What you need to know about NCPR and federal funding

Morning host Todd Moe in the control room at NCPR.

Morning host Todd Moe in the control room at NCPR.

With a new administration in Washington, there’s been a lot of buzz about the possibility of public radio and television stations losing their federal funding.

We’ve been here before. More than ever, understanding the history and facts behind the current situation is essential to taking action—or, at the least, to not spreading misinformation about public media. If you want to support the work of public media, do check out protectmypublicmedia.org.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) was created through the bi-partisan Public Broadcasting Act of 1968. Particularly in rural areas, like the region NCPR serves, there is a continuing history of Republican and Democratic representatives supporting public broadcasting. Why is this?

NCPR provides the only 24/7 communications network connecting the entire Adirondack North Country—with news, information, and cultural programs. NCPR is the primary emergency alert station for much of the region. NCPR is committed to fair and trustworthy news coverage. NCPR is non-partisan and provides a broad spectrum of regional voices and stories.

CPB is the conduit for federal funds for public radio and TV, almost all of which is directed to local stations like North Country Public Radio, based on a formula that pivots on the station’s non-federal annual revenues. (2016 Funding Flow Chart) For NCPR the CPB annual stipend represents about 12% of our annual revenues.

How much does Congress allocate to CPB each year? About $445 million. This is about $1.35 per capita annually. For radio, it’s about 40 cents per person annually. Stations use the money to create or purchase programs. About 40 million Americans tune into public radio stations each week. Here are some basic facts and figures about public radio.

If you’re feeling really wonky, you can check out the Congressional appropriations summary.

Please take a moment to consider this: the American public has actively contributed—through private and public funds—to the creation, growth and maintenance of the public broadcasting system over the past 50 years. Together we have created one of the most important cultural and informational infrastructures in our country—and if that infrastructure is allowed to decay because of inadequate investment, we will lose a shared resource that touches so many lives every day of the year.

Thank you for caring about this public radio station, and about the network of public radio and TV stations serving the American people.

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14 Comments on “What you need to know about NCPR and federal funding”

  1. Pete Klein says:

    The only problem I have with public radio or TV is the thin line drawn between sponsor and advertiser. This probably harkens back to my contempt for lawyers and how they split words to create the legal game that brings them money.
    You should be allowed to solicit ads and not be so dependent upon donations from any source.
    Just saying, put all the lawyers, including those who got elected to some position or another, into Gitmo and waterboard them forever.

  2. AG Gabriels says:

    link – 2016 Federal flow chart gets a 404.

    nice article

  3. Ellen Rocco says:

    Thanks for weighing in on this, Pete. A bit more of the arcane history of public broadcasting, re: underwriting vs. advertising. It’s been 50 years since the Public Broadcasting Act was passed, along with attendant FCC regulations. In order to allow stations to raise money to support programs, underwriting was created. What separated underwriting from traditional advertising, was the intent.

    The intent of advertising is obvious: make money for the station AND help the advertiser sell products. The (original) intent of underwriting was to give listeners/viewers full transparency about the program being aired. For example, if a program about energy development was supported by an oil company, the FCC required that the oil company be clearly identified as the source of funds. So, all that was permitted in the original guidelines for public broadcasting underwriting was name of underwriter, product, location and contact information.

    Well, as you know, over the years, underwriting guidelines were incrementally expanded. The most obvious examples is “enhanced underwriting” which is what you now see on public television. Radio has somewhat stricter guidelines, but I must tell you that NCPR is among a shrinking group of stations that still adheres to the original spirit of underwriting. We give company name, product, location and contact information–all within no more than 10 seconds, though guidelines now permit up to 60 seconds.

    Across the public radio system, program underwriting accounts for about a third of annual revenue. It’s grown significantly over the years. When I first joined NCPR in 1980, underwriting accounted for zero percent of our revenue. Like the rest of the system, it’s up to about one third of revenues.

    This probably more than anyone wanted to know about underwriting–see what happens when you catch me on a Sunday morning…

  4. Hank says:

    Thanks, Ellen. Not too much information, I can assure you. I’d love to see and hear all public media adhere to the original underwriting guidelines.

  5. ncpradmin says:

    Thanks for the heads-up, AG. Thre was a typo in the link. I have fixed it now. Dale Hobson, NCPR

  6. Ron Shirtz says:

    If NCPR truly claims to serve its listeners as a public broadcaster, then they need to bring back a public feedback forum for ALL the articles it produces or shares from NPR. Otherwise it cannot honestly state that it is “non-partisan and provides a broad spectrum of regional voices and stories” when many of those stories contain only one side of the issue or are incomplete in all the facts that slant the report in favor of a narrative promoted by special interests.

    Readers from all walks of life and experiences can offer rich information to either further support the article or challenge its assertions, the latter of which serves to keep NCPR/NPR honest and on their toes that they are dealing with an intelligent and informed audience that will not brook any sloppy or biased journalism, and expect professional accuracy and veracity from a public service broadcaster supported by their donations.

    NPR and NCPR should be confident enough that their articles can withstand public commentary and feedback, from the same public that supports them with donations or vicariously through the Federal funding they receive. Otherwise, they only give lip service to their mission statement they seek to inform the common person, while promoting the agendas of major foundations and other advertisers who fund them with large donations.

  7. Pete Klein says:

    Thanks, Ellen.
    And I would still love you even if you did take ads.

  8. Ellen Rocco says:

    Shucks, Pete.

    Ron, let me give you a bit of history on our decision (and NPR’s as well) to limit comments on blog posts…
    We are confident that our news coverage is balanced, fair, fact-based and trustworthy. No one is perfect, so this is aspirational–we don’t always get it exactly as we hoped, but we are always trying.

    For many years we had an open comment approach to our web posts. Over those years what we found–as have so many other hosts of sites like ours–is that with rare exception the same 10 or 15 people posted, often getting ugly toward each other and toward any “outsider” who had the temerity to disagree. We do still leave some stories open for comment and we encourage people to discuss stories at our Facebook page where all of our important stories are always posted. It’s not precisely the solution we’d like, but we don’t see it as useful to have precious staff spent on sorting through abusive comments or comment threads to make sure the conversation stays civil. Honestly, Ron, it felt like a nasty boys fight club sometimes.

    Thanks for weighing in on this. It was a tough decision to reach and not our first choice.

  9. Ron Shirtz says:

    Ellen Rocco,

    I understand the concern for the trolls and arguments that flare up on the comments section. Freedom of speech always entails this hazard, but to remove the comments section or limited for fear of someone getting offended is a unwarranted concern that us, the public, are so emotionally and intellectually thin-skinned that we cannot endure a few thorns while appreciating the blossoming rose of a ongoing stimulating conversation of ideas and issues that said article has engendered.

    A public feedback forum allows the one to ask questions and express concerns that often are not mentioned or fully explored in news articles, to point out a lack of through investigation or unconscious biased journalism. It encourages staff writers to hone their stories better to meet the desire of the public to know more. The comments section also serves as a barometer that would be valuable both to your station as well as the public as a means to measure the weight and concern of the issue in question.

    I appreciate the confidence that you express that NCPR and NPR always strive to be well-balanced, fact based, and trustworthy, but that assertion can only be truly proved by allowing public feedback from the very people you serve. Otherwise it is an untested supposition on your part, and risks your broadcasting platform to evolve into an echo chamber reflecting only a limited viewpoint and set assumptions.

  10. Ellen Rocco says:

    As I mentioned, it was a tough decision. Yes, there are pros and cons to either approach. We compromised: when there’s an article that we think might be enhanced–or we all might expand our thinking about–through open discussion, we activate the comment function. However, the routine comment section had truly devolved to trolls or unproductive arguing. We made a judgment call: no one was learning anything except how to be snarky toward each other. Again, not a perfect solution, but with limited staff, we think it’s working. Again, I direct you to the conversation about our stories on Facebook–where people still get plenty churlish, but at least we attract a much wider pool of participants (and, yes, we still have to hide some comments when they get too rude or mean).

  11. Joe Clifford says:

    Ellen, As I’ve opined before, NCPR is my favorite of the many NPR affiliates I’ve heard over the years. I’d prefer you didn’t go classical overnight but that’s just me. To take this thread national though, please weigh in on how impending changes to funding might effect content creators and distributors with whom NPR frequently partners – PRI, Public Radio Exchange, etc. Could programs like This American Life, Moth Radio, On The Media, Living On Earth, Studio 360, On Being, et al be in danger?

  12. Ellen Rocco says:

    Some of the entities you cited–distributors like PRI, PRX–do receive modest stipends to help them with operations and/or special projects. Specific nationally distributed programs like the ones you cited, are all based at individual stations. My guess is that separate fundraising is done around these programs (for sure true for This American Life), with some support coming directly from their home stations and some coming from carriage fees paid by the individual stations that air these programs. In other words, it’s a mixed funding landscape–with CPB generally providing very limited and finite (versus annual station stipends) support to help jump start the most promising programs.

    The public radio funding world is a bit bizarre. In the commercial broadcasting world, the network (e.g. CBS or ABC) pays its local affiliates to carry their network programming. In the public radio world, we pay program producers/distributors (like NPR or PRI) for the right to carry their offerings.

    Hope this helps a little.

  13. Brian MOFYC says:

    Ron, I agree it’s not quite the same with the great give and take of the previous website format. I think trolls were a terrible problem on NPR’s website. But NCPR’s site was one of the very few sites I read comments because it was actually worth my time to do so.

    That said, they do permit comments on all articles they post to their Facebook feed. I don’t really have a problem with that. If people are afraid to attach their real name to their comments, then the public probably isn’t losing anything useful. So I don’t think that really undermines the extent to which they serve the public.

  14. Mitch Edelstein says:

    I do not have a Facebook account, so I use my real name when NCPR allows comments.

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