchanged. The motion, filed by the Digital Media Association in conjunction with National Public Radio, and the Small Commercial Webcasters, formally requests the court delay the implementation of the CRB's "radical and arbitrary" recording royalty rate increase imposed May 1. Legislation that would repeal the rate increase is pending in the Senate and the House, but may not be brought to a vote in either chamber before July 15th, the day the first payments for the newly increased rates for webcasters are due. It has been suggested that Pacifica should join this lawsuit, or at the very least, develop programming that informs the public about the issue and Internet radio legislation. Pacifica managers have begun to discuss the issue during their regular bi-weekly meeting, and will take up the matter for possible programming action on June 15.
Pacifica has added three new affiliate stations - WNRB-LP, the first Hmong-owned radio station in the US, WCRS-LP in Columbus OH, and Tri-City Detour, an Internet station in Johnson City, TN-- to the network. WNRB-LP is located Wausaw, Wisconsin. WCRS-LP is a special case: One frequency in Columbus is being time-shared by three licensed stations, all of which plan to affiliate with Pacifica. WCRX-LP and Neighborhood Network, a content provider to the three license holders, have already done so. Now we have added WCRS-LP, another of the license holders.
Pacifica's national office has implemented three mail drops during the current fiscal year: an acquisition list mailing in Fall 2006, following by a smaller holiday mailing to past supporters. This Spring, another mailing was sent, using acquisition lists. As of the end of May, these efforts had raised $468,138, netting a surplus of $101,315. The most successful to date is the current drive, which began to produce a surplus in less than 30 days, but the holiday drive was also quite effective.
National Programming Director Nathan Moore has submitted the following reports on the status of program evaluation and the dynamics of major grid changes. He has also provided an ethnic, gender, and station breakdown of the crew for Pacifica's upcoming US Social Forum coverage.
REPORT ON STATUS OF PROGRAM EVALUATION AT STATIONS
At our April staff meetings in Washington, DC, the PDs, GMs, and national staff discussed program evaluations, the need to bring our eval processes up to speed and to start conducting regular evaluations. Since that time, the PDs and NPC have met a number of times by phone to talk about a variety of programming issues, including evaluations. We have discovered that each station has some program evaluation tool either in effect or in draft form. These include:
KPFA has a review process in effect and has already conducted a round of evaluations. Based on feedback from this process, the PD is revising the evaluation tool.
KPFK has a working draft of an evaluation tool. It has already been seen by the local Program Council and some staff members for feedback.
KPFT also has a working draft of an evaluation tool. It has been seen by the local Program Council, and has undergone a couple pre-implementation revisions.
WPFW has an early draft program evaluation tool that the PD wrote a couple years ago as a Board member and member of the local programming committee.
WBAI also has an early draft that the PD has been working on.
Over the last couple months, the NPC has gathered eight or so program evaluation tools drafted and used by other community radio stations (including the KFAI tool that was the focus of an NFCB workshop this year). These have all been forwarded to the five Pacifica PDs, and the PDs have been incorporating some of the best practices from several of these documents into their own program evaluation tools.
Originally, at our April discussion, we set a goal of having a uniform national program eval template. While that continues to be a hoped-for long-term goal, the PDs and NPC now recognize that each station has already begun a trajectory to get an evaluation process up and running. The four PDs on the most recent call agreed to include the NPC in the eval process development for each of their stations. It is hoped that the NPC can bring a certain degree of harmonization to the various eval processes - that they at least cover the same basic territory. Then in the future, we can look at developing a more uniform template that incorporates the best practices of each of these eval tools, based on feedback received in the initial round of program evaluations.
DISCUSSION OF THE DYNAMICS OF MAJOR GRID CHANGES
Program evaluations, of course, are only one part of a broad strategy of reviewing overall program grids and service to our listening communities. Program evaluations answer some important questions, but certainly not all the questions we need to answer to effectively analyze and interpret our grids.
A thorough and effective review of program grids would include the following types of research and programming-related questions:
1. Program evaluations - This is the portion of grid evaluation that focuses on self-reflection, assessing the state of our actual programming.
**Questions answered by Program evaluations: How are our programs airing content that fulfills the mission? Do our programmers effectively understand and employ broadcast mechanics? What could be improved? How well are programs prepared? How is the on-mic presence of our hosts? What are programmers' goals for the coming year?
2. Quantitative program grid analysis - Primarily employing Aribtron data, quantitative analysis gives us some hard (if constrained by a margin of error) listenership numbers. (Arbitrons may have sampling problems, but they're far more reliable than the other common measure stations use - dollars raised during fund drives. Though money can correlate to listeners, there are serious problems with using it as > the primary quantitative research tool for grid analysis.)
**Questions answered by quantitative research: How many listeners do we have in a week or at any given moment? How well does our grid maintain listeners from one program to the next? How much are listeners coming back for more during the week (i.e. how loyal are they)? Inasmuch as Arbitron data are reliable, how much gain or loss do our program strips show over time? Where (and how much) do our listeners overlap with other stations? Where are those stations taking away listeners and where could we bring them back?
3. Qualitative research & analysis - Primarily rooted in community ascertainment, focus groups, public discussions, and in-depth interviews, qualitative research can provide depth, nuance, and understanding where Arbitron numbers may only suggest concerns based on raw numbers.
**Questions answered by qualitative research: What do civic-minded people in our communities care about and want to hear more of? How should content be framed, formatted, and delivered in order to best serve our listeners vis-à-vis the mission? How can we best cover elections and political processes? How can we serve children and youth audiences? What role can our stations play in community building and empowerment?
Combining the three types of research above, Program Directors (presumably with some input from Program Councils) can absorb the information, analyze and interpret the data, brainstorm and discuss grid modifications, and implement those changes in order to build our audience and serve it as best we can.
For example, hypothetically, let's say one of our stations has an environmental news & public affairs program. It receives high marks in its evaluation and many community residents note the need for a good environmental program, yet it has low listenership numbers. This may be a case where it's simply located in the wrong part of the grid and/or not receiving sufficient promotion.
Alternately, a program may receive a critical evaluation and have modest listenership numbers, and community members may criticize the delivery style used by that program (if not the program itself). In such a case, a PD might either lay out an improvement plan or drop the program from the station's grid, depending on other factors.
A PNB member writes, "There is lots of room for improvement in our program schedules, but will we make space for it?" It's a very good question to ask ourselves. But it's also premature to ask it before undertaking some amount of research in the above three areas: program evaluations and quantitative and qualitative research. Without first doing the research, we can only speculate and argue about what "room for improvement" is most pressing, or needed at all. And without first doing the research, we can only speculate and argue about where the space should be made for such improvement.
Simply, without doing the research and information gathering, station program grid changes will be based far too much on anecdotal evidence and the whims of local programming decision-makers (some combination of PDs, Program Committees, influential paid & unpaid staff, etc. depending on the station). And that'll just cause even more problems and resentments than we have now. So we need to do it right and be deliberate about it.
That said, "doing it right" need not be that much of a hardship. Program evaluation processes are being developed, and evaluations should be conducted on an ongoing basis by network PDs anyway. That's in the works, and evaluation processes will continue to be developed and hopefully harmonized as time goes on.
Quantitative research based on Arbitron figures can also be done very cheaply and relatively quickly. The NPC is well versed in using Arbitron data to answer the questions listed above and to interpret the data to raise programming-related issues. The NPC has occasionally offered these Arbitron data-processing services to stations; one station requested a data report for part of their grid (though is doing the analysis & interpretation locally).
Qualitative research is a bit more labor-intensive. The NPC has training and experience in designing qualitative research projects, and could assist any sister station wishing to pursue such research. But actually getting someone "on the ground" in the station communities to work with the NPC, identify sources, and conduct the interviews, focus groups, etc. may be more difficult. Ideally, this would be tasked to an Outreach Director or Committee at each station. Unfortunately, not all stations have an Outreach Director or active Outreach Committee at present.
Not to diminish the PNB member's earlier question, but a better question to ask right now is, "Do stations have the will to do the research that could identify needs and possibilities in programming?" It's the role of Pacifica National to make that research easy to conduct and to suggest needs and possibilities based on it.
-- Nathan Moore, Network Programming Coordinator
OBSCENITY, INDECENCY AND PROFANITY POLICY FOLLOW UP
On June 1, Pacifica 's managers and staff reviewed the recent recommendations of the Programming Committee concerning the policy on obscenity, indecency and profanity adopted by the staff in January. The Committee's recommendations included agreement that protecting our station licenses is the highest priority, and that the current policy should be circulated to programmers to obtaining their signatures. Upon adopting the policy in January, general managers were instructed and agreed to distribute the policy to all staff, paid and unpaid. But the Committee's recommendation that all staff should sign off on the document, acknowledging that they understand it is in effect, is a sound idea.
The committee also recommended that Pacifica enter into a dialogue with the FCC regarding their current policies regarding indecency/obscenity, and that Pacifica should join with other organizations that are challenging current regulations. This echoes a Board motion passed earlier this year. Managers and staff understand that the committee would like comments to be sought from programming staff regarding the current policy, and realize that it may be amended in the future. In recognition, the staff has formed a working group to revise the current policy; the group consists of Nathan Moore, Bobby Hill, Jon Almeleh, and Ernesto Aguilar. Meanwhile, we await word from John Crigler on the best time to conduct workshops for staff on the issue.
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