Tuesday, May 23, 2017


The trade publication Current has for years played an important role in the development of public media, particularly public radio and public television. Since the publication began as printed newspaper in 1980, Current has been “the news of record” for the industry.

Current is now charging $89 for individuals to subscribe for digital access and/or the print edition. Discounts are available for advertisers, station employees and access for VIPs such as licensee board members. Folks who do not subscribe can still read a handful of stories each month but they will have only limited access.


Since the dawn of the Internet, Current has made its content free online. Many people, myself included, have taken ample advantage of their largess.

Those freebie days will soon be over according to an announcement by Julie Drizin, Executive Director of Current. Drizin says that a paywall for Current’s content will be introduced in the near future. Overall, Drizin is cautiously optimistic about the change:

Julie Drizin
We are truly excited to finally give you a chance to help fund all of our content that you enjoy. We gave our content away for free, just as public radio and TV do. But that’s no longer an option for Current. The future of Current is up to you, the people of public media.

The key words are “fund all of our content.”  This is a big gamble for Current because the publication has been subsidized for most its life. Apparently, now it needs to be self sustaining.

James Fellows
James Fellows and Steve Behrens founded Current in 1980 at the behest of the National Association of Educational Broadcasters (NAEB) to promote the growth and influence of public broadcasters. 

In 1981 NAEB went out of business. Current restarted in 1982 when it found a new fiduciary, WNET-TV, New York. CPB provided much of the funding via WNET.

JJ Yore
The first “golden era” of Current began in 1986 when J.J. Yore was promoted to editor. Yore is now the GM of WAMU.  Yore is a fine journalist, an aggressive promoter and a charismatic leader.  Under Yore’s tenure, Current became an absolute “must read” for people working in public media. (Plus, people like myself who wanted to work in public media.)

Yore recruited David Giovannoni to write about radio audience research, Judith LeRoy to write about TV audience research and Skip Pizzi to write about advances in technology. 

All of these additions were subsidized by CPB. Current caused a ripple effect in the public radio biz because it focused on building audience and raising listener-sensitive revenue. This was a driving force behind public radio’s amazing audience growth.

But, Current still existed because of subsidies it received. In 1987 Current hired its first display ad salesperson, Harold Crabill. He doubled Current’s revenue within a year. Ad sales brought the publication out of the red.  In the 1990’s display ad sales were substantial and Current frequently published 100-page issues in several sections.

Things began changing in the 2000’s.  Current became “sleepy” editorially and fewer people read it. It seemed like Current gave up its leadership role and it became increasingly irrelevant. Online and social networks became the way to market new programming. WNET didn’t pay much attention to Current and the red ink began to climb again.

In 2011, WNET transferred “stewardship” (meaning fiduciary responsibility) of Current to American University’s School of Communication, where it remains today. The move to AU was subsidized in part by Wyncote Foundation.

Steve Behrens retired and Karen Everhart became the top editor.  Mike Janssen focused on building a bigger digital presence. Current hired some very talented young journalists such a Tyler Falk. In 2015 Current hired Julie Drizin to be it’s Executive Director. Also in 2015, Current began a weekly podcast, The Pub, with host Adam Ragusea.

Innovation and enterprise reporting have now returned to Current. In my opinion, Current’s editorial content has never been better. Current’s current vibe reminds me of the best of the J.J. Yore years. 

Current means a lot to public media folks like me. It is a convener, curator and leader. Current is essential to the future of public media. I hope the new self-sustaining plan succeeds and I urge you to subscribe.

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