At a sometimes contentious business meeting on Saturday 6/24, the Public Radio News Directors (PRNDI) decided to NOT change the name of the organization.
Former PRNDI President George Bodarky had championed a new name – the Association of Public Media Journalists (APMJ) – and a broader membership vision that included digital journalists. PRNDI members who have voting privileges said “no way.”
Inside PRNDI, some member’s opinions count more than others because only folks with the title “news director” can vote. They get one vote per station. So KWIT, Sioux City’s vote is equal to WBUR's vote. With this criteria it is easy for an entrenched minority of members to run the whole show. That is exactly what happened at the PRNDI annual meeting in St. Louis.
THE TERM “RADIO” AS A SYMBOL OF “CONTROL”
Amy Jefferies from KCUR, Kansas City, provided an excellent and dispassionate description of the meeting [link] in a news release. What follows are excerpts from her reporting:
Public Radio s Directors Inc. will continue to be known as “PRNDI”. Objections largely centered around dropping “radio” and how a new name should encompass digital.
According to a survey conducted earlier this year, PRNDI represents over 1,100 full-time working journalists at the 120 public radio stations in its membership, including news managers, digital editors, reporters, and producers. That doesn’t even count the 200-plus part-time journalists, educators, consultants, and trainers who are also part of the membership.
A year ago, changes to PRNDI’s bylaws were adopted, opening up at-large positions on the board to station newsroom staffers who are not “news directors.”
[NOTE FROM KEN: Though the change expanded who could become a PRNDI member, new members are prohibited from deciding organization policies unless they are “news directors.”]
[After the name change was proposed] came the outcry from the floor. “I recognize there is new media,” said Brian O'Keefe of WDCB in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. “But this is an organization of radio journalists.” Erin Hennessey of KPLU in Seattle, Washington said she, “couldn’t love radio more,” but wanted a name change for PRNDI that could bridge radio and digital. “I think the most important word in that name is 'journalists',” she said.
Alicia Zuckerman of WLRN in Miami…and others also expressed concern that the proposed “Association of Public Media Journalists” did not connote PRNDI’s long-standing focus on news managers.
Without another change to the bylaws – and none is on the table – [another member] noted that the power of the organization would continue to be held primarily by public radio newsroom management.
The back and forth ended after the membership… voted against a name change altogether.
WHO CAN BE A “PUBLIC MEDIA JOURNALIST?”
As we reported on January 8, 2016 [link], Bodarky advocated the name change to signal a strategic expansion of the scope of the organization’s purpose.
In January Bodarky told me:
To the outside world, the name “PRNDI” indicates we’re simply a “club” of public radio news directors. But, as those of us on the inside know, PRNDI is an organization that represents all journalists in public radio newsrooms.
Bodarky said the goal of the change was to establish the organization as the premiere trade organization for public media journalists. Bodarky hoped the new name and wider scope of service would add new members and boost conference attendance.
But now that isn’t going to happen. Bodarky could not be reached for comment.
KEN’S TAKE: AN OPPORTUNITY MISSED (Commentary)
I have worked on-and-off with PRNDI for over two decades. I first joined PRNDI when I was Director of News at Public Radio International (PRI). At that time, PRNDI was mainly intended to be an interface with NPR’s newsroom.
PRNDI’s role in the system changed in the early 1990s when Tripp Sommer from KLCC, Eugene became President. In addition to working with NPR, Sommer turned the organization’s focus towards the needs of news-producing stations. More training, workshops and inter-station dialogue became important parts of the mission.
Sommer also established the notion that PRNDI could play a larger role in the public radio system. He wanted PRNDI to have a place at public radio table with the PRPD and management. I worked with Sommer and NPR’s John Dinges to create Independence and Integrity: A Guidebook for Public Radio Journalism (1995) based in part on opinion gathering meetings at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida.
This philosophy continued with Peter Iglinski, Michael Marcotte and George Bodarky. Always in the background lurked the feeling by some members that PRNDI was only for and about radio stations news directors. To me, PRNDI resembles a closed-shop union.