Wow. Just wow.
When WNET’s Sam Toperoff retires, he really retires. Something tells me CEO Shapiro is pissed.
A brief excerpt of Toperoff’s full goodbye letter:
On my commutes to work on the E and F lines and occasionally on the Number 7 train, I’d ask people if they watched PBS. Almost no one does. They said there was very little on the air that spoke to their lives. The New York public is not merely the “Upper” East and West sides. It is these “Others” too, millions of them. And during those rare times we do program for this other New York , we do it embarrassingly, in stilted, patronizing “other” fashion. In spite of my left-wing bona fides and my high falutin’ Doctoral degree, I see our general programming for the wider public as elitist and offensive in the extreme. … But of course, when stations run on very rich people’s and Corporate money, how could it be otherwise? And when the corporation is directed by those very clever and very ambitious fellows whose careers will float them to good places no matter what, what else could we reasonably expect?
Gawker has the complete letter — well worth a read. Beautifully written, despite the dark content.
Two comments from me:
- I’d bet you real money that if you did a survey of employees at public radio and television stations across the country and got honest and accurate answers, you would find very little public television viewing. At one station I knew well, some employees who worked fervently every day to support public TV didn’t even own a TV themselves. Others just didn’t watch much TV of any kind, and if they did, public TV was a minor component of their viewing. I don’t fully understand why this is, but that’s been my experience to date. (If your experience is different, let me know!)
- I haven’t had tons of exposure to Boards, but those with which I have had contact have been filled almost exclusively with what I call “Rich White Folk” — generally the political and financial power base of the community. This is a deliberate thing, mind you. It’s intended to increase the fundraising capacity of the organization, both by bringing in well-to-do donors and their friends, and by bringing in corporate dollars those people influence or control. Sadly, it also means “public” views and needs are not well-represented; the ages of the Board members often match or exceed public TV viewing demographics, creating major programming and public service blind spots.
I often wonder what happens next, especially with public TV. Toperoff’s letter portends a difficult future. Two questions:
- Does Toperoff’s experience sound familiar or alien to you?
- If leadership is lacking, how do we fix this situation?