Opening Remarks at PRNDI 2019

Jun 15, 2019

Nancy Barnes and Alicia Zuckerman following opening remarks for PRNDI 2019
Credit Raymon Troncoso

The PRNDI 2019 conference began with opening remarks from Alicia Zuckerman, PRNDI's Board President, who discussed a possible name change for the organization, and  Nancy Barnes, NPR's Senior Vice President of News, who covered the role of public media and newsroom collaboration.

Zuckerman, who is also the Editorial Director for WLRN in Miami, highlighted the history of PRNDI during her speech. Last year the organization hired its first full-time employees after being lead almost entirely by volunteers throughout its history.

For Zuckerman, it was just the first step in redefining the role of PRNDI. The next is renaming it.

"I believe the proposed new name, Public Media Journalists Association, better captures who we are, and where we're going," she said.

During Saturday's business lunch, PRNDI attendees will vote via their smartphones on whether PRNDI will retain its name or become PMJA.

Zuckerman said PMJA would be a more inclusive name and would acknowledge newsroom leaders aren't just directors.

"They're producers, reporters, and editors," she said. "They are interns."

At the conclusion of Zuckerman's speech she introduced Barnes, referencing her achievements at the Houston Chronicle and Minneapolis Star Tribune before joining NPR in November.

"I'm guessing the transition from newspapers to public radio sounds familiar," Zuckerman quipped.

Barnes began her remarks by discussing the transition from print to radio, which she said mirrors journalism in the world today. The for-profit model for journalism has resulted in the massive die-off of local and regional newspapers. Success stories in the industry, like the New York Times and the Washington Post, have proven to be the exception, not the rule. 

Barnes said corporate owners of newspapers have valued profit first and serving the public second.

"It is increasingly going to fall to the non-profit world to fill the gaping gaps," she said. "Nothing short of our democracy is at stake."

To explain how to accomplish this task, Barnes segued into what has become a major theme at PRNDI this year, and what is becoming a top priority at NPR for the next several years: collaboration.

After establishing a collaborative network of stations in Texas, NPR is working to introduce a hub model to regions around the country. The goal is to pool resources and improve the quality and depth of reporting at the national, state, and local levels.

Barns said the endeavor will take years to accomplish. The Texas collaboration was concieved and planned over a five-year period before its launch this year. Barnes said she embraced the challenge, and that prompted a well-received comment to follow.

"While I'm told executives don't always last at NPR, I am committed to staying and seeing this through," she said to laughter in the audience.

Over the past decade, NPR has seen frequent turnover of its chief executives. Barnes' predecessor, Mike Oreskes, was ousted from NPR after being accused of sexual harassment in 2017. He was in the job for two years.

Barnes took questions from the audience about the developing hub system and the profitability of podcasts.. While she didn't quote specific numbers, she said the Texas stations' collaboration has increased underwriting for all members, and that for NPR, podcasts have paid for themselves and generated enough profit to support other projects in the newsroom.

While Barnes doesn't think a one-size fits all approach will work for every newsroom, she said there's no reason each station can't enjoy the same success with similar tactics.