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Public service: Commitment and concern

At a National Association of Broadcasters Educational Foundation seminar
Monday in Washington, D.C., broadcasters demonstrated both their commitment to public
service and their concerns about continuing that service.

On the plus side, they talked of successful relief efforts, tornado tracking
that saved lives and even helping solve one of the nation's highest-profile
criminal cases.

Jim Farley, vice president of news and programming at WTOP(AM) Washington, reminded his
audience that it was the broadcast of news that the police didn't want released
-- a car description and license plate -- that led to the capture of the
Washington snipers.

Farley also said stations without local news departments "simply can't
serve their communities accurately."

Although he said that his boss, Bonneville International Corp., remained committed to local news
and information, and to helping the community even when that meant dropping $1 million worth of ads during the Iraq war, he opined that the number of
stations committing to public-service programming was shrinking.

That sentiment was shared by Nelly Rubio of WFOR-TV Miami.

While saying that without her station's support, the nonprofit phone bank she
helped oversee could not exist, she also said she felt that community-affairs
directors were a vanishing breed.

"They're waiting for us to die and go away," she added. That concern was
seconded by Kelly Zuber of WDBJ-TV Roanoke, Va., who headed a combined promotion
and public-affairs department and said she was concerned that, at some stations,
the public-affairs commitment might be diminishing "unless tied to an airtime