By Sam Burnham
I'm writing an article that I would not have written five years ago. I'm writing an article that I would have been angry about ten years ago. I'm writing an article that I feel I have to write today. I'm writing an article that I think you need to read today.
In the interest of disclosure, I feel I have to write this article out of self interest. It's also a matter of friendship, loylty, and gratitude. But it has also become a matter of conviction for me.
The first time I entered the building at Georgia Public Broadcasting was in the summer of 1997. I was working my first job out of college. The company I was working for was a vendor providing a service for GPB and I was there overseeing a delivery. I mostly remember seeing that floor in the lobby. I wondered how much it must have cost the taxpayers that fund public media. There were well-dressed people shuffling in and out and going and doing whatever and all Icould think was "your tax dollars at work."
Flash forward almost 19 years.
I received an email from Linda Chen in late 2015. She was a producer for On Second Thought. She was inviting me to appear as a guest contributor for the Breakroom segment that the show produces the last half of each Friday broadcast. The entire purpose of the show is to build a diverse group of thinkers to thoughtfully discuss topics and disagree with each other like grown ups. You know, without screaming and fighting.
And so in early 2016 I returned to the GPB building and walked onto that same lobby floor - a floor that didn't look one day older than it did in 1997 because it is made of highly durable materials that are readily available in Georgia. And then Taylor Gantt, another OST producer ushered me up to the green room where I met the show's host, Celeste Headlee.
And THEN I really saw your tax dollars, and the dollars of thousands of donors, at work. I saw what a dedicated staff of young journalists and the future of radio can do with a limited budget and less than excellent equipment. And they gave me, a conservative (with a nasty libertarian streak) from the sticks, equal time to share my opinions in a marketplace of ideas while drinking some really good donated coffee. I have no doubt that many of you are reading this because you heard me spouting some crazy cemetery ephiany on OST.
But it isn't just the Breakroom. And it isn't even just OST. That same studio is home to Bill Nigut's Political Rewind where so many of my other ideas are shared as tweets that I send in to the show as they cover our local and state political news. Three times a week Bill calls in a panel of folks to give well-balanced commentary and reporting on politics as it pertains to Georgia.
The local programming also includes segments of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. The local programming is where I've heard stories on Brian Brown of Vanishing South Georgia, Jon Jackson and his work with veterans with PTSD doing therapy on his farm near Milledgeville, and the work to document hundreds of unmarked graves in the old black section of Atlanta's formerly segregated Historic Oakland Cemetery. These are stories you won't find on commercial media.
Do I ever hear left leaning programming? Yes, the commentary shows that are produced elsewhere do tend to have a lean to the left. But the local programming is bringing real Georgian stories to Georgians every day of the week. This programming combines with top-notch national and world news provided by NPR. This is national caliber news on a state and local level. It's good, it's honest, and it's fair. The shame is that if funding is cut from the budget it isn't going to hurt left learning programming produced by well-funded northeastern stations.. It's going to hurt these local programs that are more expensive for GPB to put on the airwaves.
So while modern commercial news outlets are screaming at each other, GPB is broadcasting some reasonable discussions that might not be the dog and pony show you find from other media outlets- but it's the model of news we need today. Besides, where else can you hear reports by Sylvia Poggioli from old Rome, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton from Dakar, and also get to hear the Breakroom gang?
It's worth noting the support of public broadcasting only amounts to .01% of the budget. There are much better and bigger cuts to be made This is how I came to not only oppose cutting funding for public broadcasting, but also to become a monthly donor. I ask you to consider the same.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire