We, Georgian journalists have been in Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA for five days already. Along with cultural activities our hosts also tell us about local government system and work of media. We are visiting the public radio station and the first thing that catches our attention is the exhibition of old radio-receivers in the hall of the station; the building is quite big.
400 people are employed at the Saint Paul public radio station. The station owns three frequencies; two are dedicated to classical and modern music and one frequency is fully dedicated to news broadcast. The radio station permanently tried to maximally involve the audience in its programs; local population can register at the station website naming profession and often the radio staff contacts them and invites them to radio programs as experts. Part of the employees of the radio station is fully employed, part is contracted and some are freelancers. The radio station has an archive of 60 thousand recordings of classical music on CD; they are not paying authors, but pay special fee to the special agency of copyright. As the radio station employees told us major part of the station income comes on donations; part of amount is received from the budget. Local population helped the radio station a lot during the financial crisis; volume of donations increased significantly; people did not want the station to close. Along with preparing own programs the station also re-airs the Federal Radio, mainly receiving international news from there. After visiting the studios we meet the Director of News Desk. Chris Wonigton meets us in his office. According to him the station is now trying to make its Internet version more attractive; along with radio reports they upload video materials there also.
It is also noteworthy that the station hires only experienced journalists; it is impossible to work for the station right after graduating from college. Journalists must gain practice in another media outlet first and then open the door of the public radio. Average annual salary of the station journalist is USD 60 thousand, which by the US standards is not high. I ask Chris Wonigton about violation of the freedom of speech and problems with obtaining information. According to him the government protects state secrets, but journalists know how to request information, so their rights are violated very rarely.
Host of 5 Georgian journalists in the USA is the League of Voter Women. We are in Saint Paul in framework of the Leadership Center - Open World program, organized by the American Councils.