CAB Minutes: March 2021

NYPR Community Advisory Board Meeting | Wednesday, March 24, 2021 Public Meeting via Zoom

Conversation with Andrew Golis, Chief Content Officer Chief Content Officer Andrew Golis held an informal conversation with the CAB and public, in lieu of a formal presentation. Andrew said he has a “very fun role” in supporting the Newsroom, WNYC’s on-air programming, WNYC Studios, and Gothamist. He described challenges the station has faced over the past year, “living in this strange remote world” including going from 350 people producing news for New York to seven people in that same building over about a week in 2020. The station celebrated Engineering and Creative team accomplishments including having Brian Lehrer and other hosts broadcast live radio from their homes in Covid-safe ways, but has also faced challenges including losing beloved colleague Richard Haake, reporting through one of the most intense periods in New York history in decades, covering a major public health crisis, the reckoning and uprisings over questions of police violence and systemic racism, and the most consequential election of our lifetimes.

As is much of the world in general, the station is catching its breath, reflecting, and looking forward. The organization is in the process of setting a new three-year strategic plan across News, Studios and WQXR, which they consider a way “to get to dream about all the things we can get to do for the city as a local news organization...the premier creator of really high-quality audio journalism storytelling...and in Classical Music.” The News division is embarking on audience research similar to that recently completed at WQXR. They are beginning the process of a safe, careful return to the building in coming months. Anticipating “everyone will be a little wobbly” at first, they imagine “a kind of creative explosion” as people are able to work around each other and with more ease than “in this kind of awkward Zoom landscape” of the past year. He feels “it’s amazing that we’ve had a really productive period despite all those challenges,” describing newly produced shows and podcasts, including a new partnership with The Atlantic (The Experiment), “a kind of big, new statement from WNYC Studios about the kind of journalism that we care about, and about the quality of work that we do.” He said being a producing partner with The New Yorker, The Atlantic and Propublica “says a lot about the quality of the journalists at WNYC studios and WNYC in general.” He recounted a Brian Lehrer feature on the new Studios production La Brega, a seven-story series about Puerto Rico in both English and Spanish, which seemed to strike a chord with the Puerto Rican community resulting in an “outpouring of calls from people who had never heard these stories in public radio before, who were so excited to hear these voices and conversations.” Andrew indicated there is a great deal more new and exciting content coming (“almost too much to call it all out”), but nothing he could disclose to the CAB as of this time.

Q&A with Andrew Golis

Q: Is there a strategy of alignment between radio, the newsroom and podcasts? If so, how does that work, and what opportunities might there be for collaboration across channels? 

A: There are always possibilities for collaboration between the Newsroom and Studios, where the real ‘making’ happens (Programming doesn’t ‘make’ things, but has a supportive role). Stating, “it’s not something I think we’ve nailed, but often when it’s gone right, it’s some of the best stuff we’ve done,” he cited Trump, Inc. as an example of “where sometimes the strengths and expertise that our Newsroom have can really dovetail well into being able to launch something more under the Studios banner,” and United States of Anxiety beginning as a local focus on issues in the runup to the 2016 election, evolving into a weekly national show. The Newsroom is thinking about podcasting strategy, as many in the NYC area now listen to podcasting Apps, not only live radio or Gothamist. The production model “is kind of a hybrid between what we do for our live air and what the Studios teams do, and so there have been conversations between those leaders about how we want to structure that work.”

Q: In light of the big difference between WNYC content versus much of Talk Radio in the rest of the country, is it possible to attract listeners currently tuning in to stations which are not feeding them the truth, and the democracy-promoting, culturally-enlightened values the station seems to believe in?

A: “As an institution, we think of ourselves as independent and truth-seeking, so we feel we can proudly say, ‘Yes, we think people should be treated fairly, systems should not be corrupt, people should have the information they need about how their lives work, the public interest should be protected through sunlight.’ However, [policy specifics] are not our fight to have. We want to be honest brokers of those conversations, and focus those conversations about what’s good for our democracy and for human rights, but we want to step ourselves back from maybe the more cultural or political dynamics… We would welcome any ideas, but it is a tricky balance. We hope to be as open and welcoming as we can, and for instance, Brian has Republicans, and people calling in and engaging with what we do, and trusting the work of all kinds of different backgrounds… We need to be for the whole community before we can actually hope to attract it.” He said it’s important the station represent the city’s breadth of perspectives and experiences, continue to examine who is making editorial decisions, who is on the air in terms of hosts and experts, what the staff makeup is like, and have reporters who live in neighborhoods across the entire city. He said Brenda Williams-Butts is helping to lead much of this work across the station. He says the station is thinking about what the city needs, “including more fact-based and investigative journalism, accountability, and people who are able to raise questions in a trustworthy way about how the city is functioning and how New Yorkers can have a better life.” They are considering digital aspects of modern life, how station content is and can be consumed, and how to evolve the formats in which they try to serve the city. He pointed to the station’s acquisition and development of Gothamist as a platform for local journalism, and remarked that as about 75 people in the Newsroom are covering 16 million in the greater-city radius, they are working to figure out ways to grow audience and revenue to be able to invest in better reporting. Andrew said he would love to return to the CAB as there are updates.

Nancy and Carole asked how the CAB might serve as a ‘sounding board’ or informal focus group for the station, stressing the CAB’s focus on choosing members of integrity who represent a cross-section of the listening community, as well as the CAB’s new engagement model with the station, availability to meet, give feedback, and possibly do beta-testing. Andrew cited some challenges and concerns in terms of the CAB being a public forum; Nancy said she will continue to follow up with him, and perhaps have a conversation on how this might work in more detail.

A member of the public asked about any upcoming coverage of the New York court system, particularly in terms of efficacy and areas of dysfunction. Andrew said Andrea Bernstein and Ilya Marritz will continue to be in the lead for any high-profile court cases around the former President, with Beth Furtig covering regular courts (who has focused the last few years on the interaction between courts and immigration).

Stan enquired about the use of expletives in the podcast Adulting, which Nancy said had been addressed with Brenda. Andrew said the podcast has never been on their live air, and explained regulations and station views on language for a podcast-only format vs. AM/FM stations. Nancy said the issue was it being erroneously listed as a children’s podcast, which Andrew said was clearly inappropriate, and possibly a case of “bad human error.”

Tim asked if live events may be effective in bringing in new audiences, mentioning a RadioLab ‘salon’ he attended with his daughter, who enjoyed it despite not being a radio listener. Andrew said they are coming at community engagement from a variety of angles; e.g. social media apps such as Clubhouse, but must ensure platforms allow for “depth and substance” rather than “participating in the kind of cacophony of Twitter.” He said gearing towards video can compound production costs, but live Zooms have become a big part of what they are doing. For instance, a conversation between the cast of Romeo y Julietta and one of their hosts following a live premiere had thousands of viewers. The Greene Space has also been shifting to a more ‘community live video’ format (for example, Alison Stewart’s Get Lit book club), which he considers “an opportunity to have a more transparent and intimate relationship.”

Jane asked about weekend news coverage, specifically having more hosts, reporters on the street, adding to/refreshing stories from the wires, less repetition of verbatim stories, and expanding short soundbites which don’t add to coverage. Andrew believes the station wants the same thing but has struggled with this, particularly over the past year saying, “it’s just a question of us having to pick and choose where we can put our resources.” Challenges include funding salaries and staffing weekend shifts without missing stories during the week. He indicated weekend coverage has expanded over the past year, mentioning the election, reporting on protests, Mayoral announcements, and more consistent editing on the radio, and in particular on Gothamist. Discussing difficulties of retaining an experienced host, he related weekend anchor David Furst’s shift to cover Morning Edition in the wake of Richard Haake’s passing, but now that Michael Hill has taken over M.E. David should be able to shift back, so hopefully, they will be able to re-expand some of the weekend coverage.

CAB Business

Nancy reported on the February 24th Board of Trustees meeting, where for the first time the CAB presented five minutes of feedback. The presentation was well-received, with positive comments indicating the Board appreciated hearing from the CAB. She mentioned that the Leadership Team should designate a note-taker for their meetings with the station. Nancy then reviewed some results of a strategy report by consultants hired to look across the listening area, with Tim adding comments. She expects we will receive a more formal presentation from the station at some point.

Alex reported on the Recruitment Committee, which he is co-chairing with Hani. Reviewing the timeline and process, he noted they are acting on suggestions of Tim and Board of Trustees member David Gelobter to reach out to points in the community who might be able to provide different areas of focus, perspective, and diversity. He pointed out that the application is being refined to highlight attributes of particular value to the CAB as it moves to an expanded role with the station, and reached out to members for suggestions on areas of possible improvement to the process. Nancy suggested that Lauren might be able to adapt questions she created for the CAB Facebook profiles for use in the application, adding we have been able to tap into resources Brenda has at the station. Nancy, Alex, and Hani will plan on meeting to ascertain how to best do outreach.

Tim wondered about possibly recruiting CAB members who are already comfortable digital consumers, as that feedback will be critical to the station; Nancy said we will keep that in mind, with the caveat that integrity is foremost and being on the CAB is not “to raise your blog profile.” She mentioned the CAB recruitment radio spots will no longer give a phone number, and the station has agreed to put the CAB link on the WNYC and WQXR landing pages. She expressed reluctance at asking the station to pay for lists, stressing that “the best source of CAB members is existing CAB members.” She reminded that candidates must be approved prior to submitting the slate to the Board of Trustees in June. She would like to discuss setting up additional committees, considering member turnover in the coming year, and asked for feedback in advance of the April 22nd Board of Trustees meeting. Tim suggested Aisha come as a CAB guest to discuss survey results, with possibly having Goli back in the Fall. Nancy agreed and said the next meeting format will be different, with a number of hosts ‘working the chat,’ and that efforts should be made to have more members of the public attend.

David Boyd Booker suggested a joint session with a CAB from another major market, such as WBEZ or WBUR, which was very enthusiastically received. Tim suggested considering a speaker from outside of Public Radio (e.g., a digital expert such as a young person on Clubhouse). Nancy brought up the CAB panels presented under Barbara’s leadership; Emily stated we should ramp up marketing efforts if they continue, and Nancy cautioned about the work involved, including finding speakers and having them approved by the station. Tim said the CAB might find a way to have a presence as the station moves to more interactive panels. Nancy said we might have a ‘CAB contingent’ and post on Facebook. As part of the session feedback, Tim said we can ask Andrew how the CAB can be a better partner for events “to break down the wall from radio into the community.” Nancy said she will follow up with Andrew, and requested Alex conduct another survey, asking members to “think creatively” and “swing for the fences” when completing them. Tim thanked the CAB for its feedback and said the Board of Trustees would like to hear even more