After the Boston Globe, there is no more important a news organization in Greater Boston than WBUR Radio (90.9 FM). But though its mix of NPR programs and its own shows, such as “On Point,” “Here and Now” and the late, lamented “Connection,” is consistently good, the station has had a greater presence nationally over the years than it’s had locally.
Yesterday the station went a long way toward bolstering its local image by hiring a genuine bigfoot — David Boeri, a veteran reporter with WCVB-TV (Channel 5). The move reunites Boeri with Paul La Camera, who, before becoming WBUR’s general manager in 2005, was president and general manager of Channel 5.
How can ‘BUR grow while every other media institution is slashing? It’s the ownership model. WBUR is a public station whose license is held by Boston University. Contrary to what conservative public-broadcasting critics would have you believe, public radio stations receive very little money from the government; it could be eliminated entirely without doing much harm to the product.
Instead, the real key is that public radio is built on a foundation of listener contributions and corporate underwriting (i.e., advertising, although no one likes to call it that), with a nonprofit model that guarantees revenues will be plowed back into the news rather than used to enhance the bottom line for Wall Street’s benefit.
It’s a model that bears watching — and that might have some relevance to the newspaper business as it gropes its way toward an uncertain future.