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A look into how Wyoming Public Media is funded

National Public Radio (NPR) has been in the news a lot. Elon Musk labeled NPR’s Twitter page as “state-affiliated media.” He has since removed that labeling and NPR has stopped using their Twitter pages. At Wyoming Public Media, we felt that it brought up a legitimate question. How is public radio funded and are we controlled by any entities? So Wyoming Public Radio’s Kamila Kudelska spoke with Wyoming Public Media’s general manager Christina Kuzmych.

The following transcript has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Kamila Kudelska: Wyoming Public Media is an affiliate of NPR. What does that mean?

Christina Kuzmych: That means that we are a member of National Public Radio. NPR is a membership organization. There are about 1,000 members. They each pay annually and they're able to purchase programming from NPR. For example, programs like Morning Edition and All Things Considered, Here and Now, Fresh Air, Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. Those are all the programs we purchase from NPR, and because we are an affiliated member, we're able to do that.

KK: What's the breakdown of how WPM is funded? And does NPR provide any funding?

CK: NPR does not provide funding to stations. It's the other way around. We pay them [and] they give us the programs and the services that come with it.

But how are we funded at Wyoming Public Media? Well, we have four major sources of funding. First, we have the federal funding from CPB [Corporation for Public Broadcasting]. And that's approximately 10 percent of our operating dollars. We also have the University of Wyoming, which gives us funding from their state block grant. And that's about $770,000 a year. And then we have $1.8 million of funding that comes from the biggest funders to Wyoming Public Media, and that's our members and our corporate supporters.

KK: Okay, so that kind of leads into the next question, since we just finished the fund drive. How do those dollars, listener dollars, factor into our budget?

CK: Yeah, we just finished the fund drive. And we raised about $335,000 and met our goal. We were very happy to do that and thank our donors profusely.

Each year, we look for approximately $1.8 million in individual businesses and corporate funding. The fund drives each bring over $300,000 in donations. So they are our biggest source of places where we find the money quickly. Now, we hold two major fund drives a year. We also have a year-end fund drive, and we have a fiscal year-end fund drive. That comes around in June.

KK: You mentioned the CPB, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Can you explain what that is?

CK: The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is actually a publicly funded non-profit corporation. It has a history. It was passed under the Public Broadcasting Act in 1967 with Lyndon B. Johnson signing it into law. And the purpose of the corporation is to oversee the tax dollars that Congress appropriates to public broadcasting every year. And CPB makes sure that the money is distributed to stations and networks like Wyoming Public Media.

KK: [With] the money we get from the CPB, do we get controlled by them? And what can we use this money for?

CK: Well, that's kind of a yes and no question with a lot of nuance. We receive, for example, approximately $350,000 from the corporation, and 23 percent of that is restricted. We have to spend it on national programming that helps build public knowledge and awareness and/or we can spend it on locally produced programs that are distributed nationally. The rest of that money that we receive from them can be spent on station operating costs.

Now are we controlled by them? Well, not really. We do have to make sure that we spend that 23 percent in a way that supports programming. And they do not have the right to tell us how to broadcast or when, and they don't restrict us in the content sense.

KK: Is there a difference between the direct and indirect funding we got from the CPB?

CK: Yes there is. For example, the $350,000 that I had mentioned, we get that money that comes into our budget. And as I mentioned, 23 percent of it goes to restricted projects. The rest of it goes to unrestricted projects. That is what we call direct funding from CPB. There is also indirect funding from CPB and that is another $300,000 in services that we receive from them. For example, all of our streaming contracts. All of our contracts with the major music industry license owners. All of that is negotiated by CPB, and if anybody has ever done any negotiation in the music business, you know how expensive that can get. So if you're at home streaming on your computer, our ability to be able to provide that program for you was actually negotiated by CPB in that indirect part of funding that we receive.

KK: Can the CPB ever cut our funding for any reason? So like, if they don't like the stories we're covering or something?

CK: That's another yes or no question with a lot of nuance. No, they cannot directly come here and say, ‘We will not be giving you funding because you aired something that we didn't like.’ They can't do that. What can happen, however, is if Congress cuts CPB funding, we in turn get less money. So that's the difference.

KK: So, if Congress is not amenable to public radio, there is a potential they can cut that?

CK: Yes. And that has happened before that Congress has decided that it wants to give less money to public broadcasting, be it for political reasons or be it simply for budgetary reasons. CPB then makes an adjustment in those years. Stations would have received less money from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. And, there have been other examples. For example, during the Obama administration, he was able to keep the appropriation to public broadcasting from getting cut, but he was not able to save the PTFE funding, which was the public telecommunications funding that funded our transmitters and our towers and all the heavy equipment that public broadcasting uses. So that year, we lost all that funding. So you see, it kind of cuts both ways. It all depends on the mood of Congress, the political situation and everything around that.

KK: And obviously the political situation is a little polarized right now. What's the [current] situation with the CPB funding?

CK: Well, fortunately, CPB is forward-funded for two years. So we can expect our funding to be steady for the next two years unless somebody decides that they want to go back on that. Now, that has happened. Usually it hasn't passed. But the argument has been out there.

Now what happens afterwards? [It] all depends on the House of Representatives, the Senate, the President and how well we present our case to all of these people. And also how well the public presents the case. Because, after all, when your representative or your senator is in Congress, they are pretty much voting according to what the public in their state tells them to do. So you know, we're all in this together: the public, the senators, the representatives [and] the president. In order to get a good number from CPB, we all have to make sure that the story is told correctly.

KK: By correctly, we mean [telling stories] factually and [getting] both sides?

CK: Yes, factually, and [getting] both sides. I was kind of referring more to the story that we present to Congress. The value that we present the Congress in articulating what it is that public broadcasting brings to the state. That story needs to be told persuasively. And also, of course, everything that we do in our news operations has to be done in a way that is balanced.

KK: So how is WPM trying to remain relevant to as many people as possible with that in mind?

CK: We are making sure that we are reaching the public where the public is. We are investing a lot of our funding into digital broadcasting because we know that so many people are moving from radio and into other sources of funding. So that's one of one of the things that we're involved in.

Then comes to a really important aspect of making sure that we are balanced in our reporting. That we tell all sides of a story, and that we don't leave things out. That we don't do selective broadcasting. That's something that Wyoming Public Media is really keen on.

We've also diversified the voices that people hear. NPR does a lot of that for us because they bring a lot of diversified voices into their programming. But here in our case, we have so many young reporters who are coming in, and they bring a different perspective to reporting. And that also, you know, helps us reach a new audience and helps us keep relevant to the younger audiences that are coming into public radio. We also, as you know, covered the legislative session because it really affects the lives of people in Wyoming.

So there are a lot of initiatives that we have going that we're trying to keep us relevant. And we're also mindful of the need for critical thinking in our programming. People are always looking for programs that tell all sides of a story. So we're bringing in programs like Intelligence Squared. We are always on the lookout for programs that are debate programs, or programs that are structured in a way that gives you all sides of an issue.

KK: One last question, can NPR decide to terminate our affiliation for any reason? If they decide our coverage maybe it isn't what they want to be affiliated with?

CK: Not in terms of our coverage. Our coverage belongs to us. It's kind of simple. We don't tell them what to do. They don't tell us. So we're very respectful of each other. So in terms of what we cover, no, they can't terminate us.

They can, of course, terminate affiliation based on whether or not we are following the programming agreement. For example, if we have a program outside the window that NPR stipulates, then we're not following the spirit of the agreement. So for those technical types of reasons, of course, each side can terminate the agreement.

KK: Is there anything else that you want to add that we haven't mentioned yet?

CK: Just a comment. We're going through this weird period of media fluctuations. You're hearing a lot about NPR and others in the media almost every day. It's important that we not concentrate on the bright, shiny object. NPR is a bright, shiny object. It's great. It's many things to many people. It's a critical part of public broadcasting. But at the heart of public broadcasting is the local station like Wyoming Public Media. It's the news stories, the features, the discussions [and] the podcasts that we produce. That's what is important about public radio. And we always hope that during all these discussions that are exciting and invigorating that we don't forget the importance of the local public radio station.

Kamila has worked for public radio stations in California, New York, France and Poland. Originally from New York City, she loves exploring new places. Kamila received her master in journalism from Columbia University. She has won a regional Murrow award for her reporting on mental health and firearm owners. During her time leading the Wyoming Public Media newsroom, reporters have won multiple PMJA, Murrow and Top of the Rockies Excellence in Journalism Awards. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring the surrounding areas with her two pups and husband.

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