A fight over the future of public radio station KPLU is worth paying attention to and supporting in this era of shrinking numbers of news outlets.
Two reports published in the past week by The Seattle Times shed light on the messy side of the fight. But supporters who are hoping to secure the station’s independent future should not be distracted from the goal: survival of an independent station.
In fact, donors are gaining in their bid to buy the station from Pacific Lutheran University.
The Save KPLU campaign reported this week on its website that it has raised more than $6 million of the $7 million goal it set by June 30.
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If successful, KPLU backers could avert a proposed $8 million sale to the University of Washington and merger of their station’s news programs with KUOW’s. There might be an argument for consolidating news programs if it guaranteed a more robust news presence.
But just as The Olympian and other news outlets are fighting to retain their independent voices in a harsh economic landscape, KPLU has offered listeners its own identity and take on the news that is more tailored to South Sound listeners. Ownership by UW does not assure that.
The outpouring of financial support is one form of evidence that listeners want KPLU to continue.
That said, the Sunday story by reporter Lewis Kamb of the Times was disturbing. Relying on emails and correspondence disclosed through records requests, Kamb’s report noted that UW and PLU kept their imminent deal quiet, if not under wraps, until a Nov. 12 UW regents meeting.
Officials at both institutions deny they were misleading the public, but it’s hard to see their actions as forthright, either.
Separately, a lawyer for Pacific Lutheran University sent a letter asking the Friends of 88.5 FM group, which is running the Save KPLU campaign, to separate their campaign from KPLU, including removing the station’s logo from their website. It appears those changes have already been made.
Donna Gibbs, a marketing spokeswoman for PLU, told the Times it was not trying to sabotage the fundraising, but make clear to donors — some of whom had expressed confusion — exactly what their donations were being used for. That clarification sounds fair and reasonable.
Folks on both sides of this difficult transition for KPLU must work to avoid acrimony and keep sight of the public’s long-term benefit. Eventually, PLU may be faced with a potential offer of $7 million. At that point, the university will have an important choice to make.
The public’s interest must be remembered.