3 Alaska stations propose to study consolidation
It wouldn’t be the first consolidation among Alaska’s public broadcasting stations, and it might not be the last.
Managers of the state’s three largest stations, in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau, are asking their governing bodies for a go-ahead to draw up plans for a consolidation of their efforts.
The talks don’t officially include the 26 other pubradio stations in the state, but they will be welcome to get involved, says Steve Lindbeck, g.m. of Alaska Public Telecommunications Inc., itself the product of mergers among Anchorage public TV and radio stations and the Alaska Public Radio Network, which produces statewide news reports.
Bringing in some of the many tiny stations in the Alaskan bush would make it easier to add services as well as find efficiencies. But the units in the three largest cities would be a good start. They serve area with about 70 percent of the state’s population, according to Lindbeck.
Population, or sparseness of it, is a key to understanding the unique job facing Alaska public broadcasters.
“One way to get at it,” says Tom Livingston, a Baltimore-based consultant working with the three stations, “is that the entire population of the state is 650,000 — about the same as a medium to small market in the rest of the country.” Yet it has nearly 30 stations.
Yet, again, commercial media are weak in much of the state, and those public stations play a bigger role in the state’s journalism and media than public broadcasters in the Lower 48.
The stations have money worries, of course. The state government has reduced funding for pubcasting in recent years, and a detailed budget projection in the study predicts that the three bigger operations will slip into red ink in the next few years, Lindbeck says. KTOO in Juneau laid off three staffers last month and KUAC in Fairbanks lost nine positions, the Livingston Associates report says.
But the state hasn’t slumped as deeply into the recession as other regions, he says. The financial pinch is not the main reason for rethinking how public broadcasting would best serve Alaska.
“The savings alone are unlikely to be worth the trouble — we have to provide better service,” says Lindbeck. “This is really more about the transformation of public broadcasting to find a more rational, pro-active way of organizing resources.”
Jake Poole, interim g.m. of KUAC in Fairbanks, uses the “t” word as well. “After talking giwth our staff and stakeholders, we determined that nothing sort of a transformation of the operational and organizational model is required” for pubcasting to flourish in the state, Poole said in the stations’ announcement July 23.
“It’s fair to say the staffs are kind of nervous about it,” says Livingston.
Plans aren’t specific yet, but he says the three managers have a positive vision. “The purpose is to create a sustainable business model that can go through this communications transition.”
The managers’ wish list includes expansion into new media (it’s a highly but unevenly wired state); reporters working in every region and also serving as curators who bring to light the best citizen-generated material; a documentary team and statewide production; a popular, unified brand that delivers more channel variety; efficient, consolidated support services; and combined technology assets that enable the group to invest in new media. Plus continued NPR and PBS service throughout the state.
As in the multi-city mergers of Iowa Public Radio in 2005 and West Virginia Public Broadcasting, decades earlier, the report doesn’t propose closing studios or relocating staffers wholesale.
One of Alaska’s earlier waves of consolidation, in 1995, gave special tasks to staffs in each of the major cities, as in West Virginia and Iowa.
For this next wave, the stations could start by completing the advances of 1995. The Anchorage station could join Alaska One, using a joint pubTV schedule assembled in Fairbanks for its own station as well as those in Juneau and Bethel and university-owned repeaters around the state.
The Fairbanks station similarly could start by adding a DTV multicast of the 360 North public affairs service produced by the Juneau station for cable systems around the state.
And small pubradio stations could scale up the CoastAlaska federation of five southeast stations, founded in 1994, that share an executive director and a back office in Juneau.
The pending question now is whether the overseers of the G3 stations, as they call themselves—the nonprofit boards in Anchorage and Juneau and the University of Alaska regents in Fairbanks—will allow the managers to begin a design phase and propose changes. The boards are expected to vote in September.
If the study proceeds and its proposals are adopted, the restructuring could begin a year from now, incorporated in budgets for fiscal year 2011.
Web page posted Aug. 4, 2009
Copyright 2009 by Current LLC
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