The degree of misleading and half-true statements by Pacific Lutheran University leaders and by KUOW management has surprised many in the public. Here are some illuminating examples. Coming soon, a point-by-point response to Pres. Krise’s blog post about the sale and a response to KUOW’s half-truths.
Bottom line: If you hear that this is about “saving” or “preserving” public radio for the Puget Sound region, put your radar on high alert. There is nothing about this deal that enhances the viability of public radio — because both stations are financially healthy and there are no storms on the horizon, only the fear of storms.
The following five examples come from PLU’s own FAQ page.
Who approached whom on this deal?
For more than a dozen years, KPLU and KUOW have explored ideas for collaborating. The goal has always been to ensure the continued success of both news and jazz throughout the region. PLU and UW are both pleased with this mutually beneficial decision that resulted from extensive conversations aimed at ensuring the best outcome for public radio in the greater Puget Sound region.
Comment: Non-answer to their own question. Yes, there were talks about “collaboration” in the past, but those collapsed for many reasons, including that past administrations at PLU didn’t want to surrender control to UW. The past discussions were conducted with input from donors and staff, as well as community leaders. Saying this is “mutually beneficial” and they are “pleased” tells you nothing. Answer to their own question? It appears most likely that PLU, desperate for cash to shore up its financial situation and placate its lenders, approached KUOW. And they found a willing partner in KUOW’s new leadership, which has a track record of purchasing other stations.
Why didn’t you notify listeners first?
Both parties were bound by a non-disclosure agreement while the potential of a sale was thoroughly examined. Prior to completion of the transaction, the sale must go before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for approval. The FCC provides a public comment period as a way for listeners to share concerns.
Comment: Circular reasoning? Translation: They signed a non-disclosure just so that they could say they were unable to disclose. That was a choice. What’s the real reason? Probably because it is easier to not have to listen to the public or to consider other viewpoints. This is a process that deliberately shuts out all stakeholders.
KPLU just completed the best financial year in KPLU’s history. Why now?
While the university is very pleased with the work KPLU’s management team have done to create new content, grow audience through new media, increase KPLU’s leadership role in the community, and raise more revenue in order to accomplish these goals, the truth of the matter is that traditional radio listening continues to trend down across the country. And while consumption is increasing on Jazz24 and on the NPR mobile app, streaming and mobile usage is still nascent and fundraising on these channels is still a new concept.
Comment: Even if the trend is downward for “traditional radio” in many other communities in other states, KPLU is one of several major NPR affiliates that have enjoyed robust audience growth. According to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the on-air listeners have grown by 21% over the past five years, reaching 350,000 (and the online jazz audience has grown to 90,000). PLU’s answer is like saying, I sold my stock in Costco because other retailers across the country are losing money. To be charitable, they could say they are worried that KPLU might some day follow the trend of others. But that still begs the question, Why now?
Was any consideration given to other ways that the two stations might partner, short of selling?
KPLU already collaborates with KUOW on regional news coverage through the Northwest News Network, the stations also worked together on fundraising during Public Radio Day and during other community events. The reality is that there is a finite audience that is willing to fund public radio in the greater Puget Sound area, and right now each station operating independently is not fully engaging that audience, but rather competing for it. We think it only makes sense for the community to be served by a single entity.
Comment: Yet another non-answer. They say, “we think it only makes sense…,” because they don’t have facts to back it up.
- There’s no evidence that that the stations have reached a “finite audience” for public radio.
- Each station is in fact engaging substantially with its audience and thriving financially, based on their ratings and on their fund-drives.
- There’s no sign that KPLU’s news listeners would want to listen to KUOW (on the contrary, the largest share of KPLU listeners live and work in Seattle and can hear both stations, but they choose to listen to KPLU.)
- Healthy competition through a friendly rivalry has generally pushed both stations to be better.
Did you – or will you – consider the possibility of allowing a community group to buy the license and create a community-sponsored station?
PLU thinks this agreement with KUOW makes the most sense. This is a natural union between two stations that, for many years, have shared a common mission and a common region. PLU is also contractually obligated to not solicit or encourage any competing proposals between the execution of the letter of intent and the actual closing of the transaction.
Comment: Apparently, “No,” they did not consider the other option. PLU gives another non-answer — only an assertion that selling to KUOW “makes the most sense” because the two stations operate in the same region. One could as easily say, don’t sell to KUOW because they operate in the same region. This reflects a lack of understanding of what makes the two stations distinct, a lack of understanding and respect for KPLU’s listeners and donors, and a disregard for the fact that KPLU is primarily a service not a money-making investment.
NEXT: Rebuttals 2 (coming soon) tackles a PLU blog post that aims to discredit those who oppose the sale.