The new general manager of Northwest Public Broadcasting shares her thoughts on the legacy of Edward R. Murrow, the importance of community engagement, 100 years of broadcasting at Washington State University, and more.

Cara Williams Fry
Cara Williams Fry, general manager of Northwest Public Broadcasting (Courtesy NWPB)


What attracted you to NWPB and WSU Pullman? Was the reputation of Edward R. Murrow and the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication part of the draw? Absolutely. One hundred percent. I respect Edward R. Murrow. When I looked at this position and saw that it was part of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, it made me all that much more interested. The quality and ethics of journalism that Murrow set for the world is even more important than ever because it’s such a divisive world right now. If we stay the course—and Murrow helped set the course—stick to the facts, remain unbiased, and tell the stories of people in their own words, we will remain relevant and resonate with our audiences. Personally, it was a big move for me. I moved across the country, and I left a great team of people I had been working with for 17 years. But I really felt this was a challenge I would do well at, and that I could help make a difference. I have 16 years in local and national commercial media followed by 17 years in public media. And I don’t mind saying it: I’m a public media nerd. This role is a well-suited challenge for many of my skills. The most obvious one is that NWPB needed someone who builds quality multi-platform content teams and understands how the team needs to be at the table at the origin of a project. It makes a difference with creativity, buy in, quality and output. And always with the audience as our focus.

What will you be focusing on in your new role? Number one, community engagement. It’s so important. We represent the community. They are the public in public media. We will begin with a focus on education and journalism. In education, one of the things I’m looking at doing is hosting free, family events with hands-on STEAM activities, plus books and crafts to take home. These events are geared toward 2- to 8-year-olds and are free for the entire family. They’re not drop-your-kids-off-and-pick-them-up-later sort of events. Parents come, too. I’m really excited about that. They’ll have fun together as families, and kids will be learning without realizing they’re learning. The other piece of community engagement is how it pertains to journalism. We’ll be doing a series of forums and listening sessions in various communities to hear about what’s working and what’s not working, and to try to work together to find solutions. As broadcasters, we used to tell people what they needed to know. Now, we focus on creating a collaborative space. We must listen to our audience. I will also be working to ensure our journalism continues to grow and that it involves the communities that we cover. Our communities are widespread, diverse, face different issues, and have different needs. It’s not a one-size-fits-all sort of situation. And number two is quality multi-platform content creation that focuses on local and regional storytelling. These stories will focus on arts and culture. Again giving us the opportunity to create beautiful and visual connections while honoring the immense diversity of our region. The bottom line is: How do we help our community? I think that public media needs to and must always center on the audience. The audience is at the center of everything.

Talk about the future of local media. There has been all this conversation about the death of local media, including radio and TV. But I think we’re going to come out the other side of this just fine. One of the things that public media is good at is getting out into the community, holding town halls, and not only talking to people about problems but being involved in the conversations that might help lead to solutions. For so long, there’s been so much negative news. It’s hard to take. We still must report the news. We won’t stop. But let’s also actively seek out people doing good things. Let’s focus on those feel-good stories, stories that make you go, “There are still great people in the world.” We need to deliver a good balance of stories.

What are some of the challenges facing media outlets today? A lot of this is based on older technology for broadcasting TV and radio. It’s expensive to maintain this infrastructure but it’s hugely important and there is still a very big audience for broadcast services. So, how do you maintain it and how do you continue to pay for repairs and upgrades? And at the same time, how do you also create a digital-first environment that is meeting people where they are, delivering news, content and entertainment in the individualized manner our audiences want to receive it? You have to serve the digital-first world without neglecting the very important broadcast audience. I think that’s the biggest challenge. But that also means new opportunities. We’re able to put more content out there and this content will be accessible when, where, and how people want to receive it. It’s a bit of a balancing act. You kind of live with a foot in both worlds. And they’re both very important. Our goal has always been to create really good content for our audiences, and we have more ways to do that today than ever. And we wouldn’t be doing any of this if someone 100 years ago didn’t have a vision. I’m sure if they could see what we have done, they would be really impressed. And in 100 years from now, I’m sure we would be really impressed if we could see what’s to come.

What is the legacy of NWPB? What role does it play in serving the public? NWPB’s legacy will be that we were there from the very early days of broadcasting with a clear understanding that delivering truthful, unbiased information to our communities was of utmost importance.


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