Part of our work in public media in helping people help each other cope with the fallout in the still growing financial crisis is expanding from an engagement project with over 70 stations in TV and Radio in 32 markets to include major programs. All of this work - in the community, in the studio, on the web and among national programmers is starting to converge.
Part of this convergence will happen tonight.
Tonight, Sesame St has a prime time on how all of this is affecting families and children. What is it like to come home one day and tell your kids that you have lost your job? Or how do you tell them that you have lost your home? What confronts your kids when they go to school and have to tell their friends? What about the kids who are now literally homeless?
This was never meant to be part of the American Dream - but now it is part of the American Reality for millions of families.
This show is not a "how to" show - nor is it cute or funny. It takes a devastating topic and is both engaging and straight. It enables people to see that they are not alone - it enables people to see that even when all things may be lost, that the family itself can be a great consolation. It pulls no punches - have a box of Kleenex on standby.
I was talking to Patty Cahill yesterday who is just joining the Board of CPB.
We were talking about the future and of course about support and
broadening the audience. Until now public radio and TV's support was
directly and exclusively tied to listeners and viewers. Tied to the
connection to our on air content. For a generation, Radio and TV has
tried to expand this audience without weakening the quality of what we
produced. This approach does not seem to have worked. Our audience is
still locked into the same metrics. Our attempts to reach other
segments have not given us the results that we had hoped for.
Patty and I dug deeper into what may be happening to our support now
that we are doing this project that focuses so much not only on content
but on helping everyone. Might this be the more legitimate way of
building a broader base of support? Have a look at KNPR's situation
here. My bet is that the secret is here. That the more we support all
the public, the more that ALL the public will support us. That it is
not all about "audience" or content.
As is always the case, the more we’ve communicated about
our activities to our Board of Directors, Community Advisory Board and
external groups such as the local Women in Communications chapter, the
more positive feedback we get over and above the urgency of the topic.
There is a profound resonance that what we are doing is what public
media can do as no commercial media can: dedicating our resources to
focused on air messaging, providing online resources and getting
appropriate messages out to audiences who don’t listen to us. (In
particular the Hispanic audience, African American and those
demographics not associated with public radio use.)
This project answers the question “what do you mean exactly by
community engagement”? we hear this from time to time from our board
members. They are overwhelmingly supportive of the use of time and
resources in this project and understand that this is not related to
building audience for broadcast.
We have reported the specific email traffic in previous questions of
the week and we have not received a lot of spontaneous recognition for
our project from listeners about how they are using the information.
Comments such as “please continue your coverage” are commonplace in
However: Spring Arbitron numbers just came in for News 88.9 KNPR and
looking at the regular Thursday coverage in 10am hour we can see a
significant jump in audience year over year – 30% more listening to the
10am hour. We have covered and branded the foreclosure content in this
hour every week since the start of April.
We recently received information from the Mexican Patriotic
Committee, a non-profit organization that has been in our community for
over 29 years. They wanted us to list a community event they are
promoting. We have never received such a request from the Hispanic
community. The board member who submitted the request said she
respected the way Nevada Public Radio is doing outreach to the Hispanic
community. She appreciated the fact we are trying to communicate with
them about the foreclosure project.
This is an email I received from our local HUD office contact:
“I wanted to thank you again for all of your help. Since partnering
with you & KNPR our call volume has increased dramatically. We have
also seen an increase in our “walk in traffic”. I have spoken to people
who have heard about our programs on your station. You have helped us
reach people we may never have reached, were it not for this
partnership. I look forward working with you all for a very long time.
Phyllis Hargrove, Operations Specialist U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Field Policy Management.
We partnered with our local volunteer center to hold a
volunteer-a-thon as a way of helping the center receive much needed
exposure. We also wanted to give people who had recently lost jobs or
hours from their jobs an opportunity to do something meaningful for the
community, to have a place to go to during the day, to learn new
skills, to share their skills and make valuable contacts.
This is an email we received from the Volunteer Center:
“United Way of Southern Nevada’s Volunteer Center had the
opportunity to partner with Nevada Public Radio during National
Volunteer Week in April 2009. Our ‘bright idea’ was to partner our
request for volunteers with Nevada Public Radio’s expertise with pledge
drives and their breadth of loyal listeners. Imagine our surprise when
460 new volunteers signed up on our website and pledged 11,655 hours of
service to the community over the next 12 months! These 460 volunteers
were from a sector in the community that we might not ever have reached
without this partnership. We are indebted to Nevada Public Radio and
value our collaboration. It is our hope that this partnership endures
for many years to come.”
Robin Kelley, Volunteer Center Director
So the reduction in the GDP number is less than was feared - Hooray! What is going on with our media? The headlines are as boosterish as they were as we went into this crisis. Every glimmer of a green shoot is heralded as a breakthrough.
I am working in the 32 worst hit states in the US and I can tell you from looking at them every day - times for people are getting worse. A Katrinaesque America is emerging but there are no headlines. You have to search to find it. For now.....
The largest county in Alabama - includes Birmingham - is literally falling apart:(NYT)
In every part of Jefferson County
— Alabama’s most populous county and its main economic engine —
government managers have been scrambling to prepare for Saturday, when
two-thirds of county employees eligible for layoffs — up to 1,400 —
will be lost in an effort to stave off financial ruin.
Basically all government services are stopped - even burial!
There is a pattern here. The most corrupt and the most inept and the most politically divided states and cities are the first to fall - unable to cope with the complexities of the collapse in tax revenue.
Jefferson County, which includes Birmingham, could be compared to a
person who has lost his job, watched his retirement investments
evaporate and is stuck with a house that is worth less than what he
owes the bank. Some of the county’s woes stem from the financial crisis
that has pounded so many communities: its sales and property tax
revenues are down by $40 million, and it borrowed billions in a sewer bond boondoggle
that is the municipal equivalent of a subprime mortgage, using failed
exotic bond deals and swaps concocted by investment bankers.
the county has additional troubles: the sewer project was riddled with
corruption, and in January a court ruled that a tax the county relied
on for more than a quarter of its general fund was illegal because the
Legislature repealed it in 1999.
State lawmakers could easily
fix that problem by re-enacting the tax, but deliberations have dragged
on even as the county has halted road maintenance, delayed opening a
courthouse, announced plans to close half its customer service
locations and asked department heads to submit the names of those who
would be laid off on Saturday.
As I learn more about California, Michigan, New York and New Jersey - I wonder. The fabric of where people live is unraveling.
In Canada we remain isolated from what is happening in many US Cities - isolated for now.
As we explore what it is like in the places hit hardest such as Ohio - that have had the jobs go forever - we see the emergence of Ghost Towns. Once unemployment reaches 15%, they seem to die. Here is a story I found on MarketPlace:
"It makes you wonder, if for different reasons, we’re going to see
more ghost towns across America. Just think of all those subdivisions
and shopping malls that are being abandoned.
John Wasik, author of “The Cul-De-Sac Syndrome: Turning Around the Unsustainable American Dream,” says this:
“The whole premise of the ‘Cul-De-Sac Syndrome’ is we
hit a dead end,” he said. “We hit a wall of unaffordability. I want to
convey the idea that we are building, selling and developing
communities that are not sustainable.”
areas with no public transit or connection to a central city … will
become ghost towns if high energy prices return and persist,” he
writes, adding that both scenarios are likely in a healthy economy.
A financial analyst fresh from a tour of construction
sites in the Inland Empire (east of LA) is warning Wall Street of a
“ghost town” where finished homes sit vacant and additional homes are
still under construction.
“At several properties, there
were a significant number of fully built homes sitting vacant along
with a large number of additional homes still under construction,”
Sandler O’Neill & Partners analyst Aaron Deer wrote today after
touring developments in Corona and Ontario. “At one master plan
community, the entire development appeared to be vacant — with the
exception of crews working on new construction, it was a ghost town.”
And that was a year ago.
As we talked about a few months ago,
cities like Flint, Michigan that don’t want to wind up like Cairo might
just tear things down and start over, thinking smaller this time.
As markets rise in anticipation of a fix for CIT and analysts ask whether improved bank earnings are a sign that the economy has bottomed out - things are getting desperate in many communities as the number of empty houses blights entire areas.
“I would say it’s hurricane season for foreclosures and 150 Katrinas
are pounding urban neighborhoods across the country,” he said. “It’s
forcing us to reinvent the way we do community development.”
Noting that 654 homes in New Jersey were repossessed in February,
Mr. Morrissy added, “We have to grow the scale of our commitment —
rescue troubled properties, organize citizens as neighborhood
guardians, get new homeowners into the picture — or this thing is going
to devour us and our neighborhoods.”
Is is a surprise that I see this headline today? (NPR)
-- The Washington Post -- "Poll Shows Obama Slipping On Key Issues":
"Heading into a critical period in the debate over health-care reform,
public approval of President Obama's stewardship on the issue has
dropped below the 50% threshold for the first time, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll
Obama's approval ratings on other front-burner issues, such as the
economy and the federal budget deficit, have also slipped over the
We all talk about change. But most hate it and most of all most hate to have change imposed upon them.
Back in 2005 when NPR ventured into a nation wide debate about how everyone in Public Radio would have to change, we could all agree on what we should do - but like knowing that you should give up smoking or lose 20 pounds, we got stuck on the do. We got stuck on the hard work of changing ourselves.
One of the really wonderful aspects of the Facing the Mortgage Crisis is that many of the 76 stations that are participating are changing.
They are becoming part of their community - they are giving their community its own voice - they are really getting to understand how social media can expand their reach and connection - that "voice" is mellowing - the are becoming vital to the future of where they live.
Our community now goes beyond the public media demographic that we
think we know and understand to many new people and organizations that
are struggling to make sense out of a very painful crisis.
Additionally, our sense of public service has greatly increased and
appreciate the value of community engagement - to the point that
“community engagement” becomes a non sequitur - how could public media
not be fully engaged in their community? Leonard Sternberg CET/WXVU
I think it is because we found a great issue - rather than try and be "New" as an abstract - we became part of a movement to save our communities - it must have felt like this in WWII. In so doing our walls broke down.
Over the next few months, I will explore this process of transformation further because I think that a great lesson is to be found here and I don't understand it all yet.
But I suspect that the general lesson might be this - that the more of us who make working on renewing our communities, the more we will ourselves expand as people. It may be that this crisis opens us up to see how much we need others - especially people who may not be like us or look like us.
As the hype about Green Shoots continues and the profits roll in on Wall Street - what is the picture on Mainstreet?
As NPR and KERA report foreclosures are on the rise:
On Thursday, RealtyTrac released a report that
showed home foreclosures nationally have risen 15 percent for the
first half of 2009 compared to the same period in 2008. RealtyTrac’s
figures suggest Texas’ foreclosure levels have dipped almost 15 percent
compared with the same period last year.
RealtyTrac CEO James J. Saccacio said the record levels of
foreclosures come “in spite of the industry-wide moratorium earlier
this year, along with local, state and national legislative action and
increased levels of loan modification activity….” and are being driven
by unemployment and a high number borrowers who owe more on their
mortgage than their home is worth.
“Stemming the tide of foreclosures is a critical component to
stabilizing the housing market, so it is imperative that the lending
industry and the government work in tandem to find new approaches to
address this issue.”
There seems to be two Americas - those who work in the real world of where people live and the financial system that has other priorities.
It would seem that we are just beginning the work in Pub Media to make a difference in the real world - where we become part of the story ourselves.