The Unfortunate Death Watch of FSRN

Barring significant divine fiscal intervention, the United States’ only collectively-produced progressive daily radio news program, Free Speech Radio News, will suspend production on December 20.
FSRN has been an amazing accomplishment of independent journalism. Founded in the ashes of the Pacifica Radio network’s self-immolation of the late 1990s (which also led to the independence of Pacifica’s primary nationally-syndicated show, Democracy Now!), FSRN runs on the efforts of community radio stations and grassroots journalists from around the world, and airs on more than 100 stations domestically.
Putting together a half-hour of hard news five days out of seven is not easy; covering the silent stories only adds to the challenge. FSRN’s editorial staff and stringer-army did it well, ultimately replacing the Pacifica News Network in its entirety.
Unfortunately, FSRN’s days appear to be numbered. The problem is simple: unlike DN!, FSRN has not been able to cultivate an independent revenue stream and thus still relies on Pacifica for approximately three-quarters of its operational funds.
These funds go to pay for core editorial staff but, by and large, are paid to the stringers on the ground doing the reporting. In many respects, FSRN’s stringer-payments are generous relative to other radio news networks. I’ve known people who’ve made a short-term living feeding good stories regularly to FSRN. This is as it should be: if you want good journalism, you should properly compensate those doing the work, and good radio news never lets on just how much work goes into the story.
However, yesterday FSRN declared it “cannot in good conscience continue to commission new stories from our freelance reporters. Neither can we continue to keep the same number of people on payroll.” The problem is Pacifica, which owes FSRN more than $150,000 in back-payments for operational support.
Given the current dire straits of Pacifica itself, it looks like FSRN may end up as collateral damage from Pacifica’s long-running dysfunction.
This would be a shame. Having been there and done that, I know it’s extremely difficult to start a syndicated radio news service from scratch. In both cases, I had the luxury of a sponsoring organization which was willing to fund the operations, as well as a physical newsroom. But FSRN’s collaborative operation cuts both ways, since diversifying the news production process adds to its complexity. Staying on the air for 10 years demonstrates the passion and dedication those made FSRN what it is for solid, investigative radio journalism.
If FSRN suspends production, the fear is that its stringer-army will slowly melt away, and reorganizing that to its previous depth and caliber may prove impossible. That said, it’s not too late yet, and every little bit helps.