By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: GBH

The Chicago public media merger, hailed two years ago, hits some serious bumps

Half full or half empty? Photo (cc) 2014 by bradhoc

Among the projects that almost made it into “What Works in Community News” was the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Public Media, which merged two years ago. It struck Ellen Clegg and me as a leading example of how public media could step up to preserve local and regional news, especially after the city’s leading paper, the Chicago Tribune, fell into the hands of the hedge fund Alden Global Capital.

Now the combined enterprise is laying people off. Dave McKinney of WBEZ, which is part of Chicago Public Media, reports that about 15% of 62 union content creators at the radio station are losing their jobs, and that four positions on the business side at the Sun-Times would be cut. In all, 14 jobs will be eliminated.

McKinney notes acidly:

The job cuts coincide with the debut of a $6.4 million, state-of-the-art studio at WBEZ’s Navy Pier office and follows a double-digit-percentage pay increase for Chicago Public Media’s top executive. Additionally, other high-level executives departed the not-for-profit news organization in December.

The announcement follows cuts and threats of cuts at a number of public media outlets around the country, including WAMU in Washington, Colorado Public Radio and, in Boston, WBUR and GBH, neither of which has announced layoffs but have pointedly said cuts may be coming.

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Could Boston’s two newsy public radio stations merge? Plus, local news tidbits.

WBUR’s CitySpace. Photo (cc) 2023 by Todd Van Hoosear

Before social media, when blogging was everything, a lot of us wrote what were known as “link blogs” — that is, a running list of links with little in the way of commentary. Now that social media is (are?) falling apart as a way for distributing journalism, I’m trying to get back to that, mixing in some short posts with longer pieces.

But there’s a problem. I have a sizable contingent of readers who receive new posts by email and, at least at the moment, I don’t have a way of giving them the option of receiving one daily email with the day’s posts. I’d like to do something about that once the semester ends and I have some time. No one wants to receive multiple emails with short posts throughout the day. So here are three media stories I don’t want you to miss, pulled together in one post.

• Boston Globe media reporter Aidan Ryan follows up the paper’s recent stories on struggles at the city’s two news-oriented public radio stations, GBH (89.7 FM) and WBUR (90.9 FM), with a closer look at whether both of them can survive in their current form. As someone who was a paid contributor to GBH News from 1998 to 2022, I have to say a lot of us were puzzled in 2009 when GBH announced it would turn its classical- and jazz-oriented radio station into a direct competitor with WBUR. You might say that it worked until it didn’t, and now there are some serious questions. The most provocative: Could the two radio stations merge? The answer: Probably not, but who knows?

• The local news crisis has led a number of college and university journalism programs to step up with their own solutions. At Northeastern, for instance, we publish The Scope, a grant-supported digital publication that covers social-justice issues in Greater Boston. Well, The Daily Iowan, an independent nonprofit newspaper that covers the University of Iowa, is going several steps further than that, acquiring two struggling weekly community newspapers. “It’s a really great way to help the problem of news deserts in rural areas,” the paper’s executive editor, Sabine Martin, told The Associated Press.

I contacted the paper to ask whether students who report for the weeklies will be paid. Publisher Jason Drummond responded that the details are still being worked out, but that students will be paid for work they produce exclusively for the weeklies, which are also in the process of hiring paid student interns. The weeklies will be able to pick up stories from The Daily Iowan for free, but the Iowan’s staff members are already paid.

• Four years ago I visited The Mendocino Voice, which covers a rural area in Northern California; it was my first reporting trip for “What Works in Community News.” The Voice, I learned, has to devote a lot of its resources to covering the state’s extreme weather, especially wildfires. Now the Voice’s publisher and co-founder, Kate Maxwell, is putting together a Local News Go Bag Toolkit so that local news organizations can prepare for emergencies. “The emphasis is on preparing before a disaster — it’s the most important step that journalists, newsrooms, and communities can take. This project is designed to be useful for local newsrooms and journalists at any stage of a disaster,” writes Maxwell, who’s currently a fellow at the Reynolds Journalism Institute. The toolkit is a work in progress, and she’s asking for ideas from other journalists.

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GBH becomes the latest public media outlet to eye layoffs

Given what’s going on in public media in general and at WBUR Radio in Boston specifically, this seemed inevitable. Aidan Ryan of The Boston Globe reports that GBH, the television and radio powerhouse, is considering layoffs in the face of shrinking revenues.

“Like many other media outlets, GBH is facing financial headwinds,” GBH chief executive Susan Goldberg told the Globe in a statement. “We are looking at a variety of ways to address this, including eliminating end-of-year bonuses across the organization. While final decisions have not yet been made, layoffs are not off the table.”

Disclosure: As many of you know, I was a paid contributor to GBH News from 1998 to 2022.

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GBH will keep tweeting

GBH is sticking with Twitter, at least for now. I just received this statement from spokeswoman Erin Callanan:

At this time, GBH is continuing to use Twitter as a platform for sharing trusted content with its audience. We strongly object to Twitter’s labeling of NPR and PBS  as “government-funded” media. However, GBH continues to be the most trusted media in this market, and we have a responsibility to share our news and other programming with the broadest possible audience using the tools available to us.

This remains an evolving situation, and we will continue to monitor the changes as it moves forward.

Like all public media organizations, GBH is locally owned, operated, and governed. We receive the vast majority of our support from individual donors and members, as well as from foundations. We provide independent fact-based news, as well as other quality educational entertainment. We strongly believe that editorial independence and a free press are critical to our democracy.

In my earlier item, I mentioned GBH News specifically, as that is the local news division that competes most directly with WBUR Radio. GBH, of course, is a massive operation, comprising local and national programming on television and radio.

I was affiliated with GBH News for many years and still consider myself a friend of the station. But I think this is a mistake. As I noted earlier, GBH News is already on Mastodon, the leading Twitter alternative, though GBH as a whole is not. But neither is WBUR, and they took the hit rather than continuing to play in Elon Musk’s toxic garden.

Then again, there’s no particular reason why public media outlets are under any special obligation to leave Twitter just because they’re NPR affiliates. All news organizations should be packing up and moving, and that includes The Boston Globe, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and all the rest. It’s the right thing to do, and it would make it that much easier for small players (like Media Nation, for example) to do likewise.

Dan Lothian named as executive producer of ‘The World’

Dan Lothian

My Northeastern University colleague (and former “Beat the Press” co-panelist) Dan Lothian has been named executive producer of “The World” after serving in an interim position since last March. Lothian has a long and distinguished broadcast career, including a stint as CNN’s White House correspondent. “The World” is a collabortion between GBH and PRX. Congratulations, Dan!

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