It’s Pledge Season!

rick-steves-pledge-young-fanFor about twenty years, I’ve hit the road every pledge season (March and early December) to remind people who enjoy public television that we need them to support it financially. I say things like this: “Public television is not a charity — it’s a service. If you’re enjoying consuming it but can’t afford to help, that’s fine. That’s the beauty of public television. But if you are consuming it and can afford to help support it, that’s a classy thing to do.”

I like to remind people that “public television is the one oasis on the dial that doesn’t dumb us down, but engages us. It treats us not as shoppers, but as neighbors and fellow citizens. It respects our intellect, assumes an attention span, and brings us programming driven not by a passion for keeping advertisers happy, but by a passion for bringing us a better understanding of our world.”

People respond by calling in — and that’s how we fund the one place on our media dial that’s not advertiser-driven. I was in San Francisco last night (KQED), Chicago the night before (WTTW), and started this little trip on Saturday night in Minnesota’s Twin Cities (TPT), where I was charmed by this little red-headed public television fan and travel enthusiast. (I told him I looked just like him when I was in 2nd grade.)

If you like what’s happened to the Travel Channel in the last decade (where so many thoughtful travel shows have been bumped by reality shows, binge-eating programs, and the like), then you apparently enjoy the impact of corporate-owned media — where the volume is cranked up and the shrill button is stuck on high in a frantic attempt to goose viewership and keep advertisers happy.

If, on the other hand, you recognize the value of the one station that is not a publically held corporation (in other words, that isn’t legally obligated to maximize profits in the short term for its shareholders), than you probably appreciate the existence of public television and what it contributes to our society.

Sorry for the pledge pitch. But I’m just in that mood. And I’ve been enjoying some great BBC productions lately (“Planet Earth” and “Rome”) that came from a continent where they value public broadcasting but don’t mess with “voluntary contributions from viewers like you” — they simply have “TV taxes.”(In much of Europe, a corner of broadcast media is kept public. When you buy a TV, bring it home, and plug it in, you also plug in a TV tax and pay about $10 a month for the service. But isn’t that a small price to pay for high-caliber programming like “Downton Abbey” and “Sherlock”?)

For those of you who recognize the value of public television in our society, kick in a little money to help by going to your local public television station’s website. Thanks a lot. As I’ve been signing off on my shows for two decades now, “Keep on travelin’!”


4 Replies to “It’s Pledge Season!”

  1. I LOVE PBS!

    I have hundreds of channels to choose from and only a few worth actually watching. My favorites are Tampa’s WEDU and WUSF so I’m a sustaining member of both.

    While updating my will a few years ago I asked my attorney to add a sizable gift to WEDU payable after my “final voyage”. Public TV is worth it.

    Please consider doing the same.

    “Der Doppelganger”
    Lakeland, Florida

  2. Please tell your amigos at PBS to please wrap up Pledge Week with all of these doctors and folks with their food cures and ADHD remedies. By far the best show on TV currently is Daniel Tiger.

  3. We call it the “begathon.” But I will even go a step further. For example, The Bread for the World charity RS supports seems good but we can’t get them off our spam no matter how many times we ask. And as a former professional fund-raiser I can assure you nobody wants to be dunned by a charity just because they have given once or even just once listened to their pitch.

  4. Public broadcasting runs advertisements; the advertisers just don’t have to pay. About five years ago, I watched a PBS fundraiser during pledge week. In less than two minutes time, Rick Steves answered several questions by referring viewers to his web site. Most businesses have to pay for this type of publicity. Public broadcasting fare is mostly mediocre. European television is much worst than American television. In Salzburg last summer the best shows available were reruns of “Two and a Half Men” and “The Big Bang Theory.” These are good shows, but they don’t prove that European TV is better.

    About ten years ago, NPR put out a press release indicating that the average listener’s family earned about $86,000. On average, about one in ten public broadcasting listeners and viewers pay contributions. If they don’t think public broadcasting is worth the money, why should the taxpayers? Many of those involved in providing content for public broadcasting are in the top one percent. Instead of pushing the poor taxpayer to put more in the trough, there should be a special tax on those making money from public broadcasting’s spin-offs and promotions.

    The claim that publicly held corporations are “legally obligated to maximize profits in the short term for its shareholders” is nothing but folklore. If that were the case, most businesses would bankrupt themselves in a few months. Lynn Stout, a distinguished professor of business law at Cornell, wrote for Harvard Law that this claim “lacks any solid foundation in corporate law, corporate economics, or the empirical evidence. Contrary to what many believe, U.S. corporate law does not impose any enforceable legal duty on corporate directors or executives of public corporations to maximize profits or share price.”

    There is a whole school of economics called public choice. It shows that managers of public institutions pursue their own self-interest rather than the public’s. More money and power are strong incentives for politicians and bureaucrats. It was in its self-interest, not the public’s, that the IRS censored Tea Party groups.

    Elsewhere, the Army will shrink to its smallest level since the year before Pearl Harbor. Noticing this, and other signs of American weakness, the world’s thugs are on the march. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that over the next decade health care reform will cost the economy two and half million jobs. America is racking up unsustainable debt. With all of these serious problems, public broadcasting is pounding a spoon on its highchair and demanding more free ice cream.

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