Public Radio (and Homelands) in the Spotlight

If you have a chance, please take a look at Bill McKibben’s article about public radio in the latest New York Review of Books. He makes the case that radio, which receives no critical attention whatsoever, remains an extraordinarily important, and extraordinarily vibrant, social institution. He talks with some of our good friends and colleagues about the state of both the art and the business, and cites Homelands Productions as one of the independent groups that keeps the establishment from becoming too, well, establishmentarian. If you’re a public radio fan but still don’t know the difference between NPR, PRI, APM and PBS (hint: the last one is a TV network), the article is a helpful guide to how the system works.

McKibben devotes some paragraphs to the financial challenges facing some of public radio’s more creative enterprises. (A post by Jesse Walker on today’s Reason blog, which also mentions Homelands, suggests that indies like us might be a better investment than big networks and stations.) We may be in the midst of a radio boom, but these are precarious times. Everyone from the NPR megalith to artisanal one- and two-person shops is in search of a business model. That search is not just difficult and slow; it almost inevitably leads into ethical thickets. So much journalism is now being paid for by advocacy groups, corporate advertising departments, and foundations with political or social agendas. And so many producers, itching to dive into the world of stories, find themselves lashed to their desks, spending their days writing fundraising letters, explaining why storytelling matters.