CAB Minutes: May 2007
7 PM, Wednesday, May 9, 2007
The New York Society for Ethical Culture
Members Present: Sallie Gouverneur, KC Sahl, Edward Sawchuk, Judy Hellman, Gina Fuentes Walker, David Weinstock, Gideon Pollach, Ken Stewart, Emily Gertz, Inge Reist, Alfred Freidland, Gary Schulze, Shawn Williams, Jenn Batterton, Alex Senchak
Absent: Nicholas Arture, David Hall, Elizabeth Nam, Mary Payton O’Hara, David Rahni, Basya Weissman.
WNYC: Shira Rosenhaft, Trustee Alan Weiler
Welcome – Public Comment
Sallie Gouverneur welcomed members of the public and explained that there would be opportunities at the beginning and end of the meeting for public comments and questions. She then opened the floor for comments.
A woman from the audience noted that there are many wonderful things about WNYC, but some negative things as well. She mentioned that the Brian Lehrer and Leonard Lopate shows in particular distinguish themselves, but noticed that the “non-commercial” commercials are delivered in a voice that is too dull. Sallie Gouverneur replied that research has indicated that listeners find the corporate underwriter spots hard to listen to and that the station had shortened them in response. She noted that on WNYC there are 90 seconds of corporate underwriter spots in one hour and compared that to the 18 minutes of advertisements an hour on commercial radio and further explained that WYNC’s guidelines for what the underwriter’s are allowed to say are more stringent than the FCC’s. Ken Stewart explained that the station’s approach to spots is to make them the least intrusive as possible. Brenda Williams said that she appreciated the comment and clarified that on FM you might hear the underwriter spots read live by the host of the show but on AM the spots are always produced and that the same woman reads them. She encouraged listeners to give their feedback to Listener Services. A woman from the audience said that she was happy to have the announcements as short as possible. A male audience member observed that the issue of the corporate underwriter announcements seems to be a recurring topic at the meetings and suggested that the CAB along with WNYC create a one page position statement on the issue to be made available to the public at CAB meetings. He hoped this effort would reduce the need to repeat the information.
He followed with an objection to a clip he had heard recently from Daniel Shore about the number of countries that have nuclear weapons vs. those that do not. His feeling was that the tone suggested a false sense of security about weapons control that was disturbing. A discussion followed with Sallie Gouverneur explaining that the clip was from a composite spot where the clips are selected because they are provocative. David Weinstock added that the context for the clip was a discussion about the success of the international effort to control weapons. Another woman from the audience thanked WNYC for their coverage of 9/11 saying that she found it very informative and balanced. She added that the news coverage in general was very good. Her only regret about the Station is that “On The Top” is no longer aired.
A female member of the public mentioned that she has a problem with the station’s reception. A discussion ensued about the possible causes. Brenda Williams replied that the Station had recently had some problems with AM reception possibly due to the weather but the Station Engineer was on top of it and it has been fixed. Otherwise CAB members agreed that reception often depends on location with Alex Senchak mentioning that he moved across the street and no longer gets reception and advised using the web cast.
Another woman, a recent transplant from MN, was displeased with evening and weekend music programming as she prefers news and talk radio and believes they make her more productive around the house. Brenda Williams suggested that she check the AM station for more talk programs. Sallie Gouverneur said that the current programming schedule is the result of years of discussion in an effort to find the right combination of programs. Alex Senchak noted that it is about finding a balance between music and talk and that many other listeners, himself included, would like the balance shifted the other way in favor of more music programming.
A male member of the public had read that this is the first year Arbitron ratings will include Public Radio. He wondered how this would affect the programming? Brenda Williams clarified that Arbitron has always rated the station and that although this may be the first year these numbers are available to the public, the station has always used those figures.
New Jersey Outreach Meeting
Sallie Gouverneur began with a resounding thank you to Alex Senchak for organizing the New Jersey Outreach Meeting and “doing and absolutely spectacular job.” She also thanked the members of the board who attended the meeting. Her only regret is that there wasn’t a larger turnout “by members of the New Jersey listening audience.” She then went over the substance of the meeting using a summary prepared by Alfred Friedland. She noted that the summary would be distributed to the Board after the meeting and invited those members who attended the meeting to contribute their comments before dissemination. The presentations began with a slide show of Newark harbor and waterways by a photographer and historian that successfully conveyed the myriad uses and history of “how the waterways are used and abused”. Ms Gouverneur thought the presentation provided “strong sense of place and environmental considerations.” The next speaker was the Chief Government and Public Affairs Officer of Port Authority of New York and New Jersey who successfully laid out the relationship between the Port Authority and the media and specifically WNYC, but also drove home how essential the Port Authority is to our daily lives. Another speaker was the Vice President of New Jersey’s First Aide Council, which is a consortium of volunteer ambulance cores, the largest and oldest such group in the country. She described how the majority of their funding comes from the public and how her organization reflects the strength of local New Jersey communities. The final speaker was the President and CEO of the Dodge Foundation whose mission is to support environmental and community issues “and promote people being humane to each other.” The speaker had given a lot of thought the role of public radio and spoke of how in a democratic society the potential conflicts between the community and the individual needs are acted out on Public Radio. The speakers discussed their thoughts on how well WNYC covers New Jersey issues. They described being in an awkward position of having New York on one side and Philadelphia on the other without having a statewide medium of their own. They felt the station could do better, but overall were satisfied with the coverage. Ms. Gouverneur then asked other CAB members for their thoughts on the meeting.
Gideon Pollach suggested that in the future there are separate committees/persons for the programming and marketing efforts of the Outreach meetings. He noted that the community turnout was disappointing and that separate committees could help to solve that problem.
A conversation followed with Sallie Gouverneur suggesting that the CAB meet privately to discuss the attendance issue that has been a reoccurring problem with the Outreach meetings. She suggested June as a potential month in which to schedule the meeting. Alex Senchak pointed out that he had done publicity for the other three major Outreach projects, each of which took a week of his life with mailings and phone calls, and the attendance results had been almost the same. He explained that the methods they used for publicity this time around included supplying the venue with the information and relying on them to help get the word out, ads in the newspaper “albeit next to the obituaries,” and spots on the radio. “This is a testament to the idea that public radio is going to speak to the people who is speaks to.” He wondered if the goal of the Outreach meetings should be to get 80-100 people to attend or to get the people who know the most about the community and are best able to voice their concerns to the board? In his view, those who attended made some excellent points.
Inge Reist pointed out that only having a few audience members in attendance isn’t an accurate representation of the listener ship. “It seems we should learn from this that Outreach meetings don’t actually work. And it’s more focus groups we’re talking about.” She went on to say that the meeting in New Jersey was in essence a focus group with the speakers representing different constituencies and concerns. It would seem a better use of their time to request their expertise at a focus group rather than lead them to believe they would speak in from of a sizable audience. Kenneth Stewart requested that a copy of the press release that went out be part of the record.
Shawn Williams reported that recruiting had gone very well. They received well over 50 letters of interest and from those they whittled it down to 10 very dynamic and interesting people. They all have an affinity for WNYC and prior volunteer and board experience. She made sure that each candidate understood the time commitment of being on the CAB. Ms. Williams mentioned that they all felt it was important to give back to the radio station that they depend on. “So put them to work early and soon.” Sallie Gouverneur asked if they should consider inviting the candidates to their non-public meeting to talk about Outreach and Shawn Williams responded that she had considered it already and believes they should be invited.
Presentation to the Board of Trustees
Sallie Gouverneur advised the board that the meeting would be held in the early morning on June 28th and welcomed all interested CAB members to attend and to contribute to the Power Point presentation she is putting together. The location has not yet been confirmed. She noted that the list of topics had not been finalized, but that it would include the efforts and results of the New Jersey Outreach meeting and the Youth Outreach Committee as well as their recommendations. Ms. Gouverneur invited the board to contribute additional ideas for topics. Alex Senchak asked if their show reviews would be included in the presentation and Ms. Gouverneur responded that they would definitely be included. Inge Reist suggested that the presentation include a compilation of public comments derived from the minutes of the CAB meetings “since our primary mission is as a conduit of the opinions of the public.” Ms. Gouverneur agreed to that addition.
Sallie Gouverneur stated that the CAB would only require outside meeting space through the fall of 2007 because WNYC’s new space on Varick Street should be able to accommodate CAB meetings starting in January. In the mean time, in an effort to deal with the poor acoustics of the current meeting room, she supports the idea of bringing in microphones or moving the meeting to a smaller room. Kenneth Sahl said that the problem was that the room was similar to the New Jersey Outreach situation, with the CAB members outnumbering the audience. He suggested that the furniture be rearranged to get the audience closer. Ms. Gouverneur asked that a couple of volunteers from the CAB join her after the meeting to look at the smaller rooms available. She stated her opinion that the meetings remain at the Society for Ethical Culture because of mutually beneficial arrangement, but thanked Gideon Pollach for his research into other venues. Emily Gertz inquired about having meetings in different locations and Ms. Gouverneur responded that there were many advantages to that suggestion, but practically speaking it is simpler to keep the meetings where they are.
Sallie Gouverneur began by stating her findings that the program reviewed during the last meeting, The Sound of Young America, is only on for a short run and will end Sunday, May 14th. Part of the intention of the show was to attract a younger demographic while it was filling in temporarily for The No Show.
David Weinstock reported that he read the host’s website and recalled a listener comment about the host sounding like he is in his forties when he is only 25. Overall the website seemed to target a younger audience. Shawn Williams commented that one of the new CAB recruits specifically mentioned enjoying and relating to that show. The candidate explained that she also felt “overeducated and underemployed”.
Ms. Gouverneur brought up the program Fair Game, which was also reviewed during the last meeting and asked if anyone had any additional comments. Judy Hellman mentioned that she finds the program difficult to listen to and Gina Fuentes Walker asked Brenda Williams if the show would be on permanently. Ms. Williams replied that they don’t know yet.
Gideon Pollach inquired about Radio Lab noting that it is showing up as a podcast, but he hasn’t heard it on the air. Ms. Williams explained that Radio Lab would be back on the air for another series starting May 18th. Alex Senchak brought attention to a show he has only heard on podcasts called Intelligence Squared. The program is produced by NPR and hosted by Robert Siegel. It is broadcast from New York and a lot of the content is based on cultural and social happenings in New York. Mr. Senchak found it odd that given these relationships to New York, it was not aired here.
Sallie Gouverneur asked the CAB members to talk about something that they’ve recently heard on WNYC that struck them. Inge Reist spoke of a piece by Cindy Rodriguez about child prostitution that was “outstanding.” Although it was a very distinguished piece of reporting, she couldn’t help but wonder why they were airing this local story during the time when we could be hearing Morning Addition, a show that notoriously costs the station a lot of money. Ms. Reist also voiced her frustration with the new station identification voice. In addition to it being a constant disruption, she noted the voice sounded like it belonged on CBS News. “I don’t think it’s a good image for any public radio station and certainly not ours.”
A discussion followed about whether the Cindy Rodriguez piece could have been contributed to NPR by WNYC. The members of the board concluded that although reporters from WNYC do contribute stories to NPR news, in this case it was a local story.
Edward Sawchuck talked in depth about a recent media situation that made him realize the value of WNYC. Hearing in-depth analysis after the Sean Bell shooting about racial profiling and how the tension of police work and enforcement affect black communities made him realize how quickly other media outlets had dropped the story. He was upset by what he saw as “very little continuing analysis of what the underlying problem was” in the Sean Bell case. Mr. Sawchuck contrasted the Bell story with the treatment of the Don Imus story in which a sensational incident was given a disproportionate amount of attention by the same media that had not given enough for the Bell story. “WNYC was the only station who seem to give each story it’s due, not move on a forget Bell immediately, but still strive to provide analysis.”
Ms. Gouverneur was reminded of a comment made by the Chief Government and Public Affairs Officer of Port Authority of New York and New Jersey at the New Jersey Outreach meeting. He said that the majority of the media doesn’t take enough time with stories. Ms. Gouverneur agreed with this comment and added that our attention span for news has shortened and that the media “contributes to this amnesia that has become very pervasive.” Jenn Batterton quoted the New Jersey speaker David Grant as saying that WNYC and public radio “combats civic A.D.D.” She added that she agrees that WNYC does a better job of providing in depth coverage and analysis than other media outlets.
A lively discussion followed. Alfred Freidland asserted that a radio station cannot impose attention spans on a “population that has a deficit in that area.” David Weinstock disagreed and cited CNN’s treatment of the Scott Peterson story which they ran 24/7 and “forced down your throat” as an example of the network creating the interest in the story. Mr. Freidland discussed WNYC’s progression from a “sleepy” station with programs that were basically public service announcements (that suited him fine) to its current form as a media outlet that competes more with commercial media. “WNYC (unfortunately in my opinion) is not vital with that kind of programming.” He commented that CNN is attracted to stories that are attention catching versus public radio, which “makes demands on the attention and the intellect.” Emily Gertz commented that framing the issue as commercial media versus public radio doesn’t really get to the root of the matter. News coverage like the sort CNN provides doesn’t “develop or exist in a vacuum”. It is the result of a bigger set of issues including cut backs in government regulations that result in lower broadcast standards. ”You can almost say that the ascendance of NPR to where it is right now and a station like WNYC is in direct consequence of stations like CNN pandering to more prurient interests.” She continued by saying “CNN made its name in the last Gulf War and NPR is making its name in the current Gulf War.”
Alex Sanchak added that “we all love investigative reporting, but we know that it isn’t instant.” What he enjoys about the station is that “when there is something to talk about they talk about it.” They take the time and don’t “dramatize it to make the story better.” Ms. Gouverneur thanked everyone for participating in the discussion and said she was “proud of the group for caring so much” to have this type of discussion in front of the public.
Emily Gertz interjected a comment from an earlier discussion topic about things that they’ve have noticed on WNYC. She noticed that recently reporters have started reading the headlines from other news sources. She noted that there are other media sources that do this successfully but it’s not a good use of time on WNYC. Inge Reist said that it seemed related to the tendency for the local news reporters to repeat headlines from national news too frequently. It quickly becomes redundant.
Sallie Gouverneur handed out copies of the minutes from the last meeting and asked the members to look them over and contribute changes. She explained that the person who recorded the minutes didn’t do a thorough job and she would appreciate comments, especially on the highlighted sections, before they were submitted for approval.
Sallie Gouverneur reminded the CAB that at the last meeting she requested that anyone interested in serving as chair or co-chair of this board speak to her directly. Since no one came forth, she proposed a slate: Edward Sawchuck as Chair with K.C. Sahl and Judy Hellman as Co-Chairs.
The slate was approved. Discussion followed about the election rules and appropriate process. Alfred Friedman mentioned that he favored an anonymous vote. Ken Stewart mentioned that he is a “process guy” and would like to have their election rules set out before a vote. Ms. Gouverneur said that there are no straight election rules and that this is similar to how the chairs were selected last year. “Because we are all volunteers here, we tend to keep in informal.” Inge Reist noted that this process is common amongst volunteer boards and she felt comfortable with it. The Board agreed that the slate would be ratified.
Questions and Comments from the Public
Sallie Gouverneur re-opened the floor to public comments and questions.
A gentleman in the audience asked a series of questions and put forth several comments. He noticed that the public attendance was much larger during his last visit four or five years ago and wondered why that was. Alfred Friedman suggested that he must have come during the Classical music controversy, which was the only time they’ve had large audiences. The gentleman from the audience wondered why he didn’t hear about the meeting in New Jersey. He said that he lives in New Jersey and would have attended if he had known about it.
The conversation turned to how the meeting was advertised. Brenda Williams explained that the ads ran 3-4 times a day on the radio and began 4-5 days prior to the meeting.
The gentleman from the public then emphasized that “he’d had it up to here with the promos,” specifying that he found the delivery boring. He went on to recommend that they at least re-arrange the words if they were going to repeat the same promo over again. He also recommended that the station use volunteer voices for their promotions. He went on to note that there are too many mentions of Soterios Johnson’s name; he doesn’t think it is necessary to say his name five times an hour. He also doesn’t think the sports scores need to be announced more than once every two hours. His last issue was with Jonathon Schwartz receiving too much promotion time.
He went on to comment about the Sound of Young America. In his opinion, WNYC already had a niche audience who depends on WNYC, and so walks a fine line trying to appeal to new demographics.
Regarding the media coverage of Sean Bell, he found that the Brian Lehrer show covered it well and that in general the Don Imus story was somewhat over-covered on WNYC, but not too much. He ended by saying that “this station is serious, but what is happening in this country is that more people are being pulled away by distractions” and called on WNYC to “try not to appeal too broadly, or condescend or pander to its audience.”
A woman from the audience said that heard announcement for the CAB on radio but was unsure about the date. She asked that the date of the meetings be added to the announcements to help avoid confusion.
A man in the audience noticed that there was not a lot of cross promotion between the AM and FM stations and wondered why. He said that he would like more info about what’s happening on the other station. Emily Gertz clarified that based on research conducted by WNYC, there is not a lot of listener crossover between the two stations so they don’t tend to do a lot of cross promotion. The audience member then requested the email address for the news department so that he could send in corrections to factual errors he hears in the news and news headlines. Brenda Williams suggested he contact Listener Services and informed him that they respond to all emails.
Sallie Gouverneur requested that members of the board let her know after the meeting if there are days in June that they cannot meet. She thanked everyone for their attendance and invited them back to the September meeting.