CAB Minutes: January 2009

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Fordham Law School

Moderator: David Tereshchuk, member of CAB
Panelists: Arthur Hayes, James Van Oosting, Victor Navasky, James Panero, Beth Knobel

The meeting, which was in the form of a panel discussion, ran for about 90 minutes. The topic was "Political Coverage and the Media." Biographies of the panelists were available in the form of handouts. Approximately 30 people were in attendance, including members of the CAB. Basya Mandel gave a brief introduction and then turned things over to the moderator. The panelists had apparently been provided with a list of questions to consider prior to the meeting, as will be apparent from some of their responses. Below are brief summaries of the major points made by each panelist.

  • Arthur Hayes was conscious of financial constraints and suggested that WNYC increase the diversity of voices currently on air by (a) integrating diversity into the fabric of the programs and (b) expanding sources...include peace & justice organizations, the immigrant & gay press, unions, etc. He noted that diversity of voices is in the mission statement of public broadcasting and feels that WNYC is doing a better job of it than NPR is. "All Things Considered isn't." He stated that he likes the blogs and feels that they enable hosts to do a better job. He does not think we should incorporate debate shows; he has yet to see it well done. He is concerned that News & Notes will soon be off the air, but feels that in crisis, there is opportunity. WNYC is doing a good job, but could tap well-developed local resources to expand coverage at a low cost.
  • James Van Oosting spoke primarily about the importance of narrative. "Real discursive power is not in the stories that get told, but in who gets to tell them." His comments were of a general nature and did not relate directly to WNYC.
  • Victor Navasky said that WNYC is missing its opportunity if it doesn't distinguish itself from mainstream media, a point he illustrated by relating a story about having met Abbie Hoffman's companion en route to the inauguration, and learning about the events she planned to attend, all of which were subsequently ignored by the mainstream media. He pointed out that there is a wealth of resources here in NY, such as the journalism school at Columbia & the media department at Fordham. As for debate-format shows, they needn't be shout fests. WNYC should adhere to its current quality while providing stories that are untold.
  • James Panero said that the station is already superior. It should not try to fulfill a wishlist or become community access. It should avoid citizen journalism and leave it to knowledgeable hosts. It's important to look at more than just demographics. The media landscape is becoming increasingly national. WNYC should emphasize local, cultural, and in depth coverage. It could consider rolling back syndication, and perhaps look to Al Jazeera for sources rather than or in addition to the BBC. It should take advantage of new technology. And clone Brian Lehrer.
  • Beth Knobel said that being an NPR reporter in Moscow was a highlight of her career, and she loves introducing her students to WNYC. They are almost all unaware of it, but usually enjoy it when they are assigned to listen to it. For them, radio basically doesn't exist. They don't even own radios—they listen online. WNYC should consider how technology is changing everything. Perhaps add internet channels in order to have a much broader set of voices. She noted that it's been good to hear conservative voices on both NPR & WNYC. Reaching out beyond the community is very valuable. WNYC should try to send a reporter to DC, even if temporarily. Should the station have a political point of view? No! Should the station be more controversial & exciting? No! Should the station contribute beyond news? Yes, it should continue to do so. NY listeners are liberal but don't want fawning coverage. The station is doing a terrific job but there is always room to include more & go deeper.


After the panelists spoke, there was an audience Q & A. Some of the panelists' responses have been incorporated into the summaries, above. Audience member Will Galison raised the issue of judicial corruption, and the lack of media coverage of this subject. CAB board member Ken Stewart said that Mr. Galison had recently convinced him of his case, and asked Mr. Galison what WNYC could do. He replied: (a) Stop fawning over Judith Kaye (b) answer my letters and (c) do a show on Jonathan Lippman, Patterson's nominee for Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, whom Galison asserts is corrupt. At least one member of the audience was distressed that no one from WNYC was responding to Mr. Galison and the CAB had to clarify that they were not in fact a part of WNYC but could only reflect back to the station. Another audience member felt that WNYC is unwilling to admit different viewpoints. He cited Leonard Lopate's show that day as an example, and coverage of Israel in general.