Financial Adversaries or Financial Allies?
We think one of the critical questions to be answered is this, "are NPR and its member stations financial adversaries or financial allies?"
The obvious answer should be "allies" but that's not how it's been. Decades ago, NPR's budgeting process was extremely contentious, and often adversarial, as NPR tried to grow and stations tried to keep their NPR dues to a minimum. Tensions were reduced, but not eliminated, when NPR's fee-setting procedures were largely linked to revenue or audience performance. Tension is on the rise as NPR builds an audience and revenue base independent of stations.
Many station managers see this as a threat and NPR often fuels their fears through its actions, or inaction, regarding the future public radio business model.
But NPR is not solely to blame here. Public radio station managers have to accept that the business model is changing and that clinging to the policies and practices of the past could severely damage their futures.
The problem is that there's not enough trust between NPR and its stations to fully implement the types of changes needed to help stations thrive in the digital marketplace. We covered the trust issue in a previous RadioSutton post.
Even if NPR made all of the right moves (and it hasn't), it has developed fundraising initiatives and floated ideas that could greatly benefit stations and NPR. Many of those ideas never gain traction because of a lack of trust on the part of stations.
For public radio to move forward, more station managers have to show some leadership and take some risk by trusting NPR. No matter what NPR does, it cannot function as a financial ally to stations if station managers have already decided NPR is a financial adversary.