Friday, September 16, 2005

Dancing With Dollars

Heard on WUWM in Milwaukee on Thursday 9/15 at 6:35a and 8:35a -- the WUWM Morning Edition host interviewing one of the owners of Outpost, a natural foods store in Milwaukee.

The focus of the interview, Outpost is opening a third location today.

A quick check of the WUWM web site shows that Outpost is a station underwriter, something that regular station listeners probably already know. More background, Whole Foods is opening up a location in Milwaukee soon. That might explain the vague references in the interview to "competition" for Outpost.

What listeners did not hear was an NPR report by Howard Berkes on efforts restore electricity and phone service in sections Mississippi hit by Katrina. In other words, an editorial decision was made by the station to replace NPR's Katrina story with an interview promoting the underwriter's new store.

Perhaps it is just an extraordinary coincidence that two instances of station programming departments doing feature reports on businesses that support the station have surfaced in the last 30 days. (See Product Placement In Public Radio for the first instance.)

Perhaps this is not a trend in public radio. But it's hard to believe I could stumble on both of them within the space of a month.

There is a larger issue here. Public radio is adopting a mindset - with businesses and major donors - that it has to "do something more" for these supporters in exchange for their dollars or donations. In effect, we are telling them that funding a valued public service and enjoying the halo effect that brings isn't reward enough. We are telling them they can have more.

So we offer to dance with these funders. Sometimes we allow the major donors a few minutes to waltz with our news anchors. Sometimes our reporters lap dance with a car dealer.

In either case, we're not dancing with the ones who brung us - the millions of listeners who trust that our content is not tainted by those who give us money. By turning our backs on them, we invite them to find another partner.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ain't this the truth.

I'm also getting very tired of "feel good" underwriting from total slimeball companies. I hear a lot of it on WBUR but I can't believe it's just them; no doubt this is a national trend. But lately hearing how Conoco is "providing energy solutions for the future" while raking in the billions from $3.50/gal gasoline unfailingly gets me to switch my radio from FM to CD.

10:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about the faux-commentary - really a disguised commercial - that stations like WYPR in Baltimore are running? They get a doctor at a local hospital to read a 'commentary' - which is really just a description of a medical procedure and they call it a commentary. Then, they remind you that the preceding commentary was brought to you by the hospital where Dr. X works and that hospital just-so-happens to specialize in that medical procedure!

10:33 AM  
Blogger RadioSutton said...

There are a few situations like that on WYPR. One thing WYPR does, that I don't particularly care for, is storing archival information for RadioKitchen on the web site of RadioKitchen's underwriter -- Eddie's Gourmet. There, you find a description of the show that says "our shows are ingredient based." And of course, the ingredients are sold at Eddie's. It really makes it look like Eddie's owns the show... not underwrites it.

1:19 AM  

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