One of the great Nashville stories over the last year has been the tremendous strides made by NPT, the city’s public television station. Under new management, and with a new ownership structure, the station has delivered more quality programming to its viewers than ever before.
But NPT is between a rock and a hard place. And it could use some help from us all right now.
Here’s the deal: NPT used to operate as a wing of the school board. As such, its money came from a combination of private sources and city school funds, mostly the latter. A year ago last April, the station split from the school board, and ownership was transferred to a nonprofit organization. The terms of the split called for the school system to continue funding for five years to help ease the transition. But things didn’t work out as planned.
In the last fiscal year, the school board said it had completed its obligations. And granted, everyone realizes the schools are underfunded. So, the school board paid the station about $150,000 less than the separation agreement outlined. This year, that figure may more than double to approximately $360,000. Understandably, the station is hitting some very rough patches.
Because of the funding cuts, some employees have been laid off. And Steve Bass, the president and CEO of NPT, who came to the station from the much-respected PBS member WGBH in Boston, has handed day-to-day operations to station manager Beth Curley. Meanwhile, he has to concentrate on keeping the boat afloat.
When Bass came to Nashville, he envisioned a station that, as he told the Scene last week, would become “a world-class television station.” Now, he is modifying that statement somewhat, saying, “that may have been too ambitious a goal. There is no room for error at this station.”
Some have been critical that Bass moved too quickly in changing the nature of the station. But this newspaper agrees wholeheartedly with the content changes Bass has made, the original goals he developed for the station, and the energy and spirit he brings to the job. The fact that viewership at the station has increased in prime time by 30 percent in the last year is testament to the fact that things are, indeed, moving in the right direction.
For instance, on Sept. 25, NPT will broadcast the Nashville Symphony’s Carnegie Hall preview performance. That’s the kind of excellent programming that would be nipped in the bud if funding does not materialize in full.
We clearly hope the school board will find a way to honor its commitment. In fact, board members and staff have shown good faith plenty of times during negotiations, even as an emotionally charged budget process has raged around them. We ask that the school board not lose sight of the fact that NPT is deeply committed to educational programming, and that can only help the city’s students.
We encourage Nashvillians to help the station, financially and otherwise, through this difficult time. Years down the road, NPT may ultimately become a first-rate station with plenty of original programming that projects the energy and vitality of this city to the rest of the world. Until then, we should try to understand that the current argument shouldn’t be about funding either kids or television. Both deserve our support. Let’s figure out a way to make that happen.
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