Following President Trump's presentation of his proposed budget to Congress, the Community Idea Stations has been fielding calls from donors and others interested in how elimination of funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) will affect the station. Our CEO Curtis Monk shares some of his thoughts on the issue:
History and purpose of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967: When Congress established the Corporation for Public Broadcasting through the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 the intent was to create a media presence that could educate children as well as life long learners, share great performances and protect journalistic integrity. Public broadcasting was also designed to celebrate the unique character of the people, places, and potential that comprise thousands upon thousands of communities throughout our country and our world.
In the early days, there was no established community support model. Accordingly, Congress and the States provided most of the funding because there was a shared desire to use the power of media to improve quality of life. Programs on public broadcasting have always helped remind the public that no pressure, no amount of adversity, and no challenge will ever outweigh the overwhelming opportunity and daily acts of courage and kindness that we too frequently take for granted.
Increasing importance of community-based support to supplement government funding of public broadcasting stations. As time passed, community support increased because people genuinely valued the programs and services that have always been designed to fulfill the founding purpose of Public Broadcasting. In addition, stations began to find ways to create alternative streams of revenue. Within this landscape it came as no surprise when Federal and State funds were re-allocated. Priorities changed, pressures increased, and decisions were made.
Make no mistake, as the funding picture changed, all stations were at some level of peril. Each station addressed its particular situation as best they could. When faced with financial pressure there are really only two levers to operate: Either increase revenue or decrease expense. Above all, be resourceful and don’t panic.
To my knowledge, very few public media stations have been overflowing with resources. Given the enormous changes that have occurred over time, both in resource availability and technology, public media programming throughout the United States has continued to be viable. We have bent but we have never broken.
The complete loss of Federal Funding, though, would pose a serious threat to the system's current programming model. Each individual station is in a different place as they manage the tricky equation of community support, earned revenue, and Federal or State Funding. Due to market strength and opportunistic strategy some stations are considerably better positioned to adapt to an abrupt disruption. Many stations, though, are just not that there yet and that reality poses a serious problem. If Federal Funding is eliminated then it is likely that some stations will be unable to contribute their fair share to ensure that viewers and listeners have access to strong national programs like PBS NewsHour, Antiques Roadshow, NOVA, and a host of others. That would require some serious re-allocation of resources system-wide and would be challenging to say the least.
Elimination of funding impacts small, rural, and under-served communities the most. While preserving the national programming is vital there would be an equally and perhaps more profound tragedy. One of the best things about Public Media is that it serves all communities whether large or small, rural or urban, and every location and every person is treated as an important part of the whole. Today, though there are pressures, the broadcast coverage is extraordinary. Absent Federal Funding, that might, and most likely would, change. The impact on our society would be significant.
Impact to the Community Idea Stations: A complete loss of Federal Funding would impact the Community Idea Stations. We are, however, relentless and resilient about our opportunity and obligation to make our community a better place. Our Board and staff recognize that community support must be earned. It should never be perceived as a hand out, but as an investment in an organization that is making a difference and improving quality of life. That crucial concept must always remain front and center.
Further, we all understand that we have an obligation to find alternative streams of revenue. It’s up to us to be innovative, creative, and try new things so long as we always stay true to our purpose and mission.
Right now, Federal Funding makes up 13% of our operating budget, over a million dollars. If a reduction occurs we will assess the magnitude and timing, roll up our sleeves, and get to work. Given the strength of our community, the excellence of our people, and the potential we possess there is no question in my mind that we will find a way, and it will be a way that ultimately increases our value and impact. We owe that to all the people who depend on us.
The impact of Public Broadcasting is widespread and very positive. Nearly every year that I can remember there has been discussion about eliminating federal funding for Public Broadcasting. Each time, viewers and listeners have made it very clear that they value the service and that it makes a tangible difference in their lives. Faced with the prospect of alienating a passionate set of constituents and making a very small impact on a very large budget, legislators have tended to listen to the people whom they represent. I’m hopeful that will continue to be the case.
So, we’ll hope for the best, we’ll expect the worst, and we’ll await the inevitable surprises that, sooner or later, will reveal themselves in the most unexpected of ways.