How pledge drives make me a better journalist

by Cassidy Herrington

The first day of spring is upon us. For those of us who work in public media, the budding tulips and pansies indicate the approach of the Spring Pledge Drive.
For the folks who may not know, it’s the dreaded marathon week when employees go on air and coax listeners or viewers into forking over money to support the station. Sounds simple, but it’s a feat that requires endurance, improvisation and a little insanity. And I love it.
For one, I rarely get to broadcast my opinions. I say rarely, because on occasion, I’ll tell listeners how I like my coffee or what album I’m devouring that day. But during pledge drive, for hours on end, I get to tell the audience why I love journalism and public media.
This soapbox moment is more than a selfish chore. When I consider the responsibilities I have to the community that supports me, I am humbled and reminded of why I do my job. My paycheck comes from listeners who appreciate the work I do and who realize the community needs someone checking on local government, economics and education – especially during a time when other media outlets are scaling back their efforts.
Like many journalists, I cringe at the words “business model,” but for me, the public media model works. It removes the obligations my outlet has to advertising or corporate interests, and instead, allows me to focus directly on my relationship with listeners.
As for the insanity, pledge drive is like Crossfit for journalists – especially on the last day of the drive when your circadian rhythm is obliterated. You’re deprived of sleep and normal eating patterns. Fortunately, local organizations may recognize this and provide gallons of coffee and heaps of donuts to keep you from spewing dry Arbitron statistics over the airwaves.
These grueling hours of persevering through exhaustion are tough lessons in staying motivated, alert and lively. I have to stay focused, present and conscious that someone is listening to my tired voice. I usually don’t have to try very hard to be entertaining because the combination of sleep deprivation and sugar overload usually shift me into autopilot.
When the Spring Pledge Drive is over, which means the fundraising goals are met, I return to work exhausted but re-invigorated. Once again, the desire for quality local, journalism prevailed over notions that journalism is dying. I am able to go back to my primary duty, reporting, with the uplifting knowledge that my work is valued and desired.
And finally, I can take a moment to stop and appreciate the budding spring blossoms.

Cass Herrington is the host of  WNIN’s All Things Considered and The Trend. Follow her on Twitter @CassHerrington.

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