In late August, the JPR Foundation (JPRF) and Southern Oregon University (SOU) reached an agreement on a new organizational structure to operate Jefferson Public Radio (JPR).
For those JPR listeners who haven’t followed this story, a dispute arose in 2011 stimulated by an Oregon University System “Asset and Liability Review” which made several governance recommendations related to JPR’s operation. A task force comprised of members of the JPRF board and SOU spent several months meeting in an attempt to address these recommendations but ultimately was not able to reach a compromise. In March 2012, the JPRF and SOU agreed to participate in mediation to solve the dispute. After two days of talks in early June, an agreement was not able to be reached that was acceptable to both SOU and the full JPRF board. Following this failed negotiation, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber asked all parties to accept a cooling off period and appointed leading Oregon mediator Susan Hammer to restart discussions. The agreement reached in August is the successful result of those discussions.
In essence, the new agreement continues the 14-year relationship between the JPRF and SOU as partners in operating JPR for the benefit of the region. SOU will continue to hold JPR’s radio licenses, as it has for the vast majority of JPR stations since it was established as a campus department in 1969. The JPRF will continue its role as the non-profit group that raises funds to support JPR’s service to the region. The agreement also calls for the formation of a new entity called Jefferson Live!, which will be an affiliate organization wholly owned by the JPR Foundation, to manage Redding’s Cascade Theatre, restore Medford’s Holly Theatre and explore the Foundation’s Jefferson Square project to develop new JPR studios in downtown Medford. In my view, the new structure paves a positive path forward that allows JPR’s public radio service to flourish while also establishing a new entity that embraces the JPRF’s exciting projects. I believe the new structure has a number of strengths for JPR and the JPRF’s projects:
- It acknowledges the positive role both the JPRF and SOU have played to help JPR become successful. Consistent with this recognition, the new structure is very close to the model which has worked for over four decades — creating continuity and the least disruption and uncertainty for JPR listeners and staff. The mediation process focused on keeping the best of the current relationship and “fixing” elements that are not working as well as desired.
- It enables the JPRF to remain a leading stakeholder in both “radio” and the innovative projects it has initiated — like the Cascade Theatre, Holly Theatre and Jefferson Square. The new structure builds on the JPRF’s historic support of “radio” while establishing a new connected framework for its associated projects — giving them the best opportunity to succeed while achieving the separation of liability and mitigation of financial risk sought by SOU. For donors, it also creates better organizational transparency with more discrete, clear accounting and reporting.
- It minimizes additional administrative cost so that funds currently used to serve JPR’s audience are not diverted to support inefficient administrative overhead.
- It provides an organizational decision making structure that is clear and responsive to JPR’s opportunities and challenges.
- It simplifies how JPR’s radio licenses are held so that they remain stably controlled for the purpose of providing public radio to citizens.
- It creates an effective mechanism to recruit and retain talented public radio professionals.
- It preserves SOU’s significant annual support of JPR and lays the groundwork for a new durable, long-term relationship that earns continued investment by SOU based on mutual benefit and a shared vision. Loss of this financial support would be equivalent to losing all federal support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
- It organizes significant assets, like radio stations and theatres, into operating units that are philosophically consistent with the respective priorities and capabilities of the JPRF and SOU and are also sound from a business and operational perspective. Rather than focus on who “won” and who “lost” in the negotiation based on a net gain or loss of net worth, the discussions focused exclusively on which organization should own specific assets in order to best serve the public.
- It was arrived at via a fair process marked by mutual respect and honest dialogue, with all parties sitting around the same table and discussing JPR’s best interests — which was far different from the process that took place during the first mediation when all parties were sequestered in separate rooms and not permitted to talk with each other.
I do want to convey that, while I support the organizational structure of the agreement, the structures themselves don’t guarantee anything. JPR will still need to earn its support every day by providing radio programs that are culturally rich, create better informed citizens and improve the quality of listeners’ lives. The Cascade Theatre will need to serve its patrons with diverse performances and distinctive film offerings in a unique, first-class downtown Redding venue. The Holly Theatre will need to inspire people to see a vision for Medford and the Rogue Valley that includes a fabulously restored historic venue with new live music and film events that enrich the community and stimulate additional downtown Medford economic vitality. Jefferson Square will need to develop a business plan that enables it to succeed. And, that’s how it should be.
In announcing the agreement — with the support of Oregon State Senator Alan Bates, Oregon State Representative Peter Buckley and Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber — JPR Foundation president Steve Nelson stated: “It’s a tribute to our shared commitment to Jefferson Public Radio and the work of the JPR Foundation that the parties were able to come back together, move past our differences, and find agreement on a shared path for the future.” I agree.