Public Comment

Commentary: Why We Endorse Concerned Listeners

By Mitch Jeserich and Max Pringle
Thursday October 01, 2009 - 09:37:00 AM

Pacifica Radio, the nation’s oldest listener sponsored broadcast network, is at an existential crossroads. If serious reforms aren’t implemented soon, the network could go under. The crisis pre-dates the current recession and is the result of numerous factors. The greatest of these is a hopelessly dysfunctional governance structure. 

Each of Pacifica’s five stations has a cumbersome 25 member board of directors. To put that into perspective, only 11 supervisors govern the entire city of San Francisco. These boards are elected from the listening audience and station staff. Experience serving on non-profit boards is not a pre-requisite for candidacy, nor is any demonstrable skill set, or experience that could be of use to the organization. Many who run don’t have prior knowledge of non-profit board duties. The unwieldly size of the boards and the disgregard for expertise would be problematic for a local animal shelter board, let alone a multi-million dollar broadcast network. 

The biggest problem with the boards by far is the attitude that a large proportion of the board members bring with them to their posts. Many board members disregard their responsibility for securing the financial health of the organization by participating in fundraising. Some of them argue that because the board is elected and not appointed, which is traditionally the case at non-profits, they are not responsible for carrying out this most essential of board functions. The above assertion would be laughable if it weren’t such a serious abdication of board member responsibilities. What would we think of a person who ran for a position on a hypothetical “elected” fire department and thought it was beneath him or her to actually participate in putting out fires? 

The attitude of some board members is one of outright hostility to station employees and management. Again, non-profit and for-profit board members have a responsibility of loyalty to the organization. The best way to express that is to promote and support the organization and its staff. Many board members see their role on the board as that of a sort of political police force, making sure the programming of the station reflects their own political viewpoints without a hint of consideration for what the wider listening community may think. 

That is the situation we now find ourselves in at Pacifica. Hundreds of thousands of listener sponsor dollars are spent on board elections and local and national board meetings that accomplish little. The boards don’t even raise enough money to pay for themselves, let alone bring in valuable extra funds. Looked at from a cost-benefit perspective, this amounts to a tremendous waste of network resources. 

As troublesome as these facts are, they need not necessarily lead to a fiscally unsustainable situation. There are candidates running for the board who honor their responsibilities to the organization. They appreciate the importance of fundraising for the organization. They want to be board members to help staff and management keep Pacifica’s vital news, music, arts and information viable and sustainable. They look forward to promoting and marketing KPFA to new audiences. In short, they want to be responsible members of a serious non-profit board. 

We do believe that there are candidates from the different slates who do have the experience and dedication to run KPFA responsibly. We have heard many listeners say the don't know anything about the candidates and slates and are not sure how to vote.  As staff at KPFA, we support candidates from different slates, but we think that the Concerned Listener slate has the most overall number of candidates who want to build KPFA and not tear it down.  You can look them up on line for more information. Thank you for supporting Pacifica. 

Max Pringle, KPFA News Reporter Mitch Jeserich, KPFA Morning Show Executive Producer.