CAB Minutes: October 2020
NYPR Community Advisory Board / CAB Meeting #2 2020-2021 Season
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Public Meeting conducted via Zoom
Guest: Audrey Cooper, Editor-In-Chief
● Conversation with Audrey Cooper
● Q&A and Public Comments
● Community Advisor Board Business
Nancy introduced Audrey Cooper, Editor-In-Chief of WNYC. Audrey came to WNYC in July, 2020 from the San Francisco Chronicle, where she was Editor-In-Chief from 2015; the youngest woman ever to run a major newspaper and the first woman to head the SFC. Audrey stated her goal was to make the SFC “the country’s best local newsroom” and feels that they are now at the top of that list. Despite the SFC winning nearly every major national journalism prize under her direction, she is more interested in how the institution is viewed by the community, and whether people are talking about the journalism it produces, which is now the case in San Francisco. Audrey regards herself as “the steward of the institution” she leads, and considers the work of her organizations as being “1% finished” and on a “constant path of improvement.” Regarding covering current events, she cited the “Summer of Love” as an example of it being “difficult to see you’re in a movement when you’re in the middle of a movement” but that it is crucial to “be thinking about those things while you’re living it.” She also spoke about the subject of homelessness as an area of particular personal interest, and described how she started the San Francisco Homeless Project as a collaborative effort to investigate and propose real solutions to the problem in the area.
Audrey addressed current challenges being faced by WNYC, including financial stresses due to the pandemic, turmoil from society confronting unaddressed institutionalized racism, and a shrinking news ecosystem which has been increasingly unlikely to hold elected officials accountable. Some areas of special concern include dealing with ‘noise’ and disinformation, the dilemma of supporting pandemic-afflicted small institutions, businesses and the Arts ecosystem, and the uncertainty of when the newsroom will be able to move back into its physical space. She asserted NYPR’s strength in the marketplace of Public Media, regarding it as particularly effective in convening discussions and bringing people together from different communities and perspectives. She emphasized the commitment of NYPR and WNYC to be leaders in the field at this time and into the future.
Audrey pointed to some areas of priority for 2021 including growing the audience for our journalism through streaming, on-demand and podcasts, and highlighting local concerns while developing coverage on multiple platforms, which will include the continued integration of WNYC and Gothamist. A new Race and Justice Unit has also been established, with Jami Floyd as Senior Editor. Audrey stated that in order to avoid the mistakes newspapers made in the past twenty years, public media must look ahead and pull together under a unified mission; innovating, integrating multimedia platforms, and providing essential, trustworthy journalism that makes a difference in the community. She declared an emphasis on investigative reporting in the Tri-State Area, and a goal of making a “journalistic course correction” in order to view how journalism is produced through a new lens; for instance, re-thinking coverage of the upcoming NYC Mayoral race.
Q&A with Audrey Cooper, moderated by Sinduja:
- Asked if there are plans to increase local reporting outside of the city, Audrey stated that once Gothamist is more fully integrated, the station is looking to re-set priorities. While her instinct is to cover everything by regionality, it is not possible to have a dedicated reporter in every area. She says ultimately we should be doing stories that resonate everywhere.
- Jane invited thoughts on increased news reporting on weekends, which has tended to be repetitive. Audrey replied that coverage has stepped up since she joined the station, and they are prepared for a great deal of breaking news on weekends (specifically election related) through the end of 2020.
- Alex inquired, “What forums are there for news outlets like NYPR and the Chronicle to meaningfully convene, discuss and coordinate around the bigger blue sky themes (like those you discussed), so that the industry can move ahead and evolve together, insofar as journalism is one institution?” Audrey responded there is a great deal more coordination now than ten years ago, and that Public Media is leading the way, but it is difficult as every newsroom has different approaches and audiences. However, she recently counted more than 20 collaborations with our newsroom, and she is on the board of the News Leaders Association, where there is a great deal of sharing of ideas and best practises.
- Asked to address what type of systems are in place to protect journalists when they are “on the ground,” Audrey stated she is a stickler for following all current restrictions and guidelines, and there are a lot of rules and equipment/PPE to keep reporters safe. She described becoming accustomed to a highly intensive level of protests in San Francisco, and has written a 6-page document on how to stay safe. Reporters here are now required to undergo “Protest Training” in light of 2019’s demonstrations; there are distancing and mask requirements as well. Some restrictions have changed since October; for instance, reporters are currently allowed to have a boom mic with people staying 6 feet away, etc. She noted that WNYC reporters have very high standards and would prefer to be out talking with people, and in the studio for the sound quality, so it can be less than satisfying to deal with technical restrictions, but of course, everyone is doing their best to cope with the ongoing situation.
- Questioned on the reason for the BBC Newshour being on WNYC, Audrey mentioned that Program Director Jacqueline Cincotta is responsible for shows that are not produced by the station. From her perspective, however, having great national and international news coverage at WNYC is a tremendous advantage, as “we can offer many perspectives during the day, and more perspectives will make us deeper thinkers about the overall world.”
- In response to a query about which issues she would be spotlighting first, Audrey stressed the importance of remaining focused on the pandemic and matters of urgent importance, such as the region’s economy. Once we recover, she feels we will be facing the climate crisis as a major concern, and would like to focus again on the issue of homelessness as she did in San Francisco.
- As to whether or not there is a Public Editor to respond to listeners’ questions and opinions, Audrey spoke highly of the Listener Services department, which she says has been great about responding to listeners’ queries and feedback, which is then shared with her on an ongoing basis.
- Responding to a question from Nancy, inquiring as to what the CAB can do to assist her in gathering information and increasing dialogue, Audrey said that she “love[s] talking to people who consume our journalism and care enough to give their feedback about it,” and that she has a personal policy to respond to anyone who writes to her, though as she currently receives about a thousand emails daily, she “does her best.” She closed by saying she is “always open to story ideas as long as it is something we can tackle, and endeavor to do as many as we can.”
There were no additional public comments following the Q&A session.
Community Advisor Board Business
Nancy gave a recap of the October 21st Board of Trustees meeting, which included the annual CAB presentation to the Board. Tim commented on listenership having fluctuated due to the pandemic, and David and Stan commented that the Board reaction to the presentation was very positive. Nancy then discussed the two meetings she and the Vice Chairs held with station CEO Goli Sheikholeslami during the summer, which focused on how the CAB can be more engaged with the station. Nancy may ask Goli to attend a CAB meeting in 2021. Nancy told the station that the CAB will be holding 5 public meetings via Zoom format for the remainder of the 2020-21 session. The station will now be providing the CAB with Zoom webinar-format meetings, as well as training in order to refine our use of webinars.
Julia gave a report on the Newsletter Committee (which also includes Sinduja and Erica). She discussed their process, what types of content they are seeking, and who it goes out to. The CAB Facebook page was next deliberated, with Nancy stating she thinks we should be able to double our current foothold of 400-500 followers on Facebook by the end of the current CAB season. She says our goal in using social media, particularly Facebook and the newsletter, is to engage with the public and gain feedback that will be valuable to the station, as well as drive more traffic to the site, encourage conversations, and grow our audience. Nancy stressed the importance of having the page constantly monitored, with fresh content added regularly, in part because we sometimes receive questions on the page, which must be collected and handed over to Listener Services to answer. She reminded CAB members that having Marlene continue to handle the page by herself is not sustainable, and urged everyone to participate in finding and creating content for it and newsletter, particularly by writing brief “Lead Listener” comments on shows and items of interest (as discussed in prior meetings). Stan described his method for writing these short pieces, encouraging members to give it a try. Nancy mentioned that we also have a CAB email account, but as it accumulates a great deal of junk mail we want to see if there is a way to filter it.
Julia and Natalie brought up the possibility of adding short video clips to CAB social media posts, stating they are proven to create impact and engagement. Nancy expressed concern that this might require someone with video editing skills. She thought the person training the CAB on Zoom might know how to edit our meeting videos, and Erica said she may be able to do simple edits for short clips. Several members brought up the possibility of the CAB branching out to accounts on Instagram and Twitter. Erica commented that we may be better served to focus on increasing meeting attendance prior to developing social media, considering differing demographics between typical meeting attendees, Facebook and Newsletter audiences, versus those for Instagram and Twitter. She also noted the latter two require much more intensive posting and monitoring from the CAB side. Nancy strongly agreed, and cautioned that we need to be realistic about members’ overall time commitments. If there is a demonstrated strong interest, including a proposal and firm commitment from any members, she would set up the necessary meetings and pages; however for now we would be better off developing the Facebook page and newsletter to their full potential.
The meeting concluded with a discussion of the upcoming meeting schedule, which is still affected by the Covid-19 pandemic potentially through the end of the current term in June 2021. Nancy proposed the subject of the next (January 2021) meeting be Culture and the Arts, in particular how the pandemic has affected the Performing Arts and Cultural activities in New York City. She will approach the station to try scheduling an appropriate guest. Lisa suggested as a possible guest Ed Yin, the new Chief Content Officer and Senior VP at WQXR.