How KPBS Is Adapting To The New Normal

Today, we continue our series on how public media stations around the country are dealing with the pandemic. I’ve asked a few to share their thoughts.

John Decker is Director of Programming for KPBS in San Diego, Among his key points:

  • Make sure the staff knows they are appreciated and connected.
  • Over communicate to a staff that could feel isolated.
  • Look for opportunities to increase service to the community.
John Decker / KPBS

Here is what John shared:

As a manager the best thing I can do is to let my staff know they’re appreciated and connected. I practice MBWA on a regular basis, so my staff is used to seeing me wander the halls and strike up conversations. I find these impromptu discussions to be really valuable in getting a sense of what’s happening in the building because most times everyone is ready to chat and share. In times like these with all of our hosts & reporters at home and our operations staff taking turns at the wheel in the building, it is essential to let them all feel connected. Be it through a call, text or email. I over-sympathize in times like these and make sure to ask about family, friends and their own well-being.

The second thing I find it helpful to do is to over-communicate. We have made about a dozen moves in the past two weeks that, under normal circumstances, would be considered very significant. Report from home? Check. Host at home? Check. Schedule change? Check. Double local news reports? Check. Launch new podcast? Check. It’s incredible what the team has accomplished. To make these changes required a whole of of phone calls and emails and I made sure to communicate directly to the staff responsible for the change rather than rely on a series of emails. Too many times, staff can wallow in a whirlpool of emails where no one has the authority to make a decision, which is time lost we will not get back. In addition, I make it especially my responsibility to make sure my direct-reports are in a good spot because sometimes they are caught in that whirlpool and end up flailing around like everyone else. I always ask about their health, family, etc.

Lastly, I look for opportunities for increased service. Two of my favorite sayings are “in chaos there is opportunity” and “it’s easier to walk through an open door.” (I give Anya Grundman credit for that last one.) The content changes we’ve made in response to our audience’s need for information and connection will be permanent in many cases. Looking back in KPBS’ history, there are a handful of instances of how the station launched a new project that had a long life span. Our daily public affairs program, for example, was started in response to the first gulf war in 1990. And many of our digital initiatives stem from the wildfires of 2007. Point is, that now is the time for stations to launch new content, even if it means killing existing projects to do it. I want to support risk taking even if it goes against my instincts because I want my staff to think big and the audience will reward our innovation.

Thanks John. How is your station coping with our “new normal?” Share your comments below. We can all learn from each other.

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