What is public TV? asked Traigle. "Three-hundred fifty stations who just happen to have national connections? That's how it grew up. Many on the lay side tend to view it as an entity -- an institution that has life and form and presence in the United States."
APTS launches governance review leading to 'constitutional convention'
Originally published in Current, April 8, 1996
America's Public Television Stations, the trade association of public TV stations, has launched an 18-month effort to reform public TV's national decision-making process, in hopes that its local leaders can unite behind a single legislative platform in the future.
At its annual meeting of member stations March 24 , APTS introduced consultants hired to facilitate the process--BMR Associates, a Bay Area firm that advises media organizations.
More than likely, the process will culminate in a constitutional convention for the field, said Joseph Traigle, a Louisiana businessman, former state official and APTS trustee who pulled the project together.
Traigle urged pubcasters who are tired of present-day processes to jump in and help design a new one that would bring discipline and concerted action to the field, allowing them to "sing from one songsheet" on Capitol Hill. Along the way, Traigle hopes the field will trim back the "absolutely ludicrous number of meetings" that it holds.
The APTS project will reach out for cooperation with PBS and public radio as well. APTS trustees favor "joining television and radio into one institution," Traigle noted.
Don't leave things as they are, he begged the gathered station leaders. "Our opponents are all writing the obituaries."
Traigle hopes to see pubcasters resolving their differences "inside the family" rather than taking them to outside authorities like Congress, and contends that constitutents of many other industries successfully exercise the self-discipline to do so.
As is, station managers regard public TV as a family only when it's convenient for them and go their own ways the rest of the time, he said.
By giving Congress conflicting messages about the idea of selling on-air advertising, public TV factions "managed to confuse most of our constituencies" last year, Traigle noted.
He recalled that a senator came up to him in a restaurant and demanded, "What the hell are your people doing?" Every pubcaster who had come to see the senator brought different numbers and requests. "You need to get your act together," the senator told him.
"There is a little difference in perception between a lot of laypeople and professionals," Traigle said. "What is [public television]? Three-hundred fifty stations who just happen to have national connections? Historically, that's what it was. That's how it grew up. Many on the lay side tend to view it as an entity--an institution that has life and form and presence in the United States."
Plenty of obstacles
BMR Associates won't be doing "a study," Traigle said, but will be facilitating a process among the stations, and helping by gathering information inside and outside of the field.
Eric Douglas, a senior associate at the firm, will be project coordinator, and John D. Hershberger, former president of KVIE in Sacramento and now also a senior associate at the firm, "will be our databank," said BMR President Peter Kiers.
Over the next 18 months, the project will gather information, establish goals and obstacles, identify the most promising organizational models outside of the field, refine recommendations, survey the stations and hold "town hall" meetings to test and further refine proposals for change. Finally, the field would hold a constitutional convention to ratify a system of governance.
Eighteen months is too long, suggested Bill Legere, president of KTOO in Juneau, Alaska, during the meeting. He suggested that the constitutional convention be called earlier in the timeline to identify the issues and give authority to the process.
Traigle predicted that the APTS project "will come together, down the road," with an ongoing self-examination of PBS, led by the network's chairman, Gerald Baliles. The APTS Board has met with Baliles, who signed off on the APTS project "absolutely, positively," Traigle said.
The consultants put station reps to work in small groups, brainstorming lists of obstacles the governance reforms would face: lack of shared vision, turf and ego problems (especially if national organizations do the driving), leaving radio out of the process, leaving boards and staffs out of the process, confusion, distractions, fear of change, lack of incentives for cooperation (especially for large stations that feel self-sufficient), and opposition by "single-issue terrorists and bull elephants" among station managers.
Pubcasting is in trouble, said Hershberger, and is not well prepared to solve its problems. There's a growing recognition, he said, that it will be changed either from the inside or from the outside.
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