It’s been a long time coming, but the handwriting is on the wall.
For media, that is.
Unless you have the resources to operate in multi-media (print, television, radio, video, social media, and of course, the internet), your days could be seriously numbered.
Take the case of WWOZ, for example.
WWOZ started as a community radio station, and it’s been the city’s go-to for fans of New Orleans and Louisiana music for decades. With the station’s streaming audio, ’OZ has also brought local music to the world. (Well, not all local music; at the present, you don’t hear any local hip-hop or rap, but that’s another story, and it could be remedied.)
Most of those fans and ’OZ supporters are probably also Jazz Fest–goers, if you consider the hordes of people who buy Brass Passes for Jazz Fest annually (a Brass Pass automatically makes its purchaser a WWOZ member). So the Jazz Fest Brass Pass incentive must be huge for WWOZ in terms of revenue generation. Frankly, though, there probably should be a separate fee for Brass Passes and WWOZ membership; I’m sure that most people wouldn’t mind bumping up their Brass Pass fee to get ’OZ membership.
But back to multi-media…
During the tenure of ’OZ General Manager David Freedman, whose vision and operating style saw WWOZ as the ultimate portal into the music scene, WWOZ made tremendous strides in fundraising, and in the services that it provided to its listeners: streaming internet, a more professional website and mobile app, audio programs and podcasts, and finally, the hiring of an expert team to produce professional videos.
All of these services come at a big cost, primarily labor. We know, because just the expense of keeping our website and e-newsletter going, printing and mailing (an expense that ’OZ does not have), and paying our staff of six, plus all the writers, photographers and designers who create OffBeat’s content, take literally all of our revenues—which means we have to work very hard to keep this media alive; we don’t have the resources to hire staff to create videos, multiple mobile apps and audio programming.
It all comes down to money.
According to its website, WWOZ currently has a paid staff of 22, not counting the deejay/programmers who select and play the music that is the basis of the station’s content, and that created its reputation. All of these programmers are volunteers.
WWOZ has been very successful at raising money to finance new non-radio audio and video programming. Their ability to do this has all been a function of major support from sponsors such as the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation that supported the creation of a new audio program called “New Orleans Calling,” an iteration of the original audio program “New Orleans All the Way Live.” But George Ingmire, the producer of these programs, who has roughly 240 one-hour programs in the can, was told that his function with the station was not going to continue because the cost of the shows didn’t have the monetary support required to continue production.
It’s a shame because Ingmire has the passion for the city’s music and musicians that everyone at WWOZ (and OffBeat) has. But it’s simply a matter of monetary support.
It’s just not there anymore. Not all the shows have aired on WWOZ, or on the radio stations where the program has been distributed; it remains to be seen whether “New Orleans Calling” will continue being produced and aired on WWOZ or may even land at another station.
Again: It’s all a matter of money.
Post-Katrina, a lot of money came in to support cultural institutions, WWOZ and OffBeat included. But Katrina is now in the distant past, and a new wave of residents has moved into the city—some of whom aren’t exactly keyed into why supporting these institutions and local music is important to the cultural integrity of New Orleans.
Plus, now there’s the added layer of social media and the web, that’s eroded a lot of revenue sources for traditional media.
It’s a tough world for all media these days: There’s only so much money to go around, and advertisers and sponsors are leaning more and more towards targeted marketing via social media to get their message across.
Moreover, the public is less likely to want to spend more than a minute or two listening to a radio broadcast that’s an hour long, unless it has a deep, deep appeal.
If you are a long-time consumer of OffBeat, you’re sure to notice that the articles we publish now are substantially shorter than the features we published when we first started. The public’s attention span has shortened by an incredible amount. The features are shorter; the online news stories we publish are short; readers (or listeners) have maybe one-tenth the tolerance they used to have (not good for relationships, business or personal, IMHO).
So the question is: What will entities like WWOZ and OffBeat—who have almost identical missions—do to keep the musical and cultural flame alive? Can or should they share resources and labor? What’s the answer?