Remarks by Greg Guma, Executive Director,
to PNB, 1-28-06
Pacifica National Board Meeting
Shortly after I accepted this job, I talked with a dedicated Pacifica supporter who at one time also considered going after this position. From what I knew, this person seemed well suited for the job. So, why didn't you apply? I asked.
The reply was revealing. "Well, I wanted to work again," I was told.
The basic point, I think, was that it's tough to work in such a highly charged environment - whether you are a general manager, a program director, or sometimes even a board member - without making enemies and finding yourself under attack at some point.
So, I can't say that I haven't been warned. In the last few weeks, starting even before I arrived for my first day of work in Berkeley, I saw descriptions of myself that I never would have imagined possible.
Non-credible fringie. Demanding would-be overseer. Conspiracy nutball. Naive. And that was before I even made my first decisions on the job.
It was certainly a wake up call.
So, who have you hired? In my interview back in October I described myself as an anarcho-Buddhist. What I mean by that is that I believe in widespread distribution of power and wealth, cooperation, direct democracy and mutual aid, and the need for a fundamental transformation of society. That's the anarcho part. But I also believe in nonviolence, tolerance, and a receptive, persuasive and non-attached approach to organizational leadership. Changing politics in this country and around the world is only part of what is needed. A change in the way we relate to each other and the natural world will also be necessary if we're going to address the underlying problems facing the planet.
But I am also, despite all of that, a practical idealist. I think it's most effective to start the process of change carefully. And if you don't acknowledge the obstacles, the various forces surrounding an organization - and inside it - and move somewhat methodically, step by step - you'll set loose a reaction, a resistance, that can make the situation even worse.
Given all that, let me give you a brief rundown of what I've been doing so far, in the transition leading up to my arrival at the National Office, in my first few days on the job, and some of the work I see ahead.
First of all, There has been a lot of studying and asking questions - about Pacifica's history, its financial situation, its personal issues, programming ideas, governance and organizational structure, and much more.
I've been attending some meetings - of the PNB, Finance Committee, and Coordinating Committee. I weighed in a bit on the decision to launch a National Spanish Language program out of KPFK, and have begun to talk with people about the future of national programming. I've met with representatives from Free Speech Radio News, sharing with them some initial thoughts about how to reach agreement about its long-term relationship with Pacifica.
After talking with HR Director Yolanda Thomas, I worked out a small office reorganization that will provide her with a private space for the confidential communication she needs with staff. We have also agreed about a new hire process and package that she will be introducing at various stations during the next month. And we have agreed that action by this Board on a code of conduct is a necessary initial step toward addressing many of the problems that lead to conflict - and sometimes litigation. I've also spoken with the shop stewards at KPFA, and they seem to agree that uniform standards, along with reasonable enforcement, can help to prevent or at least respond to inappropriate behavior.
While in Berkeley this week, I also worked with Ambrose [interim Executive Director Ambrose Lane] on the management transition underway at KPFA, and met with some members of the LSB to talk about how we can move forward from here. I've urged them to move forward quickly with the search for a new General Manager, and have agreed to cooperate with them on determining how to keep local station management effective on an interim basis.
One of my first decisions was to approve national coverage of the state of the union address. The goal was a show that would be dynamic, welcome to our five stations, and attractive to affiliates. Since some stations are in the midst of fund drives, I've tried to offer a structure that includes both a remote broadcast distributed nationwide and the option for one or two stations to break away after the speech for local reactions and a fundraising pitch. We'll see how that goes and evaluate it afterward. Hopefully, post-production evaluation can become a regular part of the process, not just when we encounter a problem.
I've been talking with Lonnie [CFO Lonnie Hicks] about how to diversify our revenue sources by taking advantage of openings for new satellite and Internet channels as well as podcasting, and have been briefed about CPB standards and requirements to secure full future funding. There have also been initial talks about how to make best use of national fundraising through direct mail, and the possibilities for major donor fundraising.
Meeting the challenge of increased diversity in our audience and organization is also on the agenda. This is not only needed to secure full CPB funding; it is an important component of Pacifica's mission. It is an issue that bears on our election process, future staffing decisions, and programming to reach underserved communities. It also raises questions about the mission itself. Many people talk about our mission, but after 57 years and dramatic changes in media, I get the impression that we don't all see it exactly the same way. So, if I can keep my head above water in addressing day to day needs, I hope to develop a process for us to revisit the mission, find our where we agree and where we differ, and reach some consensus on why we believe Pacifica is a vital part of the 21st century media landscape. While I don't believe in false unity, I hope we can agree on the basic intentions that drive our work.
What is my vision for Pacifica? On this point, saying too little is as bad as saying too much. But I do have some preliminary ideas.
Management: We need to make communication within the network more regular and systematic. Yesterday, I attended my first Administrative council meeting, a time when the managers can talk frankly about what they have been doing and the issues on the table. I would like to see this turn into a more frequent occurrence, so that this can be an operations working group. The idea is to consult, share expertise, and support each other.
Governance: This was discussed Friday. I'll add only that I will be looking closely at how to balance local authority with the need to intervene and procede nationally. To that end, I'll be looking for ways to improve LSB / Staff / National Office relations. Pacifica's overall structure is a bold experiment in democracy, but also poses a difficult challenge in how to make sure that democratic aspirations and rights do not lead to division, inefficiency, and exploitation of the structure. We don't want our openness to become an excuse for demagoguery, or a war of attrition in which the loudest voices and those with the most time can simply wear the organization down. I also want to promote our election process, to make sure that involvement doesn't drop and that as many people as possible are actively involved. Listener democracy doesn't just keep happening. We have to work at it.
Programming: My goal is to continue bringing diverse voices and excellent local production to new audiences, especially programming that deconstructs the false reality being force fed to people. One step will be to support the development of a sampler of programs from various stations that can be distributed through new venues such as satellite radio and the Internet. I'm also encouraged by the progress being made on mission-driven national programming, but will be sensitive to local programming needs and working with station management to make sure local audiences do not feel that Pacifica is forcing the issue. Compelling communities to act is the last thing I want to do.
Personnel: A systematic and fair employee evaluation process isn't a panacea, it can't prevent all lawsuits, but it can help us to do the right thing, and do it early, consistently, and do our part to make sure people are treated with respect.
I also want to cultivate a culture of cooperation, financial transparency, and effective management that respects the contributions of staff and volunteers AND the interests of listeners. That means early identification of emerging issues and problems and effective dissemination of information to all those who have a stake in the outcome.
Beyond these practical tasks, I want to aggressively promote Pacifica as a relevant and popular voice for political change and social transformation -- using its archives, its effective voices, its creative programmers, and its ability to train and cultivate new talent to define the network's image for listeners who yearn for something better than the noise that passes for news, culture, and public discourse.
In the months ahead, the public may read or hear some strange things about what is happening at Pacifica - reports that sound disturbing, even dangerous. That's unavoidable when you are involved in promoting free speech and open discussion. But think about it this way: Those who issue harsh, even cruel judgments will really be telling you more about themselves than the foundation and its work. They will be appealing to people's fears, assumptions, and projections about what THEY might do if they were in our shoes. The truth is: they're captives in a nightmare.
You may hear that local Boards, the PNB, or I want to make unilateral changes, summarily fire people, sell out, grab power. One report, for example, claims that simply because I wrote a new story about a speaker who thinks we don't have all the information about 9/11 that Pacifica will become a haven for conspiracy theorists. Well, you know, there are some pretty dangerous conspirators out there, but it's just plain childish and ignorant to think that any manager of this foundation would have the power to impose any particular programming on the stations.
My message to anyone living in this dreamworld is simple: Wake up. It just isn't happening.
But we don't have to listen to these nightmarish projections. It's time to wake up and start focusing on what really matters. It's time to renew our purpose - to project responsible advocacy, real news and informed opinion -- about crony capitalism and imperial schemes, social justice and human rights - to celebrate our differences and our areas of unity, to realize the potential of this precious resources as a people's medium, bringing sharp critique and a progressive vision to millions of listeners.
It's time to wake up the airwaves and shake up the world.
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