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GUEST COMMENTARY: Questions surround cancellation of 'Pepper and Friends'

Wednesday, September 9, 2009 | 12:52 p.m. CDT; updated 11:03 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 4, 2010

This letter includes observations and questions regarding the termination of "Pepper and Friends":

1. Why did KOMU and MU feel a need to fire — and publicly humiliate — 63-year-old Columbia icon Paul Pepper, who was only a year or two away from retirement anyway?

KOMU’s current management style appears to be similar to what many of us in academia have experienced. A lower-level administrator, e.g. department chair, station manager, etc., makes an unwise decision that is supported (“rubber stamped”) by others “up the line." The decision appears to be a good one, since the rationale supports only the administrator’s views and no counterargument is offered or solicited by the upper level administrator(s).

The demise of “Pepper  and Friends” and the insolvency at KOMU reminds me of the biblical interpretation of 2 Timothy 3:2-5 in the Life Applications Study Bible: “They gather viewpoints to suit their selfish desires. Although they professed objectivity, their only defense for their viewpoints is that those viewpoints suit their desires."

2. Is the “Pepper  and Friends” $74,000 deficit as reported in a public relations statement issued by MU’s news bureau accurate or misleading?

The statement ignored significant information to justify the termination of “Pepper  and Friends”. It did not mention that Paul Pepper offered to take a 50% pay cut and return to work part time (a savings of nearly $40,000). This omission, accounting for over half of the purported deficit, suggest there may be other claims that should be carefully scrutinized. I am puzzled about alleged financial losses because there has always been a waiting list for “Pepper  and Friends” advertisers. I have never been able to obtain the coveted “sponsorship” status available on “Pepper  and Friends.”

Perhaps the management team did not create a strategy to acquire new advertising dollars — even at increased costs — something that I would have been willing to pay. Who is responsible for this lack of initiative?

3. Did the management team give any consideration to the goodwill generated by “Pepper  and Friends” — goodwill that benefits KOMU, MU, the Journalism School and its students?

I hope we can all agree that community service programs like “Pepper  and Friends” should not be held to the same monetary standards as national programming. Arguably, “Pepper  and Friends” continues to be the best community service program that KOMU airs. Can that be quantified? Can its losses be calculated, even if we accept the MU accounting?

4. The public relations statement mentioned that no funding from the university or the state is used to support KOMU . Why has the management team neglected to seek such support? Isn’t that the responsibility of leadership in any organization? Is the real-life experience journalism majors covet—and acquire at KOMU—not touted by MU as a reason for journalism majors to attend this university? Is MU selling prospective students one thing—experience w/community programming—and offering them something else? Something less?

5. Will the increased local programming mentioned be in prime-time or will most simply substitute for infomercial time late at night or very early in the morning in order to satisfy FCC regulations? The Pet Corner was the only community program mentioned as part of this expansion. (Are they kidding?)

6. It appears that the management team made new facilities a priority and human capital of little importance. My observation is that morale at KOMU is at an all-time low. Visitors are greeted by an impersonal buzzer. For MU to imply that the current KOMU environment helps generate, educate and keep quality J-School students is naïve at best.

7. I respectfully ask why MU allowed the firing of very competent KOMU employees and yet keep the same managers responsible for the station’s insolvency? The managers have been the decision-makers for a decade; they have alienated numerous advertisers, thousands of members of the community, alumni, etc.

I believe that there is a viable alternative to terminating “Pepper  and Friends.” If we work together we can resolve the problem for all of us.

MU: I have offered examples of how to maintain “Pepper  and Friends”; you could come up with others. I have offered to call a meeting of all 122 “Pepper  and Friends” advertisers to determine if we could increase our advertising contributions and/or find additional ways to save the program. There are thousands of “Pepper  and Friends” supporters who protested the decision to terminate “Pepper  and Friends” by signing petitions, joining the “Save 'Pepper  and Friends'" Web site and attending various public events. They could be called upon to help support the continuation of the program.

If MU insists on terminating the program, its leaders could help “Pepper  and Friends” transition to another local television outlet that may not have adequate facilities to accommodate “Pepper  and Friends,” e.g. KMIZ, KRCG, etc. KOMU could offer its facilities at a discounted rate to other stations that truly support local programming. Surely, the antiquated/current “Pepper  and Friends” studio or the old shed that “Pepper  and Friends” most recently used would be available. All would benefit since the studio that picks up the show would be virtually guaranteed a strong advertising base and a community that would be indebted to them.

I am confident that through the cooperative efforts of the university, KOMU, the 122 “Pepper  and Friends” advertisers and thousands of “Pepper  and Friends” supporters, we can achieve our goal to celebrate and maintain this incredible and unique community service program, “Pepper  and Friends.”

Mel J. Zelenak is the owner and manager of Affordable Cruises and Travel, LLC, in Columbia.


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Comments

Bruce Wallace September 10, 2009 | 11:02 a.m.

I find it odd that there was not this outcry when MU journalism shed itself of its press and a number of employees. I'm certain it's simply because P&F is elevated on many radar screens.
Why has no one considered P&F for the local community access channel? This is where you will find this type of programming in many, many college towns. Columbia is so far behind in providing good, locally produced/sponsored cable access - P&F would be a great place to get that ball rolling.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin September 10, 2009 | 2:23 p.m.

@Bruce:

We are a high-tax, low-service community, with most of our tax dollars going toward government operations that don't directly impact the folks: high salaries for senior staffers; outlandishly large reserve funds; tax breaks for big players; and buildings, either new or used.

We also have very high fees for utilities and other city/county-run services. The main reason: local government has a virtual monopoly on everything from power to parking.

Until people get off their butts and realize these sad facts and change them at the ballot box, basic direct-to-the-folks services that many other communities take for granted -- like cable access, good sidewalks, and REAL bicycle lanes (as opposed to hokey sharrows) -- will not materialize.

(Report Comment)

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