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The Jefferson Journal is JPR's members' magazine featuring articles, columns, and reviews about living in Southern Oregon and Northern California, as well as articles from NPR. The magazine also includes program listings for JPR's network of stations.

A Resilient Community

Benjamin Hartwich/Pixabay

Like our neighbors, the new reality in which we find ourselves has shaken our organization to its core.

We’ve done our best to invent new ways to work in order to be able to continue to provide our service, which we recognize is more important than ever to so many of our listeners. We’ve assessed risk, at times on a daily basis, so that we could fulfill our mission during this critical time while ensuring the health and safety of our staff and volunteers.

Normally a bustling place, today babies could nap peacefully in the JPR studios.

I’ve been truly impressed by the fortitude and resilience of the JPR community. Our staff has adapted gracefully to creating new work environments in their homes and developing both the new technical systems and procedures necessary for us to accomplish our essential daily tasks -- all while also adapting to new stresses on their family lives. Our colleagues at Southern Oregon University have supported us at every turn. And, our listeners have injected both heart and financial support to keep us moving forward.

• We limited the traffic in our studios to only absolutely essential personnel. Normally a bustling place, today babies could nap peacefully in the JPR studios. On most days, only a few staff wander the hallways and few of us cross paths. We eliminated all in-person guests on The Jefferson Exchange and cancelled all music live sessions. We put all programming done by local volunteers on a hiatus and began airing alternative or archived programs.

• All our reporters and many of our programming staff built radio studios in their homes. One of our reporters utilized a closet to create a sound booth. From these primitive spaces we’ve been able to create remarkably high quality results, and I confess that I’ve had a hard time distinguishing work produced in these make-shift spaces from that produced in our professional studios.

• We purchased boom poles (think selfie-stick for a microphone) for our reporters so they could conduct in-person interviews when absolutely necessary to get you an important story while also enabling them to maintain social distancing protocols.

• We assigned one person per day to disinfect our facility, focusing on our most tactile environments, like studios with shared sound boards and microphones. All our hosts also took on this work at shift changes.

• We engaged in planning sessions to develop ways to stay on the air in a worst case scenario during which all our staff became sick and couldn’t physically come to our facility. This plan required us to develop new automated technical systems and remote operating capabilities and to obtain rights to programs we currently don’t air so that we could air them on short notice if necessary.

• We postponed our traditional on-air Spring Fund Drive and began a “virtual” fund drive to secure the baseline support we need to continue operating. Members of our staff and some of our volunteers wrote and recorded personal messages that put our collective work in context with the time in which we are living. We began airing these announcements, which ask listeners to contribute at ijpr.org, on April 2nd, the day we were scheduled to begin our Spring Drive. As of now, this campaign has generated about half what we normally raise during a traditional drive. With two weeks remaining in our virtual drive as I write this column, we’re optimistic that we’ll land in a good place and be able to make up any shortfall with a short on-air drive when the world starts spinning again.

• We engaged in a thoughtful, rigorous discussion with NPR and fellow member stations around the country about how to combat the untrue statements, conspiracy theories and misinformation conveyed in live White House press briefings about the coronavirus so that public radio would not unintentionally contribute to misinforming the public during a time that trusted, accurate information is so critical to people’s lives. We ultimately decided to air fewer live briefings so that we could have time to fact-check claims and provide context for information being disseminated.

• Our engineers focused their work on improving many of our remote mountain-top communication sites, where social distancing is very easy.

• Our classical music hosts, led by Valerie Ing, asked listeners to share stories about their favorite music as a way to build a sense of community and, in a small way, keep us connected as we all isolate ourselves in our homes. On-air we shared these stories and played the music connected to them. We received nearly 100 email submissions and played some beautiful music selected by our listeners.

• We provided weekly updates on the Covid-19 pandemic from Jackson County Medical Director Dr. Jim Shames on The Jefferson Exchange.

• We worked with our loyal underwriters and business partners to develop flexible programs that help them recover so that we can once again thrive together.

• We made masks and hand sanitizer for each other.

It’s been said that “Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it.” I’m proud of the work JPR has done, and will continue to do, to serve our listeners during a time when our physical, social and economic health has been so fundamentally disrupted. This work is the result of an institution we have built together —staff, volunteers, Southern Oregon University, and, most importantly, listeners who believe in our mission and support us through good times and bad.

Paul Westhelle oversees management of JPR's service to the community.  He came to JPR in 1990 as Associate Director of Broadcasting for Marketing and Development after holding jobs in non-profit management and fundraising for a national health agency. He's a graduate of San Jose State University's School of Journalism and Mass Communications.