Aug 27, 2011

CPB-backed collaboration discussions in Alaska end; only minimal partnerships emerge

After more than two years of talks, a potential collaboration among Alaska public broadcasting stations that held great promise of potentially coming together has fallen apart, reports the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. The stations, KUAC in Fairbanks, KTOO in Juneau and Alaska Public Telecommunications in Anchorage, were looking to consolidate bookkeeping, engineering and other functions to cut costs. "But after studying a plan to merge many of the administrative functions at the stations, it didn’t become clear those changes would actually result in any savings," according to the newspaper.

Patty Kastelic of Fairbanks, a member of the merger exploration committee, said there also was concern the state’s smaller public broadcasters would lose their local identities to the bigger stations. “I think some of these ideas require a leap of faith and a lot of trust,” Kastelic said. “I think people are fearful — with good cause, I think — that everything is going to be decided in Anchorage.”

The merger study was funded by an $88,000 CPB grant. The process did lead to smaller partnerships within the system: Stations in Juneau and Bethel are now sharing some bookkeeping duties, and talks are planned next month between Fairbanks-based Alaska One television and Anchorage station managers to explore joint work.


Mooney57 said...

Sad, but predictable. Your article says the idea held "great promise," but that is editorializing on the reporter's part. 2 years ago, most of senior management at Alaska Public Telecommunications, Inc warned that this was misdirection and a waste of time, citing the very reasons that ultimately resulted in the failure of what came to be referred to as the "G3" or "Big 3" talks. In early 2009, two of the 3 VP's were jettisoned over their disagreement with the plan.
It’s always tempting when faced with big, seemingly intractable problems to hope for a bold, one-stroke solution. But there is not- and never was - a silver-bullet solution to the challenges facing the future of Public Media in AK. Instead they needed to be hashed out in the trenches; it’s often, painstaking, frustrating, tedious and nuanced work, certainly not as exciting as a big, “bold” initiative, but in the real world, it is far more sensible and practical approach, and in the end it reaps real dividends.
Instead more than 2 years of energy, time, money and hard-earned credibility has been lost. At a time when significant budget cuts to CPB (which will be passed on to Public Radio and TV stations) are only a matter of time as the debt-reduction negotiators sharpen their knives looking for trillions of dollars, time would have been much better spent working to solve the problems in more prudent, less grandiose way.

John Proffitt said...

I can confirm the description "Mooney57" posted as a comment above. Because *I* was one of the two VPs forced to resign in the face of merger talks.

Indeed, it was a "get on the bus or get left behind" kind of situation. I was open and direct about my opposition to the merger efforts. I specifically stated we needed to focus locally and bypass a statewide approach because it didn't solve any actual problems (financial, engineering, labor, talent) and in fact created a collection of new ones (editorial and regional battles, long-distance coordination, diminished fundraising capacity).

I wasn't on board, and said so. I was asked to leave. A close friend of the CEO's was hired the next day.

It's too bad the CPB was soaked for $88,000. And it's too bad these stations spent the better part of 3 years spinning their wheels through this muck.

But it's great the merger talks are over -- testament to the non-Anchorage entities standing their ground against Anchorage imperialism.

The best hope for public media in Alaska is for local organizations to take the money they raise by broadcasting NPR and PBS programming and spend what little is left (after paying national fees) on creating interesting, relevant and meaningful local media and live events. I see sparks of this in Anchorage, but they still have a long way to go.