Digital producers on public radio talk shows have found many ways to reconcile the difference between a show that's supposed to be appointment listening and a platform that's always available. In this episode of The Pub, we look at a few of those techniques with guest host Gabe Bullard, senior digital producer for the show "1A."
Some producers use digital tools — social networks (of course), Hearken, text messages — to bring listeners into the planning process and shape their shows. Others treat the web as a place to put translations of shows — articles, lists and explainers that make sense online and are fueled by the conversations a show creates. Some producers see digital platforms as fan service more than editorial tools. And at least one show is using its online audience to dig so deep into topics, scientists are asking to see the results.
When there isn’t enough time in the day to do everything, how can a producer choose what’s right for their show? That’s what we get into on this episode of The Pub.
Jesse Thorn is an accomplished guy — he’s the host of NPR’s Bullseye and proprietor of the Maximum Fun podcast network. And yet, he feels a little insecure about having never attended journalism school.
So this summer, Thorn organized his own journalism academy of sorts and let everyone else listen in. He’s just completed the 15-episode run of his podcast miniseries The Turnaround, a show co-presented with Columbia Journalism Review in which Thorn interviews various legendary interviewers about interviewing, including such public media luminaries as Terry Gross, Brooke Gladstone, Audie Cornish, Ray Suarez, Anna Sale and Ira Glass.
“My goal was to learn tips and tricks,” Thorn told me on The Pub. “What I learned was that you cannot be anything other than yourself.”
On this week’s episode, Thorn reflects on what he got out of interviewing his interviewing heroes. Plus, the question of what public media should become in the next 50 years leads me down a reporting rabbit hole where I try to quantify just how much money public broadcasting stations are worth. (It turns out it’s way less than I thought.)
A radio show/podcast about what’s going on in podcasting? The Big Listen from WAMU and NPR is one part “best of podcasting” compilation show, one part industry-insider talk show, and a thousand parts Lauren Ober, its charismatic and affable host.
This week, on my show about other people’s shows, Ober talks about everything she’s learned from making her show about other people’s shows. (Everybody got that?)
Also this week, three simple words that will help you answer most questions you have about using copyrighted music in your programs.
Half a century after public television made children’s programming one of its core missions, public radio is finally getting into the game with kids’ podcasts like NPR’s "Wow in the World," MPR/KPCC’s "Brains On!" and VPR’s "But Why." Lindsay Patterson, a host and advocate of kids'podcasts, says there remains an enormous amount of room in the market for new children’s shows, and she has practical tips for producers.
Also on this week’s show, the inescapable reason why all opinion journalists, host Adam Ragusea included, end up sucking after a while. And on a related note: The Pub is looking for a new host/producer!
Surely one of the most effective arguments against the continued taxpayer support of public media is that public media serves a socioeconomically elite audience. What’s the point of subsidizing media for rich people who should be able to pay for what they want themselves?
There are any number of initiatives in the public media system to reach low-income people who currently aren’t listening, watching or reading, but former Michigan Radio reporter Sarah Alvarez is skeptical about them.
“I hear a lot more about projects to basically sell the same product to a slightly different group of people,” she told me on The Pub. “I think if you really want to serve a low-income audience, you might have to change your product, and I don’t know how willing folks are to do that.”
Now, Alvarez is running a new journalism nonprofit in Detroit called Outlier Media, which doesn’t publish traditional reports to any kind of traditional platform. Rather, Alvarez offers renters in Detroit actionable information about their properties texted right to their phones. It’s one of the best examples I’ve ever seen of how public-service journalists can adapt their core products for new audiences and platforms.
Also on the show: Trint founder Jeff Kofman on why his web-based automatic audio-transcription service costs what it does; a good lesson I learned about how to not write something racially insensitive; and Current boss Julie Drizin on why Current.org is getting a paywall.
Public media has an obsession lately with a certain word. As Only A Game senior producer Karen Given observes in this week’s episode of The Pub, “Just say the word ‘narrative’ and program directors and editors suddenly start paying attention. Everyone wants narrative. But what the f*** is it? I mean, we all use the word, but what does it even mean?”
Raise your hand if you’ve ever had the same question. All of the hottest shows — in particular those like This American Life and Snap Judgment that seem to transfer especially well from public radio to the podcasting market — feature what is often called “narrative storytelling.” And yet most people, when pressed, probably couldn’t explain the difference between “narrative storytelling” and any other method by which reporters and producers craft stories.
On this week’s episode, Given consults with TAL producer Sean Cole, among other sources, and finally comes up with a satisfying definition of “narrative,” though her journey there is surprisingly perilous and she is forever transformed by an experience that also hints at universal themes about life. (Am I doing narrative right?)
Also on the show, Niala Boodhoo celebrates the first anniversary of her new daily talk show, Illinois Public Media’s The 21st, and she shares her philosophy on how to make an interesting, inclusive local talk show in the 21st century (yes, that’s partly where the name comes from).
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.
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 Smelser, Ted Krichels and others.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.