Trust is the foundation of public radio’s success.
Producers trust the listener’s ability and willingness to hear complex and challenging material. Listeners trust what they hear.
Public radio stations trust that listeners will financially support them. Listeners trust their donations are spent responsibly.
But stations don’t trust NPR.
That’s the bottom line in the discussion on whether NPR should raise money directly from listeners.
There are many reasons stations don’t trust NPR, some of them real and most of them imagined. That’s a conversation for some other place and time.
That lack of trust is a bigger threat to public radio than iPods, mobile Internet streaming, and satellite radio. It hinders public radio’s ability to respond to new opportunities and grow.
Repairing those damaged bonds of trust can do nothing but help the industry. That mending won’t take place, however, as long as stations assume NPR is 100% responsible for fixing the problem.
I’ve heard from numerous station managers over the past several days who are waiting for NPR to fix what they perceive to be a broken relationship. And yet because they don’t trust NPR, overtures to rebuild relationships are scorned. It’s a no-win situation.
Trust is a two way street. To rebuild it, station managers, those on the NPR board and those who are not, are going to have to display as much leadership as NPR. As with the trusting relationships we have with listeners, it will take time and there will be set backs. As with our relationships with listeners, the benefits of that trust will be mutual.