Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Knowledge, Power, and Money

Francis Bacon said knowledge is power. He was also arrested in 1598 for debt. Bacon eventually got on his feet again, but his life continued to be marked by miscalculation.

And so it is with public radio. As an industry, we know what we need to know about attracting listeners and serving them well, how to raise money from those listeners, and how to generate business support. Yet a recent study by Brody Weiser Burns (“Having It All,” funded and published by CPB) suggests that around half of all public radio stations are not very good at managing their bottom lines. This finding is highlighted by the recent financial failures at two of public radio’s leading stations, WBUR in Boston and WAMU in Washington, DC.

Like Bacon, these stations will get back on their feet. But these examples of public radio’s financial troubles remind us that knowledge has no value and provides no power unless it is properly applied.

Over the next few months, we’ll consider how we might better tap public radio’s vast knowledge of its listeners, fundraising, and finances. We’ll look at opportunities for individual stations and the industry as a whole. We’ll tackle tough issues including the competing priorities of public radio stations and national entities such as CPB and NPR. We will do this with the goal of using what we already know to build a stronger, robust public radio service. Please feel free to add your thoughts to the discussion and to suggest topics for consideration.

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