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CAB Minutes: January 2006

7 pm, Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The New York Society for Ethical Culture

MEMBERS PRESENT: Neal Zuckerman, Nick Arture, Alex Senchak, Fred Friedland, Dave Weinstock, Inge Reist, Emily Gertz, Sallie Gouveneur, Judy Hellman, John DiBlasi, Dave Hall, Mary O’Hara, Simran Sethi, K.C. Sahl, Barbara Genco, Jenn Batterton, Basya Weisman

APOLOGIES: Shawn Williams, Chris Small, Ed Sawchuk, Toby Butterfield, David Rahni, Lisa Nam
WNYC STAFF: Lori Ann Krushefski, Board of Trustee members Alan Weiler and David Caplan

NON–MEMBERS: Approximately 7 members of the general public attended.

Meeting Business

Neal Zuckerman called the meeting to order, and asked members of the public if they would like to offer any comments. One person asked if WNYC would update the automated phone answering system with details on CAB meeting times and locations.

Neal then invited CAB members to provide updates on various projects. K.C. Sahl let the group know he was working with WNYC to update the CAB’s webpage. He proposed adding a listener comment form to the existing site and inviting visitors to the page to sign up for updates. Sallie Gouveneur asked what the group would do with the list of addresses gathered, and it was suggested that meeting notices and minutes be provided.

Sallie Gouveneur then discussed her efforts to identify other public broadcasting stations with Community Advisory Boards similar to WNYC’s. The purpose is to learn best practices and find out about activities other boards are pursuing.

Nick Arture spoke with the heads of several non profits to discuss the possibility of WNYC adding a beat reporter covering non-profits. The heads of the organizations said their biggest challenge is getting their message to the public. They were surprised WNYC was considering such a beat, and really hoped they’d do it. They had questions about how it would be constructed, and how often the reporter would be on the street.

John DiBlasi and Basya Weissman then discussed the group’s next outreach meeting, in Westchester. John asked whether the group wanted to continue to pursue getting a large audience, or whether they wanted to invite community leaders for a direct discussion with the CAB.

The group then proceeded to review each WNYC-produced news and information show. Summaries were as follows:

The Brian Lehrer Show: The group felt the show was relevant and current. The show addresses topics in a very timely manner, and is creative, authentic and imaginative in its approach. Brian was commended for not imposing his beliefs on listeners. The CAB felt it was clear why the show was part of WNYC’s lineup. The show was seen to be balanced, and seen to offer excellent analysis and information. One problem the group saw was that the show has difficulty reaching a young audience, but this was seen as being a problem with the station as a whole. Another criticism was that the show could sometimes feel stiff or redundant. The group felt Brian did an extraordinary job of respecting every person, and found him to be accessible. They found the show responsive to the needs of the community. The show was seen to be a stunning example of covering issues, people on the street, people making news, and conveying the feeling of the city. They felt the show’s coverage of the transit strike was a great “go-for-broke” effort to cover the story. Another member felt Brian was “mean” when guests were late. Finally, they felt Brian has a great mind, and they felt his team orchestrates the show beautifully.

The Leonard Lopate Show: Was cited as being “like listening to the New York Times art section.” The CAB felt Leonard had a national reputation, and said they felt the show included diverse voices. Leonard was said to show particular strength in interviewing authors, artists and musicians. The group cited his prep as being superb, and said they felt his approach was superior to that of Terry Gross. The group was appreciative of his inviting local and less-known poets on the air. They felt the show was fairly imaginative, and that Leonard shared his curiosity, allowing listeners to be compelled by topics they never knew they’d been interested in. The show was also cited as being better than that offered by Diane Rehm or Day to Day. It was cited as having not an NPR, but a NY feel. Others felt the show lacked a certain amount of “umpf.” Members felt Leonard sometimes did not work guests hard enough or create enough tension.

Local News: The CAB said they would like to be able to download WNYC’s local news segments as podcasts. They cited longer local pieces as giving reporters a chance to develop a voice and cover important stories on our town. The “short burst” information provided by the station was considered to be below average and too repetitive. There was also some concern about this “short burst” news not meshing well in the context of the programs during which it falls – Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Sometimes stories were covered by both NPR and WNYC, which made it feel to the group like WNYC wasn’t listening to what was on their own air. However, based on the quality of the longer pieces, the group suggested the station consider having a drive time local news show. They would like to see reporters with ethnic or neighborhood beats, and perhaps a youth beat. The group also felt the station’s tag line did not speak to the offerings on both stations. The group also didn’t care for WNYC’s news capsules at the top of the hour covering what was to come on NPR’s show. The group also mentioned they felt the station’s engineering has not been seamless – that handoffs between NPR and WNYC are often awkward or ill-timed.

The No Show: The group felt the show was not well promoted, and that there wasn’t enough explanation of what the show is about. The description on the website was cited as being unhelpful. The group does enjoy the show, but felt it was perhaps narrowly focused. Steve Post was considered by the group to be a reigning legend of public radio. They did think Steve sometimes sounds as if he’s “run out of steam.” They felt the show was humorous, and required sophistication to appreciate. They also felt the show is unduplicatable, and felt Post’s humor was a precursor to what is seen today on The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live. As a whole, the group felt the show met the mission of the station, and felt the show could be huge if it were a bit more youthful.

Studio 360: The show was seen to be personality driven, centering entirely on the thinking of Kurt Andersen. The group found the show to be necessary because it gives interesting arts coverage not available from any other source. The way the show treated both accessible and more esoteric topics was said to stimulate and stretch the mind of listeners. The show was seen to serve a well-educated community, but was not seen as elitist. The group found the show to be well organized, to have a varied rhythm and variety in its pacing. One concern cited was a disconnect between the amount of knowledge a person had versus the amount they needed to engage in the show. It was said to be akin to “hitting the editorial page before having a chance to read the news.” The group found the show to be well-slotted on Saturday mornings. It was found to be homey and comfortable to listen to. The show was also seen to do a great job in bringing diverse voices to public radio. Another member felt the show had a great website.

On the Media: The group found OTM to be a great show. The presentation was seen to be friendly, witty and personal. The content was seen to be direct and critical in a good way. The group was appreciative that the show would criticize anyone, including NPR and themselves. The CAB was grateful for podcasts of the show and the transcripts available on the website. The approach of the show was cited as being like that of no other, allowing people to know how the media is working. The group found some elitism in the show because stories were not summarized – a certain level of knowledge is assumed. They said this could make you feel dumb if you haven’t read about the topics already. One concern was that voices weren’t always thought to be diverse, and that some segments came off as a bit hokey. The hosts were seen to try too hard to use hip and cool words that actually made them seem older than they are. Song parodies offered on the show were seen to take away from the otherwise high quality of the show. The show’s interview of Judy Miller was cited as a shining example of the show at its best—one member felt Bob Garfield just “killed” Miller by simply allowing her voice to truly come forward. Another member criticized a recent story during which OTM sampled the Arab press. Apparently both Pakistani and Persian outlets were referenced, neither of which is Arab. He also felt they succumbed to a western-biased look at Al Jezeera. One member of the public said that OTM was his all-time-favorite program, and that the content blew him away. Many people cited that the show is on at the same time as Meet the Press, and that the two shows likely appeal to the same kind of listener. Another CAB member who works in media said he always found himself shocked that none of his colleagues listened to the show. He felt if it lost some of its hokiness, it would become appointment radio for media executives.

Selected Shorts: The group felt listeners either loved it or hated it. They found the show to be very much about Isiah Scheffer. They did feel it had a clear reason to exist, but didn’t feel it appealed to a very diverse audience, but rather just to the core of the core of public radio. The group felt the readers on the show were well chosen. They felt the problem with the show is that the listener needs to be fully engaged. Others mentioned that very little of this kind of programming is available right now, and felt it to be a unique and important part of public radio.

The meeting was adjourned at 8:20 p.m.