CAB Minutes: October 2009

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Society for Ethical Culture

The meeting ran from approximately 7:15PM to 8:30PM.

The meeting was chaired by CAB chairperson Basya Mandel. Other members present included:
Renee Cherow-O'Leary
Leslie Ehrlich
Alfred Friedland
Tiffany Hall
Shavonne Johnson
Joyce Lannert
Gaye Leslie
Gaby Schroeder
Ken Stewart

Call to Order. CAB Chair gives a definition of who the CAB is and why they exist. Based on the feedback gathered from the community, the CAB reports to the board of trustees once a year.

Topic: Today's Economy, and how WNYC covers it.

No questions in the opening round of public comment.

Basya: Introduces Leslie and Gaby who will run the meeting. Gaby is a Queens listener and a fan of talk radio, who works as administrator for health and pension funds connected with New York City Union. Leslie is retired from financial world, and beyond sitting on the CAB board, works on a series of financial literacy projects.

Leslie: The Pew research center for Excellence in journalism did a study on how media has been covering the impact of the recession. We have been discussing already: what the stations coverage of the economy. To what degree does it reflect local community as apposed to national issues and what should that balance be?

Pew did a national media study, including NPR. To quickly summarize their findings: Stories that predominated were large about governmentt and big business stories. These outnumbered small business or individuals stories about the economy 3:1. This is over a period form February 1st to August 1st of this year.

Within this coverage, three stories were dominant: Banking System and the bailout, the stimulus plan, and the Auto Industry and the troubles they were having. Stories about individuals and the trouble they were having were only 16%. Stories about small and local businesses were absent. Not even in the report. Totally absent. Moving along, the voices quoted in the stories were also predominantly Government sources or big business. Everyday Americans were the most common source of quotes in two areas, housing and unemployment.

How did different media cover things differently? Newspapers tend to give more coverage to economy. Radio is the least. Morning Edition, used in the report as a whole for NPR, mirrored the national average on the whole with about 30% of their coverage on economic issues.

How do these findings jive with your impressions?

Tiffany: I would agree with that. WNYC has done a great job. A story I heard yesterday highlights this point -- tells about a small chocolate-business story that ran the morning of the meeting. WNYC does a good job; covering the struggle of young kids, trying to find part time jobs, etc. Mentioning that everyone 30+ is actually benefiting from the economy. I feel the station has made an effort to go out in the community as well, be it here in New York, or with the stories they get nationally from NPR.

Of course, you always want to hear more, but WNYC has done well and made an effort.

Gaye Leslie: I agree. I would specifically like to pick out the Brian Lehrer program. He has gone all out to involve the community and has many ways of community input. He has asked people to observe their neighborhood, to see how the economy is. Things like which Construction Projects that have been halted, and he has asked people to adopt a project and watch its progress. You can really feel that you are helping define the news.

Lopate, even though it is outside the regular scope, has brought economic issues up. The station, through these two shows, is really making an effort to involve its audience to not only report, but to take a micro economic look at everything.

Black: If you look at NPR as a whole--This American Life has done a lot. Marketplace, a few others, over the course of the day--give you get a pretty good sense of what is happening. The call ins, and the "uncommon economic indicators," are really wonderful.

Gaye Leslie: The Chocolate Guy (previous anecdote) found that he could survive. Chocolate is important in a recession.

Gaby: One of the things that the report did focus in on Morning Edition, and they noticed that they only had 2% of stories on everyday working people. I don't know, but Financial 411 had 9 of the stories that were based on the big stuff, only one was on the little guy. So that's one of my concerns. The other thing that report did was how much of the coverage follows where the Dow is. When the Dow hit 8,000, the amount of coverage just dropped. A big drop. One of the reasons we wanted to talk economics: as we walk around and see empty stores, see friends out of a job, you want that reflect that. Could it be a little better?

CAB Member: One thing that has not been carried: why credit is not flowing -- there is no financing, despite the rebound of institutions. Someone needs to tell the story about what is not covered. Why is that not getting talked about?

Gaby: Sometimes I feel that the follow-up question is not asked. Judith Kay was on some show. She was starting a program about foreclosures. She said there are 15 thousand foreclosures in the pipeline. I don't know what 15 thousand means. Compared to what? I'm always supposed when the reporter doesn't fill you in on the significance. I also hate that the Dow is the center of focus, and since it has recovered, we get to stop paying attention.

Guest comment 1: I came here to talk about general coverage of the media. I totally agree with what has been said about the emphasis on the Dow, and not the Economy. There is so much money in regards to corporations and government. We just heard that Goldman Sachs is making a huge profit, but this was allowed with our money, tax payer money. Nothing has changed at that end. Their crisis is over for them, but it's going to continue for years.

Basya: Do you think WNYC is culpable on that front?

I think WNYC has done a slightly better job, but I think that in today's world, it's up to the individual to find out, and investigate. For example: if the Dow has gone up, they use a positive adjective...shot up. If it has gone down, it has gone down moderately -- the same 20 points. You always have to filter. But I agree that NPR does a better job of talking about the everyday man then many.

Leslie: To some degree what you are both saying is that the follow up questions aren't there, and you would expect a little more. There are two things that I would like to talk about and redirect us to. One is the space between national industries and the individual. There are local issues in New York that are not Finance. The second is the balance between what you might expect from NPR and its programs, and what you might expect from WNYC and its local coverage.

Does anyone have a point of view on those issues? On balance?

CAB Member: I think that WNYC periodically does the local. When I think of the coverage though, I generally think of the National. There was a story about who Timothy Geithner was talking to every single day. I heard today that the Wall Street Journal has overtaken every other paper in terms of sales. I thought that was fascinating. It's not an easy read. I guess there are two things. One is the question of WNYC's obligation to the local...and we seem to say that they could do better.

Leslie: Are there opportunities to do better?

Fred: Kim Zerolie does good coverage.

CAB Member: Is there a dedicated reporter to economics? It would be important to know if there is a dedicated reporter whose beat it is, to be out there covering it and how they are covering it.

Leslie: I spent some time on the site. It is something of a poor proxy for what is on the air. The good news is that there is an economy link right on the home page. About 1/3rd of the WNYC stories are about local business, with another third about government and the final third about national stories. That's a good complement to the NPR stories. Then there is Financial 411 which has about the same flavor. 30% are small business stories.

One thing I did note is that the postings have petered out since the economy got better over the summer. So, is this one reporter's area of interest, or is someone dedicated to these stories full time? Net impression is that the coverage that is planned, at least in terms of local coverage, is opportunistic and hinges around the reporter's interests. As a station that is embedded in a pretty rich environment, it struck me that that there was an opportunity.

Yseult: I only listen to public radio, so its interesting to hear about, and I wonder what the others coverage is like. one in the room widely listens to other media, thus can not say.

CAB Member: I have an assignment! We should go listen to other AM radio. I listen to Jazz, WFVU, and there is some good music commentary out there. I can get little snippets of other AM stations. I think we need to go out and get more.

Tiffany: The focus is primarily national news. Mainstream media is getting more and more on a sound byte. You get a few shows that go more in depth, but they try to cover too much time, and end up not covering much in depth. You don't get these small business stories on your typical coverage. Maybe a weekend or a late night program will have it. The role of WNYC can really be to flesh things out.

Gaye Leslie: I always end up wanting to know: why didn't you ask this, why didn't you ask that? I mailed Bob Hennelley a whole list of questions. Very specific questions are sometimes missed.

Gaby: If NPR is covering big sound bytes--the president is quoted so much more then every one else-- it's so easy to take the sound byte from a government official. It doesn't take any reporting. It's easy. NPR does that. WNYC should be, if possible, getting sound bytes from local folks, and getting into the local.

Leslie: WNYC has a chance to complement better...not cover the exact same thing.

Fred: I have a question: You mentioned WBGO, which airs out of Newark. Why does WQXR, based in New York, announce as Newark and New York in that order?

Leslie: We will get to that later with WQXR transfer.

Fred: Ok. I would like to know more about economic theory. Since the present comes from the past, I would like to know more about economic history. All economic activity has an effect on the environment. I would like to hear more about environmental and social impact of economic activity. I would like to know more about business and business leadership policies. What is and is not successful in corporate structure, what leads to more stress and what does not. I would like to know more about corporate structure and corporate law. How are economic exchange rates determined?

There are a lot of things that the public would be interested in. Not all of us are majoring in economics, but we should be better educated on this important point.

Basya: How are you suggesting we do this?

Fred: Perhaps by having a Marketplace type of program? Marketplace does an OK job of not following the Dow. I think that program that addresses these various issues. A theme program. If its not every week of the year, maybe something like a Radiolab-like format, educational radio.

Gaby/Leslie: You could take and examine the Financial 411. Maybe an in-depth version on Fridays.

Gaby: Make it about telling stories, like Robert Krulwich, but still giving hard information. Making a story that is rich, but going much deeper--a very terrific idea. We do get news about events, but most people don't have the framework to do enough with that information. Understanding larger issues is vital.

Fred: They are not mutually exclusive--educational can also be interesting. Or if not educational, at least informative.

Male Guest: I would like to see more historically oriented material in WNYC economics programming. It's a great time to exploring the subject. We are completing a historical cycle in the study of economics. Political science and economics are tying back together again.

Regarding earlier Channel Surfing discussion, my general impression is that everyone is following the same formula of economic coverage. Public radio is better at the formula, which is: numbers on a regular basis, then occasional stories that fit into another niche that also becomes human interest or feature story that gets done. And then there is reactive, in-depth reporting to a crisis. The stimulus: the giant pot of money and the exposition that went into that was brilliant. I can't imagine a better job being done.

Unfortunately, it could also have been subtitled: What we failed to report on while it was happening.

Fred: That's true, in retrospect you sometimes see things that you didn't see at the time.

Male speaker: Yeah, but what tends to happen is that there are certain outlets for what we consider economic news. But that is seen as dry and boring. There are people there ready to feed us the information that we have been led to believe is important. You can basically get some corporate spokesperson, or a Government economist to throw something together. In the meantime, but a bill slips through congress that credit default swaps are prohibited from being regulated. That bill wasn't a state secret. And that bill ended up being more important then any single story on the crash. What I would like to see is more proactive sense of not just "is it hot" and "is it news" but is it actually important. It's not an alternative question, but the profoundly important in addition to the news.

A few more specific questions: Who are "economists"? Which economists? It's a big tent. Harry Truman once said he wanted a one-handed economist, because every economist he talked to would always say "on the one hand, on the other hand..." And yet frequently the economists we hear cited in the news are very sure of themselves.

It also goes against basic journalistic principles! You need to attribute the quote you use. Why do we keep on asking the same people who have been wrong?

Fred: That's a good point. Why do we keep asking the same people who have been wrong? And who is the authority?

Male Speaker: And what bias do they have?

CAB Member: Some of these things are actually truly difficult to predict. But some of these people make their name being pundits but no one goes back and checks what they did.

Male Speaker: There is an implicit aura of authority, and yet we don't know who they are and what their track record is.

Basya: Are you saying you would like to see WNYC rely less on economists?

Male Speaker: WNYC should cite sources. Who is it that you are quoting. Ideally, they would also get more than one forecast, from different schools of thought. There's a Mantra that no one saw it coming. The fact is that there are people who saw it coming. There are people who have been howling in the wilderness for years.

Male Speaker #2: Ralph Shulman and Maya Shulman at WBAI have been talking about the same thing for years. There is a consensus that no one wants to talk about these things.

Female Speaker #1: There's just too much money. That's why I would like to see stories about what has changed with the regulations to keep this from happening again. Concerning the banking system, and the mortgage system. Has anything changed? Because I don't think anything has changed, and the stories should reflect that. There was a golden opportunity in asking for something back, which is now gone, but I think stories need to focus on what went wrong and how it has not yet been fixed. For the next big crisis!

Gaye Leslie: You're right, nothing has changed yet. There's this and that, but nothing really has changed.

Male Speaker #2: You're talking about a swindle. About International funds. You know, we used to hear about how baby boomers would be the biggest transfer of wealth the world has ever seen. You don't hear about that anymore, do you?

Fred: I would like to hear more on WNYC about the line of reasoning an economist is using, and how they came to their conclusions. I would like to hear them back up their predictions better, and say why they are predicting something.

Gaby: I'm just thinking about HOW you would do this at the station. What if you brought people in? I don't think it's realistic to expect a reporter to really have the range of information they would need...I think maybe you need a forum.

Male Speaker #2: Actually, there is a place where you can get this: Ralph Shulman and Maya Shulman. They are exhaustive in their research. Compilation of their stuff: Taking Aim You will have to spend 20 hours going through the website. He's a little bit of a polemic. My background is in banking. There were three major banks who pulled off a heist. Lehman Brothers was a fall guy. It's not the mortgage crisis, either. That's a red herring. You remember this time last year, Iceland went bankrupt. But who is running off with the money? Where did it end up? In Andorra? Whenever you have winners, you have losers.

CAB Member: Well, where is the money? You're the guy from J.P. Morgan.

Male Speaker #2: You've got to check it out. You've got to do the due diligence. Ralph Shulman and Maya Shulman have done the due diligence. You have to tune out the communism, but beyond that, he's Austrian school of Economics! Talking about causality. A professor at MIT got fired for talking about something.

Female Speaker #1: There were two Japanese businessmen that were caught in Switzerland with a suitcase worth of American savings bonds in denominations that don't exist. Enough to bring down the economy, they were never charged and released.

Male Speaker #2: When you get into Ralph Shulman and Maya Shulman, and you start to understand black flag operations, you start to understand, and you say wow. There's a hidden agenda. It's off the charts. It's freaky.

CAB Member: Can WNYC be the voice of the more radical?

Male Speaker #2: It's not radical, it's a question of it being right or wrong.

CAB Member: Badly put. Unless you listen to BAI, there's no other place to go.

Cross Talk

Male Speaker #2: Veritas. It's about getting to the truth.

CAB Member: So what we are really saying here is that the Station is too soft!

WNYC is not talking a diverse enough look. There are many questions that are left unanswered, and it's taking a diverse, complex and sophisticated look. But what do we do, representing the voice of the station, in coming up with a hard hitting response?

Female Speaker: I some times listen to Warren Olney, only because it's one hour on a single topic. I think it's just too big a topic, and you need the time to talk about it.

Male Speaker #2: It makes you crazy. It's like concerted anathema. You're listening to it and you're like wow, this is repellent, because there's a void of research. There a lot of people who are on to what's going's all over the internet. That is why the radio and newspapers are failing. A lot of major investors and hedge funds do the due diligence also. There are a lot of covert operations going on.

Basha: Do you have a concrete suggestion for the station?

Male speaker #2: You need to do due diligence, and need to present complex issues in a complex way. It's an iceberg, and little doses of entertainment coverage won't cut it. There are trillions of dollars at stake.

Leslie: To close: Many people have articulated a need for more incisive more aggressive coverage that helps understand the background of the situation.

Male Speaker #1: I would like to take exception to the use of the word radical. Diversity does not mean becoming more radical, it means becoming less radical. "Mainstream" economics is actually a sort of radical fanatical pseudo-libertarian version of economics.

Male Speaker #2: Crony Capitalism!

Male Speaker #1: Call it what you will. These people have gotten themselves in position as experts who are quoted, and they continue to be very good at getting their message out, but they are not the majority. The media for the most part has been too lazy to go out and look for alternatives. The guy who wrote the book on standard centrist introduction to education is now considered a liberal because the discussion has shifted so much.

Male Speaker #2: Left and right don't matter. It's right and wrong. There is an insurgent effort to kill cities like Rochester and Syracuse that goes beyond Urban Blight. Cities--there is a concerted effort. Go down the rabbit hole. This is not accidental. So what's the agenda? It's the antithesis of what the constitution is all about.

Left/right is the dog and pony show. We are dealing with new players now; the pace has been accelerated, and it's all tied into a matrix of systems. Things don't just happen, but it's just an obfuscation of reality. In order to be relevant you need to start nailing what's right and what's wrong. WNYC could knock this out of the park, but I don't know where their funding comes from.

Leslie: Time to move on to the public comment part of the discussion.

Gaby: I am mostly pleased with the change in schedule, except for the shortened Morning Edition on Sat. They removed the repeats of the first hour. WQXR comes through clear, but AM820 and 93.9 aren't as good anymore.

Ken: WQXR was weak on 55th Street. To the credit of the station, the telephone-answering message has an answering option that tells you information about the relay stations.

Male Speaker #1: I'm really glad that Warren Olney is back. Think the guy has a great technique, interviewing people in turn without letting them talk directly to each other, which gives people the chance to really have a meaningful debate. I really appreciate that.

Fred: Why does WQXR always begin with Newark, then New York?

Yseult: Stations need to identify based on the city of license. It's an FCC regulation that this follows the call letters.

Woman Speaker: I want to second that I am glad that Warren Olney is back. I appreciate that he asks the tough questions.

Basya: Are there any further questions? Thank you to the members of the public and thanks to the members of the board. A special thanks to Leslie for taking the time to really look at this report. I also want to let you know that the next meeting will be on Nov 19th. That's the third Thursday of the month. We would love to see all these faces again. The meeting will be held at the Greene Space.