Don’t mourn the complete loss of Arkansas Public Media, the statewide news collaboration of the state’s public radio stations whose major grant funding ran out at the end of September.
It’s true, as reported in last week’s Whispers, that the project’s four full-time positions were lost when $278,300 in Corporation for Public Broadcasting grant money ran dry. But a downsized collaboration will continue, according to Nathan Vandiver, interim general manager of University of Arkansas at Little Rock Public Radio.
“While the grant that founded the partnership ended on Sept. 30, 2018, the partnership will continue to operate through a combination of full-time staff of various partner stations and freelance reporters,” Vandiver said. “The initial two-year period established a strong foundation including a distribution network, a systematic state-wide underwriting program, a digital media strategy, and significant cooperation.”
He said there is a clear need for state-wide news, and that Arkansas Public Media “will continue to create in-depth news stories in content areas of agriculture, education, energy, health, and justice and distribute them throughout its state-wide public media partnership.”
APM, which is based at the university, will work with $8,500 left over from donors and underwriting, Vandiver said.
Vandiver also added context to a quotation in last week’s Whispers from Managing Editor Bobby Ampezzan. Ampezzan said early this year that APM was destined to face a “transition” this fall, but Vandiver said plans always called for the public media project to succeed, and for grant money and gifts to arrive and sustain it.
The lost positions include Ampezzan’s editorship, Mary Ellen Kubit’s job as partner-manager, handling non-journalism operations, and a central reporter job that had been held by Sarah Whites-Koditschek before she took a fellowship with Wisconsin Watch, a nonprofit investigative reporting endeavor based in Madison.
Duties of the lost employees will be taken over to the extent they can be in-house at KUAR, UA-Little Rock’s National Public Radio affiliate.
“When [Whites-Koditschek] left, we filled the position with a temporary appointment” of about eight weeks, Vandiver said. “Daniel Breen was a part-timer with KUAR News and became the temporary appointee, and did some great and productive reporting in a short time.”
Breen was to return to a part-time capacity at KUAR, Vandiver said.
“The goal of Arkansas Public Media has always been and will be collaboration among the partner stations and expanding journalism in the state,” Vandiver said. “So we’re trying to figure out ways to still do that.”
APM’s work over the two years of CPB funding was widely praised, and Vandiver said the project handled 226 in-depth news stories and a feature documentary. He also cited successes on the project’s website, ArkansasPublicMedia.org, and significant traction on social media. He noted that APM reporters took top honors last year at the Diamond Journalism Awards, a regional competition sponsored by the Arkansas Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. That coverage centered on the state’s Freedom of Information Act, industry-linked earthquakes and a rally of white nationalists in Batesville.