The number of misleading and half-true statements by Pacific Lutheran University and by KUOW has surprised and dismayed many in the public.
Here are some examples. (More detailed rebuttals are on additional webpages.)
Expanded news service? Both parties initially claimed this will expand local news service, even though they are proposing to close one of the two newsrooms. Now, they stopped saying that KUOW will expand news; instead, KUOW will be “continuing the excellent level of journalism” – even though they won’t commit to hiring any additional news staff.
Reduce duplication? They say, “approximately 65 hours per week of news and information programming currently heard on 88.5 also airs on KUOW,” even though KUOW deliberately carves out so much of the NPR programming that NPR will not let KUOW call its show “Morning Edition” any more. (On air, KUOW says, you are listening to KUOW’s “morning news magazine.”) During a typical Monday morning (sampled recently on both stations), only one-third of the news shows was duplicated. During a week, there are 168 hours, so simple math shows any duplication is far less than half, and probably closer to one-sixth of the programming.
A merger is nothing new? PLU disingenuously implies that this is the culmination of a dozen years of talks, even though any previous talks were about combining staffs and collaborating – not dismantling one station. Previous discussions involved elaborate efforts to engage donors, staff and community leaders — but this sale was deliberately concealed and stakeholders were shut out.
Unnecessary competition? Contrary to what both parties say, the competition between the two stations hasn’t harmed either one, as evidenced by their large audiences and successful fundraising campaigns. Healthy competition seems to make the product of both stations stronger. The newsrooms are able to collaborate when they see a public benefit. But competition motivates both parties to be better, faster and more enterprising. It has pushed KPLU to differentiate its coverage, giving rise to things such as “Sound Effect” and KPLU’s news beat system (labor and science are unrepresented in KUOW’s newsroom). It’s actually a rare day when both stations assign a reporter to the same story.
Mutually beneficial? PLU uses the phrase “mutually beneficial,” but the sale is not beneficial to most KPLU listeners. They lose the station they prefer. They lose the flavor, the tone, the personalities, the features they appreciate. Simply asserting that they can now listen to KUOW news is not offering a benefit.
Radio is declining? This is more nuanced. Whether it’s declining in some cities and for commercial stations, or even for the overall NPR network — the local truth is that KPLU’s audience has grown by 21% over the past five years. KUOW’s grew by 14% last year (although it did decline by a modest 5% over five years). There is no local evidence of the end of radio listening, at least not for the NPR stations.