Kathleen Pavelko is one of the most thoughtful CEO's within public broadcasting and, like myself, works in both radio and television. This morning, I linked to several essays by public television CEOs on the theme of imagining the future of their television stations in 2012. One of those was by Kathleen, and actually it was her closing remarks yesterday to the annual planning meeting of public radio's Station Resouce Group that made me think to go back and bring those essays to this weblog. Kathleen has given me permission to post her SRG remarks in the "Continue reading" section immediately below. --Dennis
Remarks by Kathleen Pavelko
President and CEO, WITF/Harrisburg
Vice Chair, Station Resource Group Board
Closing Session of the 2006 SRG Retreat
9 August 2006
As human beings, I believe we’re hard-wired for narrative. We seek the stories that will make sense of our world...and our great talent as humans is our ability to invent those stories.
As executives in public broadcasting, I think we’re still seeking the narrative that would explain the world we’re living in.
Is it a variable audience environment, but within known ranges? One book up, another down, but it’s a world in which it is possible to make an impact on audience size by your own efforts.
Or, is it an inexorably declining world for terrestrial broadcasting in which our hard-won knowledge of macros and micro formatics will be increasingly irrelevant?
Put it another way: are we in a time of transition for news gathering and news presentation as we know it, but with the description of reality still being a world in which information presented with context and respect is still valued and valuable?
Or is the world to be a place in which no editorial voices are trusted or privileged over any others, and it’s an “every person is his own newspaper” kind of world?
I think that as executives we may be unnerved not so much by the particular challenges we face but by not knowing how to describe them—how embarrassing it would be to be the world’s last vaudeville producer and not know it! (To use Bill Thomas’ formulation.)
My own personal narrative describes the world as a place where the future has arrived—but it just isn’t evenly distributed.
Interactivity and user-provided content is a reality—it just isn’t the only reality or the dominant one (perhaps yet).
Terrestrial broadcasting is in decline, but only in comparison to its previous dominance: we will all be using, and generating revenue from, our transmitters for a long time to come.
Journalism is under attack—as a profession in the political realm and as a business in the media realm. But I don’t see the end of a professional, ordered and orderly editorial role in this space.
So, what’s a smart and committed executive to do? Well, if you have the mindset for it, I recommend trying to describe the world as you see it.
A wise teacher of mine said that “writing is a process of clarification...and you can’t know what you think until you’ve written it down.” As an exercise for the Affinity Group Coalition—a public television consortium—I was recently asked to write a description of my public media organization as it will be in 2012.
It really grounded me and my thinking and even shrunk my anxiety closet somewhat. I recommend that exercise to each of you. Ask your senior managers to do it, too, and compare and contrast your views.
The other realization for me is that a surprising large number of principles remain priorities even in dramatically changed environments.
So, net revenue matters. Whether you are funding a new translator or a web stream...measuring efficiency is always a good thing.
Another principle: it matters how many people \use our services—but we will need to aggregate them over more platforms, and learn to measure them accordingly.
The right people matter, too—and if you don’t have the right staff for today’s challenges, that’s something to work on right now.
The right people principle leads to my concluding thought—which is about all of us as the right people. I hear a fair amount of self-criticism out there, at least when people are taking up a glass and letting their hair down.
“We’re too old,” or “too distant from the technology” or “too top-down” or “too clueless about major donors” or...the list goes on.
I think it’s time to cut ourselves a break on these and other areas.
We’re geekier than we think and we have a historical perspective to bring to bear. We can succeed in this world, in part because we’ve had some failures in our past.
We’re experiencing the greatest technological revolution since the invention of the book, and if you’re not having a good time, you’re not paying attention.