Thursday, January 04, 2007

Breaking the money habit

I got into a discussion about public radio with someone and he said even though he listened to and enjoyed public radio he would never give money to any station unless they refused government funding, and that he had told his public radio station that. I work at KCRW, a public radio station in Los Angeles, (and occasionally for NPR, like today). KCRW gets over half of it's funding from listeners but let me tell you what we do when we get calls from listeners like this.

We ignore them.

Sorry, but even if you cross your heart, and swear on your mother’s grave, your promise that you'll pledge some money isn't going to convince us not to take the government money. And it shouldn't. KCRW and other public radio may be non-profits, but they're also businesses.

At KCRW we don't get a very high percent of our income from the government, but it's certainly more than you and your libertarian friends are going to give us, so until the government cuts us off we'll keep taking it. That's the capitalist way. It just doesn't make good business sense not to take any money the government is going to give them. In fact it makes more sense to have a lobbyist or two in Washington working on getting them money. This is true for most businesses, I think. A lobbyist working in DC can be the cheapest way to get or save money. And if a business is smart they'll want to get money in the cheapest way possible.

This was my first response. But the more I think about it, the more I think it would work. But you’d have to get a whole hell of a lot of people together.

KCRW and most of the bigger stations depend more on their listeners than the government.* Smaller, (usually rural) stations get most of their funding from the government. If all the
members were to cut their funding until they stopped taking government money then, yeah, KCRW and other large stations would be in trouble. Since the larger stations produce the shows the smaller stations buy, the smaller ones would be in trouble too.

This conversation was framed around public radio, but I think it relates to regular businesses too.

Which is easier, convincing the government to stop funding things we don’t want them to fund, or convincing businesses it’s better for them not to take government money?

Any ideas?

*As a side note, this discussion peaked my interest and I have to admit I don't know a lot of the specifics about where we get our money at KCRW. I know we get over half from memberships and (I think, it's been a while), about 1.2 million (half of the memberships) goes to NPR to pay for their programs. I know we sell underwriting spots on the air and also on our website and podcasts, (in fact, it's one of my jobs to make sure they get up there), but I don't know the percentages. I plan on asking about that next week.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, the bill of rights guarantees every citizen's right to petition its government and so lobbying or having a lobbyist is an American right.
Second, if you are a US citizen, you are the government. The folks in Washington DC are simply elected by you to represent your interests, including how you would like your tax dollars spent.
Third, the government's money is your money. You have a right if not a duty to make sure that your government spends your money in ways that you believe are most useful. That's why every year the Roper Company finds in national surveys that federal dollars spent on public braodcasting is the third or four best use fo federal dollars, following the military and national security. The same goes for your state government and for your local government.
Fourth, if someone thinks that the money they give voluntarily is better or more pure and meaningful than the money they pay through their tax dollars, they simply do not understand the finances of the country in which they live.

6:42 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Third, the government's money is your money. You have a right if not a duty to make sure that your government spends your money in ways that you believe are most useful.

The problem comes in getting the government to stop handing out the money once you've decided you don't agree with some place that they're sending it. The caller was going at it from the other direction. Instead of getting the government not to give the money, he was trying to get public radio not to take the money. Since he promises to give KCRW money if it stops taking government money I agree with your fourth point, it seems like a waste of his time. The net effect is the same, the station would be getting money from him either way.

But say you're trying to limit the size and influence of the government, and can't get the officials you elected to listen and cut funding. Getting the recipients not to take the funding by showing them they'd be better off is an interesting way around that.

4:03 PM  
Blogger Joe Bingham said...

Not to be nitpicky, but I think it piqued your interest. Hopefully it didn't peak your interest. That would mean your interest was declining. Which would be sad.

11:23 AM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Ahh yes. The joys of reading something not proofread. :) Thanks for the reminder.

And to think I was an English major...

6:53 PM  

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