Feature article from the February 2012 AIRblast  

State of Our State: AIR's President Looks Ahead

By David Freedman, AIR board president

David Freedman was first elected to the AIR board in 2004 and took over as president in 2009. He is general manager of WWOZ in New Orleans and has held that position since 1992. Going forward into the new year, we asked him to reflect a bit on the "state of our state."

As I reflect on the "state of AIR" for this article, I consider how many changes we've witnessed in the past five or so years — all for the better. The decision to recruit Sue Schardt and bring her on as executive director in 2007 would head the list. She was hired with a mandate from the board to bring change to the organization and find new opportunities for producers in these changing times. Under her leadership, AIR's membership has diversified and grown in number from fewer than 600 members to 817, representing 46 states and 16 countries around the world. Each week, we continue to see more producers flocking to us. Over the last year alone, 179 producers have come along, most of them (65 percent) younger (21–34 years old) and most of them (64 percent) working as journalists. This crop of newer talent is attracted to the brain trust and experience represented by AIR's prestigious group of veteran producers representing the gold standard in public media and beyond.

AIR has become financially more stable with expanding resources and a corresponding growth in our mentoring and training programs, which collectively touch hundreds of producers across the industry each year. We've instituted new residency partnerships with KEXP, KUOW, and Jack Straw Productions, and our scholarship programs have, with the help of CPB and NEA, supported dozens of "new voices" in unprecedented ways at industry conferences. We've begun to see the "long tail" of this work, with national programs like Marketplace, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition Sunday bringing in new work from those who've passed through AIR's channels. We'll soon be hearing Why Music Matters on Weekend All Things Considered. This wonderful series was produced by one of AIR's Live Interactive Residents, Anna Boiko Weyrauch, during her 10-week stint at KEXP.

In January, NPR and AIR announced the first rate increase for producers in almost a decade. This was the result of months of discussions between AIR and NPR senior news staff, with the counsel of veteran producers Karen Michel and Jeff Lunden. AIR and NPR also agreed to work together to establish a new, online "portal" at to support and encourage new contributors.

You can count on the board and staff of AIR to continue working hard in the coming year to open more doors of opportunity. We will encourage the ripple effect of these decisions by NPR to enhance the position of our producers and the value they bring to the wider media ecosystem.

Another important front that AIR worked on last year was strengthening and enhancing the relationship between independent producers and local stations. AIR joined forces with our "sister" organization, ITVS – the Independent Television Service, to commission a benchmark study on the role of independent journalists in public media. One of the findings was that many radio independents have strong relationships with their local public media stations. But we believe those relationships could be even stronger. With PRPD, and with our contributions to their annual programming conference in Baltimore, I believe that — together — we succeeded in building new and exciting bridges between independent producers and station programmers. The Localore Station Runway is the most powerful testimony of our success, and I have a feeling that the nearly 8,500 unique visitors who've taken time to watch it would agree.

The year past marked the first time in many years that AIR was able to bring to producers health and discount liability insurance through a new partnership with Fractured Atlas. Many have passed through our McAnally Portal to benefits and services since we opened it early in 2011.

I feel confident that these new strides with key organizations bode well for another year of strong progress in forging new and productive partnerships.

And while I had the pleasure to preside over AIR's increasing good fortunes, I have also been blessed to have, in this position at AIR, a front-row seat at the rapidly burgeoning world of digital convergence cutting across our industry, which will, in my opinion, provide so many more opportunities for the folks closest to my heart: you — AIR members who make up the independent, creative class!

One of the most exciting developments I've observed is to see AIR emerge as the leader in the field of public media innovation. We broke new ground with MQ2 in 2008 and 2009, when CPB invited AIR and independent producers to help figure out how to turn the corner from public radio and move into integrated public media. Now, with Localore, we're writing some new pages in the handbook of change. Under Sue's leadership, we have seen emerge a new model of advocacy — through demonstration we are bringing home to many across the system that our vibrant constituency of producers is a vital asset. We are proving that calling on AIR's resources, and those of independent producers, can benefit the entire system. Dave Kanzeg, PD at the IdeaStream in Cleveland, wrote to us, thanking AIR for Localore. "It's the right idea at the right time."

With this new work, AIR is providing a meaningful place for producers. We're working hand in hand with the stations and the networks toward the wider mission and business model of the public media ecosystem. It is another example of the ways in which we are, through our programs, enriching AIR's brain trust, influencing the perceived value of producers, and expanding the opportunities for collaboration, networking, and revenue development.

It is my intention that AIR will continue to keep the home fires burning on our core franchise of sound, and also expand and explore — indeed, define and create those multimedia opportunities that the mitotic growth of the mediascape portends.

I am so very pleased to report that, over the past three years, your board has grown in stature and organization. Never in recent memory have AIR's board committees been more active or productive. This is vital to ensuring that we have a vibrant and healthy organization. We are working to revise the bylaws — for the first time since AIR was founded nearly 24 years ago! We are strengthening our financial/accounting systems and implementing new policies to keep apace with our growth.

I speak for our executive director, board, and staff when I assure you of our hope and optimism for the year ahead. There are more corners to turn, and, as we progress and grow, the board and staff will continue to take on the important challenge of adapting this amazing organization to serve the best interests of our growing and changing membership. We are committed to our core, long-standing membership and, at the same time, to extending the tent poles with the vitality of a new generation coming our way.

Our commitment to the highest standards of craft is universal. Our dedication is to the public service idealism, which — with others across the system — makes the work of AIR and the producers we represent more important than ever.

I urge anyone who appreciates the importance of AIR as an advocate for and guardian angel of independent producers to contact either Sue or me — ask for a committee assignment, work your way onto the board, and eventually, write the next glorious chapter of the president's report. It's a chapter I very much look forward to reading!

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