As we welcome a new year, all of us at JPR are reminded of the special challenges and opportunities 2017 will bring.
In the wake of one of the most divisive Presidential elections in our history, there’s a growing sense among the public radio stations around the country that we should see our enterprise with fresh eyes and re-examine how we can best serve citizens. While there’s not yet a national consensus on how we might do that, some things are clear. With a President-elect who has challenged the role a free press plays in American society and the proliferation of fake news that has deepened the public’s mistrust of the news media, public radio must expand the expensive work of independent, fact-based accountability journalism.
We need to refocus our effort to shine light on the working of our government and question those in power. But, perhaps equally important, we need to tell the stories of our communities in new, compelling ways. If we tell these stories empathetically and in the context of the distinctive regional issues that touch people’s lives, we have an opportunity to add something positive to the public dialogue. And perhaps, in a small way, we can be part of building bridges between people. It doesn’t seem to me that we can succeed for very long as a country if we continue talking past each other (or not talking to each other at all), tuning into media channels that only confirm our predetermined view of the world, believing the idea that facts no longer matter and accepting as a new normal the cynical mistrust of our democratically elected representatives and institutions. We’ll continue to do our best in the coming year to be a positive force in the communities we serve.
The new year will also bring uncertainty regarding the continuation of federal funding for public broadcasting. Under regular order, the topic would come up early in 2017 when the President-elect lays out his fiscal 2018 spending plan and it begins the process of being negotiated with Congress. Most of the uncertainty surrounding this issue comes from Trump’s silence on the topic during the campaign. Unlike the last election, when Mitt Romney explained in the first presidential debate in 2012 how he would shrink the federal-budget deficit by eliminating non-essential funding, including public broadcasting, the issue didn’t come up at all in the 2016 campaign. Pessimists are concerned that House Speaker Paul Ryan has made several attempts to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which distributes funds to local stations. In 2007, Ryan supported an amendment to defund CPB entirely. In 2011, he voted in favor of a bill to eliminate support for NPR. And in 2014, as chairman of the House budget committee, his spending plan proposed eliminating federal funding for CPB. Optimists point out that for the past two fiscal years, Congressional Republicans have chosen to include public broadcasting funding in their appropriations bills and that the Congressional committee leaders who have been responsible for this will be returning to serve in the next Congress. They also point to Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s support for public broadcasting funding. As governor of Indiana, Pence restored state funding for public broadcasting that had been previously eliminated. In 2014, The Association of Public Television Stations presented its Champion of Public Broadcasting Award to Pence. We’ll keep you apprised of how this issue develops in the coming year.
In 2017, we’ll also see a significant change to JPR’s News & Information Service. After nearly 40 years as host of The Diane Rehm Show, Diane Rehm is stepping away from the grind of hosting a daily radio show. On January 2nd, The Diane Rehm Show will be replaced with a new program being developed by NPR and WAMU called 1A.
Joshua Johnson has been selected as the host of the new program after a national search.
Johnson will be moving to Washington DC from San Francisco, where he hosted the RocketFuel Radio podcast, created and hosted Truth be Told, a national special series on race, and was a morning newscaster on KQED/San Francisco. 1A will strive to maintain the core values that made Diane’s show important to many public radio listeners around the country – deep conversation about the thorniest issues of our times backed by in-depth analysis and the life experience of listeners. From our perspective, it will be positive to have a national program host with roots on the West Coast. As always, please share your feedback with us about the new program.
As we look ahead to the new year, we see enormous opportunity to serve our region. We continue to be passionate about giving voice to people from all walks of life and helping citizens make sense of key events through real journalism. We’re also passionate about presenting inspired music – music that will lift your spirit, feed your sense of discovery and bring joy to daily life when you’ve had enough news. We recognize that the work ahead will be fueled by the generosity and goodwill of our listeners, and we’ll work to earn your continued trust, confidence and support.
Paul Westhelle is JPR’s Executive Director.