Pat Scott leaves as Executive Director of Pacifica Radio Network
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After four years at the helm of Pacifica Radio, controversial Executive Director Pat Scott resigned on April 15. "We've made tremendous progress in fulfilling Pacifica's vision and mission ... It's simply time to move on and try something new with my life," Scott said. For the time being, she will remain on the job while a search is mounted for her successor.Governing Board Chair Mary Frances Berry said she was sad to hear of Scott's decision. In a letter to Scott, Berry expressed her appreciation: "Few individuals would have the fortitude to take on some of the entrenched attitudes that stood in the way of taking the network to a higher level. You brought Pacifica to a place where it can have a critical, positive impact on society..." While many observers would agree that Scott fought the good fight, few were taking the exchange between Scott and Berry at face value. Things at Pacifica are never simple, and it's unlikely that they are this round either.Overall, things had never gone smoothly for Scott. Her tenure was marked by ongoing harassment and resistance by persistent dissidents and former employees, who bitterly fought changes Scott wanted. Critics were effective in stymieing or distracting the workings of the Pacifica system, often forcing staff to be preoccupied with external issues instead of developing the network. There were also such internal leadership stumbles as the brief hiring of an anti-union law firm and defeats at the National Labor Relations Board.But much of the tension within Pacifica was over whether the network should serve small markets of loyal listeners with radical, diverse programming, or reach out and attempt to engage a larger progressive audience. Currently, Pacifica operates five stations, one in New York City, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Washington, D.C., and Houston -- all large markets that give Pacifica the potential to reach tens of millions of listeners. Traditionally, the network has only managed to reach a small fraction of those listeners. The path Scott and the Pacifica leadership opted for was a more influential political role, including producing high-quality national programming that each station would run. Clearly, they were somewhat successful -- producers and on-air personnel such as Amy Goodman, Julie Drizen and, more recently, Laura Flanders have brought added savvy to the national effort. But national programming has often met with resistance from local stations, particularly at WBAI in New York City, which has the ability to raise $1 million on its pledge drives, undoubtedly enhancing its independence. Nonetheless, Scott's tenure was marked with consistent audience growth -- popular shows like Democracy Now debuted -- and major improvements in studio space and equipment came about. More importantly, the Pacifica Radio Network was formed, which provides Pacific's 60 smaller affiliate stations with nationally produced news and programming. Daniel del Solar, a former general manager of KALW in San Francisco, said Scott should be credited with bringing better local programming at KPFA, the San Francisco Bay area station: "She did get rid of a lot of dead wood, and some live wires, but mostly dead wood (Scott was previously general manager at KPFA and overall worked for Pacifica for 11 years); she enlarged national program production to the benefit of all Pacifica stations; she did get the new KPFK building built; and she got Pacifica talked about."But getting Pacifica talked about was double edged. With controversy continuously erupting, Scott's combative leadership style sometimes made managing conflict more difficult. While people usually knew where she stood, her style often backed her into corners with little maneuverability, according to some staffers. While it may be true that no level of political skill could have successfully overcome the publicized tumult at Pacifica, it's likely the search for the next leader will be focused on finding a person with a more low-key style.Internally, there were management problems as well. One source within Pacifica said: "Scott was great when things needed to be blown up to get moving forward, but we should be building now and that's just not what's been happening. There's too much negativity, too much hostility." Another source suggested that straight shooter Berry -- a lawyer and former head of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, who was actually recruited by Scott -- may have been unhappy with aspects of Scott's approach. What is clear is that Berry had heard expressions of frustrations from a number of points within the system.In the long run, the Scott-Pacifica separation will be good for all concerned, suggest some. Scott, for example, weary from so many battles, can use some time to reflect. And new national leadership can get Pacifica off on a new foot in some crucial areas. But Scott's departure will not be any panacea for the Network. Pacifica undoubtedly will continue to struggle amidst the funding and audience development difficulties which face most progressive media institutions in the late 1990s. And the dissidents will not go away. "Scott's resignation was long overdue," Jeffrey Blankford of "Take Back KPFA"Êtold Belinda Griswold of the SF Bay Guardian. "I was saving a Havana cigar for when I heard she was leaving. But I'm afraid that while circumstances will be better without her, what Pat put in place is going to march forward unless there is movement for change within Pacifica. " One high-level Pacifica staffer lamented: "One of the worst parts of this change is that people like Jeffrey Blankford will be encouraged, and that will simply mean more ongoing aggravation in the future."