KALW and KUT Leaders Speak About Guiding Stations in a Moment of Change

leadership, diversity & inclusion, COVID-19

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As organizations wrestle with the question of whether or when to return to in-person workspaces, public media leaders are aware of the seismic changes that have taken place since their teams filed out of buildings in March, 2020. Some employees have endured great hardship and loss. Many have altered perspectives on work-life balance. There may not be consensus about what constitutes a safe return. And our nation’s wider public consciousness about race and racism demands our attention. 

We spoke with two system leaders, Tina Pamintuan, general manager of KALW in San Francisco, and Debbie Hiott, general manager of KUT Public Media in Austin, Texas to learn about their approach to leadership at this moment in time. 

Greater Public: Have you settled on plans to return to in-person workspaces?

Tina Pamintuan: After we sheltered in place for much of 2020 and into 2021, we put out a survey to understand what was positive about working from home and what had been hard. We’re developing a plan from that feedback. We will likely return to work with a hybrid situation because we know that people do want to see each other, and being in the same space makes a difference. 

We want to accommodate people’s comfort about returning; they want to know that the other people in their workspace are vaccinated [for COVID-19]. We will require that volunteers and staff be vaccinated, but there are conflicting opinions about how to work with interview guests.

We are also going through intense cultural change right now which has its very real challenges, especially when working remote. Still, in many ways, we have a happy workplace, where people celebrate each other’s successes. Spontaneous dance parties occasionally break out—even on Zoom. Our newsroom has a barbeque that is well-used when we are on-site. 

Debbie Hiott: We made plans to come back in September, and then pushed that back. Then our [affiliate] university required that we come back by September 16, which we have been able to change to October 1. We’re part of a state agency and our [state] government doesn’t want things shut down. Legislation was passed in Texas that forbids us from asking about people’s vaccine status and we can’t require mask-wearing. Our university went to a flex work system, which is something I’d been wanting to do at KUT even before the pandemic, in part because our content floor is bursting at the seams. Both our music and news teams have experienced a lot of growth over the past five years. 

Flex work allows for people to coordinate working outside of the office on some days, so we’re setting up hoteling desks and the team is excited about having that flexibility. I think [whether or not we return fully in-person] is a business continuity issue. The Delta variant has shown us how precarious things can be. I’m [at the station] a few days a week and about 50% of students [at affiliate University of Texas at Austin] are wearing masks. The vaccination rate in our county is about 67%, but that doesn’t capture the rate among students who come from other areas in Texas whose rates can be lower than 50%. We try to stress to our university that we need to protect our on-air staff. Even though they’re vaccinated, illness could take them away from their jobs for days.

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How Public Media Can Create Equitable and Inclusive Content & Marketing

Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, marketing, diversity & inclusion

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What does equity in media look like?
Are the materials we publish reinforcing or subverting stereotypes? 
How can I make sure I’m considering all identities? 

These are just some of the questions folks in public media have asked me since my original blog post on Whiteness in public media and my keynote presentation for PMDMC 2020. And it’s why I wrote my first book, Equity: How to Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives (Sept. 7, 20201, Berrett-Koehler, www.TheEquityBook.com). 

As I write in Equity, if bias is the thumbprint of culture on the brain, then media are the inkpad. Media are more than news and entertainment programs; they’re all the content we consume, from marketing and advertising to PR stunts and blog posts. And media are exceptionally powerful. 

As media scholar Christopher Bell explains in his 2015 TEDx talk,

In media studies, we spend a lot of time saying that media can’t tell us what to think, and they can’t; they’re terrible at that. But that’s not their job. Media don’t tell us what to think. Media tell us what to think about [emphasis added]. They control the conversation, and in controlling the conversation, they don’t have to get you to think what they want you to think. They’ll just get you thinking about the things they want you to think about, and more importantly, not thinking about things they don’t want you to think about. They control the conversation.

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How You Can Build a Diverse Donor Base Through On-Air Fundraising

Membership, pledge drive, diversity & inclusion

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“As people of color become majorities in communities across America, successful nonprofit organizations will need to have a diverse donor base to sustain and grow their operations.” 

- Dr. Emmett Carson, Silicon Valley Foundation

“According to a recent report by Blackbaud Institute for Philanthropic Impact, Diversity in Giving, nearly three-fourths of donors today are non-Hispanic whites, despite the fact that whites make up only 64 percent of the population. The underrepresentation of multicultural donors suggests that organized philanthropy is not doing an adequate job of engaging non-white communities. For instance, African-American and Hispanic donors say they are solicited less frequently. Furthermore, they suggest they would give more if they were asked more often.”

- Tarsha Whitaker Calloway, nonprofitpro.com

Engaging a more diverse community of donors is key to fully realizing the potential of public media fundraising. However, many stations are at a loss when it comes to proven fundraising strategy to attract and retain a diverse group of donors – especially when it comes to on-air fundraising.

Here’s some good news! The fundraising leaders at Public Broadcasting Atlanta (PBA) are finding success with the following innovative, culturally-savvy strategies that leverage core programming, unconventional thank-you gifts, and dynamic special events to attract and retain new, diverse donors and strengthen community connections. 

First, get uncomfortable.

Talking about race and structural racism at work can feel awkward and uncomfortable. That’s okay. Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is a good thing because these conversations are the necessary starting point for us to move forward, to learn from one another, and to find solutions together. 

Build DEI into your DNA.

Atlanta is one of the most diverse metro areas in the United States. At Public Broadcasting Atlanta, the diversity of our listening audience and our viewing audience is in fact identical to metro Atlanta’s racial diversity by percentage. We have worked hard to achieve that audience diversity and are working to maintain audience representation. But like most American cities that are very racially diverse, Atlanta is also very segregated. We live in the second most segregated American city after Chicago. Through our programming, community engagement efforts, and our fundraising strategy, our intention is to foster a sense of community, despite the segregation that exists in our city. To do that, we’re always working to be an organization that reflects the audiences we serve. As our President and CEO Jennifer Dorian puts it, “DEI is in our DNA,” – diversity, equity and inclusion are at the core of the work we do across the station.

Start with data.

We've all heard the saying, “What gets measured gets done.” Our fundraising strategy starts with setting key metrics: How much money we aim to raise, how many new donors we intend to attract, how many of those donors should be sustainers, and so forth. Another part of the strategy involves asking questions about the composition of the membership file and it reflection of the diversity of our city: 

  • What are the demographics of our listeners and viewers? Does it match the diversity of the city?
  • Does our membership file reflect the diversity of the listening and viewing audience?
  • Is there a population that is growing in size and influence, that we may be overlooking?
  • Are we programming to a diverse audience and are we really asking all of our listeners to give?
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Antidotes to White Supremacy Culture in Our Organizations

Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, leadership, diversity & inclusion

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We work in the culture business. Our individual and collective efforts have the ability to mold the world outside of our industry’s walls. The stories we report, music we air, programs we produce, and events, webinars and experiences we offer to our audiences all add to the narrative of our multifaceted, multi-lensed society. Our programming is like a tapestry; it offers perspectives carefully designed, woven and crafted with different materials, patterned and textured to make something uniquely appealing. Adding our own flair to the public media tapestry is a privilege we all share; we do not take this position lightly. Each of us brings ourselves, past and present, to our work in hopes of creating something meaningful that resonates throughout history.

It is critical we look at culture when thinking about who has access to public media. To do so, we must examine the definition of culture from an everyday perspective and within the workplace. Generally speaking, culture defines our way of life, such as our norms, values, attitudes, customs, vernacular, and the nuances in between, depending on the group in question. In a corporate setting, culture sets the tone for how business is conducted. It ripples across departments and hierarchy, denoting which behaviors are praised and which are deemed unacceptable. In both settings, culture maintains boundaries, whether physical or psychological, tangible or abstract.

Leadership controls the culture. We look to their vision as our main objective while measuring and observing their every move. This includes a litany of things: their public and private behavior; their decision-making processes; their character; what and who they value; where they divert time, attention and resources; the company they keep, and so much more. The list of attributes that encompass their leadership style is endless. The compilation of these traits creates a culture barometer, measuring the efficacy of the entity’s vision.

Much of my time as a consultant is spent untangling conversations, carefully pulling them apart and then piecing information together to get to the crux of an organization’s culture. In some instances, I have separate conversations with multiple people within an organization and find there is a disconnect between the information both parties share. When this happens, it becomes evident that the organization’s communication mechanisms are strained, signaling a potential culture problem. I ask questions about leadership and how supportive they are in creating a workplace environment where everyone receives what they need to be successful. Too often, I hear comments similar to these:

“When I have a question about a project, or have an idea that could help my department or organization, I’m told to stay in my lane.”

“My organization says it supports professional development, but all of my requests are denied. How do I grow if I’m not receiving the training I need?”

“I have glowing performance reviews and am told the department could not function without me, yet I always get passed up for the promotion and I’m always asked to train the new employee hired for the job.”

“My manager asked me for feedback about a project/situation. I came prepared and explained my concerns and solutions in detail. My feedback was never incorporated and my manager never gave me an explanation as to why.”

“My editor is afraid my story, that includes instances of racism, will upset our core audience and wants the story scrapped altogether.”

“Sometimes I feel like I’m not trusted to do the job I was hired to do.”

“The organization’s leadership continues to ignore recommendations from its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council, or makes plans without asking for our ideas, insight or opinions.”

“I always have to jump through hoops to get the things I need/my department needs, while other employees/departments get things handed to them without question.”

“How people are promoted is secretive and exclusive.”

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Failing Forward: Learning From Mistakes on the Journey to Anti-Racism

Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, leadership, diversity & inclusion

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So often we spend a lot of time thinking about the mistakes that we make, both those we realize on our own and those that others point out. We can spend days replaying a scenario particularly when it is related to race or gender identity. Some describe it as minefields that they are fearful of saying the wrong thing. I want to liberate you and tell you that you WILL make a mistake and you will offend someone. When working in equity and inclusion and striving to build knowledge while moving forward it is important to have a framework of what to do when you make a mistake. This strategy allows you to make amends, to learn and to feel more courage to take risks and make mistakes in the future. 

During a webinar I was once asked this question: “I have run into situations where a name is unfamiliar to me (e.g. I recently hosted a panel and one of the panelists had a Vietnamese name I hadn’t heard before). I struggle with having to ask someone multiple times to pronounce their name because it feels disrespectful but I am asking because I genuinely want to get it right. Any tips on how to handle this situation?”

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1984: The Year I Discovered "Diversity, Equity and Inclusion"

Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, diversity & inclusion

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As futuristic as it once sounded, thanks to the novel by George Orwell, the year 1984 didn’t stand out because of a dystopian society. Instead, I remember it as the year I experienced my first diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) moment, long before I’d ever heard the abbreviation or the term uttered. There was not a mention, not a peep. If I had heard it, I would not have known what it meant.

In 1984, I was more than 20 years away from focusing on DEI at KPBS in San Diego. When I encountered the topic, I felt frustration and resentment. Not because I took it as a personal affront, but because it left me having to complete someone else’s work. 

I attribute these feelings of discontent, in part, to being an American-born Venezuelan, having spent most of my childhood living in Queens, a borough of New York City. While my brothers came and went as they pleased, my family did their best to raise me to be a proper daughter with many of the restrictive traditions by which a Venezuelan female needed to abide. This included chores on Saturdays and church on Sundays. 

In 1984, I was in the fifth year of my career at KCTS, public television in Seattle. I had recently hired Beth, a student from the University of Washington, who was majoring in communications and eager to learn. Beth was amiable and appeared to be a good fit for our department, and, though I didn’t see it then, I’d eventually come to see that Beth was an activist, more socially aware than I was, with a mind of her own. What’s more, she wasn’t shy about knocking down established norms of the day. Whereas exhibiting such behavior went against everything I believed in.

Unlike Beth, any mind of my own that I might have possessed had been molded and shaped by my parents’ careful oversight and by the mores of the day. Let’s not forget that in addition to being a Latina, I was a Baby Boomer. This meant that, like most girls my age, I was raised on TV shows about sweet, loving housewives who wore pearls while vacuuming and baking pies. I’d see films starring Doris Day, who’d always get her man, and I was encouraged to “play house” in kindergarten while the boys played at being firefighters and astronauts. What’s more, my imaginative play consisted of my Barbie doll marrying Ken over and over, and mindless hours drawing in bridal coloring books. 

Feminism might have been in full swing, but I found myself choosing the traditions of being female in America against the backdrop of the feminist movement. I was firmly and decidedly a product of my culture and generation.

Enter Beth.

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Reflections on the Work of Anti-Racism From WUOL’s Daniel Gilliam

Membership, Major Giving, General Management, diversity & inclusion

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In October, the member services department at WUOL Classical in Louisville received a listener letter objecting to the station’s increase in music by Black composers. The letter stated that the anonymous writer - a self-described long-time donor - was discontinuing their support as a result. 

Member services shared the letter with Daniel Gilliam, WUOL program director and director of radio, who decided to read a Statement to a Racist Listener on-air, stream it on Facebook Live, and publish the statement online. We asked Gilliam about this response from the station, and about the larger anti-racism work being done at WUOL.

Greater Public: What was your reaction when you received the listener letter?

Daniel Gilliam: I don’t think any public radio station is a stranger to receiving negative or controversial letters, particularly around race. Whether it’s someone complaining that a triple-A station is playing too much hip hop, or that they dislike someone’s way of speaking or the coverage of race on a news station. But at a classical station, we’ve been largely immune to these kinds of letters because, historically, classical has not been a very diverse format. There are some people in the classical radio world who are coming to terms with that and being proactive to change it. It’s something I've been trying to work on at WUOL. 

When the letter arrived, it did a couple of things. First, it signaled that somebody is noticing that we’re playing more composers that aren’t white. I wondered how they knew; did we say on-air that this is a Black composer, do they know enough about the music to know which composers are Black, or did they Google the composers to see who was Black and who was white? I had questions about why that would catch their attention. But I’m glad it did, because I want more people to recognize themselves in the music we play on WUOL. And we still have a long way to go.

But the writer of the letter also said they wouldn’t be supporting the station because we’re playing more Black composers. We often get letters at stations that threaten to discontinue support and we let them roll off our backs. But this one struck me for how explicit it was. And it angered me quite a bit. We say “listen to relax and escape” and all is fine in the world. But when you encounter a listener who’s an avowed racist, it kind of shakes you. This is not “peaceful let’s-all-get-along” listenership.

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Strategy Is Not Enough: The Importance of Changing the Culture of Public Media

Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, General Management, diversity & inclusion

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Once in a meeting with a senior manager of a station I worked at, I was discussing why I felt that the structure and culture of the organization could do a much better job of fostering respect, empowering innovation and providing psychological safety to its employees. Though new ideas were often seen as threatening and feedback was rarely well received, I was daring to speak up because I believed that these changes were imperative for creating the collaborative spirit of innovation needed to ensure the long-term survival of the station. 

Well into the conversation, the manager said, “you know, you’re in a tough spot.” Immediately, I thought of a dozen different things he might be referring to, but, not wanting to assume, I asked him to elaborate. He explained that even though I had been working there for almost three years, I still had to prove myself. 

This was an organization where people were often shamed for being “too sensitive,” and fear of perceived failure routinely drove management decisions. Perhaps he meant to be helpful by suggesting that if I only kept my head down and worked hard there for a decade the other senior managers would finally take me for my word and respect me. But I went back to my desk and cried. 

In that moment he’d confirmed one of my darker fears about our industry: Our overwhelmingly traditional, white, patriarchal culture is killing public media.

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The State of Our Institution

Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, General Management, diversity & inclusion

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I dare ask, my fellow colleagues, are we not institution builders?

Do we not see ourselves as a “society” of media makers with peculiar “customs”? At the very least, don’t we “set in motion” the constructs of well-designed and articulated best practices and core values?

In doing so, we take great pride in the intentionality from which we create content, the teams that produce, and the well-manicured models employed to monetize. All of this and so much more, we exclaim, in the name of public service.

This racist-drenched and pandemic-entrenched society has come upon a “reckoning.” At once, that bend in the arc of justice is revealed to not only be stubborn towards justice but rooted in design, intentionality and maintenance, suggesting the end game - covertly and with a wink - has been achieved.

It was James Baldwin, the great American literary who confessed:

“I don’t know how most white people in this country feel, but I can only conclude what they feel from the state of their institutions… You want me to make an act of faith… on some idealism which you assure me exists in America which I have never seen.”

Public media is an American institution not spared of these charges. The titans of our institutions are overwhelmingly white. I’ve heard it said that we suffer a “whiteness problem” despite years of inclusion, diversity, equity and access efforts. Like Baldwin, I don’t know how we feel, I can only conclude what we feel from the state of our institutions. I say we, for like so many of my colleagues of color, it can be argued that we have co-signed this institution-building by our very presence and efforts and yet failed in molding it to at least reflect a shared space inclusive of our images and voices.

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Public Media: Existing Within the Shadow of White Supremacy Culture

Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, marketing, leadership, diversity & inclusion

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White supremacy is all around us. If you are aware of this, congratulations, you are on the road to recovery; the first step is admitting it. If you are struggling to grapple with this concept, know that you are not alone. This statement may challenge your inner spirit, causing denial and a sense of panic followed by a twinge of anger. I know this because I have felt it. These powerful, pessimistic feelings show up in our actions, and interactions with others, when merely the ideas of racism and racial bias are hinted at. This is how white supremacy wins every time.

Conversations around systemic racism in our society are far from new. Mountains of data, studies, and reports offer stark evidence that, in the United States, the systems we all rely on were intentionally designed to marginalize and oppress Black and brown people. Yet little progress has been made to change them. Why? Because white supremacy has been the standard throughout. We default to beliefs, actions, and characteristics that promote and uphold whiteness. If it’s not white, it’s not right.

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