January 16, 2020
It’s been more than a year since I resigned my position as CEO of the Association of Independents in Radio, AIR. It has been an extraordinary time of rest, reflection, and setting new directions with my own creative work. I’d like now to express my gratitude and share some lessons. I’m also pleased to announce a new production entity – MarginMedia.org, including my advisors and new work coming this year.
The completion of my service as AIR’s executive is tied to where — or really why — I began. I was recruited by AIR’s board with a mandate to elevate the position of independent audio producers in public broadcasting and secure a seat at the decision-making tables. It was a steep climb, but a successful one.
Prior to AIR and operating as SchardtMEDIA, I commissioned an extensive study – Mapping Public Radio’s Independent Landscape. It provided a comprehensive understanding of the demographics and dominant stereotypes within the industry, and also examined the insularity and limitations facing independent audio producers. My commitment to diversify the talent pool and influence the funding model was rooted in the roadmap drawn from this research and later put in to practice at AIR.
At AIR we accomplished a lot. Our most important success was expanding the talent pipeline to be more representative of the country through initiatives like New Voices and Localore, a collaboration that involved hundreds of people working to invent and bring to life their vision of what public media can do and be. In a letter to public radio and television station managers, Ford Foundation president Darren Walker remarked, “We’ve been proud to support Localore: Finding America, a remarkable production from AIR, the Association of Independents in Radio … Finding America has found a new model for telling the stories of underrepresented populations.”
The main drivers of the Localore productions were women and people of color who, for more than eight years, generated thousands of stories across hundreds of local, national, and international platforms. Localore is a model for other organizations, and it drove AIR’s fundraising, with more than $9 million directed to production teams and to other independent producers in the form of mentoring fees, scholarships, and work stipends.
We also built a talent directory in which hundreds of producers comprising AIR’s network continue to derive income each year. We were able to transition all of AIR’s project-specific funding to general operating support, providing AIR with more flexibility for its next phase of evolution. I was proud to reach that milestone.
AIR was and continues to be a test bed where it’s possible to engineer necessary change to a public media that began with the highest ideals of shared democracy. Instigating such rapid change amid a national culture shift was both exhilarating and exhausting for many of us. I learned a lot, sometimes the hard way, and I’m proud of what we achieved over more than a decade at AIR. I’m so grateful to those who worked consistently on behalf of independent talent, and to the producers who bring courage, creativity, and passion to the work.
I know, too, that the significant work of those of us committed to public service media is not complete. In today’s world, the clarion call rings clear to those who are listening. I believe in those of you who continue to challenge the status quo, who believe that a world defined by compassion, optimism, and love is possible, who understand we must direct the power of media and journalism with conviction, and in new ways. Let’s work together. Please call on me for support and collaboration as you create new worlds.