By Holly Kernan, Executive Editor of News, KQED Public Media
KQED is partnering with us for our 2016 Annual Conference | The Power of Now on May 25th at the Microsoft Campus in Mountain View. They are helping to create sessions and media content as well as providing news talent as moderators to draw the best from our speakers. Hear Holly talk about KQED's Power of Now moment.
What is The Power of Now to KQED, especially in relation to social movements and equity?
KQED is definitely in a Power of Now moment. There is so much happening all around us, with the many conversations about growing inequality, political action, the power of voting, police brutality, the increasingly acute housing crisis and displacement, the debt the younger generation is incurring, climate change, the state of public infrastructure... I could go on and on. People are looking to KQED to cut through the noise, as a source of news they trust and as a community leader. We feel the immediacy of the need to do more and to be stepping into the void created by a shrinking local news media. Our new strategic plan charges us to better understand the communities we serve – both our current audiences and Bay Area residents who are not yet engaged – and we are evolving fast to adapt to new media and to anticipate where our audiences will go next to get information about local issues that matter to them.
How does KQED's conference partnership help us BE more as a community investing together in the region?
News media have undergone very rapid change in the past decade. The closing of the Oakland Tribune as a daily paper is just one indicator of a steep decline in local coverage due to the digital disruption of the traditional print news model that is happening all over the country. And while there are certainly benefits to the emergence of many new smaller-scale digital news efforts in place of a few dominant newspapers and TV networks, there are also many negative effects, such as increased polarization and a lack of consistent, in-depth local and watchdog reporting. It seems that the only viable model for local reporting is non-commercial. We aspire to fill the role of the reliable community news provider, covering issues that matter across the region, lifting up the voices of people impacted by policies and practices and events, as well as the people leading change on those issues. KQED focuses on convening critical community conversations, explanatory journalism, watchdog reporting and creating community connections. At the conference, our role will be to frame and humanize the conference themes with concrete stories of real people living through the effects of inequality.
What do you see as KQED's role in the local climate around this year's elections?
It’s an extension of the conference role I just described – framing and humanizing. California ranks only 41st nationally in voter turnout, and the people who *are* voting don’t reflect the diversity of the state – they are whiter, more affluent and more educated. This year we are partnering with three other major public media stations from across the state to really explore what is behind low voter turnout – and where people are plugging into civic life. We’re going into neighborhoods where turnout is high or low and talking to regular people, we’re holding town halls on the issue, doing social media campaigns, and so on. It’s our job to get the information and the stories about the big questions for our democracy out to people in compelling ways, featuring the voices of regular people. And, of course, our popular online voter guide covers the ballot measures, and the leaders and policies behind them, so people can make informed choices. It’s both about being informed to exercise your right to vote, and to convene the conversation about how our democracy works.
What's keeping you up at night?
Getting all that done! Especially with the acute need to be doing more – to cover these issues with depth and accuracy and a human-centered approach to news. Newsrooms never sleep. KQED is a 24-hour service, and social media never sleep either, so when something big happens, or new developments emerge, we have to shift priorities on the fly. It can make it hard to plan ahead. And like other nonprofits, resources are always a concern. We receive much less government funding than many people realize – less than 10 percent of our budget. About 60 percent of our funding comes from individual membership donations from listeners and viewers. But we also rely on the support of foundations that care about and invest in the issues we cover, and this is an area we hope to grow.
What does a home run look like coming out of this conference?
As a public media organization, we always want to see a wide spectrum of voices represented. In the elections, the public hears so many ads and sound bites from spin doctors that it needs to access thoughtful coverage, authentic stories and real conversation. We see in our work that when people hear an in-depth story that features the voices of real people engaging an issue, they have a different kind of conversation afterward – more empathetic, less ideologically driven. Philanthropy professionals also need stories and facts to make compelling cases to their boards and to the public. There is a lot of attention to the role of storytelling in various fields lately, and it’s not easy to do well. I hope we all come out of the conference with compelling stories – including compelling facts and compelling voices – and a renewed commitment to the importance of stories and factual information for social change.