Good luck to the community effort to buy the public radio station KPLU to save it from being absorbed by KUOW.
PUBLIC-radio fans should prepare for a whopper of a pledge drive to be launched early next year on behalf of the public-radio station KPLU.
There is more at stake than normal in that fundraising drive: A pending sale of the station by Pacific Lutheran University, which holds the KPLU license, to the University of Washington, which holds the license for KUOW, would silence a credible, independent, local news source.
If the sale goes through, KPLU’s newsroom would close. Some journalists might end up at KUOW, but there’s no ironclad commitment. And the growing region would lose a vital voice in civic affairs.
The loss of those journalism jobs is significant in the big picture. Upheaval in the business model of mainstream media has resulted in waves of consolidation and downsizing. While new online media voices are emerging, the overall trend is stark.
The loss of KPLU as an independent news voice would add a depressing coda to that downward glide path.
KUOW and the UW aren’t to blame here for seeking KPLU’s additional broadcast spectrum, which would extend KUOW’s reach. PLU, however, committed public-relations malpractice in secretly shopping its station without giving KPLU’s advisory board so much as a warning.
Once that warning was delivered — in the form of a signed and sealed letter-of-intent purchase agreement — KPLU fans rallied and raised alarms. The sale was put on hold for six months. Kudos to the UW and new president Ana Mari Cauce for listening to the public.
In a recent letter to U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, the chairman of the UW Board of Regents, Bill Ayer wrote, “We wish the community effort success — if they are able to marshal the financial resources for the purchase, that will be a good outcome.”
If not, the sale goes forward.
Stephen Tan, chair of KPLU’s advisory board, said a coordinated fundraising campaign will began as soon as possible. “We’re starting from a standing start,” said Tan. “This wasn’t on anyone’s mind a month ago.”
A community-based bid likely would need to raise at least $7 million — that’s the cash price the UW has pledged. Tan isn’t sure exactly how much will be needed, but is confident KPLU’s listener base will succeed in preserving the station.
A robust, diverse media is an essential element of a strong democracy. The region should ensure KPLU stays on air.