Sunday, September 14, 2008

QUIET MELTDOWN AT PACIFICA

Greg Guma, Maverick Media - Two years ago it looked as if Pacifica Radio, the original listener-supported network, was on the road to reconciliation and renewed relevance after a decade of internal warfare. New national shows had been launched, the number of affiliates was increasing, a mood of collaboration and mutual respect was taking hold, and, in September 2006, the CFO reported the highest revenues in the organization's 57-year history. A year later, the financial news was less encouraging, but Pacifica was about to hire a new executive director, Nicole Sawaya, returning to Pacifica after nine years with enthusiastic support from the board and community.

Cut to September 2008. As Pacifica approaches its 60th anniversary, it faces the most serious organizational and financial crisis in years. According to several well-placed sources, Sawaya has resigned - for the second time in ten months - effective in early October. The network is considering budget cuts of more than $900,000, including at least 10 staff positions at stations and possible layoffs from the national staff.

Pacifica is also grappling with the need for multiple bylaw amendments and the high cost of lawsuits. The national board is split down the middle, the human resources director has left, a line of credit has been secured from Wells Fargo to cover recent expenses, based on a C.D. held by KPFA, and another loan is being sought.

Nevertheless, those waiting for an official announcement, especially concerning personnel changes, would be well-advised not hold their breath. Although critical of the mainstream media, Pacifica's managers and Board are often late and consistently coy when the subject is their own internal activities. Concerned about the staffing implications and potential for panic, recent meetings of the National Finance Committee have been conducted in executive session. The term "transparency" is used frequently, but, in part due to the crisis, is being selectively applied.

As Sawaya's predecessor, I'm not that shocked by recent developments. Things certainly weren't easy or conflict free during my two years in the job. But the rapid pace of the decline does raise at least two questions: How could so much go wrong so fast? And, what do Pacifica's leaders hope to do about it? The second question may be answered, at least in part, at the in-person meeting of the Pacifica national board scheduled for next weekend, Sept. 19-21, in Washington, DC

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