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radio

3 Lessons From NPR’s Decision to Cut “Tell Me More”

NPRNational Public Radio’s “Tell Me More” radio program will be cut Aug. 1 due to budget constraints, and 28 positions will be eliminated in the process, according to the New York TimesElizabeth Jensen. The show, focused on issues most relevant to minority listeners, has been on the air for seven years, and NPR was forced to cut it in overcoming a $6 million budget shortage.

It’s always sad to highlight layoffs in our industry — trust me, I do not enjoy it and acknowledge that it could easily be me (eight of the 28 positions aren’t currently filled, if that’s any consolation to the bad news at all). But we shouldn’t let a news organization’s failure come and go without taking the time to learn from its mistakes. Based on what I know about “Tell Me More” and how NPR is handling the aftermath of the program’s cut, here are a few lessons I feel can be learned from “Tell Me More”‘s plight:

1. Know your audience. Read more

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The CIR Is On It: Telling the Story of Solitary Confinement for Teens Over, and Over, and Over Again

CIR the boxThis week, the Center for Investigative Reporting released a print story, a short animation, and a photo essay about solitary confinement for adolescents in the U.S. prison system. That’s in addition to a NewsHour and a public radio piece released last month and to a yet unreleased half hour documentary and graphic novel. By the end of the month, there will be around 10 pieces of the adolescent solitary confinement story circling you on one form of media or another.

It’s enough to make you rethink what you’ve been reporting on all year. CIR reporters Daffodil Altan and Trey Bundy started over a year ago trying to gain access into prisons and report on conditions for teens. Altan says that the access issues surrounding the story seemed “almost insurmountable” at a certain point. Instead of being deterred, they pressed on and worked on thinking of different ways to handle the content. Says Altan:

We started of thinking of ways to tell the story even though we were dealing with essentially invisible sights. That’s  where the idea for the animation came up. We had met this very compelling young man in New York who told us about his experience at Rikers very powerfully and we had all this tape of him…we decided to try to take 3 hours of interview and see if we could carve that into something smaller and with a narrative arc.

And so the reporting team of two or three turned into a team of somewhere around 15-20, according to Bundy. Bundy says that as they are reporting they’re “always having conversations about what else we can do besides what we’ve already settled on.” In this case, there was a written story in mind, with photos to boot. But a colleague who acts as a liaison between the CIR and KQED “heard radio all over this,” says Bundy. When New York State started talking about banning the practice of solitary confinement for teenagers, NewsHour suddenly wanted the story sooner. “That wasn’t always supposed to be the first piece that was released on this,” Bundy adds. Having the story told across platforms means you reach more people. Says Bundy, “There’s some overlap between people who listen to public radio or watch NewsHour, or read Medium, but it’s not total overlap. The benefit of having multiple platforms is that you are going to catch multiple, different types of audiences, hopefully.”

Read more

The (Digital) Radio Star Lives: PRX Launches Podcast Network for Story-Driven Journalism

radiotopia finalThis week, PRX announced the launch of Radiotopia, a podast network for story-driven journalism, backed in part by a $200,000 grant from the Knight Foundation. Jake Shapiro, CEO of PRX, likens Radiotopia to an independent music label:

The analogy works in two ways. We’re trying to create a collective around a particular sound and approach in style so these artists, essentially, share an affinity for story driven, high quality audio inspired by public radio but designed for digital listening. And then role that the label ends up playing is one of marketing, distribution, promotion, sponsorship… and experiment with editorial collaboration, crowdfunding and so forth.

PRX has built mobile apps for podcasts such as This American Life,  The Moth, among many others, and plans on using Radiotopia to continue to learn and implement some ideas gained from their experience. Says Shapiro:

We are very interested in creating a feedback loop that gains from those insights and data and help improve not only PRX’s own tools for distribution and tactics but also becomes information that producers can start to use about better serving their audience. Radio for decades has honed ways of producing a broadcast, but in the world of producing for mobile listeners, we are still in very early days.

It may be early days, but story-driven journalism is certainly having a moment on the radio and in podcast form. And, unlike in print or on television, it’s somehow easier to make investigative journalism entertaining for broader audiences. Shapiro says exploring that space is inherent in PRX’s mission:

There’s a spot between making sure that we’re doing informative, mission driven journalism but still aiming for a broad audience with something thats extremely engaging and high quality and entertaining and well produced…it’s about finding that spot.  Read more

On the Media Asks Listeners to ‘Be the Journalist’ With Web Tool

otmOn The Media, the NPR podcast, is part media reporting, part commentary and part investigative journalism organization. And I’m not just saying that because the pledge drive is going on.

Sometimes they just fall into it. A few weeks ago, OTM producer Sarah Abdurrahman and her family were detained “for hours” at the US- Canadian border. She produced a piece about the ordeal that you can listen to here. On the most recent show, they followed up with more questions for the Department of Homeland Security — questions that are still unanswered.

So, OTM produced an online tool for listeners to contact their representatives on the relevant oversight committees and “shed light on the DHS.” There are supplied questions and fields to use to report back directly to OTM. You can see, and use, the tool below.

Read more

How Radio Can Adapt To The Digital Age

What’s a radio show to do when its caller base dries up and revenue models go south? In the latest installment of Mediabistro’s So What Do You Do? Phil Hendrie, host of the eponymous radio show, discusses how the digital age has upended the radio industry and what he’s doing to keep his venture profitable. Among them, instituting a $9.99 per month paywall for his website. Here’s an excerpt:

What kind of person is signing up to your website at $9.99 per month?

People who totally get the show and love it and want to be a part of it, regardless of the generation… Those are stone-cold fans and that is stone-cold money. That’s about as direct as it gets in my business in terms of making revenue.

If you want to be real honest, the radio show is a billboard for the digital business. My subscription business makes really good money. The radio show right now, and for the last six years, has not. Radio just in general is in the sh*tter. So, what can I use my radio show for? Well, I can use it as a billboard for digital, which is exactly what we do. Now there may be a day when radio revenue comes up to digital. But for now, it’s the digital money that’s wagging the dog.

For more, read So What Do You Do Phil Hendrie, Syndicated Radio Show Host?

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