Mar 16, 2011

WGBH employees march against implementation of final contract offer

About 100 WGBH employees demonstrated outside its headquarters Tuesday (March 15) as managers implemented a contract rejected by its largest union, reports the Boston Globe. The union last weekend voted to reject the final contract offer from management, which calls for allowing the station to assign individual employees to work across various platforms — radio, television, and the Web — and outsource work without negotiating. “We are at an impasse," station spokesperson Jeanne Hopkins told the paper, "and we are implementing our best and final offer. This new contract provides wage increases, for the fourth consecutive year, only for AEEF/CWA members that no other union, nonunion, or management employees will be receiving.’’

Man faces federal charges for alleged threats to All Things Considered hosts

A Maine man is in jail on federal charges that he threatened to kill or harm Melissa Block and Guy Raz, hosts of NPR's All Things Considered, the Smoking Gun website is reporting. According to an FBI affidavit, John Crosby sent more than 20 bizarre and often threatening messages to NPR through its “Contact Us” website form. NPR contacted the FBI on Jan. 17 after Crosby allegedly described Block in a message as "an annoying [expletive] who is helping to destroy me to use me as a human sacrifice. She will be raped, beaten, tortured, and murdered very soon.” A Jan. 23 message traced to Crosby targeted Raz for violence and used a racial epithet. Crosby is charged with two counts of transmitting threatening communications in interstate commerce, as well as unlawful possession of a firearm. He was arrested late in January.

Joyce Slocum, NPR's interim president, sent a memo to staff today (March 16) saying in part: "Our top concern is the safety of our staff and visitors. Given the sensitive nature of this situation, federal officials advised us to not draw public or staff attention to the matter. This is standard protocol in situations such as this."

House Rules Committee approves NPR bill for vote

On a party-line vote, the House Committee on Rules today (March 16) voted 6-5 to allow H.R. 1076, which would ban federal funding to be used for NPR programming, to proceed to a floor vote on Thursday. No amendments are allowed. Members will have one hour for debate, controlled by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

Garrison Keillor retiring in spring 2013

A Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor, 68, has announced that he plans to retire in the spring of 2013. He tells the AARP Bulletin that he must find his replacement first. "I'm pushing forward, and also I'm in denial," he says. "It's an interesting time of life." Keillor created the show in 1974 in Minnesota. It is now distributed by American Public Media to 590 public radio stations across the country, and heard by more than 4 million people each week.

As for his legacy, "I just want people in St. Paul and Minneapolis to feel that I was some sort of community asset and not a big embarrassment. It may be a close call."

Minnesota Public Radio chief Bill Kling, who brought Prairie Home into national distribution, downplayed the announcement as a publicity stunt, intended to tease Keillor's fans and bring new contributors into the Prairie Home Companion talent mix. "He throws things out there to see what the reaction would be," Kling told Current.

Keillor welcomed musician Sara Watkins on as his first-ever guest host in January and still participated in writing and performing on the show. "That's who he is — he can't not be part of a show that he loves doing," Kling said.

"I think what you'll find is he needs to have some kind of process" for working with new performers and writers," Kling said. "A lot of the show hinges on his writing."

As soon as the AARP story broke, APM sent a memo reassuring its client stations. "Garrison has been open in talking about his own future and in working out ways for A Prairie Home Companion to continue for many years to come," the memo said.. "Both Garrison Keillor and APM are very committed to the success of the program now and to planning and preparing for the next phase of APHC. APM is supportive of Garrison's plans for the program in the near and longer term and we will keep stations informed as planning unfolds. We know this is important to you. APHC is continuing in its present form for the foreseeable future."

Keillor, who made the announcement to AARP before heading off on vacation, suffered a minor stroke in September 2009 but soon dived back into his schedule of weekly shows and book- and column-writing. That month he mentioned retirement in an interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune  — prompting the paper to estimate the "ripple effects" that his retirement would have on the Minnesota's economy. Answer: " ... Enormous for businesses, from Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) to the Minnesota State Fair."

The State Fair? "A live appearance by Keillor is almost always a draw," the paper says. "Crowds of between 7,000 and 11,000 have shown up during the last six years when Prairie Home has been booked at the Minnesota State Fair grandstand."

He was the subject of an American Masters documentary (Current, July 6, 2009), "Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes."

Juan Williams criticizes "self-righteous thinking" atop NPR, backs defunding

Juan Williams, writing on the Fox News website, wants to see NPR defunded. What NPR exec Ron Schiller said in the recent video sting "is just an open microphone on what I've been hearing from NPR top executives and editors for years. They are willing to do anything in service to any liberal with money and then they will turn around and in self-righteous indignation claim that they have cleaner hands than anybody in the news business who accepts advertising or expresses a point of view."

"The work of NPR's many outstanding journalists is barely an afterthought to leadership with this mindset and obsessed with funding," he says. "NPR has many, very good journalists. But they are caught in a game where they are trying to please a leadership that doesn't want to hear stories that contradict the official point of view. I'm not just talking about conservatives but also the far-left, the poor, anybody who didn't fit into leadership's design of NPR as the official voice of comfortable, liberal-leaning upper-income America."

"I'm still an NPR fan," he notes, "but I'm no fan of the self-serving, self-righteous thinking that is at the top level of NPR in Washington and that has corrupted a once great brand."

NPR turmoil has "upside," writer says: Better public understanding of the system

Peter Osnos of the progressive Century Foundation has discovered an upside in all the recent NPR turmoil. It's "the likelihood that, for the first time, many more people among NPR and public radio’s devoted audience of over 34 million across the country will have a clearer understanding of how the system works." Osnos, writing today (March 16), is a senior fellow at Century who focuses on media coverage of politics and policy.

Does NPR "have the right board"?

Rick Moyers, writing in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, says in the wake of NPR President Vivian Schiller's resignation, the NPR Board needs to ask itself two questions: Are we clear about our mission? And, given our mission, do we have the right board? "All nonprofit organizations need different boards at different stages of their growth and development and need clarity about their missions," Moyers writes. "Failure to answer these questions head-on leads to organizations that are hard to govern and difficult to lead. Just ask Vivian Schiller." Moyers is vice president of programs and communications at the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation in Washington, and co-author of A Snapshot of America's Nonprofit Boards.

NPR video stinger O'Keefe may have trouble getting nonprofit status, paper says

Conservative video muckracker James O'Keefe, who caught NPR execs in an undercover sting last week, is seeking nonprofit status for his Project Veritas, "but it is certain that his application is not clear-cut, tax lawyers say," according to today's (March 16) Chronicle of Philanthropy. The main problem: O’Keefe pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor after he and three others entered the New Orleans office of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) last year pretending to be telephone repairmen. O’Keefe later stated that he would do it again, albeit “differently," the paper notes. Marc Owens, a Washington tax lawyer who formerly oversaw the IRS division that monitors tax-exempt groups, noted: "If he is proposing to do something that is, in fact, illegal, can the IRS believe, with any degree of credibility, what he is saying?”

"Renaissance man" and Kansas Public Radio opera host Jim Seaver dies at 92

Jim Seaver, host of one of radio's longest-running shows, Opera is My Hobby, on Kansas Public Radio, died March 14 in Lawrence, Kan. He was 92.

The show’s debut was Sept. 19, 1952, just four days after KANU (now Kansas Public Radio) signed on the air. Seaver produced his last show a week ago and was thinking of the program up until the day he died, KPR general manager Janet Campbell told the Lawrence Journal World. “It was more than a hobby, even though that is what he called it,” she said. He continued to produce the show as a volunteer until his hospitalization on March 11. The newspaper noted the show's success "was largely based on his extensive collection of one-of-a-kind opera recordings, many of which he kept in his attic."

Seaver was a professor of Western civilization and ancient history at the University of Kansas until his retirement in the 1980's. He was considered an expert on opera as well as Greek and Roman history. “He was closest to a Renaissance man as I could think of,” his friend Lois Clark told the paper. She'd met Seaver 53 years ago when her husband arrived at KU as a graduate student. “They just don’t make them like that anymore.”

Seaver, a California native, arrived at the university in 1947 as a history professor. He had been captain of the tennis team at Stanford University and later coached the KU men’s team to a Big Seven Championship.

Survivors include his wife and three sons, Richard, Leawood, Kan; William, Lawrence, Kan; and Robert, who lives in Italy. Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver is his nephew.

The family is working with KU to arrange funeral services.

Detroit's WDET-FM taking on illegal truckers

The National Center for Community Engagement is highlighting an interesting outreach project today (March 16) on its blog. Since last summer, WDET-FM's Truck Stop has been encouraging citizens to help use anonymous text messaging to report illegal truck driving in low income and marginalized communities. The station is also partnering with a local community action group to fight blight in the city.