Why Is New York City Planning to Sell and Shrink Its Libraries?

Defend our libraries, don't defund them. . . . . fund 'em, don't plunder 'em

Mayor Bloomberg defunded New York libraries at a time of increasing public use, population growth and increased city wealth, shrinking our library system to create real estate deals for wealthy real estate developers at a time of cutbacks in education and escalating disparities in opportunity. It’s an unjust and shortsighted plan that will ultimately hurt New York City’s economy and competitiveness.

It should NOT be adopted by those we have now elected to pursue better policies.

Friday, January 18, 2019

WBAI Radio- An Important Voice- Keeping It Meaningful & Alternative (Library Defenders Running For Its Local Station Board)

With the consolidation of most media into just six conglomerates and the pervasive influence of monied interests, it is increasing important that alternatives to the dominant corporate narratives be preserved and remain strong and grow more robust.  WBAI Radio is a rare asset to which we still have recourse as an alternative, and it is particularly important as a terrestrial broadcasting signal, which, when it broadcasts the kind of subversive, transgressive content capable of changing things, can remain off the grid and avoid manipulation (unlike the digital conduits for communication that we are increasingly shunted towards).

WBAI was one of the few media outlets that has been giving Citizens Defending Libraries, and the news about the selling off libraries substantial and somewhat regular coverage, particularly, for example on WBAI’s Morning Show.

WBAI needs to be strong, strongly supported and there is critical value in its growing stronger still.

There are things everyone can do to support and strengthen the station:
    •    Listen to the station.  Familiarize yourself with what you can find there and let others know about shows broadcast on it such as FAIR’s Counterspin, The Project Censored Show, national news throughout the week on Democracy Now, local news coverage via the Morning Show, media critiques with satirically informed asides via the Jimmy Dore Show, Law and Disorder.  Increased listenership ripples outward in its effect bringing more awareness, resources and contributors.  It also qualifies the station for more public broadcasting funds.

    •    Provide the station with feedback about the content broadcast on WBAI that you like or that you don’t enjoy (that much) so that programming can continually improve.  We know that some people don’t always appreciate all of what they hear on WBAI, but listener feedback and participation can help steer where the station goes, keeping it on track and on mission, plus making changes when changes make sense.  It is also important to know that the station has long been suffering through, and is only now just catching up from, a period where it was drastically under-resourced in its efforts to generate quality broadcasts.  That was a result of 9/11 and the ensuing drain of exorbitantly expensive antenna charges that have finally been eliminated (plus the effects of Superstorm Sandy).

    •    Contribute to WBAI.  WBIA is truly a listener supported station.  That’s unlike the WNYC stations where, when we checked recently, WNYC was getting only about 30% of its support from listener membership dollars.  Those WNYC listener support dollars have to compete with the rest of the funding from corporate sponsorships and from the sort of very wealthy individuals typically associated with those kinds of corporations and interests.  That’s almost certainly why, if you listen attentively to WNYC programming, you will find that much of it more and more often reflects a corporatist bent. . . . WBAI produces what it airs with a much smaller budget than WNYC, so each dollar listeners give to WBAI supports a much greater proportion of the station’s overall programming.   Having done some rough calculations, we work it that each listener dollar currently given to WBAI supports, on a proportional basis, 62 times as much of the station’s overall content production: Each listener dollar released into WBAI’s shoestring budget pond swims there as a much bigger fish.* You should also know that there is crossover point where additional dollars going to WBAI, transition from being survival dollars to being dollars that can go straight into significant upgrades of the content it delivers.
            (* Of course only “rough” comparisons are possible.  If you think of WNYC listener dollars as being `leveraged’ by the corporate dollars, you might think of them as supporting more of the overall programming, but if you think of those listener dollars as first having to wrestle with and neutralize the effect of the much greater corporate funding then you will think of those dollars as ultimately funding even less programming.  There are also webcasting streams, web accessible archives and podcasts associated with both WBAI and WNYC.  Further, WNYC, with its FM, and AM station and its also running the WQXR Classical stations, two of them taking into account the HD, High Definition broadcasting, that WNYC does, means that WNYC could be thought of as three or four stations thus allowing one to do the calculations that assume WNYC listener dollars go slightly further in catching up.  In the future though, WBAI’s new, much less expensive, antenna is also capable of HD broadcasting which means that WBAI can itself start broadcasting three terrestrial HD broadcasts simultaneously on its 99.5 signal.)
   •    Volunteer at WBAI.

   •    Vote in the WBAI elections to elect members to the Local Station Board.  If you have been contributing to WBAI (that can include volunteer work contributions) in the prior year you should be on the look out for your ballot for the local station board elections.  If you haven’t been contributing during the past year, it is a reason to start contributing now so you will be eligible to vote next election.  (If you contribute signing up as as a WBAI Buddy you won't have to remember to renew.)  This year there are names of people running that library defenders will recognize as other library defenders in the fight t save NYC libraries: Citizen Defending Libraries co-founders Carolyn McIntyre and Michael D. D. White, Katherine O’Sullivan from the fight to save the Inwood Library and Michael Jankowitz.  Those familiar with defnding libraries will also recognize some other additional names of people who have been very helpfully involved.  Considerations about who to vote for follow below.     The fight to protect WBAI as an information commons obviously involves a significant overlap with the fight to defend the libraries.
The governance structure of WBAI is a trifle intricate.  The power of WBAI’s Local Station board is somewhat limited in that much of the decision-making with respect to programming is handled by the national Pacifica Foundation board of which WBAI has been an affiliate since the beginning of the 1960s.  But the WBAI board appoints some of the members of the Pacifica board, and, after serving on the Local Station Board for a qualifying period, members become eligible to be appointed to the national board.  There is also a third board, the Community Advisory Board, which is one mechanism through which the public can give feedback to the station about content and shows WBAI broadcasts.

The key issue of this local station board election involves whether WBAI might be sold and lost to the public: This means lost in terms of what has historically made the station great; in terms of what its mission statement dictates WBAI should to aspire; and what WBAI can be in the future.  The station could also be lost in other ways than through an outright sale: It might be lost through a lease or through other more subtle legal mechanisms that would surrender programming decisions and control so that the station would no longer be nimble and able to accountably respond to listeners and supporters with the programming they want.

Recently a great deal of effort has been put into eliminating financial handicaps faced by the station by transitioning the station to a new, better, far less expensive antenna arrangement and improving WBAI’s accounting to ensure it qualifies for public broadcasting funds and keeps its tax exempt status secure.  The same people who worked to do that are also working hard to ensure that the station and its programing independence and accountability to listeners are not lost through sale or lease of the station or by any other more complex, harder-to-understand legal arrangements.   

In this age of rampant privatization we cannot afford to lose such an important public asset, another public commons essential for free voices to be heard.  And, as noted above, protecting WBAI as a free and open channel for information distinct from what gets filtered through mainstream corporate sources has much in common with the fight to save libraries and ensure that those libraries remain robustly stocked with a full range of books. 
Flyer about election- Click to enlarge, download or print
A mailing went around to WBAI listeners (see above) endorsing a slate of candidates for the local station board, including the candidates known from the library fight mentioned above, who are opposing the sale or lease of the station (or surrender of program decision making).  Those candidates are known as the “Indy” or “Independent” slate.  (There is a website- with pics- furnishing information about the Indy candidates). . .

. . .  Local Station Board elections are run according to a form of instant run-off voting, something we approve of.  Not all forms of instant run-off voting are the same and the devil is in the details.  Voters can vote for whomever they want, but it has been explained to us that the way that the system works in this instance is that votes will go the furthest in electing the greatest number of candidates from this slate if voters rank their candidates from the slate in the same order. .  At least to a reasonably close degree.  (Votes for other candidates than these would work against the election of candidates from this slate.)
Back of flyer about election- Click to enlarge, download or print
This suggested ranking is not a reflection of particular candidates, but it does mean that to elect the most candidates firmly opposing the sale or lease of the station in any way shape of form, it is probably best to follow the suggested ranking of the widely circulated flyer, which flyer also took in some guess-spectations about which candidates will top the list as vote recipients.

Let’s save and protect the libraries. . . And let’s also work to make sure that WBAI is the best most robust station serving the public interest that it can be.

* * * *

The ranking of Indy candidates in the flyer is:
    1.    Randy Credico
    2.    Alex Steinberg
    3.    Mitchel Cohen
    4.    Carolyn McIntyre
    5.    Michael D. D. White
    6.    Marilyn Vogt-Downey
    7.    Carolyn Birden
    8.    Jim Dingeman
    9.    Linda Zises
    10.    Katherine O’Sullivan
    11.    Shatia Strother
    12.    Jack De Palma
    13.    Michael Jankowitz
    14.    Michael Lardner
    15.    Neale Vos
    16.    Maxine Harrison-Gallmon
For WBAI staff members (who vote separately) the flyer ranks:
    1.    Max Schmid
    2.    Shawn Rhodes
    3.    R. Paul Martin
    4.    Paul DeRienzo
For more information about the candidates and to read their full statements and their answers to the Pacifica’s questions for LSB candidates go to the Pacifica Foundation site: Pacifica Election Candidate List (or click on the links above for particular candidates).
(DISCLAIMER: As should probably be obvious, this post is a Citizens Defending Libraries product, and is not the result of or through any affiliation with WBAI or Pacifica.)
The statements of Citizens Defending Libraries co-founders Carolyn McIntyre and Michael D. D. White are below (+ click on link for Q&As):
Statement of Carolyn E. McIntyre
As a social worker, therapist, and Co-Founder of Citizens Defending Libraries, I am actively dealing with social and environmental justice issues in the face of growing inequality and the disempowerment of diverse community voices.  I see WBAI as having an increasingly important role in providing a forum for underrepresented voices.  The WBAI market is the largest market and with listenership much lower than what it used to be; there is much that can be done to change that.  My husband, Michael White, and I have hosted forums on Where Do You Get Your News, Voter Disenfranchisement, and the Sell-Off of Public Assets including public libraries, NYCHA housing, public parks and public schools.  We have been a supporter and contributor of WBAI and have been guests on the WBAI Morning Show.  It is an integral part of my social work values and personal ethics to value the worth of all as well as the environment and foster compassion, the felt sense that we are all connected.  I seek to keep WBAI on the air and listener supported, protecting it from exploitative real estate contracts, protect the signal from being sold off, providing outlets for whistle blowers and under-represented democracy protectors.  I would like to greatly expand the WBAI memberships and listenership, grow the volunteer culture with live events and events live streamed from places like The Commons and regain grant money from Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Statement of Michael D. D. White
I want to be on the board of WBAI because I think it is essential that WBAI grow, strengthen and thrive to perform the role that only a truly listener supported public radio station like WBAI (eschewing corporate-mindset sponsors) can: Offering a variety of rich and wide-ranging counter narratives to the constrained and in many ways often destructive memes of that pass for “public discourse” in the mainstream corporate media.  On an X Y axis, the content of WBAI should, on the one hand, be about what is most critical to the public interest, and, on the other hand, it should provide the information and insight that tend to be most buried and censored today by the monied interests controlling most media access.  I envision WBAI as a discovery porthole through which any listener tuning in can discover what they are unlikely to discover elsewhere that is important to their understanding of the world, its past, and our possible futures.  That includes regularly providing pointers toward sources for further information and exploration (including other WBAI and Pacifica programming).

WBAI programing should be alert for the fresh, new and surprising that will enthrall listeners and keep them curious, turned in and coming back for more.  At the same time history lets us connect the dots to hold power accountable and put the present in context.  We need to be able to depend on WBAI to transgress conventional media boundaries, escaping the usual ruts other media falls into (while not falling into ruts of our own).  The most effective guide star for escape?: integrity!

Let’s recognize how powerful it is that the New York metro broadcast area WBAI serves is the nation’s largest. Furthermore, New York is a hub of media production and WBAI needs to respond to the culture based here with a meta-awareness and media-literate criticality of how other New York-based media institutions don’t serve the public faithfully.  This could be great fun, liberating and involving for our audience.  It could also launch syndication of several nationally relevant programs.  Similarly, WBAI broadcasts should showcase the best nationally relevant Pacifica programs . .

But, WBAI also needs to take advantage of the rich local flavor of New York for programming that addresses local issues.  WBAI needs to distinguish itself by sinking its teeth into local news coverage, because local news coverage in NYC is embarrassingly poor, so much of it bowing to influence, ownership and control of the real estate industry, which is to local politics what oil money is to national politics.

Lastly, and quite important, there are many reasons why WBAI needs to continue broadcasting its signal terrestrially to the New York metropolis via its antenna.  Reasons that get discussed too little are that dissemination of thoughts and ideas and real time building community in such fashion is less subject to surveillance and cannot be throttled, censored or neutralized by internet algorithms, or if net neutrality is abolished.  

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