5 questions with LMA’s Andrew Ramsammy about the future of local news, diversity in public media, and more


Andrew Ramsammy joined Local Media Association as Chief Content and Collaboration Officer in 2021. He is a multiple Emmy Award winner with more than 20 years of global experience in creative, content and production. Ramsammy’s career efforts in public media have resulted in more than $5.5 million in sponsorship revenue.

Before joining LMA, Ramsammy served as director of digital content for Global Sport Matters, a media enterprise at Arizona State University; director of audience strategy for Arizona PBS; executive director of United Public Strategies; director of content projects and initiatives at Public Radio International; and was executive producer of the hit Texas PBS travel show, The Daytripper. Andrew is based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

In this Q&A, learn more about the experience Ramsammy brings that can benefit local media organizations, and his outlook for the future of the industry.

Andrew, it’s great to have you here at Local Media Association. Tell us a bit about how you’ve been applying your experience within our organization so far.

Andrew Ramsammy

Ramsammy

In almost every new job, I’ve been fortunate enough to take on roles that are completely new and uncharted. I love being in that spot because you know that there’s a demand and expectation for what you’re about to embark upon, and there’s nothing you’re inheriting from the previous person, because there is none. I’ve been spending a lot of time getting to know our publishers involved in the two collaboratives I’m managing, Word in Black and Amplify Ohio, two amazing projects at the opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of size and focus, but bound by the same common mission: redefining the word collaborative through the lens of business transformation. And spending a lot of time with the organization and digging in deep into our strategic pillars. What that all adds up to is a lot of listening, curious questions, and within arms’ reach, my Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.

With your background in public media, what do you think for-profit media can learn from public media, and vice versa?

Public media have always been deeply rooted in serving the needs of their community through content and engagement. It’s not to say the commercial media haven’t done the same, but when you also add in the layer of membership, you really get to learn about your audiences, because there’s an implied expectation that if members are paying for something, you also have their attention. And that attention is what we all strive for. What’s surprising is that the person who gives $5 a month to public media could also be a major donor who bequeaths their legacy to a station. No modern media brand can say that, and that’s what makes public media so special. It’s a brand that people trust, it’s a brand that people are proud to support, and it’s a brand that many point to as being foundational to their lives. While in Texas I literally drove around with customized license plates that said “ILUVPBS.” People would honk their horns at me, give me a thumbs up, and occasionally I get yelled at by people telling me who their favorite PBS character was. That’s brand power.

Many know that I have been critical of public media’s lack of diversity. I do believe that for-profit media have done a better job of being intentional with diversity, but they have a ways to go. I remember starting in commercial media, and the only time you would see diversity on TV would be on the weekends. We have certainly come a long way from those days. Why for-profit companies are doing a better job with diversity: the business imperative. Media advertising has shifted its representation in who gets cast in ads, and in the months after last summer’s awakening on race, those who understand business and its relationships with communities of color, know that they need to be more than just companies who issue statements but walk the walk. Public media have that same opportunity, heck, it’s even built into their founding documents, but operates glacially. Now that I say that, even glaciers are melting faster. I need to find a better metaphor.

What goals do you hope to accomplish in the next 6-12 months, including with Word in Black?

If there ever has been a time to examine the relationship between America and Black communities, one doesn’t have to look further than the work that the Black press has done. Community driven since Day One, solutions-focused, results-driven, the publishers that are a part of Word in Black have withstood the test of time. Look at the legacies of these powerhouse publishers — generations of families have been the backbone of telling stories overlooked by mainstream media. My hope is that not only do we continue to find ways to tell these stories, now through a national platform, but that we also help those in this collaborative develop new and sustainable models for driving revenue through new opportunities like branded content, philanthropy, and reader revenue. And my hope is that our publishers through this experience will take back their learnings to their organizations and strengthen the foundation of the Black press for generations to come.

Where can you be most helpful to the local media industry as we look to reinvent business models for news?

Whenever I think about the work that needs to be done in our industry, I think about how whatever we do “should and must solve a problem.” If through the work we’re doing, we’re not being of service to our communities, then I’m not sure what the point is. Gone are the days of passive media consumption. Audiences are extremely intentional with their time. And if anyone has access to their own audience’s behaviors and doesn’t have a theory as to why audiences consume or ignore their product, then they’re not asking the right questions. Reinvention of a business model for the sake of survival is purely transactional. Reinvention of a business model that takes into account the needs of local communities and the most acute of challenges, good and bad, that is what will drive actual sustainable growth. The work should be about decreasing the distance between our product and audiences, and giving up the need to always be right.

Regarding the state of the journalism industry: What keeps you up at night and what gets you out of bed in the morning?

Often I find the industry and its response to challenges as being way too complicated. We like to overthink things because somehow there’s some secret sauce. Good work, curiosity, creativity, experimentation, failure — that yields opportunities. I often will go to bed, listening to my favorite podcasts like Planet Money, Recode Media with Peter Kafka, asking myself, “Have I learned enough today?” And then I get up with the same spirit, asking myself, “What else can I learn today?” Anyone who knows me is that I’m not afraid to ask questions or put out statements that are critical. Just as the business of journalism asks tough questions that hopefully provokes an introspective response. And does that response help inform a better strategy? A better way forward? Time is a precious commodity and with whatever time I have left on this planet, don’t expect softballs from me. I think the last 12 months have shown how desperate our communities are for life-saving information. Not everyone gets to wake up tomorrow.