This past January I had the incredible opportunity to spend a day at New York Public Radio shadowing Ivan Zimmerman ’80, NYPR’s General Counsel and a graduate of Princeton University in East Asian Studies. Over the course of the visit I learned a great deal not only about the inner workings of non-commercial public radio, but also about the legal profession and an application of media law.
The visit began with a short tour of NYPR’s offices, which comprise three stories of a building in Lower Manhattan. Along the way Ivan gave me a background on New York Public Radio, including its independence from the City of New York (Mayor Giuliani agreed to sell the station in 1995) and its 2008 relocation from the Manhattan Municipal Building to its current offices on Varick Street. We were also able to stop by some of the many recording booths in use by WNYC FM and AM, the news stations, and WQXR, the classical radio station. After this, we returned to Ivan’s office to begin his daily schedule.
Ivan’s day revolved around three ongoing projects. The first concerned updates to the company’s official policies on whistleblowing and conflicts of interest. Ivan met a few times throughout the day with Alice, a recent law school graduate working at NYPR, to review the language of the documents to ensure maximum precision, so that the policies can be as effective as possible.
He also had a few informal meetings to prepare for upcoming negotiations with a large donor organization wishing to award two new grants to NYPR. Again, Ivan was charged with reviewing the language on the grant contracts. He showed me first the original document sent over by the donor, and then his revised copy. The differences between the two reflected a fruitful negotiation between parties. In nearly every sub-category—from the public recognition requested, to how the grant money will be used, to the timeline of the grant—the documents showed a back-and-forth between the donors and NYPR. Ivan also explained that, when negotiating certain kinds of contracts, he tries to anticipate why the opposing party would make a specific request and then tries to find a middle ground to satisfy both parties’ interests.
The last of the projects I got to see concerned underwriting, the process by which media outlets identify a financial sponsor on air. They usually take the form of “New York Public Radio is sponsored by…” followed by a brief description of the company or organization. Because NYPR is a noncommercial public radio station, it may identify but not promote commercial supporters to maintain tax-exemption and public funding. As such, Ivan and Janna Freed, his co-counsel, must ensure neutrality in the wording of the underwriting. Though much of the underwriting workload was transferred to Janna a few years ago, Ivan still reviewed some of the underwriting blurbs and made edits on a few of them.
Interspersed throughout the day were short trips to the NYPR archives, which houses tapes of concerts and shows going back to the 1920s, and to the public file, which contains the station’s construction permit and license, copies of all applications involving the station filed with the FCC, contour maps, and ownership reports.
Throughout, Ivan was a generous and kind host. He made sure to explain the background and intricacies for all of the projects and debriefed me after each of his meetings. For lunch we went to a wonderful restaurant a few blocks from the office, where we talked about being Jewish on campus, studying abroad, and Ivan’s career path after graduating.
I am very fortunate to have spent the day at New York Public Radio. I’ve known for some time that I would like to study law after leaving Princeton, and shadowing Ivan for a day showed me a profession I’m excited to join. Everyone I met was smart, lively, and driven. It was an environment that captivated me and a visit that I’m unlikely to forget.