Community Advisory Board Meeting 

Bronx Library Center Auditorium
310 E. Kingsbridge Road, Bronx, New York 10458

Minutes of April 23, 2015

Steven Rapkin called the meeting to order at 6:50 PM in the Bronx Library Center Auditorium and noted that the meeting was being recorded. He welcomed all and noted this was the first CAB meeting in the Bronx.  Steven publically thanked Brenda Williams-Butts of WNYC and her team; and Bronx Library Center's Chief Librarian, Michael Alvarez, and his staff member, Jean Harripersaud, for coordinating this meeting, Lue Ann Eldar, CAB Vice Chair, for setting up meeting and coordinating logistics, and Brian Lehrer, Host of WNYC Brian Lehrer Show, for joining the CAB in the Bronx. 

Steven then explained the purpose of the CAB and its congressional mandate to represent the interest of the community.  He summarized the various invited station guests who have attended past CAB meeting as well as the places the meetings have been held. He asked all to like the CAB on the Facebook page.

CAB members in attendance were Steven Rapkin, David Sztyk, Lue Ann Eldar, Judith Cholst, Barbara Gerolimatos, Catherine Arcure, Anita Aboulafia, Renee Cherow-O’Leary, Joyce Lannert, John Bacon, Sarah Lenigan, Merwin Kinkade, and Adam Wasserman.

David Sztyk moved the agenda be approved and Joyce Lannert seconded the motion.

David moved approval of the minutes, Joyce seconded and minutes were approved.

Steven introduced Brian Lehrer, WNYC host of the Brian Lehrer Show, noting his varied career as a college radio announcer, anchor at NBC, and currently a host of the Brian Lehrer Show on public radio since 1989  (25 years).  He is a 2007 winner of the Peabody. Steven then invited questions from the CAB members.

Steven inquired about how ideas originate or how discussion topics are selected, and how do you address concerns that some listeners believe issues that they care most about are not being addressed. Brian Lehrer responded that sometimes listeners are correct and important topics are not being covered so his team needs to listen to the audience and take suggestions. The show’s value is that of being a news-oriented call-in show but it takes place in the office, not on the ground. He noted that there was a need for civility in media and politics.  The discussion can be viewed as a spectator sport with chosen sides or as one that presents relevant issues reflecting people’s rage and passions for community issues that impact them.  These views need to be taken seriously. He uses his best judgment to select topics that have meaning for the city and the metropolitan area at large.

Steven’s second question asked about the balance of coverage of Manhattan versus other boroughs. Brian Lehrer described an ongoing feature program whereby a trio of Borough Presidents are invited on a rotating basis to discuss citywide issues. The show strives for balance so it is not Manhattan-centric, but more citywide-centric. Listeners also appreciate New Jersey and Westchester coverage.

Lue Ann Eldar asked Brian how he viewed the metamorphosis of the Bronx.  He noted that it was improving frustratingly slowly, while acknowledging the growth of art and science in the borough as well as other initiatives.  He remarked about the poverty in the Bronx but stated he is rooting for the Bronx. His parents grew up here, visited his grandparents often, and still comes to the Bronx. The Bronx could be the new Brooklyn, gentrifying without destruction.  He has hope for that with the current focus on income inequality.

David Sztyk asked Brian to comment on the power of technology leading to competitive pressures on professional journalists compared with citizen journalists, possibly creating an “ethical chasm” around reporting. Brian Lehrer noted that crowd-sourcing has been around for about 10 years now, and news organizations in general have become better at assessing important stories and not just running with tweets and blog news.  When events are fast-moving, i.e., the Orange Revolution in Iran, instead of just reporting everything, journalism organizations need to vet the sources and “get it straight.”  He acknowledged there has been a learning curve to understanding citizen journalism.  Now by looking and verifying reporting, news stories can be more accurate. Brian also stated that citizen journalism is the “the best thing to happen in my lifetime.”  He noted, while there is some nostalgic for the Walter Cronkite/three-network news-station era, all reporting then was in the hands of a few white men.  Citizen journalism is fabulous for democracy in that journalism has expanded.  He tries to aggregate the important “stuff.”  Now the current environment is richer with more public participation, and that allows ordinary people to figure things out.  He sees the job of the professional journalist as one of synthesizing information gathered from many sources.  He now reads selected editorials in the News, Post, Newsday, Times and Wall Street Journal, as well as The Nation, National Review and WTF as first reads and then follows interesting blogs.

Joyce commented that there is nostalgia for the time when everyone heard the same news, the same facts, i.e., comparing content of Fox News with Public Radio. Some information is not information…so how does an ordinary citizen figure this out?

Brian noted that there are pros and cons to everything and agreed that this is a serious problem.  Factions are dividing into news-station preferences, and Google algorithms figure out our biases, liberal versus conservative, sending us news feeds that follow these biases. Still, on balance, it is better to see a million voices blooming, blogging and linking.  In the end, the news is not so selective or siloed.

David commented on the need to sort out biases and wondered if it was easier before or now to do that.  Brian Lehrer expressed optimism about millennials being skeptical but not alienated by all the conflicting information.   To him, discerning what is a kneejerk response, either conservative or liberal, from one that is an exploration of issues is not that different than it was before. He is trained to do this.

Renee Cherow-O’Leary praised the richness of the Brian Lehrer Show programming and asked for an explanation of the process, while complimenting Brian Lehrer’s “beautiful questioning” process.  Brian Lehrer said his group comes in each day with notes/articles for five topics, two of which he prepares and three of which are prepared by the production staff.  They review these and come up with questions. Questions are crafted to open doors, not to elicit a yes/no response.  Over time he noted that he has become more skillful at the art of setting people up to answer more fully.

John Bacon asked for clarification on the coordination of talent/guests and topics with other shows and if there is some competition involved in scheduling guests.

Brian agreed that there is gentle competition for guests as there is often a common intersection of interests in programming.  Newsmakers get booked by whoever gets them first, and guests are asked if another station host has previously booked them.  Sometimes if a story/guest is big enough, i.e., Elizabeth Warren recently, the guest will be interviewed again on another show when, say, a paperback edition of the guest’s book comes out.

Anita Aboulafia asked about the policy for covering breaking news.  Brian noted that they always have a behind-the-scenes eye on developing stories. Sometimes the decision is to summarize the news but not carry it live.  Other times the news is carried.  For example, this morning Obama made the announcement of an American hostage being killed by a drone attack, and the decision was made beforehand to cover the Obama statement on war and Americans killed.

Merwin Kinkade asked about the call-screening process.  Brian said most of the screeners are interns with no experience, but they work with assistance from the producers.  Depending on the segment, more or less skill is needed, and staffing also depends on the crush of calls. In selecting callers, the show is looking to build a narrative arc for diversity of viewpoint and relevance of the callers’ voices.

Catherine Arcure inquired about the follow-up process and how it all comes together regarding building a program, designating writing time, verifying facts, etc. Brian Lehrer noted that there is a general pattern to the days: some time is spent reading, some writing, and some booking guests.  At noon at the end of the show, the team breaks into a meeting to immediately figure out stories for the next 2 days. After lunch, the producers spend the remainder of the day finding the best guests and refining the topics and mixture of ideas. Producers arrive at 8AM daily, prep for the show and figure out changes as needed. 

Renee asked about podcasts of the Brian Lehrer show, how these are categorized, and how they differ from the broadcast.  Brian noted that podcast listeners are different from active radio listeners. Listening to podcasts is like going to a movie; you are in a private bubble.  You chose to listen to the beginning, the middle or the end or not to finish listening. Active radio listeners tune in and out, and the show needs to reset the program specifics every half hour or so to accommodate the listening audience by updating them on the topic and guests.

Questions were then opened to the public attendees.  There were 23 public attendees including seven CAB applicants.

One member of the public (MOP) commented that the old style of news was better and stated he was concerned about people only hearing selective news reports. He specifically asked about a Japanese-American professor who was on the show and described the differences in the knowledge base of the current listening audience.   Brian described differences between Facebook and Google in terms of how they compete for money and how they deliver the news to the public. Facebook news is received from friends’ sharing of it and can result in a more siloed news awareness. Google news, in contrast, focuses on search engines and searching.  Both methods have their pros and cons; searching and more searching can broaden news awareness and experience of the news.

A second MOP expressed the desire to have Brian share more of his own opinions on certain topics.  Brian responded that he is speaking to facilitate discussion; he is on the outside and does not want to become part of news.   

A third MOP requested more information about who is the radio-listening public for his show.  Brian said he was proud of the diversity of the listeners, noting that the team has done a lot of outreach and repositioning of the show to reach a larger group of people, one more diverse economically and culturally, so it is difficult to define the audience.  He is pleased with the diversity of listeners, including cabdrivers, activists, grass-roots listeners, etc.

A fourth MOP (Michael White, who often attends CAB meetings) stated that the Brian Lehrer Show was excellent.  He reiterated his concern about Forest City Ratner’s Chief Executive Officer, Mary Anne Gilmartin, being on the Board of Trustees, and also objected to the sponsorship ads promoting Ratner “building  more vibrant communities”, as this is a claim with which he disagrees.  Brian Lehrer confirmed that the staff of the WNYC radio station does not have much contact with members of the Board of Trustees.  There is a redline demarcation between the Board and editorial content, and no board members contact him.  Mary Anne Gilmartin had participated in the WNYC sleep study, so she had been an invited guest on WNYC to talk only about her participation.

A fifth MOP complimented Brian on his calmness under all kinds of circumstances.  Brian noted that he liked to encourage new people calling and for calls to reflect what people think.  The calmness comes from his basic nature as well as practice.


The next half-hour covered CAB business. 

Steven noted that elections for new CAB officers would occur at the June 22 meeting.  These positions are CAB Chair, two Vice-Chairs and Secretary.  He updated the board with new CAB resignations/changes:  Sara Lenigan will be resigning and Helen van de Voort will step down as Secretary.  He also stated that he was uncertain as to whether he would retain the Chair position, but he would still be on the CAB.

The next CAB meeting is May 18th at the Society for Ethical Culture on W 64th Street and Central Park West. Steven asked that those who would like to be an officer let him know and be prepared to make a presentation at the next meeting. Merwin asked if the Recruitment Committee was preparing a slate of new officers. Steven said no; just those with an interest should be prepared to make a presentation.

The calendar for 2015-16 was discussed, including outreach to other communities and meetings in Queens, possibly at Queens Public Library and in New Jersey at the PAC Center. Melissa Williams will arrange the NJ meeting.  Speakers relevant to the respective communities will be considered.  No other outreach meetings are planned.

The committee revisited last meeting’s discussion about cutting back from 9 to 8 meetings per year. CAB by-laws mandate 6 meetings per year. Steven suggested the February meeting be dropped because it typically only has 50% attendance of CAB members. Renee recommended that if there is a larger agenda and we need to meet, then the CAB should plan ahead to assure greater attendance at a February meeting. Steven suggested we make the 2015-16 schedule without the February meeting and add it ad hoc, as needed. Anita Aboulafia suggested the CAB finalize the 8-meeting schedule in May/June with words stating that meetings can be changed.  There was consensus in accepting this plan of action.

Committee Reports:

Digital Committee:

Sarah Lenigan: The Committee wishes to finalize a schedule for posting on the CAB Facebook page and will work with other CAB members on the posting process.  Ideally, postings will occur one week before, a few days before, and the day of the meeting along with an invitation to attend.  A discussion about using Twitter followed, with a request for feedback about developing a tweeting schedule.  Steven asked CAB members about their Twitter use; five members said they use Twitter.  Joyce questioned the benefit of using Twitter, and Steven thought Facebook was working for the CAB.  Anita commented that Twitter required more attention/more postings, although she noted there was no requirement to respond to tweets.  Lue Ann stressed that Twitter is useful as a news gathering source and wonderful because it was an iterative process.  Sarah was open to suggestions for a framework to make Twitter possible.  Adam Wasserman commented that Twitter is not necessarily conversational but instead is an important tool to generate interest in CAB activities as it has a lower bar for generating interest than Facebook.  Sarah noted Facebook decides what goes into feeds; Twitter sends everything out and so can be easier to promote the CAB.  The discussion on using Twitter will be continued. 

Recruitment Committee:

Lue Ann Eldar noted that five applicants were attending the CAB this evening (later, this became 7) and each stood up and introduced him/herself to the group.  Applicants in attendance included Janet Heit, Carole Chervin, Lydia Zabarsky, Lisa Loren, and Nancy Walcott (plus Chad Bascombe and Chizoba Nnaemeke, who identified themselves at the end of the meeting). She introduced the CAB Recruitment Committee:  herself, John Bacon, Catherine Arcure and Barbara Gerolimatos.  Lue Ann noted that all applicants were well-qualified, and the pool of applicants included some millennials.  The Committee will be interviewing candidates on May 6th and 7th and present the final nominations to the CAB for approval on May 18th.   Steven will present the candidates to the Board of Trustees for final approval in June.   Lue Ann noted that as of this meeting, there were 4 vacancies.

Lue Ann reported on her attendance at the Board of Trustees meeting on April 22nd at the Guggenheim Museum where it was announced that WNYC received two Peabody Awards, one for RadioLab and a second for the reporting coverage of New Jersey’s “Bridgegate”.  The first part of the Board of Trustees meeting is always open to the public.


Public Comments:

Allegra Lavanne (MOP) noted that she found it offensive to hear the tag “Just keep on listening,” over and over. She preferred to be thanked for listening rather than be told “what to do.” She also expressed missing hearing the Brian Lehrer Show at midnight.

Michael White (MOP) again expressed concerns about Mary Anne Gilmartin from Forest City Ratner being on the Board of Trustees and questioned the impact of this on programming. He cautioned against Ratner’s sponsorship claim of “working to bring you more vibrant communities.” He believed this statement was false. Steven reminded Mr. White that at the January meeting the WNYC head of underwriting spoke about the separation of underwriting from programming content. Mervin noted that we have heard at several CAB meetings public concerns about sponsorship ads sounding more like advertisements and expressed the need for the concerns of the public and members of the CAB to be relayed to the Board of Trustees and to Laura Walker, President of WNYC. David assured Mr. White that these issues have been brought to the attention of the Board of Trustees and that there is a wall between the editorial and programming staff and the Board of Trustees. He restated that sponsorship ads have a set formula covering approval, frequency, length of announcement, and content. Steven reiterated that the CAB sends reports with public comments to Laura and the Board of Trustees. In addition, he will report in person to the Board of Trustees in October, and this feedback will be on the top of the list of issues that concern listeners.

Several MOPs expressed being disconcerted that the news on WNYC is no longer occurring at the top of the hour.  Sarah explained that the news reports were moved to fit in better with overall programming and now occur between segments. Many MOPs and CAB members expressed strong preference for having news reports appear at the top of the hour. Steven, Renee and Catherine noted that the time of the news on WQXR had also changed: often it was close to the top of hour, but sometimes it was later following the end of a musical selection.

Another MOP praised WNYC for revolutionizing talk radio by drawing communities together by covering topics of interest to them. WNYC has done a tremendous job of bringing people together to create community.

The last public comment concerned the casualization of language use, e.g., the use of “Hey” by Terri Gross before asking a question.  David concurred that he has noticed this trend also.

Steven closed the meeting at 8:30. David so moved and Merwin seconded.

Recorded by Barbara Gerolimatos