BROWNSVILLE, Texas – National Public Radio recently received $4.7 million from philanthropists Eric and Wendy Schmidt but none of the money will go towards restoring NPR to the Rio Grande Valley.

Rather, the funds will go towards creating two new regional newsrooms–one in California and a Midwest hub connecting Member stations in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska.

The news has not pleased Grassroots Public Radio-RGV, the nonprofit set up to bring NPR back to the Valley.

“While we are pleased the great journalism NPR provides is going to be expanded in California and the Midwest, we are disappointed none of this cash injection is coming to the Rio Grande Valley, which, with a population of 1.4 million people, is the largest market in the United States without NPR,” said Grassroots Public Radio-RGV secretary Shawn Seale.

Shawn Seale

Seale said the Valley has actually suffered a “double whammy” because it received zero dollars under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which was signed into law on March 27.

“The Corporation for Public Broadcasting received $75 million of emergency stabilization funds under the CARES Act and, once again, the Valley got zero. This is outrageous. I do not know what we have to do to get heard. We demand and deserve an NPR station in the Valley, just like every other major market in the United States.”

The Valley lost its NPR station in May, 2019, when the Diocese of Brownsville sold KHID and KJJF for $1.25 million. No governmental or educational entity has stepped up since to bring it back.

“By not helping the Valley regain an NPR station, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is violating the spirit of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967,” said Federico Garza, treasurer of Grassroots Public Radio-RGV. “President Johnson envisaged having NPR and PBS across the whole of the country. He did not envision excluding a heavily minority region like the Rio Grande Valley.”

In a recent op-ed in The Rio Grande Guardian, Clayton Barsoum, government affairs associate for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, said CPB has been able to distribute $3,897,385 of CARES Act funding to public television and radio stations across the state of Texas. 

The stations to benefit are KACV of Amarillo, KAMU of College Station, KEDT of Corpus Christi, KTTZ of Lubbock, KPBT of Midland, KLRU of Austin, KLRN of San Antonio, KERA of Dallas, and KUHT of Houston. Of these, KACV, KAMU, KEDT, KTTZ, and KPBT each received $260,205 under the CARES Act, while KLRU, KLRN, KERA, and KHOU each received $200,000.

“We could have done with $260,205. It could have gone towards the operations of an NPR station in the Valley. It looks like we were the only major region of Texas to go without,” said Grassroots Public Radio-RGV’s Seale.

In his op-ed, CPB’s Barsoum said the Valley did benefit, indirectly.

Nancy Barnes

“Texas Public Radio is providing information onCOVID-19 in the San Antonio area,along withhow local businesses are adjusting,how you can help those in needand what you can do tostay entertained at home. TPR is also providinglive updates on the Rio Grande Valley,” Barsoum wrote.

Seale disputed the value of this.

“What good is it to provide live updates on the Rio Grande Valley if the people of the Valley cannot hear them?” Seale asked. “Okay, so Texas Public Radio provides a blog on the Web. That is not the same as being able to turn on the radio and hear local news.”

Nancy Barnes, NPR’s senior vice president of news and editorial director, recently spoke with Brian Stelter of CNN’s Reliable Sources about the $4.7 million gift from the Palo Alto, Calif., based Schmidt Family Foundation. Barnes said the funds will bolster reporting hubs in California and the Midwest. The gift is “specifically geared towards our efforts to grow local journalism,” Barnes said.

In an NPR news release, Wendy Schmidt said: “Now more than ever, we depend on high-quality journalism for timely and critical information. Local news is especially important, and with so many newsrooms in decline, we need to invest in strengthening reporting resources from trusted sources like public radio. These regional news hubs will not only increase local reporting of critical issues, they will also elevate diverse voices and perspectives in regional and national stories.”

In the same news release, Barnes said: “This generous gift will allow the Midwest and California regional newsrooms to focus on investigative reporting, which is so essential to an informed citizenry and democracy. It’s also the type of journalism that has been eroding at the local level as newspapers scale back. To address this challenge, these newsrooms will hire small teams of investigative journalists who will work with station reporters on public service investigations—stories that expose corruption, reveal health hazards and bring to light other information that the public has a right to know.”

Seale responded: “Those of us who have been lucky enough to travel beyond the Valley know what a positive and enriching impact NPR can have on a community. I am sure this large and generous gift from the Schmidt family is going to lead to amazing journalism – but not for the people of the Valley. On behalf of Grassroots Public Radio-RGV, my message to CPB is this: next time NPR gets a phone call from wealthy philanthropists, tell them how underserved and under-represented the Rio Grande Valley of Texas is.”

Editor’s Note: For more information about Grassroots Public Radio-RGV email board member Ron Rogers at [email protected]

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