If you didn’t see, yesterday, Amrita and I (mostly Amrita, credit where credit is due) published a piece on WNYC’s new “broadcast to podcast” strategy. One thing that I keep mulling over — and that didn’t make it into yesterday’s story — is what duty a public media organization has to its employees, audience, and financial backers.
The corporatization of public media has been a reality for a long time, and leaders at NPR and WNYC cited a significant drop in corporate sponsorship as a major source of their current financial strife. NPR’s sponsorship revenue fell $30 million. New York Public Radio, WNYC’s parent organization, experienced a $7 million decline in corporate sponsorships this year, CFO Armando Gutierrez said at an all-staff meeting last week.
I have talked about this before, but when the economy gets wonky, corporations cut their marketing budgets before they cut operations and staff, so ad-based businesses get the brunt of that impact (and then end up laying off staff). But it’s not just macroeconomic pressure. NYPR’s corporate sponsors include companies like IBM and Netflix, and many of the individual sponsors and board members come from fields like private equity and corporate law. Let me be clear: that is not a bad thing — that is why they have money to spend, and they could do a lot worse than spending it on public media. But they do bring a business perspective that may not entirely jibe with a nonprofit’s mission (this is not limited to media nonprofits, by the way).