Conferences are one of those moments where you get education as well as inspiration. You meet gifted people and courageous organizations doing remarkable things. You get fueled up intellectually. You come away with ideas to try out, tools to check, and new ways of thinking about media.
NFCB’s 40th annual conference is just in the rear view mirror. In addition to visits by the likes of Malkia Cyril, Amy Goodman and June Fox, we hosted a range of conversations on journalism, digital strategy, development, fundraising, and engagement. It was a dizzying display at many points, with a few hundred attendees from 38 states and several countries packed in among exhibitors, a stream of social media activity, and dozens of sessions to attend. However, so many left with good memories and hopeful views on the medium of non-commercial radio. Mike Henry of Paragon Media Strategies captured the feeling beautifully in his recent blog post.
Leaving NFCB’s conference, a few experiences were striking:
Gender diversity and youth shifts are underway. A lot gets made of aging demographics in public media. Much is also made of the dominance of men in leadership roles. On the ground, inside and outside the public radio ecosystem, these dynamics are changing dramatically. Digital has indelibly changed radio. More and more young people are drawn to the unique experience that radio provides, are involved in stations, and want to be the new generation of general managers, program directors, and journalists. In Denver, scores of young women leaders are coming up through community stations and represent a crucial voice. Checking analytics on NFCB’s conference mobile guide, the most checked session by attendees was Women Leaders in Public Media, which saw a packed room, even though it was the final day, last track of the conference. Community radio has often crowed (and rightfully so) that it has the kind of community involvement the big kids’ table of public media wants. It seems as though we’re starting to see such engagement include new producers, talent and station leaders.
Collaboration is strength. As many sessions demonstrated, the power of collaboration is where media is headed. It is easy for a station or a producer to go it alone or have reasons why working with others can be challenging. Yet even successful organizations don’t have the money they used to, and partnering with others can yield fantastic results. As a connector and convener, NFCB helps stations and producers find like-minded people to grow projects. Partnerships and alliances cultivate news coverage capacity, amplify important stories, and strengthen the possibility of collective impact. Collaboration is not only the wave of the future but also the wave of the present.
LPFM offers something special. Sitting in during a full house for the LPFM Summit and moderating panels with real stars like Mike Starling of WHCP, I was impressed by the determination, community investment and passion that informs so much of hyperlocal microradio, typified by low-power FM. NFCB has become a home for so many LPFMs because it offers community, support, and infrastructure to stations that are oftentimes starting literally from the ground up. Many more got linked up to NFCB through the LPFM Summit and conference. There’s a lot going for LPFM: service, localism and diversity are a few pluses that come to mind. Sustainability seems to be the big puzzle for LPFM, and one has to anticipate NFCB will be in that mix of finding a formula to help these grassroots outlets flourish and shine brighter.
Race and culture still matter. Post-racial idealism feels like a sardonic joke of sorts, as the world struggles with nativism, the rise of race and gender-based crimes, and inappropriate policing as part of the equality and fairness debate all over the globe. Community media makers understand the necessity of these dialogs today because they are living them, not merely observing them. From a host of podcasts (be it Code Switch, Mash-Up Americans, or any of the other great options) to more and more local radio, listeners want to hear about our changing world. Diversity was part of so many discussions at NFCB’s conference in no small part to acknowledge this trend. Where public media of years past might have avoided these conversations as controversial, the state of Black America, the impact of Donald Trump on Latino voters and related topics are in demand today. In addition, never more has a visit about tolerance, acceptance and understanding seemed more needed. Conference presenter Stacia Brown offered her perspective in this Washington Post article.
We are better together. For four decades, NFCB has been a home for unique media organizations, producers, and community radio innovators. The organization has both station and individual membership levels for those wanting a network like NFCB to be a part of. More importantly, conferences like our meeting in Denver show just how necessary, in these economic and cultural times, unity is for community media. Non-members of NFCB are encouraged to join anytime at nfcb.org/join.