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APM’s Vanessa McKuin on How the Public Can Band Together on Radio

3 min read

An Arkansas native who moved to New York City as a child and then returned, Vanessa McKuin is the partner manager of Arkansas Public Media, a nonprofit statewide journalism collaboration funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, listeners and partner stations.

McKuin earned a bachelor’s degree at Hendrix College in Conway, and she has a master’s in historic preservation from Pratt Institute in New York. Before joining APM in 2016, McKuin was executive director of Preserve Arkansas.

Why is nonprofit newsgathering important and what is your role as partner manager?
APM covers health, education, energy and justice within Arkansas. The narrow scope lets us focus and dig deeper. Our nonprofit model means that we measure success by listener support, not page views or shares. My role is to inventory outcomes for grant reporting and to coordinate non-news aspects: finances, fundraising, community programs. I’m also a liaison for four radio stations and partners like AETN and the Butler Center.

With “fake news” becoming a war cry and media polarization rampant, what does the public need from a news outlet?
Independence, accountability and accessibility. The University of Missouri School of Journalism ranks NPR in the top five news outlets in trust, next to The Economist, Reuters and BBC. APM and partner stations follow NPR’s high journalistic standards and style. High standards help to combat “fake news” claims.

How is fundraising going more than a year after your startup was enabled by a $287,000 startup grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting?
In a way this project asks if Arkansans will support expansion of statewide journalism. Quality journalism is expensive, and CPB funding covers only about half of our costs. It’s a challenge to start up a new media organization and fundraise from the beginning. We’ve learned a lot this year and built organizational structure. Offering opportunities for businesses to underwrite statewide programming requires coordination. I’m working to secure support for APM past initial funding. People who want to invest in quality journalism for Arkansas through sponsorship, underwriting or donation can call me.

The fall fund drive for KUAR also sought dollars for APM. Do the efforts sort of cannibalize each other?
UA-Little Rock Public Radio took the lead on creating Arkansas Public Media because Arkansas is ripe for more high-quality journalism and we can reach new and broader audiences. Leaders at KLRE/KUAR and the College of Social Sciences & Communication are very supportive. As a show of support for the project and goals, UA-Little Rock Public Radio dedicated a day during the Fall Fund Drive to Arkansas Public Media. The response was inspiring. Thirty-four percent of the funds donated to APM came from new donors or people who hadn’t donated to KLRE/KUAR in at least a year.

What has surprised you and what do you like about the job?
The process of making radio is still magical to me. There is a different sense of time in radio. Thirty seconds seems so short, but writing scripts or watching anchors run the control board, you realize a lot can happen in 30 seconds! The thing I like the most about my job is helping to provide a public service that has a direct and large impact on people’s daily lives. Reporters highlight the voices of people who are affected by issues we cover. Those perspectives enrich and challenge my personal perspective of the world, and I hope they do the same for listeners.

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