Monday, March 14, 2011

.com/.org tension: competing for scarce resources

The current media debate reference the continued tax support for public broadcasting is tricky. I’m not sure what to think at this point. It’s tax time, so this becomes quite personal to us as we calculate our credits and exemptions. Resources, revenue at the personal level as well as the macro, appear quite thin on our balance sheets. The competition for revenue is quite keen.

Those with the resources to donate need not be generalized as well-heeled elite. Many contributors to “.org” foundations are people with modest means. The numbers debate on this is interesting and deserves wider understanding. Does a person who contributes $10 have the same voice as a philanthropist who contributes one million dollars for example? Consider that those of us who do not contribute to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art enjoy that public space for free. Consider that we can tune in to KCUR radio, our local NPR affiliate for free. Or is it free? Insightful ones will remind us that there’s tax support behind the foundation; direct and indirect.

Consider that those who purvey their content in these shelters are serious businesses engaged in profit. Professionals act upon not-for-profit stages. This gets rather complex.

Public broadcasting exudes a bit of hubris in the debate for they’re new to being scrutinized after years of growth. This morning, Patty Cahill, KCUR’s General Manager, spoke on Up-To-Date. She sounded quite defensive and seemed above the debate. I like KCUR very much, but I sensed unsavory elitism in her tone. Not good at a time when NPR deserves more support.

Public broadcasting organizations have successfully been baited into a debate, unprepared for the complexity of the debate. Critics have every right to critique public broadcastings political atmosphere. Critics rightly criticize public broadcasting for encouraging viewers and listeners to contact their elected representatives to continue taxpayer funding while using tax-supported, powered air-time.

Public broadcasters use the BBC as a comparative model, but the Queen’s subjects have no say, as BBC-funding is a mandatory model. Ask a subject about their television tax…£145.50 (@ $235) last year and soon computer users may see a like tax. The BBC is a great news source, no doubt. They generate a great deal of revenue with their content which they sell to PBS and NPR. It doesn’t work as well the other way around, by the way. Perhaps PBS and NPR should study that…

The media debate reflects a wider tension in America; the tension between the .com’s and the .org’s of this country. Less a debate and more a commercial sprint for resources. Commercial businesses are quicker of foot and shall win this race, in my humble prediction, for they possess more sophisticated marketing and savvy PR people, lawyers, shareholders and profits to fund all this.

And consider that taxpayers are shareholders in this debate for public funding of NPR and PBS. Very tricky, indeed. It’s difficult business for journalists to cover, as in a way they're talking about their personal practice, their professional field. It’s absurdly narcissistic in a way. Perhaps it’s better characterized as self-examining, for the media is becoming a very confusing place to visit, where we cannot tell the commercial from the news, the broadcaster from the rock star, the rock star from the hopeful future candidate, the noble philanthropist who is the clever business developer.

We’re checking all of this carefully, trying to come to a new form of balance. We Americans are really good at this check and balancing endeavor despite our present checking accounts with low balances.

1 comment:

  1. It does seem the billionaires have bought more than their share, as we are all people with ears, even if we don't have off shore checking accounts. There is so much main stream media lies to the public because they are bought, and told to lie. Public broadcasting often is the only place many stories are heard .. I don't understand why this is tricky or even a debate. We need national public radio and PBS. If we don't pay for it we all lose.