Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Ellen Rocco: All The News Fit To Air

ellen roccoNorth Country Public Radio is like a river, working its way through the geography of the Adirondack North Country. We adjust to a changing and sometimes erratic environment, but we’re always there with a reliable flow of news, information, stories, and music of our communities, our country, and the world.

As we celebrate our fiftieth anniversary, I’d like to share some of the highlights of our history and my observations as station manager for the past thirty-five years.

WSLU-FM signed on the air as a little college-based station at St. Lawrence University in Canton, a half-hour’s drive outside the Blue Line. We broadcast classical music and newscasts for a few hours each day. In 1971, WSLU became a charter-year member of NPR and expanded to a nineteen-hour broadcast day; in the early eighties, we became a twenty-four-hour service and established a regional news department.

For the Adirondack Park, two of the biggest dates in our history came in 1985, when we signed on in Saranac Lake, our first transmitter outside of Canton. Fifteen years later, in 2000, we established our Adirondack news bureau, led by Brian Mann.

Today, North Country Public Radio operates thirty-four transmitters and translators reaching one-third of New York State, the greater Burlington area in northwestern Vermont, and southeastern Ontario. NCPR.org just won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for best website serving a small-market region.

The 8 O’Clock Hour, anchored by news director Martha Foley, provides the only daily reporting on the entire Adirondack North Country — broadcast, print or online — and, in the process, ties together the communities scattered across the geography we share.

Over the last few decades, NCPR has helped establish a regional identity for the vast Adirondack Park — connecting it to the rest of the North Country, the nation, and the world. Our role as a regional information center was dramatically demonstrated during the ice storm of 1998, when residents in the southern part of the Park stepped up to assist their neighbors to the north, connected by NCPR — literally a beacon in the wilderness.

An old friend of the station once said, “What sets NCPR apart is the station’s rigorous adherence to the highest standards and quality of service.” In our amazing and beautiful Adirondack North Country, NCPR has taken on the job of providing coverage of stories that otherwise would be left untold. We do not have the media resources of urban areas. What we do have is a station that cares about this place and its people and puts their stories above all else.

Our two-year multimedia series, Prison Time, is just one example of our in-depth reporting. We explored the forty-year impact of the Rockefeller Drug Laws on inner cities, the nation, and the Adirondack North Country. Brian Mann laid the groundwork for the series in the early 2000s when he followed the trail that connects New York City-based inmates and their families to the prison boom in our region.

Another example is David Sommerstein’s yearlong examination of the role of undocumented immigrants on dairy farms in northern New York. For this series, David visited farms in Lewis, Jefferson, and St. Lawrence counties and traveled to small, impoverished villages in rural Mexico.

We cover the day-to-day and ongoing stories, such as the controversy over the state’s plan to build a rail trail between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake and the unfolding of the massive Finch, Pruyn land deal. Our reporting on one of the region’s most notorious murder investigations, the Nick Hilary trial, uncovered some stubborn problems in our state’s justice system.

We know how to have fun, too. Don’t forget those fabulous audio postcards by Brian Mann, trudging through mud, skiing backcountry trails, paddling newly opened wilderness areas. But our let’s-have-some-fun ace in the hole is Bob Sauter, chief engineer, who pretty much single-handedly built and installed all those transmitters in the Park and who hosts the world-renowned Radio Bob R&B Show.

A lot has changed since WSLU first went on the air. With the flash and pop of twenty-first-century media and technology, it’s easy to forget that the important work of public radio is the day-to-day effort to bring you — the American public — reliable news and information, to engage in conversations about the world around us, and to delight and surprise with the stories of our hometowns.

Yes, we are on the air and online, and you can find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social-media platforms. But these are tools and containers. These are not the substance of what we do. You have helped us do work that matters — work that we can collectively take pride in.

At North Country Public Radio we are hopeful. We see challenging stories and believe in covering them courageously. We believe in the power of lifelong learning, in fairness and accuracy, honesty and substance. We believe in the power of human voices, in humor, in civility and civil discourse. We believe in the importance of the First Amendment and the privilege and responsibility it assigns us as journalists. We believe in fact-based reporting, and we work to be better year by year for the public we serve.

We are grateful to work in and to bring the work we do to this piece of geography, from the southern Adirondacks to the St. Lawrence River, from the Champlain Valley to the Tug Hill. We flow forward, not backwards.

Ellen Rocco is the station manager at North Country Public Radio.

This piece was first published in Adirondack Explorer magazine.

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The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with a biding interest in the Adirondack Park.

Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor John Warren at adkalmanack@gmail.com.


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24 Responses

  1. Gbear says:

    I miss Morning Pro Musica with our host, Robert J. Lurtsema.

  2. Richard says:

    I love NCPR. It ties together the North Country region; in fact, the region is a region in large part due to the integrative role that NCPR has assumed. Nothing better than coffee on the deck with the “8 o’clock hour” on the radio.

    Thank you NCPR.

    Richard

  3. Pablo says:

    The problem in the case of NCPR is biased reporting, such as the pro-environmentalist stories done by Bill McKibben’s pal, Brian Mann, whom Rocco cites as a great reporter.

    • Boreas says:

      Oh my, we wouldn’t want to preserve the environment! Lets, cut it, burn it, drill it, mine it, then pave it before Nature takes over!

      Pablo, get rid of PUBLIC media and you will hear no more about the environment. Look at the Sinclair group taking over a vast swath of media for essentially right-wing propaganda purposes. FOX news? If you ever listen to a NCPR story, you will almost always hear at the end that “??? (opposing view)” was contacted but declined to comment. You can only present one side of a story if only one side cooperates. Everyone needs to filter media news stories through their own BS filters, regardless of the source. The reason so many people support NCPR is that they are trusted. How many media companies can say the same?

  4. Jim Fox says:

    I miss NCPR when I’m away.

  5. Tony Goodwin says:

    Ellen, you forgot to mention the great prison break as another time NCPR provided reliable coverage while the national media often had to later “walk back” erroneous reporting.

  6. Frank Krueger says:

    I really like NCPR. But, the problem for me is that it’s signal is too weak. I live in Jay (AuSsble Acres) and can’t get a clear NCPR signal. Even in the car driving around the high peaks area the signal is weak. So, I listen mostly to VPR instead. Also, VPR had much better weather forecasting.

  7. Charlie S says:

    “We believe in the power of lifelong learning, in fairness and accuracy, honesty and substance. We believe in the power of human voices, in humor, in civility and civil discourse. We believe in the importance of the First Amendment and the privilege and responsibility it assigns us as journalists. We believe in fact-based reporting, and we work to be better year by year for the public we serve.”

    This is about as high a standard as it gets in my book and it all sounds good but I scratch my head and wonder why the Republicans are so hellbent on chopping public radio to pieces? Every chance they get they try to gut funding for NPR. It doesn’t make sense. Or does it?

  8. Audrey C. Hyson says:

    Ellen – you beautifully state all of the wonderful things about NCPR. Thanks to you and every one at the station present and past for the decades of hard, good work.

  9. Charlie S says:

    “The problem in the case of NCPR is biased reporting, such as the pro-environmentalist stories done by Bill McKibben’s pal, Brian Mann, whom Rocco cites as a great reporter.”

    So what do you mean by biased Pedro? That NCPR is one-sided on environmental issues? At least they’re taking that side! Where else do you get such in-depth reporting on earthy issues? What is it you don’t like about the truth? And what’s wrong with being pro-environment. I mean after all the earth is our only home and it’s getting smaller as we speak and if you’re not pro-environment your anti-environment which is not a thing I would feel proud about!

    The environmental movement is just a few decades young and have achieved a lot, yet they’ve always been up against those who seemingly feel threatened by trees or butterflies or owls… or any thing tied to the dame nature. Give them a concrete slab though and wholeness sets in. A strange bunch those anti-environmentalist.

  10. Paul says:

    With all the advertising, underwriting, and foundational support that we now have on “public” radio I don’t know if we can really call it public radio anymore?

    • Boreas says:

      Good point. But I don’t think that type of support is anything new with public media. It may have been more anonymous in the past, but with less government funding….well….that’s what can happen.

      • Paul says:

        Has government funding for public radio increased on a real money basis? It seems that more of the funding is private or commercial. Maybe not?

        I support NCPR and like most of what they do. Do they have a lean on what they report? Sure, that is what the audience wants to hear. Me included.

  11. JohnL says:

    Bottom line is that IF the NPR message, which is decidedly left wing, is so important, it should be self sufficient. The public , which includes me, should not have to pay for it. Please spare me the ‘it’s not biased’ argument. You know it is. That’s why you like it. You guys ALWAYS want someone else to pay for your ‘things’. Be men (and women), and pony up yourselves.

    • Boreas says:

      I feel your pain. Perhaps withholding some of your taxes would make you feel better…

      • JohnL says:

        Thanks Boreas. I knew if anyone would understand, it would be you. I am, however, a little disappointed that my buddy Charlie S didn’t weigh in on my side.
        P.S. Thanks for mentioning our President’s newly enacted reduced tax plan. That should help all of us, even if it’s only ‘crumbs’.

        • Boreas says:

          If I ever get a salary increase, the tax plan may help me – if it doesn’t expire first. But so far, the money I have lost on my Amazon investments have outweighed those tax “crumbs” 4:1.

  12. Charlie S says:

    JohnL says: “Bottom line is that IF the NPR message, which is decidedly left wing, is so important, it should be self sufficient. The public , which includes me, should not have to pay for it. Please spare me the ‘it’s not biased’ argument. You know it is. That’s why you like it. You guys ALWAYS want someone else to pay for your ‘things’. Be men (and women), and pony up yourselves……………………… I am a little disappointed that my buddy Charlie S didn’t weigh in on my side.”

    When you say ‘left wing’ JohnL you immediately admit to a bias on this public radio theme and no matter how good it is you will be against if because it swings left. It actually goes in many directions politically, scientifically, socially, musically, intelligently……but you have to have more than a narrow field of vision to realize this or even appreciate it. I’ve been out of public radio for over ten years and even if I was never involved with it I would still realize all of the good it puts out. It is “By far” the best thing on radio for more than just a few reasons! Public radio is the only place to find fairness and accuracy in reporting. It is the only place on the radio to find in-depth coverage of the news. There are just so many wonderful things about public radio that it boggles me how anybody would be against it! The only reason I can think that this is so is because so many people are spiritually bankrupt or that so many people see so little of what is actually under their noses! Or both!

    There shouldn’t even have to be a defense put up for public radio but you know how it is when those vicious, cold-blooded Tories are in control. There has to be a defense lest all things good go out the window. Why all things good out the window? Because good and evil don’t mix I suppose.

    Am not sure if you were aware or not JohnL but funding from the Feds for public broadcasting cost each American less than $1.50 a year. Compare that with what both the Iraq & Afghanistan wars alone has cost us taxpayers so far….$100,000 a head. And under whose control was this country in at the time these wars started? It most certainly wasn’t a left winger! Do some research JohnL and tell me if i’m wrong on these numbers. I just don’t understand your attitude towards public radio. I do pony up and I don’t mind my tax dollars going to good things and I’ll be darned if I find myself in a certain sphere because I have left undone certain good things.

    I weighed in!

    • JohnL says:

      I’ll go with your numbers Charlie, since you went to the trouble of looking them up.
      When you say $1.50 per person it sounds so innocent, but when you say $487,000,000 per year it puts it in the proper perspective. That’s 487 million dollars per year. One more time, simplified this time. IF NPR IS SO GREAT FOR SO MANY PEOPLE, WHY CAN’T IT SUSTAIN ITSELF? I’m NOT against NPR. Truly, I’m not. I believe in all points of view on all subjects being exercised freely. What I’m against is bureaucrats deciding what message to put out with my money. As an aside, I used to listen (and contribute) regularly, although being a mouth breather, my favorite show was Click and Clack (The Car Guys).
      Re: the Government. If you look in the Constitution, you’ll see that the main role of the Federal Government is to protect us (you too) from all enemies foreign and domestic. It’s not the only role, but I haven’t seen anywhere that it says the government should be nurturing our artistic side. People will always disagree on the way the government protects us. but it’s up to our ELECTED officials to decide the best way to do that. If we don’t like the way they do it, we vote them out. That’s been the way it works, and has worked quite well actually, for the last 230 some years.
      You may be surprised to learn that I actually agree with you on some of the wars and political quagmires we’ve gotten into lately, partly because 50 years ago I got caught up in one of the more controversial ones myself. That’s why I take voting so seriously, even though my vote is like swimming upstream in this state.

  13. Charlie S says:

    I hear you loud and clear JohnL. You don’t like good things especially when it effects your wallet. $487,000,000 is a mere pittance compared to the $5 trillion it has cost us taxpayers so far for those two ugly wars (that many of us were against) never mind all of the other trillions getting sucked into a vacuum for things that benefit a few only.

    You shout: “IF NPR IS SO GREAT FOR SO MANY PEOPLE, WHY CAN’T IT SUSTAIN ITSELF?
    > I suppose for the same reason other good things cannot sustain themselves and fall by the wayside JohnL…because people just get by, cannot afford to support. Because not enough people care or are open to things other than the wee spheres in which they exist.

    “I’m NOT against NPR. Truly, I’m not.”
    > You just don’t like it because it effects your wallet. You come off that way when you say you “should not have to pay for it” which is the same thing as saying, “I don’t like when my hard-earned dollars go to those welfare bums that don’t want to work, etc…” I don’t mind ‘my’ taxes going to NPR JOHNL. Why? Because it’s only money and besides… I like supporting things that are good. NPR benefits everyone and has a positive effect on all things that are good for this society. It even has a positive effect on birds & bees and trees.

    Federal funds go to many organizations in this country as grants and loans and whatnot to support education and many other things that are good for the people, for women, children, the environment, etc. and is generally done through statute, aka a written law passed by a legislative body. So if our leaders can pass laws that allow them to charge us taxpayers for the dropping of bombs on innocent men, women, and children in foreign lands JohnL why is it they shouldn’t pass a law to support things that are good for their own countrymen & women in this country? Such as NPR which benefits many people in many good ways! I will never understand the mindset! It’s mean and selfish!

    • JohnL says:

      I never mentioned welfare bums (as you call them, not me). And, I don’t care a whit about what you ‘don’t mind your taxes going for’. You want tax money going for ‘good things’. Ice cream is good. Shall we subsidize the ice cream industry. How about puppies. Government run puppy mills??.Or maybe, we should subsidize just the things that YOU want.
      I’m just giving you my opinions and since you say you’ll will never understand my mindset, I’m not sure why I bother. Probably because I can’t believe anyone can be as close minded as you. Have a good day Charlie. ,Mean and selfish JohnL

  14. Charlie S says:

    ???

  15. Charlie S says:

    I’m loud with words JohnL and I know I come off overly critical and sure, I throw in some jabs (imperfect me)….but it is more a generalization towards a mindset than it is directly at you. Do know that. You don’t care a whit you say meaning you’re sticking to your guns.That’s what we do! Me the same and rightly so! I respect your opinions even though I may disagree which I don’t always do with you. You seem to make light of matters that are of concern to me, including in your last post…sobeit.

    Pedro got me going on this with his anti NCPR rant. As we speak there’s a school of unclean spirits who would just love to take away Public Radio, who have this strong desire for it to go away and who every so often (as is now the case) try to slash funding as a first step towards that end……so that one of the few intellectual outlets remaining in the public sphere will no more be a threat to the evil that lurks in the minds of the psychoneurotics, you know….those inferior forms who like to cut, burn, drill, mine and pave as Boreas would say. He’s a smart man that Boreas is and he’s better than me in that he knows how to stay neutral on matters that drive the passions in us here on the Almanack. I’m working on it but in the meanwhile there’s just a whole bunch I disagree with and I am grateful there’s an avenue like this to express and which allows me to rebut some of the hollow postures I see here.

    There’s not much I want JohnL. I’m completely happy with my small lot in life. My mind tends to lean towards all things good, things that enrich the spirit (that is why I go to those quiet Adirondack woods.) Public radio is just one of those things, it is a bastion in a sea of mindlessness which is what corporate radio is and which dominates our airwaves. There are those who would like for public radio to go away, or could do without it, so that we’re stuck with a private enterprise only, a one-sided theme. That’s not what I want and if it ever did happen one thing is for sure….the psychoneurotics will have less things to save them from their misery which they are not yet aware of but which they will become more aware of as they age.

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