Monday, August 18, 2008

Decision to Post the Whole Exchange

I originally wasn't going to post the whole exchange regarding WBEZ and Vocalo publicly. Frankly, I didn't think it was necessary. I had entered the text into a private blog to share it more easily with a group of colleagues who also donate to WBEZ, so we could try to understand what in the world is going on in management at Chicago Public Radio right now.

But then I received some more information. I realized that there is a lot more to the story of what is going on at WBEZ then is being told. Torey isn't going to tell it. I'm not sure that the Board knows of the extent of it. The current staff aren't going to talk about it because they don't want to risk their jobs.

The hiring freeze doesn't seem to begin to scratch the surface of what seems to be happening there. And what is happening there sounds pretty awful and doesn't really match up with the emails that I received from Torey Malatia.

So, leave it in the comments. Speak up about what you know or what you'd like to know. Or send me an email if you'd like to remain anonymous. jeanmari1 (at) yahoo (dot) com


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Vocalo article in the Chicago Tribune

I appreciate Mike Miner's attempts to get more specific information from Chicago Public Radio in regards to WBEZ and Vocalo in his article on August 14th, "Should WBEZ donors be told their money might be spent on Vocalo?"

That headline is essentially the point of my conversation with Mr. Malatia.

In fact, I told him that I would be very happy to re-start my pledge once it was made clear to WBEZ and Chicago Public Radio donors that their pledges might be spent on Vocalo. Period.

For the record, I think that the concept of Vocalo is a good one. I love the idea of community-driven radio programming, especially if the staff is curating the contributions of the community.

I think the current execution of that concept is WAY off of the mark, as well as lacking in quality crafting of good radio. Even if the execution was ON the mark, I think it is costing too much in money and resources for an "experiment". Money and resources that are being diverted from WBEZ and its related programming.

So, why would I restart my donations if they might be diverted to Vocalo and I don't care for the current execution of Vocalo? Because I believe that the staff at WBEZ is an extremely talented group that deserves to be supported and I always have. Even if it meant some of my donations were paying Torey's salary (and I haven't always been keen on his work as GM of CPR either.)

In any case, I think that WBEZ and Chicago Public Radio donors need to be made aware of what their donations are funding. Not from a line or two buried in the appendix of an annual report. Not from an article in the Chicago Reader.

My suspicion is that Malatia doesn't want the listeners of Chicago Public Radio/WBEZ to listen to Vocalo, look too closely at what is happening to staff/resources at WBEZ, or register any kind of feedback at all about any of this.

Why? If everything is aboveboard and going well, what is the big deal then?


If you want to read the exchange between Mr. Malatia and myself, you can start here with the first email. Thanks.

13th (last) email: From J. Olson

date Tue, Jul 29, 2008 at 8:10 AM
subject Re: FW: Cancelling my pledge to WBEZ


So pleased that you enjoyed your evening. It has been lovely weather, hasn't it?

Will you or the CPR Board be letting WBEZ members know before or during the next pledge drive about the relationship between Vocalo and WBEZ on the website and in the on-air portions of the pledge drive?

Also, I'm looking forward to reviewing the renewal letters and WBEZ communications to members that welcomed Vocalo into the CPR fold. Who can I call to obtain a copy of those?

Thanks so much.

Jeanne Marie Olson

12th email: From T. Malatia

date Tue, Jul 29, 2008 at 7:45 AM
subject RE: FW: Cancelling my pledge to WBEZ

It was a lovely evening, Jeanne Marie, thank you. I spent it working on an article on polyculturalism in today’s electronic media that I hope will be published in a professional journal later this fall.

I think you’ll find, over time, as develops its style, sea legs, and audience, that there will be increasing and quite blatant cross-fertilization between the two services. That’s been in the plan since the very beginning (and I referenced this in my Current article, as you may recall). I think some board members wish this would be more the case with our other projects. I know from the beginning staff here had hoped for more opportunities to be part of the production of This American Life, for example, but for reasons that stem from the artistic vision of the program, we keep TAL production segregated from 91.5 daily work.

Thanks for your interest and support. I’m sorry you feel it necessary to withdraw, but I hope you will reconsider someday soon. In the meantime, stay well, and listen now and then, if you feel up to it, that is.


Torey Malatia

President and General Manager
Chicago Public Radio

WBEZ 91.5 FM, Chicago;
WBEW 89.5 FM, Chesterton;
WBEQ 90.7 FM, Morris;
W217BM, Elgin

11th email: From J. Olson

Mon, Jul 28, 2008 at 4:56 PM
subject Re: FW: Cancelling my pledge to WBEZ

Hi Torey--

Oh, I never rest :) Work is too enjoyable for me.

That clarifies Right Now and Hello Beautiful. So, there was a hiring freeze for some programs? Have you replaced all of the staff that have left over the last 12 months? Just curious.

I think I missed the renewal letters and WBEZ communications to members that welcomed Vocalo into the CPR fold. Do you think it would be possible to get a copy of those?

I think the difference I see in the CPR/MPR comparison is transparency. From the materials and websites, the relationship between Current and MPR is very obvious. While the relationship between CPR and Vocalo is not at all clear from the same perspective.

And that is the crux of issue. The line in the org chart being non-existent, then dotted, then solid, then dotted again. I think members will want to know...which is it?

Have a lovely evening.


10th email: From T. Malatia

date Mon, Jul 28, 2008 at 4:26 PM
subject RE: FW: Cancelling my pledge to WBEZ

As I mentioned, we did not start new projects. “Right Now,” a daily program to have run Monday through Friday at 3 PM- 4 PM, never existed. It was in the planning stages with minimal staff and we ran a couple of pilots as specials to see if we liked various structures on the air. We reassigned the three people working on the pilots, the only staff assigned to the production team at the time, to other 91.5 FM shows and reporting duties because we new we could not go forward with hiring the rest of the staff needed to launch the program this year.

“Hello Beautiful” hasn’t had a permanent host since Edward Lifson left over a year ago. We had been auditioning people for the permanent hire on the air—just to see how the candidates sounded. Rather than hire a permanent host, we took the money for that position, as well as the existing staff working on the project and assigned them to producing more arts and architecture features for 91.5. Hello Beautiful was a summary program—that is, a program that essentially rebroadcast material that had run the preceding week. This readjustment allowed us to significantly boost production of fresh arts pieces. No dollars were lost from this project, but were reinvested in 91.5 arts production.

As for informing members of what we do with our money—we are entirely open with is. Our audited financials are available on line and are available to anyone who asks fore them. Our renewal letters frequently talk about the great projects we do outside of WBEZ daily broadcasting, and, of course, we are completely open about this in these e-mail exchanges or in public discourse.

I do have your attachments, but in fact they fully demonstrate that I am correct--that there is no distinction—other than marketing strategies—between MPR’s multiple stations and our situation. If you donate money to Minnesota Public Radio—they can use it for anything the 501 (c) 3 Board that governs MPR specifies as a proper general operating use (unless you have restricted the gift, of course).

Again, I see no problem here except perhaps in your assessment that this is not something you wish to support. And that is a point that cannot be debated beyond a certain level, as we are beginning to discover.

Have a great week. And get some rest, for goodness sake.

Thanks again for your candor and your time.


Torey Malatia

President and General Manager
Chicago Public Radio
WBEZ 91.5 FM, Chicago;
WBEW 89.5 FM, Chesterton;
WBEQ 90.7 FM, Morris;
W217BM, Elgin

9th email: From J. Olson

date Mon, Jul 28, 2008 at 3:43 PM
subject Re: FW: Cancelling my pledge to WBEZ

Hi Torey--

Thanks for the information. I take it that the cancellation of Hello Beautiful and Right Now wasn't part of cutting expenses? Perhaps we define "cuts" differently. My understanding of "cuts" includes cutting current programming, cutting planned programming, recycling programs (reruns) to take up time slots, cutting people specifically and not replacing people who have left so that the same amount of work is done by less staff.

Are you saying that CPR has done none of those things in the past 12 months or for this new fiscal year? Just looking for some clarification.

Also, still interested in which of these will be happening in the future for CPR (based upon my last email):

* Vocalo will share resources and funding with WBEZ and that this will be made more clear to WBEZ members and Vocalo listeners by the CPR Board.
* Vocalo will be completely separate from Vocalo and will be funded by CPB and Surdna. And that this will be stated clearly by the CPR Board.

This was the email I sent that had the attachments. The one that pointed out the difference between the Vocalo situation and the MPR situation with Current. Did you receive that? Hopefully it didn't get redirected because of the attachments.

Thanks very much.

Jeanne Marie Olson