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Working in a Government or University Setting

The relationship between the director of a public media outlet that is licensed to a school, college, or government agency is very similar to working for a board of directors, only there are usually more rules and levels of complexity.

As one public radio manager put it, “Three of the four stations I’ve worked for have been licensed to universities. So you’d think I would have figured it all out sooner. But it’s complicated (and if the institution is dysfunctional) you can easily learn the wrong lessons.”

Just as directors report directly to boards, the public media manager should make sure that their boss is in the loop on station activities. That person, and the board that he or she reports to, will make rules similar to what a non-profit board might make. The difference is that the rules a university board approves are generally designed to cover a wide range of departments, most of which are academic.

Directors in these environments might report to a university president, chancellor, dean, vice chancellor, or department chair.

In each of these instances, it is the job of the director to not only to build relationships with these individuals, but to share information about the importance of the public media outlet to the parent institution. Often your station (and maybe your university’s football team) will be the greatest outreach the institution has in the community.

Keep communicating the value of your organization.

Get to know the heads of other departments and service functions that can be helpful to your station. Meet with the head of human resources and explain how your station needs to comply with EEO regulations established by the FCC. Meet with the lead of the legal department to discuss how your station is represented on communication matters before the FCC. Rarely will an institution have this expertise and it will probably need to engage another firm to handle such issues. Find out how they handle the review of contracts and other matters. The head of your institution’s purchasing department can explain the rules you need to follow. The persons who manage budgets for your institution can help you navigate financial matters. The key is to go to these people before you have a crisis. They will be impressed that you are seeking their advice early on in your tenure. They can be your strongest allies or your primary obstacles.

Serve on committees whenever asked. Your visibility in the organization and your willingness to engage in other topics will be appreciated and lend to your credibility.


This is an excerpt from THE PUBLIC MEDIA MANAGER’S HANDBOOK.  Learn more about how to manage a public media station in an institution whose primary mission is not broadcasting.

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