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Compass: Public media have earned Alaskans' ongoing support

"You don't know what you have until it's gone." Have you ever heard that expression? I don't agree with it. I think we can purposefully pause, appraise and appreciate what we value most -- while we still have it.

Take public media, which includes public radio, television, and an increasing number of social media platforms. I think it's a treasure.

It brings us authentic voices and perspectives from across Alaska, as well as the rest of the world.

I've long enjoyed getting to know Alaska one community at a time through "300 Villages". Now I'm getting to know Alaskans one colorful individual at a time through "Indie Alaska." And then there's the Iditarod, which APRN has been covering "checkpoint to checkpoint" for over 30 years, bringing us unforgettable images from the wintery heart of Alaska and giving voice to not only the mushers but also -- from time to time -- their four-legged athletes.

The result is a rich web of interconnections. In such a big state, where it's too easy to be divided by distance, public media plays a critical role in connecting us with each other. Whether we live in a city or a village, it brings us at least a glimpse of each other's lives.

Especially in rural Alaska, it also serves as part of the public safety net in case of crises or emergency.

Just as it helps all of us, wherever we live, understand better what is happening in our local, state, and federal governments. Whether the issue is education funding or upcoming elections, public media provides the information and access without which we would have limited ability to follow and participate in the conversations that shape our future. Public media enables us to be meaningfully engaged in Alaska's civic life.

And it gives us news, music and humor we can share together. I have so far resisted the magnetic allure of Downton Abbey, but I know I am among a diminishing few. Even so, I enjoy listening to three generations of my family dissect the latest travails of three generations of the "noble" Grantham family.

Public media truly is a shared media. Nearly 99 percent of Americans are served by a local public broadcasting station. In Alaska, that number is 96 percent. Nationally, 80 percent of all kids ages 2 to 8 watched PBS KIDS last year, and there are over 90 million graduates of Sesame Street in the United States alone.

Not surprisingly, public media in Alaska and elsewhere is almost uniquely trusted. Public television has been ranked the most trusted public institution in the country for 11 consecutive years. Nationally, majorities of Democrats, Independents and Republicans all support federal funding for public broadcasting.

While current federal funding costs only $1.35 per American per year -- it is critical, especially for smaller, rural stations like most stations in Alaska. Also important is steady support from the State of Alaska.

Fortunately, public media has earned and maintained broad support in Alaska. All the members of Alaska's congressional delegation are outspoken supporters of public media.

As U.S. Congressman Don Young said in 2012, talking about public media in Alaska, "[t]his is probably one of the most important public services we have going for us today in Alaska. ..."

We do not need to lose public media in order to "know what we have"; we can and should appreciate it while we have it. By doing so, and by giving public media our thoughtful support, we can ensure that it won't ever be gone.

Jim Torgerson has financially supported public media for years. He served on the boards of public media organizations in Alaska for 12 years.