Since leaving formal employment with public broadcasting seven years ago, I have often found myself put in the role of diplomat for public broadcasting to the wider world. Lots of people are interested in and admiring of public broadcasting; many want to know more. What are the “stars” really like? How is it funded? What is the relationship between the nationals like NPR, APM and PRI and the local stations? It is all good cocktail party chatter, and I’ve been happy to oblige and tell what I know of the public broadcasting story to “civilians.”
But recently, I have run into expressions of surprise and dismay from civilians who have had an unpleasant interaction with a staff member of a public broadcasting program. These have always been national programs, where the civilian has come away stunned at what he/she perceived as the arrogance and hostility to a new idea or a proposal of the civilian’s involvement in the national show. One experienced media participant and author who had offered his services to public radio programs said his experience was “Incredibly unsatisfying, arrogant, and unprofessional. Waste of damn time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!“
One could always say that these are the sentiments of a would-be lover whose efforts at affection were spurned. But, I know this individual has had dealings with media of all types all over this country. He would not have survived without a pretty thick skin. Somehow, though, public radio’s dealings with him went beyond rejection to insult and debasement. As a would-be diplomat preaching the value of public broadcasting to the public, what do I tell this fellow and people like him who encounter this kind of treatment? I apologized on behalf of the system and urged him not to condemn an entire precious nationwide resource based upon the behavior of the misguided few.
So, what’s the lesson here? I hope it is that we be very careful not to allow ourselves or our staffs to get too big for our britches, to exude arrogance, to close ourselves off to new ideas and people. Public broadcasting is often accused of being self-referential. I hope it continues to broaden its thinking and associations. But, at minimum, I hope we do our level best to avoid alienating our friends.