Well I guess like everyone else I’d best get back to work. In 2015 that will consist of: taking care of the Accountant and the Nerd; working on The Book; and ‘stirring’ on this site, when the fancy takes me. But it will not – sorry to disappoint all of you who have been asking, nay, demanding – include the return of The Rainbow Report.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. It takes a team to make a quality current affairs radio show. Ideally a panel operator/technical producer to push the buttons; a producer, to help me come up with themes and ideas for the show, identifying, sourcing and vetting potential guests; a roster of on-air sidekicks; a social media guru; an executive producer to liaise with station management; and a committed regular sponsor.
Ideally. In the case of The Rainbow Report, my support staff varied from one to three, and for brief periods, as many as five. But never enough.
Some of it’s my fault. I’m not the easiest person to work with. Some people liked firm direction and leadership (as I saw it): others resented being treated as staff, when they were doing me the favour of volunteering (as they saw it). Well, they all got the same speech at the outset: when you join this show you’re the crew of the ship, and the Captain’s word is law. This is not a democracy.
As you can tell, HR was never my strong suit.
In those circumstances most of the work falls – some would say, deservedly – on the Captain. With each one hour show taking around 30 man-hours to plan, research, chase guests, write, podcast. . . towards the end, I was exhausted. Quality was suffering, for which I felt guilty.
I can’t begin to describe how much better I feel now I’ve stepped off the treadmill!
Aside from the personal (and personnel) issues, times have changed. Community radio is under threat. Already Malcolm Turnbull has axed community TV. He supports community radio, for the time being, despite pressure from others in the government. Valuable spectrum is being ‘wasted’, they say. Community radio should also become online only, they argue. Funding for all kinds of community organisations, including LGBTI ones, is being slashed. Everyone is afraid they are the next for the scaffold.
Under the circumstances, station managements and boards have become ever more risk averse. They hope – in vain, I fear – to fly beneath the radar. The mantra is ‘don’t make waves.’ Don’t upset politicians. Don’t upset sponsors. Don’t upset community groups. Don’t generate controversy. Above all, for God’s sake, don’t get us sued!
Playing Devil’s Advocate for a moment, getting sued could be the best thing that ever happened, depending on who’s suing you, and for what. Gay News in the UK went from being a little niche paper to a financially secure national institution after Mary Whitehouse and the Festival Of Light went after them and people realised it couldn’t be taken for granted any more.
In the current climate, the principles on which The Rainbow Report operated would be even tougher to sustain than before. But I still think they are very good rules for a current affairs show to follow.
Principle number one: no-one gets a free ride.
No matter if an organisation or business is LGBTI owned and run, gay-friendly, or hostile (overtly or covertly), treat them the same. If a gay organisation is badly run, misleading, mistaken, even dishonest, hold them up to scrutiny in exactly the same way we would any other outfit.
No organisation should be treated with kid gloves. just because it’s one of ours. No double standards. This generates complaints to management from organisations that want a free ride for their propaganda.
Principle number two: if there is more than one side to a story, put both
As I learned in current affairs radio 101 many years ago, when you’re reporting on a strike, you put a management representative in the studio with a union representative, and moderate the discussion. If they refuse to appear together, then the presenter argues the union case with the management representative, and the management case with the union representative.
If either side is unable or unwilling to provide a spokesperson, you summarise their case, and point out that they were unwilling or unable to be interviewed. A refusal to attend or provide a statement is a statement in itself.
This generates complaints of behaving like a shock-jock, trying to generate artificial controversy, putting the station in danger.
Principle number three: never give interviewees your questions in advance.
Give them a general outline of the topics you wish to cover. Let them know who will be interviewing them, and if others will be joining in. But nothing more.
As an aside, one of the oddest interviews ever. Pamela Andersons PR person rang to say she was available to talk about some AIDS fundraising she was doing, and was I interested? Sure! A few moments later I received an email with two attachments. One contained the questions I was to ask Ms Anderson. The other contained her pre-recorded answers! I shouldn’t have used it, but then again, she was sort of big at the time, and it was for a good cause . . . . .
Principle number four: conduct all interviews live, face to face, in the studio.
PR minders will no longer allow their charges to appear unless they know exactly what will be asked, and will demand that certain subjects are ruled out, or ruled in. They will try to insist on pre-recorded interviews, and will demand copies before the show goes to air. Sometimes they will even try to insist an interview is junked. And they will go over your head and pressure management. And guess what? More complaints.
I’m not suggesting the program always lived up to these standards. I made mistakes and put to air some dreadful puff pieces, backed down and did pre-recorded and even re-recorded interviews, plugged gaps with pre-records from other stations, and told the occasional dreadful dad joke. Whatever, that time is over.
So there will be no RR return.
In answer to the other question many of you have asked: No, I don’t miss it. In the year I become eligible to draw my pension, I’m glad to leave it to another generation to carry the torch. I’m glad I was able to do what I could while I could, and am very grateful to all the people who were part of the team down the years, who made me look so good.
Thank you, too, to everyone who listened. Please continue to follow my maunderings on this site, if you can stand it!
Wishing you all a safe and happy 2015. Still battling. Still not raising the white flag.