Start with PBS, and NPR. I’m a guy who loves good nonprofit public television, and radio, and I’m herewith disgusted with it. PBS has its Masterpiece series, its documentaries; it has Bill Moyers and those beloved British comedies; NPR has great shows like Fresh Air and Prairie Home Companion and Snap Judgement. I’ve given both institutions money in the past…and currently I regret it. There’s still a lot of good programming at both, but they are making us, the viewing and listening public, suffer for it. They’re making us squirm for their programming, more, and more… and more often. They hound us for it.
They keep back their most entertaining material for their PBS prayer meetings, where they pass the basket to the congregation, and it goes on day after day. They hector the public directly for contributions, on the air and in the mail box; they endlessly badger us for cash. They wheedle and flatter–yes, they flatter, telling us we’re so clever, so righteous to fight for them!–and they pay celebrities to come on the show and wheedle and flatter and cozen us for more, more, more money. Despite claiming they’re commercial free, the advertisements from sponsors are there–they’re tasteful and understated… but they’re advertising.
It’s not working. Several stations have gone bankrupt and more and more people are telling me they, too, are feeling frayed, worn down by these all too regular, high-pitched pitches for the do-re-mi.
“Fail!” as my son would say, to his fellow lolcats. How much broadcast time each year is taken up demanding money from listeners, from viewers? What’s that you say? It’s the only way they can do it and remain commercial free? I don’t believe that. They’ve simply failed to find another, better way to do it.
It wasn’t always like this. Maybe there were lower administrative costs, in the old days–according to Glassdoor.com, an assistant director at PBS now averages about 54K a year. A senior web technologist for PBS gets more than 73K and an “IT Guy” gets about 100K per year. You couldn’t find good people to do that stuff for less? Really? The site didn’t say how much Paula Kerger, President and CEO of PBS, gets per year–I’ve been having a hell of a time finding that info. She’s probably a fine administrator, and people do like her, but chances are she’s getting paid too much. Just as administrators for the University of California system are being paid too much–public service organizations are being drained from the top down. But by “from the top” I don’t just mean PBS/NPR administration, I mean Congress. At the behest of corporations chafing at criticism from Bill Moyers and NPR reports on pollution, Republican puppets in Congress like Jim DeMint have been trying to “privatize” public broadcasting (read, turn “public” television over to oversight and censorship by corporations), and to get that done they want to cut all public funds for it. Of course, “privatized public broadcasting” is oxymoronic.
But the problem isn’t that these venues have too much public funding–the CBC is a tiny part of the national budget–the problem is not enough public funding. If you go to //www.170millionamericans.org/ it comes clear that most Americans want taxpayer funded public broadcasting.
Currently, high administrative costs, inefficiency and conservatives starve public broadcasting–and so PBS and NPR turn to us to pay the difference. And they have gotten so they browbeat us, and it seems to go on forever. The whole tone, the atmosphere of these PBS/NPR demands for money from the public, has become repellent.
I wasn’t able to find out what Ms. Kerger’s salary is, at the PBS FAQ – but I did see this supposedly “frequently asked question”: “How can I include the PBS Foundation in my estate planning?”
(And by the way, if they’re so dedicated to higher standards, why is it that in December 2009, PBS signed up for the Nielsen ratings for the first time ever?)
In a speech not long ago Bills Moyers suggested a “constitutional convention” on public television to try to figure out how to retool it, make it work for our age. “The core problem is that we still don’t have an expansive national vision of what we’re about.” Ms Kerger didn’t agree with him but she did say that she’s considering a subscription model for greater access to more programming, and monthly fees, like HBO subscribers pay. Well at least she’s being realistic–she must realize that people are sick of this hectoring, whining, prodding, begging, that goes on at intervals all year, for hours every day…
Listening to these entreaties is like being in public broadcasting HELL. How much broadcasting time is used up for this stuff–time that could be used for the real benefit of the public, for investigative journalism, for the arts?
And though it goes against the public broadcasting grain, almost anything would be preferable to begging for money from the public the way it’s done now. I mean, they’re starting to sound like articulate drug-addicted hobos confronting people on the street. Anything is preferable to this public browbeating for cash. They’d be better off selling Amway or hustling medicinal marijuana. Those options, at least, would have some dignity.
My suggestion is this: once a month, tell people for one minute that they can contribute at some online site. Keep a site up to get public donations in. Then take all the energy, all that human enthusiasm, formerly used for haranguing the public for money on radio and on television, and turn it to getting more money from outfits like Google, and those bloated young fatcats now counting their million-dollar-bills at Facebook. Transmute all that begging energy into rational arguments for public funding; use it in lobbying Congress, with every means possible, to fund PBS and NPR at much higher levels than we do now. And if that fails, charge subscription rates for the PBS version–and on NPR, yes, if we must, allow more advertising.
Anything is better than these hugely annoying, endless, energy-wasting, broadcast-time squandering, wheel-spinning, grating, exhausting and shameful entreaties for money on the air.
John Shirley is the author of numerous novels, story collections, screenplays (“THE CROW”), teleplays and articles. A futurologist and social critic, John was a featured speaker at TED-x in Brussels in 2011. His novels include Everything is Broken, The A SONG CALLED YOUTH cyberpunk trilogy (omnibus released in 2012), Bleak History, Demons, City Come A-Walkin’ and The Other End. His short story collection Black Butterflies won the Bram Stoker Award, and was chosen by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the best books of the year. His new story collection is In Extremis: The Most Extreme Short Stories of John Shirley. His stories have been included in three Year’s Best anthologies. He is also a songwriter (eg, for Blue Oyster Cult), and a singer. Black October records will soon be releasing a compilation of selected songs, BROKEN MIRROR GLASS: Recordings by John Shirley, 1978-2011. The authorized website is at john-shirley.com