Local Is Our Mission: Martha Foley's Leo C. Lee Acceptance Speech

Jun 27, 2019

On Saturday June 15, 2019, Martha Foley from North Country Public Radio became the 27th person to receive the Leo C. Lee Award. 

Below is the transcript of Martha's speech presented at the PRNDI Awards Banquet in Washington:

Hi everyone - it’s such an honor to be standing here with you all. Thinking of all the other LEO C LEE award winners. 

It’s humbling, daunting and makes me very very proud. Thank - you. Thanks to the board for all the hard work getting us all here for this conference, keeping the PRNDI now PMJA — flame alive. 

Thanks to all my old friends here. All of you have supported me and our work in your own ways, some directly as mentors and resources — go-tos in a pinch, or for some deep head-scratching over the years.

And to all the new people…I’m so glad you’ve found this organization. This is an amazing crowd, truly.

PRNDI has been so much help to me in so many ways. I encourage you to make the most of the people you meet here, the opportunities they represent — the resources here are broad and deep and growing, and available. 

I think we all need each other. And seriously, huge thanks to my wonderful co-workers in then NCPR newsroom, present and past, — they ‘re just theist — and my amazing station leadership.. supportive, visionary and hands-off!  I give thanks for our culture of journalism.

And let’s be honest — I’m here making this speech — standing in and speaking out again for local newsrooms. Small, maybe rural, quirky station-based news operations.

So.. since I’m here as a stand-in for small and local ….

How to be a good local station with limited resources? Small and mighty? There’s no secret sauce. 

Find good people and keep them (that’s a big part of management, for me). They’ll attract other good people and they will push - lift - everyone up. 

Work hard. We have a big news hole and we just push to fill it every day. 

Get out of the building.  

Don’t waste time. Do spend time on building your team and keeping it together. We do that in the little things, day by day. We have fun, we laugh a lot.  it’s a very collaborative shop. We try to get better and better and just keep at it. 

Local is our mission. 

But we’ve been involved in a lot of national conversations. Me at PRNDI, our PD on the PRPD board for years, and our GM on the NPR board for years…always sticking for the little guys, the real stations. And that’s been incredibly valuable to us over the year. Just being there.

Most of you have heard the founding story of PRNDI — to get together and complain about NPR..and how we were left out. 

We have made our voices heard and we do have a seat a the table now. But I’ll tell you, it wasn’t easy as an organization or as individual stations —- I think we’ve proved our value - hence the hub attempt to capitalize on the good work of local stations in a more rational way. 

To make “the biggest, most bad-ass news organization anywhere” - quoting John Dankosky there.

It’s about time. 

But now I worry the little stations will get left behind again. Or lose their identity, their rooted-ness. Which IS a big part  of our value to the collective enterprise of journalism we’re outlining. Don’t let that slip away!!

You can read everywhere about how local newsrooms are slipping away.

Yesterday, my station reported that four little local newspapers in our area are closing down, including, the St. Lawrence Plaindealer, which gave me my first real job .

Closed down — by the regional, family-owned independent newspaper that had bailed  them out a few years ago.  

This is awful.  It’s also a huge opportunity.. for us. And a huge  responsibility. To collaborate for the greater good…not just for the national or statewide news, but also for the LOCAL.

I came to the conference with a lot of skepticism questions about hubs and collaboratives.

I’ve learned a lot in the last two days.

Collaborations are clearly going to be a huge game changer for our business. Has to happen, is happening in some regions invidious formal and informal ways. 

I till have a bunch of questions and worries… I’ve asked a bunch of people how small, rural stations will actually benefit. I mean actually.

Sharing content and/or a reporter or engagement tips with a small station is a start — but it takes more than that to sustain a newsroom. It takes a healthy, sustainable  station with  an ingrained culture of journalism.

Economic and demographic trends are working against my rural station and we’re certainly not alone. I worry that we’re topping out in traditional membership — too many cows and trees — and our major donor pool is tiny and largely seasonal people anyway. 

So my heart really fluttered yesterday  to hear collaborations framed not only in terms of the journalism — that they will create for us and the country.

But also as a means to solve a huge national problem of resources, and theoretically grow audience and resources locally as well.

I hope you all are managing up as hard as you can on that piece — because the pencil pushers may not be as inspired as we are.

I’m a “muller” —- I’m still thinking.  

I have a lot of notes from the past 2 days. I will refrain from sharing all of them…But one last thing on collaborations —-

I want to share this quote from Bruce Auster toward the end of  the collaboration session yesterday : “It’s happening already. The foundations are there. Don’t wait for NPR”   

Here’s where I get back to PRNDI— PMJA  — good name change to Public Media Journalist Association — the name has caught up with the reality. 

We need all the new skills and ideas and energy we can get, all in one place —- with good leadership — whether you’re called News Directors or not. 

I’m pretty thrilled by the turnout at the conference. 

And at the business meeting — and the board member elections….So many candidates  - it was amazing: and there was suspense…there was a runoff!  

I’m also so encouraged that there’s a renewal of interest from big stations… that’s just really wonderful. We need you. And I’m excited that  there ARE so many big stations. 

This trend here is most definitely up. Keep speaking up — representing in the national conversation, and training, training, training. 

I’m happy to be retiring next month. 

But I see incredibly exciting, intense and important work in your future.

Onward and Upward!