Cab Minutes: April 2005

7 pm, Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The New York Society for Ethical Culture

MEMBERS PRESENT: David Rahni, Neal Zuckerman, Alfred Friedland, Barbara Genco, Inge Reist, Toby Butterfield, Edward Sawchuk, Shawn Williams, Chris Small, K.C. Sahl, Mary O'Hara, Emily Gertz, Sallie Gouveneur

APOLOGIES: Kelly Wachowicz, Elizabeth Nam, Charles Murray, Dave Hall, Nicholas Arture, Alex Senchak, David Weinstock

WNYC STAFF: Phil Redo, Jennifer Houlihan, Sharon Cauthen

NON-MEMBERS: 15 members from the general public, WNYC Board Member Alan Weiler

The meeting was called to order at 7:15 PM by co-chair Neal Zuckerman. After thanking the public, he repeated the mission of the Community Advisory Board and opened the floor to questions and comments. With no comments from the audience, he proceeded to the report of the Vice-Chair. Commenting on the need for better attendance from CAB members, he suggested that the CAB consider review of the policies pertaining to participation and come up with recommendations.

Approval of minutes for the previous CAB meetings was tabled until the next meeting.

Neal asked for a report on the status of the recruitment of new board members. Shawn Williams began by noting the strength of the candidate slate this year, commenting that several candidates were attending the meeting. She also expressed the appreciation of the CAB for their commitment to public radio. She stated that the CAB would be continuing its selection process, and candidates would be notified about their status in mid-May. Neal thanked the recruitment committee for their hard work and moved to the next item on the agenda: the upcoming presentation to the WNYC's Board of Trustees in June 2005.

For the benefit of new members and the public, Toby Butterfield gave a brief background of the mandate of the CAB to WNYC's Board of Trustees, and explained how previous presentations have been structured. He also stated that this was primarily a working meeting where he hoped the CAB could come to a consensus on the structure of this presentation, as well as the key points that would be covered.

It was agreed that an update of the activities of the CAB since its last report to the board, including the progress of the recruitment process and the CAB's outreach efforts in both Queens and the Bronx , would be included in the presentation.

Toby then presented a list of possible issues to be included in the presentation. Among the topics discussed was a suggestion that there be some sort of mandate for WNYC to have reporters live in the outer boroughs. The CAB members, noting that if this proposal is presented in the report to the Trustees, it should be reworded to reflect the CAB's desire to have WNYC provide coverage of all areas of the city.

This led to a debate on the pros and cons of overall local news coverage. Some committee members expressed a concern that the WNYC might run the risk of diluting its current high level of programming in an attempt to broaden its demographic appeal. Other members asked if this initiative to broaden the demographics was really the first goal of the station, and if so, how effective programming like Tavis Smiley's show been in meeting that goal. The membership agreed that it should look into the statistics and research regarding the likelihood of WNYC gaining a new audience and the response to new programming like Tavis Smiley's show.

Toby Butterfield stated he felt there should only be four or five recommendations presented to the Board of Trustees. Key discussion points were as follows:

    Programming: Investigate ½ Hour Program Focusing On Local News. This suggestion comes from feedback from people who have attended meetings in the past. Local outreach seems to indicate that there is support for this kind of program from the public. In contrast, it was pointed out that interruptions of Morning Edition for local news have been poorly received by listeners. Inge Reist pointed out that other public radio stations are already doing this kind of programming, and wondered if WNYC would start to lose its individuality by copying others. Broadening The Demographics Of The Station By Appealing To A Younger Audience. Questions were raised as to what is meant by a younger audience? A discussion of how WNYC could go about appealing to that demographic resulted in a universal opinion that it should not be a primary focus in the presentation. Pushing The Envelope On Ethnic Diversity. Neal asked if anyone has heard Ed Gordon's show, and wondered if this represented true ethnic diversity. Shawn said that she has heard and enjoyed the programming, praising it for being informative and displaying a diversity of opinion. She felt it was a wonderful way for the WNYC audience to hear a number of different opinions. Toby asks if she felt that African American audiences find him appealing. Shawn responded that she believes that Gordon is a familiar figure to the audience, and that was his appeal, not his ethnicity. She also stated that his guests were also a major part of his appeal. Shawn noted that his time slots were not great ( 6 AM on Sunday morning), and that did not allow WNYC's white audience to sample his program. Most of the CAB members agreed. Toby stated that he found that Tavis did not speak only to racial issues, but spoke to topics that had broad appeal. Barbara Genco pointed out that the CAB seemed to be advocating a broader call to diversity of all types, not specifically an African-American voice. Inge Reist agreed, suggesting that perhaps all diversity issues could be consolidated into one paragraph in the presentation. Ellen Gertz noted that WNYC is unique in its focus on shared experiences for the city, and that this push towards diversity could be perceived as divisive. She stated that the recommendations should be more focused on ways to unify the city. In that vein, Barbara Genco mentioned the new on-air campaign with varying ethnic voices (African-American, Russian, etc.) has made a simple but profound change in the way the station is viewed. Inge Reist agreed, stating that the campaign illustrates that WNYC already appeals to a diverse audience.

While Neal Zuckerman thought all the points discussed were good, he urged the membership to include "actionable" recommendations in the presentation.

Shawn Williams noted, with some agreement from the CAB members, that it appeared that all of the issues discussed so far could be organized under three major points.

Toby believed that WNYC is not well known outside of Manhattan , while Barbara Genco pointed out that people in her community listen and feel that the programming is diverse. Inge said that the group was overlooking topical diversity, and that the WNYC should address topics that are not covered on stations like science (i.e., Living on Earth). David Rahni noted that specific New York issues that do not usually get covered or get limited coverage (i.e., Super Aids virus).

Neal Zuckerman asked that the members be more specific about what would be requested from the WNYC Board of Trustees. He suggested new half hour programs, and rotating topics. He also asked for more clarity on how these recommendations might be implemented.

Inge Reist stated that she didn't think it was entirely necessary to develop new programs, but instead cover the issues via venues already on the air. Sally Gouveneur agreed that it's the diversity of stories and coverage that is being advocated rather than a new slate of programs.

It was agreed by the membership that the overarching principal of this point in the presentation is diversity of coverage, and the various examples will be illustrated via bullet points.

Ed Sawchuk stated that while there are changes to recommend, it might be worthwhile to encourage the stations to continue the things that it does well. Specifically, Ed mentioned the fact that a number of stories are covered in depth before they become "hot issues" by the more mainstream media outlets.

Emily Gertz suggested that the suggestion regarding new methods for distribution of WNYC's programming be tabled until more research is done, especially since WNYC is in the forefront of the podcasting initiative. Ed Sawchuk remarked that this is a good example of when the station should be applauded for its efforts.

Neal Zuckerman raised the issue of the classical music format by suggesting that despite its excellent track record in the production of cultural programming, WNYC should turn its attention to leading the way in excellence in the talk radio arena.

Barbara Genco reminded the membership that WNYC personnel had promised to come back to the Community Advisory Board to discuss the programming of classical music after the format changes that placed talk shows in highly visible places in the program lineup.

Inge Reist said that the term "classical music" brings a lot of baggage, and she recommends using the phrase "serious music" to indicate music that can be heard in concert halls. She also stated that the "serious music" format offered its listeners an opportunity to experience music they may not otherwise be able to access in any other way. The membership agreed that more information needs to be gathered on how the station treats both classical music and the newer forms of the "serious music" (i.e., New Sounds).

David Rahni noted that although WNYC's music format is excellent, it may not represent what the majority of New Yorkers are interested in. He suggested that rather than losing the cultural programming that is vital to New York , WNYC should investigate other music types that have no representation in the city. He also noted the CAB should do more research on the classical music topic, including audience research, before making a recommendation to the Board of Trustees.

In response to K.C. Sahl's statement that the new shows and format help expand our horizons, Emily Gertz noted that we do have two channels, and maybe it would be possible to use the two stations to accommodate both camps.

David mentioned that the change to the talk format has increased membership, but it may have been created by the need for information that was created by the attacks on 9/11.

Returning to the discussion of how to incorporate all of the issues reviewed in this meeting, it was decided that the presentation would include objective information (i.e., the results of the outreach projects, recruitment); the need for diversity in coverage and voices, and kudos to the station for its innovations and programming that have worked well.

Toby asked for volunteers to work on the sections of the presentation. Assignments were distributed as follows:

Sallie Gouveneur, Diversity of Voices
Chris Small, Diversity of Voices
David Rahni, Diversity of Coverage
Shawn Williams, Recruitment
Inge Reist, Cultural Programming
Emily Gertz, Podcasting
Ed Sawchuk, Proactive News Coverage
Mary O'Hara, Coverage
K.C. Sahl, Coverage

Neal will send a template to the membership so the pieces will be cohesive.

Neal then opened the floor to comments and questions from the public.

One listener expressed an interest in hearing more on the immigration issues and stories on why and how New Yorkers clash on various issues.

Members of the audience were impressed with CAB's efforts to make WNYC a unifying force for this city and its mandate to "smarten" people up. The opinion was expressed that people are interested in the NY/World culture, and WNYC is a driving force in the "I'm a New Yorker and we are what the world is" message. However, an opposing opinion was expressed, claiming that WNYC does a bad job of marketing to different audiences.

A WNYC listener stated that she listens mostly during the day, and agrees that one of the areas that could use improvement is the diversity of spokespeople.

A vision impaired listener, who said this was his first time attending this meeting, said that he and other visually impaired New Yorkers depend on the radio news more and more, and it is useful to be able to hear more background on the reporters so that they can be in context for the listeners.

Neal Zuckerman reminded the membership that there were three sets of minutes to review and approve, and asked that everyone read the minutes before the next meeting.

After thanks to all for their participation, the meeting was adjourned at 8:50 PM.