When Georgia Public Broadcasting and Public Broadcasting Atlanta were tirelessly seeking your support during fall pledge drives this week, they were also asking you to support six-figure salaries for several executives.
PBA’s longtime chief executive, Milton Clipper, for example, recently got a raise from his board and will receive $280,000 this year in salary and bonus. A review by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows that seven other people at PBA, which operates WABE-FM and PBA30 television, earned six-figure compensation during the fiscal year that ended in June 2010, the latest year for which records are available.
“It’s not what you get paid; it’s why you get paid,” Clipper said in a telephone interview.
“What’s the real story? How do you go from starting 16 years ago at $80,000 to try to turn an organization around to where people have felt that the dollars they give you, you have earned?”
He said his team took over a troubled system in the 1990s and turned it into a flourishing public enterprise that no longer requires funding from Atlanta Public Schools, which holds the license for WABE and PBA30.
In its review, the AJC found that Public Broadcasting Atlanta pays its top executives more than GPB does, although GPB is a statewide system with twice the budget. GPB operates nine TV stations in Georgia and 17 radio stations as well. PBA operates one of each.
The top four people at PBA received compensation in excess of $180,000 in fiscal 2009. By contrast, GPB President Teya Ryan is paid a base salary of $180,000 and qualifies for a bonus of 15 percent to 18 percent — sufficient to push her total compensation toward $210,000 if the bonus is granted.
Nationally, public broadcasting has been under pressure from critics who argue it’s a luxury the debt-strapped nation can no longer afford, or who complain about perceived liberal bias. Congressional Republicans proposed to end federal funding this year, but the effort failed.
GPB’s marketing vice president, Nancy Zintak, conceded that listeners might be surprised to learn that four GPB executives earn six-figure salaries, but she argued that the system gets a great deal for its money.
“I think in this market, in the climate we’re in, it could seem like a surprise,” Zintak said. “ ... You have to have really smart people who are not only willing to work for less money, but people who have a sense of mission. Anyone in top management here could walk out the door and get much more compensation.”
Zintak said Ryan’s arrival from CNN in spring 2009 signaled a new era for GPB.
“Only foreclosure lawyers have had a better year than we have,” she said. TV and radio ratings are up substantially, and Zintak said GPB’s education mission is thriving: 80,000 Georgia teachers have downloaded data more than 5 million times from GPB’s educational website this year.
GPB and PBA said they both seek salary benchmarks for the industry in setting pay for executives. Kevin Ross, vice-chair of the board that oversees PBA, said a survey of operations similar to PBA this year found that the median pay for CEOs was $214,200. Clipper’s pay is about 30 percent higher than that but still well below the high end in the survey, Ross said.
“We feel like the entire community that PBA serves gets tremendous value from Milton and from his senior staff,” said Ross, who sits on the board’s compensation committee. “We are widely regarded as one of the best operations in public broadcasting around the country.”
He notes that the system’s budget has gone from $3.5 million a year when Clipper signed on to about $12 million a year now, that the organization carries almost no debt, that audiences have increased substantially. And where Atlanta Public Schools used to provide $1 million in operating money each year, PBA no longer requires any funding from the school district.
In a follow-up email Thursday, Ross noted that Clipper’s salary in 1994, $80,000, represented 2.3 percent of the total budget; today, his salary of $260,000 represents 2.2 percent of the budget.
Melanie Sayer, a retirement planner and artist in Vinings, said she’s not sure public broadcasters’ pay is excessive, although pay for public officials in general can be shockingly high.
“It’s worthwhile to take a look at it and to question it,” said Sayer, who grew up listening to NPR with her parents. “At the same time, I don’t want to bash anybody who’s doing a good job.”
Some of the top executives at GPB are paid by state government and not from listener/viewer contributions.
Executives whose jobs bear directly on the system’s educational mission are paid by the state, Zintak said; others’ salaries are funded by member support.
Mel Jones, human resources chief at GPB, said his survey of the industry shows that executive pay at GPB is at least in line and usually lower than at comparable operations nationwide. And six-figure executives at GPB declined from six last year to four year this year.
Said Zintak, “In the last two years GPB has had a total of roughly 54 layoffs. GPB’s management team is compensated less than the public media norms and certainly less than comparable commercial positions.”
PBA’s salaries, meanwhile, come mostly from station fundraising. The fall pledge drives ended Friday.
Clipper, whose board also provides him with a car, has received raises every year for at least the past six — his compensation increased about 3 percent from 2008 to 2009, for example — at a time when few people in the private sector were getting raises.
Asked what he received in salary, bonuses and other benefits in fiscal 2010 and for the current year, Clipper replied, “That’s a ‘my wife’ kind of question. I really don’t think about it that much. I love what I do.” He said his wife, Paulette, keeps closer track of his income than he does.
This being pledge week, Clipper pointed out that he’s a “cornerstone member” of PBA, donating $1,500 a year.
“I could not walk into that room and not be a cornerstone member,” he said. “I put my money exactly where they put theirs.”
Why two public broadcasting systems?
Public Broadcasting Atlanta (PBA) and Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) are not related, but both rely on fundraising – contributions from listeners and viewers and also “underwriting,” public broadcasting’s version of advertising.
It’s not unusual for large cities and states to have separate public broadcasting systems. In this case, PBA was formed first when the government granted a public radio license in 1948 to Atlanta Public Schools, which started WABE-FM and, later, PBA30 television and always focused on Atlanta. (The ABE stands for Atlanta Board of Education).
GPB was granted its license 51 years ago and has since grown into a system of nine TV stations and 17 radio stations statewide. Its operating budget is more than double PBA’s.
The two systems have different programming but also duplicate some shows. GPB gets them first.