CAB Minutes: January 2010

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space, New York, NY

The meeting ran from approximately 7:10PM to 8:20PM.

The meeting was chaired by CAB chairperson Basya Mandel. David Caplan and Alan Weiler were present from the Board of Trustees. Other CAB members present included:
Michael Bauman
Renee Cherow-O'Leary
John DeWitt
Leslie Ehrlich
Fred Friedland
Tiffany Hall
Shavonne Johnson
Gaye Leslie
Allison Meserve
Rachel Porter
Gaby Schroeder
Gary Schulze
Ken Stewart
Monica Strauss

Basya: There are no members of the public, so we can skip to the plan. Fred, would you read the outline of the meeting?

Fred: We start out with greetings, then we go to the approval of the September minutes, then we have a public comments, abbreviated today, then we have an approval of the Calendar, then we have an update by the science, the education and the performing arts committees. Then we review the recommendations based on economic coverage, then conclusion, and light refreshments.

Basya: Do we all approve the agenda?

Ken: Do we want to have specific times for each segment?

Fred: We end up being flexible with the times.

Basya: There are about 8 to ten pages of the minutes, and I forwarded them around in November, and then forwarded them again today. September minutes, we would like to get up now, and we will do October minutes next month. Does anyone have any changes?

Renee: Question about the minutes? They seem to be a literal transcript? If someone doesn't want to read all the way through, do we have a way to take out the recommendations? Although anyone who reads it, if they go all the way through, will get it.

Basya: Well, what we need to do is synthesize them. I think it's useful to have them in a transcript format.

Gaye: I used to work for a non-profit doing minutes, and their meetings were taped. Then, we could summarize, and write up the resolutions.

Basya: Are you suggesting we do that?

John: As I recall, Noreen made a presentation about the plans for WQXR, with a PowerPoint. That's the sort of thing that minutes can synthesize pretty well. You don't want a transcript, especially on the website. If you have a transcript I would be glad to go through and synthesize it. I can get the pattern of the conversation.

Ken: I move that you be appointed to do that.

John: I was surprised on the September meeting that there were board members present.

Basya: There are two here tonight!

John: Oh, hi David and Alan.

Renee: The reasons I raise the question was just to get recommendations that are actionable from the minutes. There may be something to distill from it.

Basya: John, you volunteer to synthesize the transcripts?

John: Sure, not a problem.

Gaye: So, I move that John adopts. Formal resolution?

Renee: Seconded.

Basya: Approval of the September minutes? Minutes stand approved. Moving on to calendar review. February, we will be meeting in the Greene Space, March, we will be having an arts forum, also in the Greene Space, then a science forum. All of the sessions will be the third Thursdays of the month. In terms of upcoming forums, there is a little bit of confusion, of what the format of the forums would be. The way we want to use these forums, we would like to review programming on WNYC, and we have chosen topics to cover: for instance science: how WNYC covers things like sciences. We want experts in the field to come discuss. Members of the public are welcome, and we would love to fill the room. Even if we don't, though, these panel discussion would be valuable to formulate recommendations. The quality of the panel compensates for a low attendance. If we put together a strong panel, then that is really valuable. We haven't finalized the science panel yet but we have two panelists have already confirmed. Harold Varmus, a Nobel Prize winner, has expressed interest. And hopefully we still have to hammer out what the focus is going to be, but that looks promising. Education, Renee?

Renee: The issues of education are enormous. I have spoken to Beth Fertig, who has just written a new book. I've spoken to Claudio Sanchez, a national reporter for NPR. They both expressed interest, and I think they would give us an inside view on a local and the national level. If Brian Lehrer, or someone like that, might want to come, who covers education in a slightly different way.

David: I think maybe we should get Geoffrey Canada, from the Harlem Children's Zone. Or someone from the charter school world. If you would like me to, I would love to work to track some of them down for you. One more thing: If you have interesting people, the station is doing more about promoting the meetings: Let us know, and we will work to promote it on the station.

It was only recently, that WNYC has started doing more reporting of the CAB--what, where and etc.

Renee: I think that the people you suggested are great.

Michael: You have to be very careful to have a balanced panel. The people you mentioned are all pro-Charter school.

Renee: If we had a panel like that, is there any way to record the panel, and put it online?

Basya: We've spoken to the station about that, and they've said, not sure.

Gaye: There's another aspect of education--we've got rotten teachers, and students don't like to learn. I've been looking at a program, some organization, of these very teachers, who somehow manage to inspire people. Math and Science--kids seem to get turned off, cause they are turned off. America is already falling in the world rankings of graduation. And the technology. Training to use the technology is very important, they will need to use that in jobs later. We are not training them to be able to use the technology later.

Renee: Even if it's just the NPR people, that will give us a lot of insight.

John: I think Gaye said an important word: Expectations. I've worked with people who are blind, and low expectations are the worst. High Expectations for their children play into this.

Rachel: I just have two questions. One, when you started this section out talking about the panels: on the justice group, we lost sight of how WNYC covers things--should we have the panelists be both experts, and people who are familiar with the station, or WNYC staff? That seems like something of a tall order.

Basya: I think the perfect balance, ideally, would have both: they would be both experts and have a familiarity with the station, or from the station.

Gaye: I don't think that it's totally necessary: Often, you have people who don't listen on the panels.

Rachel: Could you talk a little bit about what recommendations come out of this? Are a set of recommendations from each panel going to the board?

Basya: Yes.

Monica: I was thinking last time that we should check back, listen and see if some of our recommendations are being followed. We should have a follow-up after the summer board meeting the following year to see if these things have been taken into effect. Maybe a group of us might do that?

John: Well, the report from the CAB occurs in June. And it's sort of a one time shot, and obviously we can recommend stuff and they can tell us to take a hike. But we can offer the perspective of people from, say, the October meeting where people had a lot to say.

Monica: Well, take the October board meeting: It seems like the same problems were being brought up again. So, I would like to be able to say that the Board of Trustees has considered this and this and this, or that we could somehow see that they had considered this suggestion, but I have no way of answering this person, because I have no idea what the response had been to the ideas from a year before.

Basya: The Board of Trustees is meeting next week. David, can we come to a board meeting, and get some feedback about how they use our recommendations?

David: We already have a packed agenda for the meeting, so I wouldn't come. But I don't see a reason why you couldn't write a letter, and say these are the things we suggested, and we monitored them, and were we listened to?

Alan: Well, as I recall, a lot of the recommendations were in the form of generalities. Not specific things that needed to be done. It's hard to quantify any specific ways when generalities have been addressed. You may have had specific recommendations that should be followed through on: in that case I agree with David and think you should write a letter and just let everyone know that you made the recommendation and wonder what happened. My best recollection was that there were general things to absorb, and it's hard to measure what things had and had not been absorbed.

There are committees of the board that are constantly making suggestions on a whole lot of things, and if these are specific suggestions that are incorporated into this sort of thing, I don't know.

Fred: It could be coincidental, but a few years ago, we had a few meetings, and recommended diversifying coverage of the neighborhoods of the city, and we saw that enhanced, and so that's one example where we were listened to. But I agree with you, Alan, that it can be hard to quantify.

Alan: There's also a very long lag time until you actually see something concrete. An example: with respect to The Takeaway. A number of people on the board have been saying things for a very long time, and the question is: have they, at The Takeaway, been listening to the board? Well, there have been changes, and it has been improved to some extent. But I still don't know if they were listening, let me put it that way.

John: One of thing that I was hoping we would learn tonight, was the change in the morning schedule of The Takeaway prompted by reaction from the listeners? I know that The Takeaway being on at different times isn't very consistent, so that putting it on the AM is probably good.

Alan: All I can say is that I believe that plan was from very long ago, and that eventually they planned to have it as a solid time slot.

Rachel: I really think it's important to figure out a solid mechanism for how our recommendations coming out of this board are put to use. There are 20 people on this board. I'm kind of at a loss... what's the point of meeting if we have no way of saying what the board does with our recommendations? Does anything actually get followed up? It's a great idea to put a letter, but we should be able to know what is useful, and then how it gets followed up. If this is just a feel-good exercise because there's a mandate for there to be a CAB, then it's a waste of time.

Basya: You're right, if it's an exercise in futility then it's a waste of time. But I think that onus is on us to give the board specifics. Two years ago we didn't give the board anything, last year, what I presented to the board was not very specific. There were a few specific things, that grew out of the science forum, and the arts forum. But this year, what we would have to do, and what I am hoping to do, is better synthesize the discussion, and give them real specific quantifiable suggestions.

We need to try and do this right. If then, we find that it's still a waste of time, then we could throw up our hands.

Gary: Don't you think we could review the president's reports for the last few years, and see how they have been appraised? What is the board doing in terms of recommendations?

Alan: If I could just make a point: the board, when it comes to how the station operates--the board does not actually run the station. We hire the CEO, who hires everyone else. As far as the programming itself, compare it to a university: the board can give their opinion, and their advice, but basically the administration and the professionals are setting the curriculum. The expectation for us is to be able to fire the CEO if they don't like how the station is being run. But the board does not determine the programming.

If that's the power of our board, then what is the power of your board.

Gary: To use your analogy, we should be meeting with the faculty, because we want to be able to affect the curriculum.

Basya: But there's less of a disconnect because Laura Walker is at the meeting. So she hears what we present to the board too.

David: Not only is Laura there, but everyone who makes a decision, the operating staff who are important are all there.

Fred: This board does not have jurisdiction, but I believe we are listened to.

Rachel: But you want to have mechanism to assess utility.

Ken: I'm hearing less then half of what's being said. In terms of getting input, I'm reminded that we passed a motion that our board's leadership would meet with the station's management and talk very specifically about how to make this board more useful to the station. Any follow-up with that?

Basya: I have not been able to sit down with them yet.

John: The meeting at Fordham, which I think is the one we are talking about, is all online. I know that WGBH in Boston, and KCRW, I've been talking to both of them--I think the community advisory board can be very useful. I think that an idea that we synthesize out is important. I know that I've been in touch with Noreen, it does not get answered.

Fred: With regret and apology, I have to leave.

Renee: I want to ask two questions. One is about research about the station. Do we do research: On a regular basis, you must have listener numbers, data about quantifiable things. I think having those numbers feed into what we do as a board. Community advisory board means a few things. One of them means to research our audience in some way. And then, if we were able to look at them, that would be helpful.

The other thing is that the website could be used so much more effectively. People who live in Staten Island and Brooklyn won't be coming out to an hour-long meeting. I want to create a forum where people actually feed back information--we could design the questions. What's good about the coverage, what doesn't work? It would require some time to synthesize that data, but perhaps the reason that it has been so general is that we can only synthesize from a very small group.

Rachel: It's a Pandora's box for the station.

Ken: and the answering machine!

Basya: we did ask the station, and they have not addressed that.

David: We, in the past, have had meetings with very provocative subjects. The Greene Space can accommodate a number of people. The various opinions that people expressed there, we did listen to.

Basya: we want to set up a Facebook page,

Leslie: Right, take it into a forum where we are not using up the scarce resources of the station.

Gaby: Could people write to us?

Basya: yes, but they don't know that we exist. Creating a Facebook page allows us to link, and get greater visibility.

Renee: It would be a great experiment, at least, to see if people would care enough to respond. I remember when another station formed the listeners' guild. It was more a concept then a thing, it was an idea that the listeners were a community, and we are the community advisory board, and we don't have the sense of community.

Rachel: What would be helpful with setting that up? Moving that forward?

Leslie: We had one, but it didn't work out. Who wants to join me? Can we get a real social media way of getting input. Can we gather opinions on/about the website. The idea of we have now is an interesting one.

John: we need to find ways to better increase the flow of communications back and forth. Even from people who can't physically get to the meeting. We need people to know what's going on with this. I think it's very important. It's hard to use Facebook as a blind person. It could be made easier.

One more comment about the website, ad WQXR. This board is now the community advisory board for both WNYC and QXR. We need to think about WQXR more. But the other point is a little technical. WQXR's new site is not nearly as easy to navigate for the blind.

There's what looks like a button that says listen, but it's a graphic, and is not designed so that the synthesizer that I use that looks for links--so that a hearing impaired person can find the link.

There are 21 buttons that are graphics with no links, and the last one finally has a little text that says listen. WNYC is almost as bad, but not quite. When I'm at home, I listen to the radio. I think they really need to fix the section for a blind person. I've tried to call Noreen about that, and have never gotten a response. I think we do need to improve communication with station personal when appropriate. It's more then just with you guys on the board, David and Alan. There's another station, WGBH, that has a great CAB.

David: how is WGBH's website for being used by the blind?

John: It's better, but it could be improved.

David: What would the model be?

John: the WC3 recommendations. Every visual element should have an accessibility tag which says what it does.

David: what is your feeling about the quality of the music and the hosts since we brought the station over?

John: There's a lot to say on that! I'll try and make it quick: It's very good. I like each host in their time slot, it's great. It's gotten a lot of really good people on the air, a lot of good variety of music. I've noticed the difference, and it's improved. The signal is not so great. I live in the Ridgewood area. People who live in Summit, who could get it before at 96.3 can't get it as well.

Basya: let's move on to the suggestions from the economic forum, but Ken?

Ken: When we put together the list of the all CAB members, and their locations, so that the public could see it, and for a while was it not complete. Have we now corrected that? Does the CAB website give a breakdown of percentage?

Basya: Usually it gives a breakdown of percentage.

Gaby: not everyone wanted their address known.

John: well my name isn't on the website. I think that Monica is on there twice, and I'm not on once. There are also some old members there.

Basya: relying on the station is a problem! We should develop our own stuff that the station could post a link to?

Gaby: I'll go through and list and remove things. Add John back on. I'll also suggest that we don't relay on having it linked, let's just do it! And let it grow. Then the desire to have it link will come about.

Basya: let's review the recommendations based on the October meeting, for how WNYC covers issues of economic coverage.

Leslie: First: WNYC should go more in-depth, and push past the first level answers. Second, help the public with some more basic background. Third: to sustain local coverage. One intermittent feature that people liked, but that had not been on air for some time. People liked that feature, but hadn't heard it for a while. Keep the spotlight on the local economy, beyond the financial industry.

Basya: I have a skeleton of points that were raised--there were comments about website versus on air coverage. That there is less on air, and the suggestion was to utilize the website more. Next, that we would like to see more complementary coverage to national coverage, instead of repeating. That we would like to see more incisive and better follow-up questions. Fourth point: The public would like to see more explanation and not just amplification of the news, so that it's explaining instead of just repeating. Fifth point, the public would like to see "Marketplace kind of programming," a greater exposition, more informative, that gives a greater framework, which is basically more educational. People wanted to see WNYC be more proactive, to cover news that was important rather then what was hot.

Leslie: there was some sense that it's easy to spend an hour on the fact that Dow dropped, but that's not necessarily important.

Basya: There was a gentleman that wanted to avoid Crony Capitalism?

Gaby: basically, other voices to be heard, not just the Bernankes.

Leslie: that our role is to have a healthy skepticism of the mainstream voices.

Basya: a Listener wanted more quotes from every-day people, and not just big businesses.

Alan: What's the context of this advice?

Leslie: consistently, that there was not enough of a separation of WNYC and NPR's coverage.

John: In the recent Haitian earthquake, for example, I think the coverage was balanced with reports from Haiti, and the impact of the people in New York that are Haitian. And the coverage was pretty good on both ends, and I think that you need both!

Gaby: One of the things we started the forum based on a study (Pew) that shows that as the Dow goes up and down, the coverage of economic issues does the same thing: it disappears. And that NPR and WNYC mirrored that. As the Dow rose, that was the end of the coverage.

Leslie: Right, let's not cover the hot topic, but the important topic.

Basya: Lastly, that they would like to see 411 cover the big stuff less. From time to time the station needs to complement the coverage.

Renee: I just looked at the transcript, and I thought this was interesting: "Left and right is the dog and pony show." Who are the new players, and not just polarizing into camps, I thought that was a great comment. And then someone said where is WNYC's funding coming from! If that was a complication in coverage? That's a heavy duty question. I like the idea of the matrix of systems, and getting at the complexity as well as the simplicity.

Basya: any members of the public with comments and questions?

Ken: I'd like to make a motion that, to the extent feasible, we arrange the furniture in such a way that is done in business meetings, rather then in performances, that we can sit around the table. I think it's also important to get the public here, but we aren't here to provide a show. Can we arrange to sit around a table?

Basya: I agree with that, I did try and angle the table a little bit, but the constraints in this room.

Rachel: Also, just so you know, some of us board members are sitting in the audience facing you guys.

Ken: Yes, but maybe if it were three sides, and the fourth side was the audience?

Gabby: there is a stage, and a sort of a limiting factor. And a giant console to run the sound.

John: the fact is that part of that can be relieved by microphones. This place is amazing on how we set this up.

Ken: It's also symbolic.

Basya: We will work on this, by putting on name cards, and by thinking about space!

Gaye: Question regarding the news. When I am at home, I have the news on all the time. First: why do we have to have news headlines every half hour? I know we have to give a station identification. I've always questioned that, but I never got a great answer.

John: the whole theory behind advertising is to air things frequently, so everyone will hear it. The same thing is true about news. The average listener is a pretty short period of time, and you want to make sure they hear it.

Gaye: We seem to be just repeating the same news as everyone else. The news is being presented with the same kind of language as on the commercial stations. A big discussion of looting in Haiti. Some people are so desperate that they are going to grab what they can, and try to survive. There are certain terms that are loaded. I don't expect to hear that language on our stations. We are providing the same things--it's trying to repeat the format of Drive Time formatting with The Takeaway. Maybe if we provide an alternative, more people will listen.

David: Do you find that Morning Edition is better then The Takeaway.

Gaby: Well, I haven't listened since they took away the young lady. I was disappointed with Hockenberry, and think that they didn't mesh together. I want to keep Morning Edition on.

Gaby: I am very happy that I can set my alarm to one station and leave it there.

Basya: John Hockenberry is the problem, when he wasn't on I found it listenable.

Gaye: But I still say that I want to present alternatives that are better, and alternative, different.

John: WNYC has to subscribe to wire services--you don't always get a chance to really re-write. Second point: I would rather hear WNYC do repetitive coverage of things that are important, rather then re-writing things that are personal.

Leslie: Someone asked a question about feelings about QXR. That was a hot topic, and an important meeting. Is there a place in the schedule and a need for another meeting for what people thing about WQXR.

Renee: Next time we are doing a forum on performing arts and WQXR needs to be a part of that forum. It's changing as we speak. I think the integration is very interesting.

Basya adjourns the meeting.