Flo Rogers: Public Innovator Pick

This edition of The Harwood Institute's newsletter features Flo Rogers, President and Chief Executive Officer of Nevada Public Radio and Member Director of National Public Radio.

A native of England's Isle of Wight, Rogers came to the U.S. to attend San Diego State University in 1988, earning a master's degree in radio and television. Her ascent in the world of public radio began when she was recruited to San Diego's KPBS by a college radio colleague. She ultimately headed to Las Vegas in 2001 to become program director at Nevada Public Radio's KNPR.

Rogers' involvement with The Harwood Institute includes attending a Harwood Public Innovators Lab in Utah. (Click here for info on the Institute's next lab) She is also featured in Rich Harwood's book, "Why We're Here: The Powerful Impact of Public Broadcasters When They Turn Outward." Rogers credits the Institute with helping to guide the station to create opportunities for people to connect to the community and public life.

In the following Q&A, Rogers shares with the Institute her philosophy about public radio's role in the community, the challenges she tackles through programming and other aspects of her work at KNPR's helm.

The following is the Institute’s Q&A with Flo Rogers

The Harwood Institute (THI):  What are some of the biggest challenges your community faces, and how are you addressing those through your work at KNPR?

Flo Rogers: Nevada is still recovering from the recession. Housing, education, healthcare and diversifying the economy are our biggest challenges. For the last 12 years we’ve been focused on being the convener for discussions and reporting on those topics with a relentless focus through our weekday news program, KNPR’s State of Nevada. We can serve the community with news and information that enhance and amplify what our commercial colleagues do, unfettered by commercial pressures or chasing a daily news cycle.

THI: In 2015, Nevada Public Radio will celebrate its 40-year anniversary.  What does the upcoming anniversary mean for you?

FR: We tend to use our institutional history to celebrate inside our organization and appreciate the work of the colleagues and founder who brought us along in a different media era and acknowledge their risk- taking and prudent decision-making to protect our ability to serve the community. Externally, the challenge is to continue to be relevant every hour of the day, earn the trust of our audiences every day and be a good partner to the community going forward. We don’t take it for granted that people will tune in for our programming or seek us out online or in print.

THI: What are some of the major milestones KNPR has achieved under your leadership?

FR: Coming through the difficult years of the recession, we still increased our news and information offerings on air, online and in print through our city regional magazine Desert Companion. We were able to expand our operating budget through successful fundraising and avoided spending down rainy day funds, although anyone would have agreed that it was “pouring rain” in Las Vegas!

THI:  How did you first hear about The Harwood Institute?

FR: I first heard about The Harwood institute when it published a report on Las Vegas with the Nevada Community Foundation that reflected on challenges facing us as America’s fastest-growing region. That coincided with our split into an all-news station and a full-time classical station. The report galvanized our mission in regard to our local news programming: it helped us realize we could play an important role in helping people feel connected to this area because, at the time, we simply didn’t have a “sense of place” or community here.  The Community Foundation later provided significant funding for our news programming due to that alignment. I went to an Innovators Lab in Utah, and when the Corporation for Public Broadcasting partnered with Harwood to work on similar frameworks with a group of about a dozen public radio and TV stations, we quickly signed up.

THI: How has your work with The Harwood Institute changed the station’s approach and/or programming?

FR: Looking at your current and desired role in a community influences the kind of community-building you can do. As a public media, news-based organization our role cannot be to advocate on particular solutions, but we can be influential in driving the narrative about the issues and solutions available in our community. The foreclosure crisis was the best example since we had a grant to fund additional activities. Knowing that our audiences are civic-minded decision-makers and individuals who have the inclination to act means we have a special role in connecting people with ideas and information. Of course listening to them is vital – what they say, what their listening behavior shows, their online activities and, of course, their giving.

That means we are relentlessly focused on using our local airtime as effectively as possible, driven by what’s important to our audiences in Southern Nevada.  On a daily basis that means thinking carefully about whom we’re going to invite for on-air interviews, what service journalism packages are most useful for our magazine and how much airtime we can give back to nonprofits so they are more visible to our audiences. It also means we give a great deal of thought to the kinds of opportunities we can create for local businesses to find their markets through sponsorships on air and in print.

The Harwood Institute has certainly influenced our long-term choices to concentrate resources in local news production, expand our magazine and host a recycling event twice a year. As we’ve evaluated our partnerships with other public radio outlets we’ve kept an emphasis on focusing on the most important issues for our community. Sometimes that has meant we forgo some of the activities for which public radio is sometimes known. For example, we don’t create local classical music programming, and there are some expensive legacy network programs we don’t air. Some of this may seem obvious, but public radio across the county is knitted together by our allegiances to national programming. There’s a healthy discussion around how resources can be directed to local efforts and what activities will support that core of national news when we must be “everywhere” – whether on air, accessible via an app on a smart phone and tablet!

THI: How has your work with The Harwood Institute changed the way the station engages with the community?

We are constantly evaluating whether our efforts are aligned with what our community needs and in that same feedback loop monitoring what our community is willing to support us doing. Every month, as we endeavor to earn their time and trust through our radio, print and online offerings, we are asking if we are doing the right things and reaching audiences in meaningful ways. Are we sparking conversations about issues that matter? Are we giving those who deserve a voice a means to express solutions and frustrations with our community? We are very mindful that we don’t simply “super-serve” a traditional public radio audience, and I’m proud to say KNPR reaches a more ethnically diverse audience than some public radio stations in much larger markets in the western U.S.  Public media must engage a next generation of individuals who seek out information about their community, and we are working to meet those needs in the decisions we make every day. That’s how we will stay relevant to our community and how our community will view us as significant in their lives.

THI: What are your aspirations for your community?

FR: The Las Vegas metro area has some acute challenges – from water resources to improving public education outcomes – but we have a remarkable spirit of innovation and “dreaming big.” Our community is embracing a future that includes a more diversified economy than one solely based on our dominance in tourism.  I’ve been here less than 15 years, but I’ve felt that people are more invested in making things work rather than just moving on to another place. It seems that the number of people actively involved in making things happen on a civic and philanthropic front has increased too.  Hopefully we’ve had a hand in making this place feel like home for them.