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Pacifica to carry Feature Story News to fill void left by FSRN closure

Feature Story News logoWith the closure of Free Speech Radio News this past Friday, Pacifica stations and some 100 community radio affiliates are left with a half-hour hole in their schedules. This weekend Pacifica announced that beginning today the network will be carrying a half-hour broadcast of Feature Story News where FSRN used to be.

For some community radio folks this may sound familiar. That’s because back in 2000 and 2001 Pacifica came in for criticism for using FSN reports in its Pacifica Network News in the midst of a labor battle with freelance reporters, who would go on to create FSRN. The primary concerns raised at the time were that FSN was a non-union news agency–FSRN is worker-owned collective–and that it provided reportage to the Voice of America and other mainstream outlets of the sort to which Pacifica historically provided a critical alternative.

However, this time around circumstances are different, and there appears to be significantly less acrimony around Pacifica’s carriage of FSN.

In a statement, the FSRN Board of Directors said,

“Free Speech Radio News recognizes that Pacifica affiliate stations need up-to-date news coverage to serve their audience, and we are pleased that stations will not be left in the lurch. Feature Story News will provide a distinctly different product than the progressive, grassroots newscast produced by Free Speech Radio News, but we do hope that the one month service will cover stations’ immediate needs. Pacifica has publicly reiterated its intent to honor its debt obligations to FSRN as quickly as possible, and FSRN hopes to be positioned to provide quality content in the near future.”

Pacifica Executive Director Summer Reese echoed the conciliatory tone, as quoted in Pacifica’s release, she said “I am very pleased to be able to offer our affiliated stations an option to continue daily 30-minute international newscasts as we continue to work with Free Speech Radio News to find a way to relaunch the program on a firmer financial footing.”

Pacifica highlights the involvement of FSRN DC editor Alice Ollstein as a featured contributor for FSN “on a temporary, contract basis,” while also noting that she is “actively working with the Free Speech Radio News collective on a path forward for the organization.”

Pacifica says that “additional options for the delivery of a complimentary daily 30-minute news module are also being explored,” so there may be more choices for Pacifica affiliates in the near future.

I have contacted a number of FSRN affiliates to ask if any of these stations will be carrying FSN or if they have other plans to fill the gap. So far I have only heard from Kristin Sumrall, program director at WCBN-FM in Ann Arbor, MI, who said that they had never heard of FSN before, and they won’t be carrying it. While the station was sad to see FSNR end, she did say that “in some ways it has given WCBN renewed enthusiasm for creating its own in-house public affairs and/or news programs.” In the meantime the station will fill the old FSRN slot with regular freeform programming.

Feature Story News calls itself “the world’s leading independent broadcast news agency,” with nine bureaus in places like Washington, Beijing and Moscow. It offers anchored newscasts that it advertises “for use by Low Powered FM, Restricted Service Licence, Community and Online Radio stations.” Amongst its TV affiliates FSN lists the PBS News Hour, Fox News Channel, South African Broadcasting Corporation, Mediacorp News of Singapore, as well as Voice of America.

To get a taste of FSN World News you can listen to headlines over the phone with AudioNow at 202–478–9785 or download FSN’s World News Podcast (MP3). Update 3:17 PM PDT- FSN President Simon Marks tweeted out a link to hear the new program, called FSN Reports – download the MP3.

We would like to hear from other Free Speech Radio News affiliates about what your station’s plans are to fill the hole left behind with the program’s closure. Please leave a comment or send us an email to editors@radiosurvivor.com


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7 Responses to Pacifica to carry Feature Story News to fill void left by FSRN closure

  1. Simon Marks September 30, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

    Folks

    I thought I’d leave a few thoughts here about the new program, since no one from Radio Survivor got in touch with me today. We hope that it helps stations that want to keep a news service on their air, and we’re delighted that FSRN’s Alice Ollstein is working with us on Capitol Hill (and being billed on-air as a Free Speech Radio News correspondent).

    While I’m sorry the folks in Ann Arbor haven’t heard of us, FSN is 20 years old, and now operates 17 full-time news bureaus from Juba in South Sudan to Mountain View in California. For many years, we’ve provided our anchored top-of-the-hour newscasts to LPFM, Community and web-based stations here and around the world. They’ve proved very popular, and many of our affiliates have asked if one day we might launch a longer-form program.

    Today, we launched that program: FSN Reports, and you can hear it here:

    http://www.fsnradionews.com/FSNReports/0930FSNReports.mp3

    As we say on the broadcast, our editorial focus is on a global news agenda, and with a full-time staff of 45 people we think we’ve demonstrated our determination to keep one-the-spot coverage alive from a variety of global datelines.

    Our content is carried daily by a very wide range of 24-hour TV news channels, radio networks – including many global public radio outlets – and websites. And we’ll be happy for our program to reach listeners via Pacifica and NFCB stations as well, and equally happy to hear feedback about our broadcast via reports@featurestory.com

    Thanks
    Simon Marks
    Feature Story News
    Twitter: @simonmarksfsn

  2. Dennis September 30, 2013 at 7:35 pm #

    Actually, the “complaints” about Feature Story News in 2000-2001 came from both striking Pacifica freelance reporters and Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now!

    From Democracy Now:
    http://www.ittybittyurl.com/Vnk

    From Pacifica Reporters Against Censorship (FSRN):
    http://www.ittybittyurl.com/Vnl

  3. Kellia Ramares-Watson October 1, 2013 at 4:01 pm #

    When Lack of Money Prevents Work: FSRN Ends Daily Broadcast

    Free Speech Radio News, a daily international news program produced for and carried by community radio stations primarily in the United States, aired for the last time on Friday, September 27, 2013. On March 4, 2013, the FSRN Board of Directors sent layoff notices to staff, and set March 15 as the date for FSRN’s last daily broadcast. An emergency fundraiser extended the program’s life, but there is only so far an organization can go on donations alone.

    The organization is not going out of existence but, according to a message it distributed on Sept. 19:

    Our Board took this action because as of September 13th, FSRN had $32,000 in the bank. We project that in order to close up shop and meet our financial and legal responsibilities, it will cost $29,000.

    FSRN is currently carrying just over $200,000 in accounts receivable. For much of the year, our major funder Pacifica has not been able to pay us and its past-due balance to FSRN is about $198,000. …Over the years we have made significant cutbacks to respond to a shrinking budget and weathered several financial crises that nearly brought us to the brink of closure.

    Our production currently costs about $36,000 per month. Until recently, your dollars supplemented a $25,000 per month contract with our major donor, the Pacifica Foundation. But our current contract is for just $10,000 per month, which is not enough to sustain daily production at current levels.
    This was no surprise to me. I had contributed stories to FSRN on and off during my years at KPFA. In fact, when FSRN announced its formation as a weekly newscast in January 2000, I was called on to make a speech urging reporters not to scab for PNN. I had also endured one of their cuts in freelancer pay.

    There are both short and long term lessons to be learned from this event. Short-term:

    1. Diversity of income sources is key to long–term survival. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! learned this lesson years ago. She privatized the former Pacifica show in the wake of “The Struggles” of 1999-2000 and partnered with non-Pacifica affiliate stations, and satellite radio and TV in order to have broader reach, more editorial independence and to make sure the show did not fall victim to Pacifica’s difficult finances, which have become even more difficult since Democracy Now! gained its independence.

    2. FSRN probably should have hired a development director much earlier than it did. FSRN is a reporter-owned and run collective. Reporters care about journalism. They want to pour all their efforts into that. The actual business side of the operation was of little interest to most of the members, which is why relatively few people, including me, wanted to participate in the open conference calls that were held periodically to give rank and file reporters an opportunity to have a voice in the organizational nitty-gritty. Perhaps FSRN would be still be on the air if it had had from the beginning a professional fundraiser devoting full time to making the kinds of contracts FSRN needed to stay viable in the face of a Pacifica financial collapse and a general economic collapse that makes long term survival on listener and small station donations unlikely.

    FSRN was formed as an alternative to the Pacifica Network News (PNN) in 2000 by a group of reporters who called themselves Pacifica Reporters Against Censorship. Relations between the two organizations were never harmonious, even though PNN went out of business and FSRN became PNN’s successor by default when it went daily. There was a time when FSRN was negotiating with Pacifica to become a formal part of the network, but Pacifica’s first step in the unification negotiations was to choose as its representative Verna Avery Brown, a former PNN newscaster whose initial proposal was to layoff all the freelancers and to produce the program herself in Washington D.C. Though Brown was quickly replaced, Pacifica had tipped its hand; it wanted to re-instate its old guard to produce a program that was cheaper than FSRN. Negotiations eventually fell through.

    FSRN was also handicapped by the fact that legally, stations can only raise funds on the air for themselves. Members of FSRN could not take to the KPFA airwaves during its KPFA fund drive broadcast to ask for donations directly to FSRN. Thus, the law cuts FSRN off from a major fundraising avenue. A donor could hope that the funds would go to support FSRN, but Pacifica could prioritize its spending as it wished.

    Ironically, some reporters believed that union with Pacifica was the key to financial viability. But as we can see now, that would not have been the case, as Pacifica itself is not financially viable. FSRN is working on a business plan but I find it hard to imagine that such a plan would not involve lower payments to fewer freelancers, and a smaller core staff that was already small to begin with, meaning fewer people working under greater pressure, also likely for lower wages – FSRN was never a cash cow for its members– and dependence on larger organizations for basic funding, but at what cost? People with the gold like to make the rules. FSRN would risk losing its vaunted independence, really its raison d’etre, to the desires of the funders.

    Less work by fewer workers who are worker longer and harder, and who, in many cases, must take less money for the work they are doing. Sound familiar>We are seeing this throughout journalism, indeed throughout the economy. This is not progressive, which is what FSRN considered itself to be.

    Still, 13 years is a decent run. Maybe it is too much to expect real progressivism to thrive within a cutthroat capitalist society. That is why there is, in my opinion, only one long term solution to the twin problems of producing and distributing goods and services: Demonetization. If the world could learn to run its affairs without the intermediation of money, we would never again hear: “We can’t do that because we can’t afford it.” Everything from repairing our national infrastructure to doing investigative journalism would be undertaken on an “as-needed” basis.

    Right wingers claim that a large segment of the American population would rather be dependent on government “hand outs” than to have a job, but FSRN is an example of what the truth really is: There is work to be done, in this case, journalism. There are willing workers available, both on-the-ground reporters and technical people who work behind the scenes. But the work is not being done anymore because there is not the money to furnish the jobs to do the work.

    We must come to realize that work and jobs are not the same thing. And in a money/jobs economy, we can’t always depend on volunteers. It is one thing to spend a few hours a week delivering hot meals to shut ins, reading to children at the library, or operating the local rape crisis hotline. It is another thing entirely to be a volunteer reporter, especially in a place that is thought of as a necessary alternative to the well-funded mainstream and right wing media. I once overheard an activist who had been critical of KPFA News and who took up the challenge to join the news writing class herself. As she went out on assignment, she said, “I didn’t realize it was this hard.” She did not stay long.

    In a money/jobs economy, the people of FSRN had to be paid so that they could, in turn, pay for everything from their personal survival needs to the equipment for their work, to the time it takes them to do a hard job. Having to look for another job to pay the bills cuts into a reporter’s efficiency. I know. Several times, I answered the phone at KPFA News and heard a certain young reporter apologize for not being able to come in. She worked as an on-call hostess at a restaurant and if she worked a certain number of hours a month, she qualified for health insurance for herself and her husband. They had just called. She didn’t stick around with us long either.

    In order to make work available to all on a non-exploitative basis, we must change our values. A successfully demonetized economy cannot operate on the same values that underlie capitalism and state socialism, competition and inequality. (State socialism is also dependent on money and jobs and thus shares many of the same problems as capitalism. In it, the state operates as a violent enforcer of the status quo. It also has an elite, in this case, made up of party bureaucrats rather than an aristocracy of birth.) As the Christians say, one cannot put new wine into old wineskins. Unfortunately, that is precisely what the call for more jobs amounts to.

    A demonetized society would recognize that all kinds of work are necessary at some time or another and that all workers have certain basic needs that have to be met regardless of whether the worker is picking vegetables, covering stories, teaching first graders the alphabet or throwing a baseball at 95mph.

    A demonetized society would also recognize that productivity and consumption should be adjuncts to life, not humanity’s ultimate achievement. We all need some work in our lives to deepen our individual human experience and to provide our society with goods and services. We do not need to work tirelessly to make someone else rich.

    There is so much more to consider. In order to understand how to reform our economic practices, we need to jettison certain ways of thinking about the need for jobs and the value of work. We must ponder questions such as “Why must we pay to live on the planet we’re born on?” and “Why must we earn a living? Aren’t we already living?” We must also refuse the answers “Because that’s the way it is” and “Because the world doesn’t owe you a living.” Those aren’t really answers. They’re just memes.

    There is more to life than existing to pay bills. There is more to work than having a job in the formal economy. There are other ways to organize a society than around paid labor. Hmm…sounds like the makings of a great documentary for a revived FSRN.

    Kellia Ramares-Watson was a reporter for both Pacifica radio station KPFA-FM Berkeley and FSRN. She is writing a book on demonetization. Her website is Demonetization: Ending the Cult of Commodity. She can be reached at theendofmoney [at] gmail.com.

  4. Anne S October 2, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    According to this piece from the Nation Institute, after FSRN’s forced closure, Pacifica is also in talks with “The Real News.”

    http://www.theinvestigativefund.org/blog/1854/community_radio_heavily_impacted_by_fsrn's_last_broadcast/

    As one FSRN reporter asked on a radio listserv, “Why would Pacifica be in talks with at least two entities to supply a daily, thirty minute newscast when it owes a six figure debt to FSRN and what I understand to be a seven figure debt to DN?”

    • Kellia Ramares-Watson October 2, 2013 at 10:00 pm #

      Anne S writes:As one FSRN reporter asked on a radio listserv, “Why would Pacifica be in talks with at least two entities to supply a daily, thirty minute newscast when it owes a six figure debt to FSRN and what I understand to be a seven figure debt to DN?”

      A very good question. One whose answer may go back to the failed unification negotiations. For economic and political reasons, Pacifica really doesn’t want FSRN. Think about it: they are paying to support a cast started in rebellion against the institution.

      Similar situation with DN, which broke away from Pacifica ownership.

      BTW, I made a significant edit to the mid section of what I wrote in my earlier post and wanted to pass it along:

      As one FSRN reporter asked on a radio listserv, “Why would Pacifica be in talks with at least two entities to supply a daily, thirty minute newscast when it owes a six figure debt to FSRN and what I understand to be a seven figure debt to DN?”

  5. Kellia Ramares-Watson October 2, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

    OK here is the change I meant to post. In order to make work available to all on a non-exploitative basis, we must change our values. A successfully demonetized economy cannot operate on the same values that underlie capitalism and state socialism: competition and inequality. (State socialism is also dependent on money and jobs and thus shares many of the same problems as capitalism. In it, the state operates as a violent enforcer of the status quo. It also has an elite, in this case, made up of party bureaucrats rather than an aristocracy of birth.) As the Christians say, one cannot put new wine into old wineskins.

    Progressives who seek reform of the money/jobs system are missing the point. The money/jobs system will not work even if all of the greedy criminals were driven out of the system as progressives would like to see. Only when we understand the money/jobs system as an old wineskin, that the structural short-comings of such a system will never be changed by political philosophy, will we abandon reform for a different way entirely: demonetization, the new wine, which must be poured into the new wineskin of values different from those currently supporting the money/jobs system.

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  1. How FSN Reports replaced the shuttered Free Speech Radio News | Radio Survivor - October 8, 2013

    […] just after its final program aired. It was just the Saturday after FSRN’s last airing that Pacifica made the announcement that Feature Story News Reports would be available to affiliates the following Monday, September […]

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