As we prepare to merge Vermont Public Radio and Vermont PBS in July, I have a confession to make. Even though I’m the president of VPR, my first public media love was actually public television.
My four siblings and I grew up two hours from the nearest shopping mall. Dad fixed appliances, Mom raised us and provided child care for others.
Through the magic of our rooftop antenna, Mr. Rogers introduced us to Iowa Public Television. Nova, Nature, Masterpiece — it was on all day long. public TV, good public schools and our public library propelled all five of us kids into college and successful, meaningful careers.
Only as an adult did I come to appreciate public radio, first as a listener and later, a reporter and a station leader. Throughout the United States, public radio stations have added hundreds of reporters to respond to a decline in local journalists.
These complementary strengths — Vermont PBS in education and culture, VPR in news and music — are why we’re bringing Vermont PBS and VPR together into one organization. When we are stronger, we can serve the community better.
While I was growing up in Iowa, some visionary leaders were building Vermont’s public TV and radio networks. The experts said it couldn’t work here — too many mountains, too few people — but thanks to our generous supporters, our combined networks provide four TV channels, multiple news and classical radio stations, as well as a dozen podcasts and other on-demand digital content, free of charge to almost every household in our region.
Still, there is so much more we are called to do. Today, we face a challenge at least as large as our mountains. In Vermont, the number of journalists is declining. Misinformation abounds. Economic and racial disparities persist. Our local arts and cultural organizations are under unprecedented strain.
We think this new combined public media organization can help the state address these challenges, in part, because of previous success of Vermont PBS and VPR partnerships:
— When the Castleton Institute Polls ended, we created the VPR/Vermont PBS Poll.
— We combined forces on candidate debates to reach a larger, more diverse audience.
— We told the stories of today’s rural Vermonters and the struggles they face in the award-winning series, “This Land: The Changing Story of Rural Vermont.”
These efforts proved to us that by working together, we could tell more compelling stories and better inform the public. We could become the indispensable forum for bringing us together to tackle our toughest challenges.
When we announced this merger in September, the main response we heard was, that’s great! A lot of folks said they already thought we were the same organization. Some people needed to hear that what they already love about VPR and Vermont PBS, would not change.
Still, this is an opportunity to reimagine public media in Vermont, to make it more inclusive and more reflective of everyone in our region. You can help us do this. Over the coming months, we will reach out to you in many ways. We want to know what’s important in your life and your community, and how public media can serve you better.
A few things we do know now:
Our shared vision will reflect a people-powered mindset. It’s not an accident that our most popular programs don’t make stories for people — they make stories with people — like “Brave Little State” and “Made Here.” Constant, deep engagement with the community will be a cornerstone of our new organization.
Our new organization will prioritize education. For example, we’ve already begun working with the Vermont Agency of Education to deliver educational content to students during the pandemic. And we will produce two high-quality children’s programs: the podcast “But Why?” and the TV and video series “Mr. Chris and Friends.”
Our combined organization will explore new ways of sharing and promoting the work of our partners in music, arts and culture across the state.
We will expand our journalism, in concert with and in support of other local media. For example, we’ve partnered with Seven Days and VTDigger on important investigative journalism. We’ve provided our COVID-19 coverage for reprint free of charge to local news organizations.
This is just the start — there are so many opportunities for deeper connections. Our new organization will be a partner with and a signal-booster for people from diverse backgrounds whose voices are not being heard nearly enough.
By joining together, we believe VPR and Vermont PBS will be in a stronger position to protect democracy, educate our kids and promote the local institutions that make our region unique.
What do you think? Let us know by emailing email@example.com as we work together to build a new public resource to serve our region. After all, it belongs to you.
Scott Finn is VPR president and CEO, and the incoming CEO of the new combined organization. He resides in Jericho.