First, let me say that last week’s NCPR pledge drive was pretty great. For all the jokes about coffee mugs and tote bags, these fundraisers are an essential part of public radio.
They are an opportunity to connect directly with the people who use and care for the work North Country Public Radio does, and it also allows us to talk and think out loud about our mission.
(We’re also incredibly grateful, by the way. These are hard times for a lot of folks, and we exceeded our goal by crazy amounts…)
But the news of late at NPR hasn’t been quite so happy.
After the recent spate of scandals and kerfuffles, NPR is in the process of hiring its two most important executives, the CEO who will drive the whole ship and the top manager for the news division.
My hope is that the NPR board will hire these folks from inside the public broadcasting culture. They should be people who know the ethics, the mission, and (yes) the business model of public radio.
Regardless of where they come from, I have a wildly idealistic vision that these new executives will implement an important reform: requiring that NPR staff take part in pledge drives.
I don’t mean that the network itself should hold on-air pledge drives, swapping swag for $40 or $80 pledges.
I mean that NPR executives, editors and reporters should each spend a week out of every year “on assignment” at public radio stations around the country helping out during membership drives.
A lot of the network’s brilliant reporters come to NPR from outside public radio. They’re newspaper folks, or former magazine writers.
Joining in a drive like the one we had last week would allow them to learn first hand about the intimate, intense connection between our audiences, our stories, our music, and our programs.
This partnership would also re-enforce the important relationship between far-flung public radio stations, like NCPR, and the network based in Washington DC that shapes so much of our programming.
It is especially important for NPR’s new top-shelf executives to have a chance, every year, to listen to the voices of listeners on the telephones, praising, complaining, demanding and inspiring.
They should fill out pledge forms for $10 and $20 gifts. Because that’s where the deep muscle and endurance of public radio resides.
NPR’s leaders should also have the experience — yes, again, every year — of going on the air and articulating what it is that is different, powerful, and necessary about public media.
The truth is that pledge drives are humbling. They are exercises in brutal honesty. They are a major source of revenue. And finally, most importantly, they are a direct tap-root into the spirit of what we do.