Mitt Romney wants to fire Big Bird?

Big Bird and fellow cast members

Big Bird and friends, looking pretty good for 42-year-olds

Mitt Romney has taken a lot of flak lately for his comments about ending government funding for public broadcasting. I’m not sure why — except that the public memory is short. Many conservatives have called for pulling the plug on public broadcasting support for, like, ever.

A huge inroad into plug pulling was made in the mid-80s, and a lot of chiseling has gone on since.

I’m not a fan of Romney’s. And I don’t want to see federal funding dry up for some of the programming we associate with public broadcasting.

But I would like to see local government get out of the public broadcasting business. And this is a great time to revisit this topic.

Currently, the federal government makes up 15% of public broadcasting support, and 95¢ of every dollar goes to support local stations and the programs and services they offer.

I can’t speak for independently run public broadcasting affiliates, but I do believe that asking states to be in the media business is a mistake.

Three tenets are at work here:

  1. State-appointed media people are a bad idea.The president of any state-run affiliate is appointed by the governor or by a state board of some sort. Often, these are not people with cultural vision. TV stations, particularly culturally driven ones, must be run by people with vision and energy. Let’s take applications. Let’s hire a task force. Whatever needs to be done to avoid situations such as what happened to Maryland Public Television in the late 80s and even now. (To wit, vision was lost along with federal dollars, and those who rose into management positions were often not qualified for the jobs — even though they’d earned a “state raise” and ended up in management.)
  2. Running a TV station that must adhere to state rules and regulations ham strings that station.
  3. The busier a station is, the more competitive and better trained are its employees. Many public television stations, like MPT’s, look like virtual ghost towns these days. No one wants to work there, and no one is getting the top-notch training and production experiences they need to grow.

I short, I can foresee someone with vision taking over a public television affiliate, stocking it with companies and individuals who understand writing, production, programming, and distribution, and running the operation as a cooperative. A business.

Imagine how a tight-knit group of local service providers could fill the needs of a public television station while simultaneously stimulating their own business. I don’t know how it would work specifically, but I do know it could work, bringing additional work in for the service providers as well as filling the needs of a variety of local nonprofits and other businesses.


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