Current's The Pub with Adam Ragusea

Current's weekly podcast about news and trends in public and nonprofit media, hosted by Adam Ragusea.
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Current's The Pub with Adam Ragusea




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Apr 21, 2017

The $1.9 billion that noncommercial stations won in the auction isn’t enough to transform the entire public media system, but it will absolutely transform the handful of stations lucky enough to have held valuable spectrum in crowded markets.


On this episode, we’ll talk about where the money is going and where it should be going with a station CEO who won big, Current’s Dru Sefton and Oregon Public Broadcasting CEO Steve Bass, who has a strong message for stations that, unlike his, have just received an unprecedented windfall.

Apr 6, 2017

You could not make up a better cautionary tale about the hazards of universities controlling public broadcasters than the story of Jacqui Helbert’s firing.

The head PR flack for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga fired Helbert last month from her reporting job at WUTC, the university’s NPR station. That a flack had the power to fire a journalist is ethically troubling all by itself. Add to that the element of state legislators who control the university’s purse strings complaining about her work, and you have perfect storm of conflicting interests.

This week’s episode of The Pub is partially an adaptation of an article I wrote for Columbia Journalism Review. We revisit what was arguably the first high-profile case of interference with public media content (1980’s “Death of a Princess” controversy), get some dish from a WUTC insider, and discuss better ways to run a university station with Judith SmelserTed Krichels and others.

Mar 24, 2017

So what would actually happen if Republicans in Washington defunded the Corporation for Public Broadcasting? On this week’s show, we try to get the most detailed picture possible of what would actually happen if the Trump administration’s stated goal of totally defunding CPB becomes a reality this year.

We also consider one argument as to why the CPB should be defunded that has been articulated in recent days by an unlikely source: sitting CPB board member Howard Husock. He comes back to The Pub to discuss his Washington Post op-ed “Public broadcasting shouldn’t get a handout from taxpayers anymore.” (For what it’s worth, Husock didn’t write the headline.)

Plus, host Adam Ragusea consults with a Senate procedure expert and a lobbyist for public media organizations who used to be a Hill staffer about how likely it is that the CPB will really get the ax anytime soon.

Mar 10, 2017

Four times during the last week of February, ThinkProgress LGBT editor Zack Ford wrote, NPR “reported on LGBT issues in ways that elevate anti-LGBT positions and normalize discrimination against LGBT people.”

I know some serious anti-LGBT people who would have a real belly laugh at the idea that “Nitwit Progressive Radio” is anti-queer. Nonetheless, Ford’s article struck a nerve with many public media people who read and debated it in a couple secret Facebook groups.

One piece Ford objected to was an episode of WAMU’s 1A, in which three guests arguing that trans people should be allowed to use the bathroom of their choice were balanced with a lone dissenter. Ford didn’t think the latter guest should’ve been allowed on at all.

In my conversation with Ford, I asked him: If polls say half of Americans still think trans people should have to use the bathroom corresponding to their sex assigned at birth, isn’t one-guest-of-four the least representation they should get?

“I don’t really care if NPR comes off as politically biased one way or the other, because what I care about is that people’s lives are on the line, and that the truth is on the line,” he said. “And giving someone a platform to reinforce fears that aren’t based on facts is irresponsible.”

Not a bad argument, I thought. This week on The Pub, Ford and I hash out one of the most pressing journalism questions of our time: How do we represent views that we may find reprehensible and/or irrational?

Also on the show, Norwegian public broadcasting comes up with THE GREATEST IDEA EVER. I talk with Ståle Grut and Marius Arnesen of NRKbeta about their new system in which online readers must take a quiz to prove they’ve actually finished the article before commenting. (If you want that for your site, download their WordPress plugin on GitHub.)


Feb 23, 2017

When normal people quit their jobs in dramatic fashion, they flip tables, spit in the soup and storm out the door. Public radio people write earnest Medium posts.

That’s what Steve Henn did a year ago when he quit his job covering Silicon Valley for NPR; he wrote about his concern that public radio “may not get its act together to make the jump into the digital age,” adding, “I want to help.”

If Henn is right, help has arrived in the form of 60 dB, the app he’s created with his partners — two former Netflix guys. It resembles NPR One, in that it serves up a curated stream of spoken audio in response to user preferences and behavior, but it differs most significantly in that it focuses on short-form pieces.

60 dB also draws from a much wider pool of content, some of which sounds decidedly un-pubradio.

“I think there’s an appetite for intelligent conversations and reporting on a variety of topics that don’t just appeal to the core NPR audience,” Henn says on this week’s episode of The Pub.

Also on the show, host Adam Ragusea offers a review of what he thinks are the three best new services for recording high-quality audio interviews over the internet. None of them is, by itself, the answer we’ve all been waiting for. But ipDTL, Zencastr and Ringr each have their uses.

Feb 2, 2017

Lewis Wallace says he’ll “cop to clickbait” on the headline that marked the beginning of the end of his reporting job at Marketplace — “Objectivity is dead and I’m ok with it.”

But he was shocked that his bosses found the actual content of the essay — a not especially edgy or unusual meditation on the evolving nature of journalistic standards — to be so objectionable as to immediately suspend him after he posted it last Wednesday.

They also ordered him to take down the post, which he did. And when he put it back up Saturday in direct defiance, he had to know what was coming next; Marketplace chief Deborah Clark fired him Monday.

Wallace declined a modest severance offer in order to preserve his legal right to talk about what happened, and this week he brings his story to The Pub.

Also on the show this week, NPR’s dilemma about whether to use the L-word or the F-word in reference to President Trump (or rather, his statements), and one station news director’s dilemma over a T-shirt printed with words that shouldn’t be political but are.

Jan 18, 2017

Should public media’s role on the internet be to make content for commercial platforms? Or should public media try to be the platform?

The new RadioPublic mobile app is an attempt to do the latter.

Last spring, Public Radio Exchange’s Jake Shapiro spun off from the organization he helped found in 2003 and started a new public benefit corporation “to build a mobile listening platform that makes listening to podcasts as simple as radio,” as set out in PRX’s announcement at the time.

Well, now that platform is here. This week — as The Pub returns from hiatus — we take RadioPublic for a test drive with Shapiro and Matt MacDonald, RP’s chief product officer, and we talk about why they felt they had to leave the non-profit world in order to create it.

Also this week, host Adam Ragusea uses the very silly new podcast he and his friend made about Billy Joel to make a vaguely serious point about how and when to insert clips into talk shows.

Dec 19, 2016

Host Adam Ragusea explains why there hasn't been a new episode of The Pub for a few weeks and previews what's coming up after the holidays.

Dec 3, 2016

Does an interview with a founder of the "alt-right" movement on public media give a platform to hate? Or is it shining a disinfecting light on a movement that has multiplied in the shadows?

Public media veteran Rekha Murthy says public media do need to do stories about “alt-right” figures who now have a seat in the incoming Trump administration, but some probably shouldn’t get a full-on interview.

This week on The Pub, we contemplate public media’s proper role in the coming Trump presidency. Host Adam Ragusea offers a counter-argument to a policy of replacing the term “alt-right” with “white nationalism” 

Also, Andrew Ramsammy lays out a vision for how public broadcasters should value and pursue diversity in the Trump era. Ramsammy has recently founded a consultancy focusing on diversity in public media. We ask him: Who does public media need to try to include now? The people who elected Trump, or the people imperiled by his policies and rhetoric?

Nov 19, 2016

In this episode of The Pub, we hear three talks from the Third Coast International Audio Festival, featuring Jay Allison, Jenna Weiss-Berman, and host Adam Ragusea.

Nov 18, 2016

In this episode of The Pub, we hear three talks from the Third Coast International Audio Festival, featuring Jay Allison, Jenna Weiss-Berman and host Adam Ragusea.

Nov 14, 2016

What are the best practices for recording a podcast or radio show in front of a live audience? We recorded a podcast in front of a live audience to find out. This live episode of The Pub about how to do live episodes (a new height of meta-ness) was recorded at the Public Media Institute’s Co-Prosperity Sphere at the Public Media Millennials Facebook group Third Coast after-party in Chicago, organized by host Adam Ragusea and Colorado Public Radio’s Stephanie Wolf.

Nov 5, 2016

Why did McDonald’s heiress Joan Kroc leave more than $200 million of her wealth to NPR and not a cent to PBS? Because no one at PBS returned a phone call. That’s one of the revelations reported by longtime public radio journalist Lisa Napoli in her new book, "Ray & Joan: The Man Who Made the McDonald's Fortune and the Woman Who Gave It All Away."

Also on The Pub this week, we continue our conversation with UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh about whether journalists are at all different from regular people in the eyes of the law, apropos of a prosecutor’s attempt to charge "Democracy Now!" host Amy Goodman in connection to her Dakota Access Pipeline reporting.

Oct 28, 2016

If doctors make the worst patients, what can you expect when you have the most celebrated radio producer of his generation as a guest on your radio show? WNPR’s Colin McEnroe found out when he had Ira Glass on The Colin McEnroe Show Thursday and they ended up having an extensive on-air conversation about how to edit the sound of Glass getting up to adjust the air conditioning in his New York studio.

McEnroe guest-hosts The Pub this week and presents his complete conversation with Glass, which they recorded just a few weeks after the 2016 Public Radio Program Directors conference where Glass singled out McEnroe’s show as a rare example of innovation in public radio (and where he erroneously referred to McEnroe as “Chris” in front of basically everyone important in the system).

Their fascinating conversation on WNPR ranged from the merits of pledge drives and why Glass enjoys producing pitch packages (his top reason has nothing to do with supporting the mission) to the semiotics of this election season and how Donald Trump is, in McEnroe’s typically esoteric words, “hacking away at the umbilicus between signifier and the signified.”

Oct 22, 2016

NPR put out a crowing press release this week, headlined “NPR Sees Large Ratings Increase,” that I think made a complicated and perhaps unknowable situation seem a lot simpler — and perhaps a little rosier — than it really is. On this week’s episode of "The Pub," I invite NPR audience development chief Israel Smith and researcher Susan Leland to really flesh out the numbers and speculate about what’s driving them.

Also, in the Opening Shot, I talk about the abortive prosecution of Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman and whether the First Amendment really does grant special rights to journalists (short answer: no).

Oct 15, 2016

A new federal regulation set to go into effect Dec. 1 will hugely increase the number of American workers who must be paid overtime. According to a client advisory issued by the Washington-based law firm Pillsbury, “broadcasters in particular may feel the impact of the changes given the staffing models used by many TV and radio stations.” Don’t we know it.

On the show this week, Pillsbury attorney Rebecca Rizzo explains why broadcasters — managers and employees alike — need to be particularly concerned with this enormous impending change to how people get paid, and what everybody needs to know.

Also, in the Opening Shot, veteran public radio and podcast producer Julia Barton bemoans the trend of podcast think piece authors adorning their articles with stock art of microphones.

Oct 8, 2016

Why has no one ever heard of Don Voegeli? He composed one of the most famous and enduring pieces of theme music ever written — the dignified fanfare that has played at the top of NPR’s “All Things Considered” every evening for four decades. It’s one of hundreds of pieces Voegeli composed for the early days of public radio.

Unlike “Morning Edition” theme composer BJ Leiderman, who negotiated a perpetual on-air credit for his work, Voegeli never asked for credit. He didn’t even ask for money. As a music professor at the University of Wisconsin and longtime employee of WHA (later Wisconsin Public Radio), Voegeli saw the music he contributed as simply an extension of his regular public service mission.

Don Voegeli died in 2009, but now his son Jim is hoping to remind the world just how talented, prolific and widely heard a composer his father was.

Jim has just completed assembling the four-CD collection Beautiful and Lovely: The Music of Don Voegeli. It includes many variations of the “ATC” theme, along with dozens of other early public radio themes, film scores, concert music and commercial jingles heard nationwide.

On this week’s episode of “The Pub,” Jim plays his favorite pieces from the collection and talks about his father’s remarkable and occasionally tragic life.

Also, in the Opening Shot, I talk about Ira Glass’ misnomer faux pas at PRPD, the BBC show “Sarah and Duck” and its amazing theme song, the resignation of BBC radio chief Helen Boaden, and the cancellation of Gimlet’s widely praised Mystery Show.

Sep 21, 2016

If you want NPR to pick up your radio show or podcast, you’ll want to pay attention to N’Jeri Eaton, NPR’s senior manager for program acquisitions. Eaton and her colleagues plan to launch an online portal in October for content creators — both those who work at NPR and those who don’t — to pitch ideas for new shows that NPR might help produce or distribute.

Eaton discussed the new pitch portal during a live recording of The Pub at the 2016 Public Radio Program Directors conference in Phoenix, where she also announced a major expansion of NPR’s Story Lab, the network’s content innovation unit.

Also on the show this week, host Adam Ragusea contemplates the costs of doing “edgy” programming (and the costs of not doing it), with the help of hilarious listener-complaint stories submitted by OETA’s Cassie Gage and KMFA’s Chris Johnson, and one from KBIA’s Nathan Lawrence about a lady who thought her horses didn’t like Tom Ashbrook. Seriously.

Sep 16, 2016

NPR reporter Sarah McCammon grew up in Kansas City in a conservative evangelical Christian home. She went to private Christian schools and even an evangelical college. Now McCammon covers the Donald Trump campaign for NPR, and if you wondered how she got into a private meeting in June between Trump and evangelical leaders, now you know. Her background has been her superpower out on the Republican campaign trail, where she says she can “speak the language” of evangelical voters.

On this week’s show, McCammon tells the story of how she grew up, how her faith may have changed over time, how she came to journalism and what it’s like on the Trump beat.

Also, New Hampshire Public Radio’s Sam Evans-Brown has the Opening Shot this week, in which he pleads with his fellow environmental reporters to lighten up a little. Evans-Brown hosts NHPR’s new environmental podcast "Outside/In."

Sep 9, 2016

ISSUE ONE! Do debate-style public affairs shows inherently trivialize serious issues? Arguing “yes” this week on The Pub is host Adam Ragusea. Arguing “no” is Carlos Watson, CEO of OZY Media and host of Point Taken, the new PBS late-night debate show produced by WGBH.

Also this week, Slate/Panoply podcast host and producer Andrea Silenzi makes the case for branding recurring segments with a catchy name, and the opening commentary segment of The Pub finally gets a name (with help from its listeners).

Sep 2, 2016

If you’ve ever worked with veteran public radio host and reporter John Sepulvado, it might not surprise you to learn that he’s an alcoholic. It may, however, surprise you to learn just how bad things got when he hit bottom before entering rehab last year. On this week’s show, Sepulvado tells his story with brutal frankness and more than a little gallows humor. It does have a happy ending; he’s now 20 months clean and the new host of “The California Report” from KQED.

Also on the show, host Adam Ragusea contemplates the various, imperfect metrics for gauging the success of a podcast. And we want your help in naming The Pub’s signature segment.


Aug 19, 2016

What are NPR's most active commenters going to do now that NPR is banishing comments from its site? On this week’s episode of The Pub, my favorite perennial commenter speaks — “Sanpete from Utah” is his handle. Call him Kent.

Also on the show, should your organization follow NPR’s lead in dumping on-site comments in favor of engagement on other platforms, like Facebook and Twitter? Inside Higher Ed v.p. and former NPR social product manager Kate Myers and WDET g.m. Michelle Srbinovich disqus — er, I mean, discuss.

Aug 12, 2016

What do the Public Radio Exchange, WGBH in Boston and the Nine Network in St. Louis have in common? All have recently made significant investments in brick-and-mortar facilities for public engagement. On this week’s episode of The Pub, we talk about why public media organizations would want to reach people in person instead of over the air — so much so that they’d build a facility in which to do it. Plus, host Adam Ragusea offers a metaphor about what public media can learn about community engagement from religion ... by forcing his audience to sing together.

Jul 29, 2016

A couple years before all the cool kids started quitting NPR and launching podcasts, political reporter Andrea Seabrook quit NPR in 2012 and launched a podcast, "DecodeDC." She’s the OG of that particular trend. Seabrook left "DecodeDC" last summer after a successful run, and now she’s come back to public radio as the new Washington bureau chief for "Marketplace." On The Pub, she tells us how she’s going to do public radio political coverage differently this time around.

Also, host Adam Ragusea reviews the NPR/"PBS NewsHour" collaboration on convention coverage. Unfortunately it seems as though TV and radio are like chocolate and vanilla — you can’t mix them without the former totally overpowering the latter.

Jul 23, 2016

Matt Martinez of KPLU in Tacoma, Wash., shares what he thinks others can learn from his station’s shockingly successful bid for self-preservation and independence. Also, the GM of KUOW, at one time planning to buy KPLU, discusses lessons from the year-long saga.

Plus, host Adam Ragusea tries to diagnose the cause of a dramatic spike in NPR newsmagazine ratings, and he visits a Next Generation Radio boot camp to find out why even some of the young people of color who would attend such a training aren’t big NPR listeners.

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