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June 27 2013

16:27

Sensor journalism, storytelling with Vine, fighting gender bias and more: Takeaways from the 2013 Civic Media Conference

mit-knight-civic-media-conference-2013Are there lessons journalists can learn from Airbnb? What can sensors tell us about the state of New York City’s public housing stock? How can nonprofits, governments, and for-profit companies collaborate to create places for public engagement online?

There were just a few of the questions asked at the annual Civic Media Conference hosted by MIT and the Knight Foundation in Cambridge this week. It covered a diverse mix of topics, ranging from government transparency and media innovation to disaster relief and technology’s influence on immigration issues. (For a helpful summary of the event’s broader themes check out VP of journalism and innovation Michael Maness‘s wrap-up talk.)

There was a decided bent towards pragmatism in the presentations, underscored by Knight president Alberto Ibargüen‘s measured, even questioning introduction to the News Challenge winners. “I ask myself what we have actually achieved,” he said of the previous cycles of the News Challenge. “And I ask myself how we can take this forward.”

While the big news was the announcement of this year’s winners and the fate of the program going forward, there were plenty of discussions and presentations that caught our attention.

Panelists and speakers — from Republican Congressman Darrell Issa and WNYC’s John Keefe to Columbia’s Emily Bell and recent MIT grads — offered insights on engagement (both online and off), data structure and visualization, communicating with government, the role of editors, and more. In the words of The Boston Globe’s Adrienne Debigare, “We may not be able to predict the future, but at least we can show up for the present.”

One more News Challenge

Though Ibargüen spoke about the future of the News Challenge in uncertain terms, Knight hasn’t put the competition on the shelf quite yet. Maness announced that there would indeed one more round of the challenge this fall with a focus on health. That’s about all the we know about the next challenge; Maness said Knight is still in the planning stages of the cycle and whatever will follow it. Maness said they want the challenge to address questions about tools, data, and technology around health care.

Opening up the newsroom

One of the more lively discussions at the conference focused on how news outlets can identify and harness the experience of outsiders. Jennifer Brandel, senior producer for WBEZ’s Curious City, said one way to “hack” newsrooms was to open them up to stories from freelance writers, but also to more input from the community itself. Brandel said journalists could also look beyond traditional news for inspiration for storytelling, mentioning projects like Zeega and the work of the National Film Board of Canada.

Laura Ramos, vice president of innovation and design for Gannett, said news companies can learn lessons on user design and meeting user needs from companies like Airbnb and Square. Ramos said another lesson to take from tech companies is discovering, and addressing, specific needs of users.

newsroominsidepanel

Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, said one solution for innovation at many companies has been creating research and development departments. But with R&D labs, the challenge is integrating the experiments of the labs, which are often removed from day-to-day activity, to the needs of the newsroom or other departments. Bell said many media companies need leadership that is open to experimentation and can juggle the immediate needs of the business with big-picture planning. Too often in newsrooms, or around the industry, people follow old processes or old ideas and are unable to change, something Bell compared to “watching six-year-olds playing soccer,” with everyone running to the ball rather than performing their role.

Former Knight-Mozilla fellow Dan Schultz said the issue of innovation comes down to how newsrooms allocate their attention and resources. Schultz, who was embedded at The Boston Globe during his fellowship, said newsrooms need to better allocate their developer and coding talent between day-to-day operations like dealing with the CMS and experimenting on tools that could be used in the future. Schultz said he supports the idea of R&D labs because “good technology needs planning,” but the needs of the newsroom don’t always meet with long-range needs on the tech side.

Ramos and Schultz both said one of the biggest threats to change in newsrooms can be those inflexible content management systems. Ramos said the sometimes rigid nature of a CMS can force people to make editorial decisions based on where stories should go, rather than what’s most important to the reader.

Vine, Drunk C-SPAN, and gender bias

!nstant: There was Nieman Foundation/Center for Civic Media crossover at this year’s conference: 2013 Nieman Fellows Borja Echevarría de la Gándara, Alex Garcia, Paula Molina, and Ludovic Blecher presented a proposal for a breaking news app called !nstant. The fellows created a wireframe of the app after taking Ethan Zuckerman’s News and Participatory Media class.

The app, which would combine elements of liveblogging and aggregation around breaking news events, was inspired by the coverage of the Boston marathon bombing and manhunt. The app would pull news and other information from a variety of sources, “the best from participatory media and traditional journalism,” Molina said. Rather than being a simple aggregator, !nstant would use a team of editors to curate information and add context to current stories when needed. “The legacy media we come from is not yet good at organizing the news in a social environment,” said Echevarría de la Gándara.

Drunk C-SPAN and Opened Captions: Schultz also presented a project — or really, an idea — that seems especially timely when more Americans than usual are glued to news coming out of the capitol. When Schultz was at the Globe, he realized it would be both valuable and simple to create an API that pulls closed captioning text from C-SPAN’s video files, a project he called Opened Captions, which we wrote about in December. “I wanted to create a service people could subscribe to whenever certain words were spoken on C-SPAN,” said Schultz. “But the whole point is [the browser] doesn’t know when to ask the questions. Luckily, there’s a good technology out there called WebSocket that most browsers support that allows the server and the browser to talk to each other.”

To draw attention to the possibilities of this technology, Schultz began experimenting with a project called Drunk C-SPAN, in which he aimed to track key terms used by candidates in a televised debate. The more the pols repeat themselves, the more bored the audience gets and the “drunker” the program makes the candidates sound.

But while Drunk C-SPAN was topical and funny, Schultz says the tool should be less about what people are watching and more about what they could be watching. (Especially since almost nobody in the gen pop is watching C-SPAN regularly.) Specifically, he envisions a system in which Opened Captions could send you data about what you’re missing on C-SPAN, translate transcripts live, or alert you when issues you’ve indicated an interest in are being discussed. For the nerds in the house, there could even be a badge system based on how much you’ve watched.

Schultz says Opened Captions is fully operational and available on GitHub, and he’s eager to hear any suggestions around scaling it and putting it to work.

followbiasFollow Bias is a Twitter plugin that calculates and visualizes the gender diversity of your Twitter followers. When you sign in to the app, it graphs how many of your followers are male, female, brands, or bots. Created by Nathan Mathias and Sarah Szalavitz of the MIT Media Lab, Follow Bias is built to counteract the pernicious function of social media that allows us to indulge our unconscious biases and pass them along to others, contributing to gender disparity in the media rather than counteracting it.

The app is still in private beta, but a demo, which gives a good summary of gender bias in the media, is online here. “The heroes we share are the heroes we have,” it reads. “Among lives celebrated by mainstream media and sites like Wikipedia, women are a small minority, limiting everyone’s belief in what’s possible.” The Follow Bias server updates every six hours, so the hope is that users will try to correct their biases by broadening the diversity of their Twitter feed. Eventually, Follow Bias will offer metrics, follower recommendations, and will allow users to compare themselves to their friends.

LazyTruth: Last fall, we wrote about Media Lab grad student Matt Stempeck’s LazyTruth, the Gmail extension that helps factcheck emails, particularly chain letters and phishing scams. After launching LazyTruth last fall, Stempeck told the audience at the Civic Media conference that the tool has around 7,000 users. He said the format of LazyTruth may have capped its growth: “We’ve realized the limits of Chrome extensions, and browser extensions in general, in that a lot of people who need this tool are never going to install browser extensions.”

Stempeck and his collaborators have created an email reply service to LazyTruth, that lets users send suspicious messages to ask@lazytruth.com to get an answer. Stempeck said they’ve also expanded their misinformation database with information from Snopes, Hoax-Slayer and Sophos, an antivirus and computer security company.

LazyTruth is now also open source, with the code available on GitHub. Stempeck said he hopes to find funding to expand the fact-checking into social media platforms.

Vine Toolkit: Recent MIT graduate Joanna Kao is working on a set of tools that would allow journalists or anyone else to use Vine in storytelling. The Vine Toolkit would provide several options to add context around the six-second video clips.

Kao said Vines offer several strengths and weaknesses for journalists: the short length, ease of use, and the built-in social distribution network around the videos. But the length is also problematic, she said, because it doesn’t provide context for readers. (Instagram’s moving in on this turf.) One part of the Vine Toolkit, Vineyard, would let users string together several vines that could be captioned and annotated, Kao said. Another tool, VineChatter, would allow a user to see conversations and other information being shared about specific Vine videos.

Open Space & Place: Of algorithms and sensor journalism

WNYC: We also heard from WNYC’s John Keefe during the Open Space & Place discussion. Keefe shared the work WNYC did around tracking Hurricane Sandy, and, of course, the Lab’s beloved Cicada Project. (Here’s our most recent check-in on that invasion topic.)

keefecicadas

As Keefe has told the Lab in the past, the next big step in data journalism will be figuring out what kind of stories can come out of asking questions of data. To demonstrate that idea, Keefe said WNYC is working on a new project measuring air quality in New York City by strapping sensors to bikers. This summer, they’ll be collaborating with the Mailman School of Public Health to do measurement runs across New York. Keefe said the goal would be to fill in gaps in government data supplied by particulate measurement stations in Brooklyn and the Bronx. WNYC is also interested in filling in data gaps around NYC’s housing authority, says Keefe. After Hurricane Sandy, some families living in public housing went weeks without power and longer without heat or hot water. Asked Keefe: “How can we use sensors or texting platforms to help these people inform us about what government is or isn’t doing in these buildings?”

With the next round of the Knight News Challenge focusing on health, keep on eye on these data-centric, sensor-driven, public health projects, because they’re likely to be going places.

Mapping the Globe: Another way to visualize the news, Mapping the Globe lets you see geographic patterns in coverage by mapping The Boston Globe’s stories. The project’s creator, Lab researcher Catherine D’Ignazio, used the geo-tagged locations already attached to more than 20,000 articles published since November 2011 to show how many of them relate to specific Boston neighborhoods — and by zooming out, how many stories relate to places across the state and worldwide. Since the map also displays population and income data, it’s one way to see what areas might be undercovered relative to who lives there — a geographical accountability system of sorts.

This post includes good screenshots of the prototype interactive map. The patterns raise lots of questions about why certain areas receive more attention than others: Is the disparity tied to race, poverty, unemployment, the location of Globe readers? But D’Ignazio also points out that there are few conclusive correlations or clear answers to her central question — “When does repeated newsworthiness in a particular place become a systemic bias?”

January 04 2012

17:51

Audio danger: stories from the edge of listening

[As part of our mission to look at storytelling in every medium, Storyboard is pleased to introduce Julia Barton, who will bring us several posts in 2012 focused on developments in and examples from the world of audio narratives. –Ed.]

Writers and video producers live in dread of the wandering eye. Audio producers live for it. That’s what makes us, in our secret hearts, troublemakers. We want you to lose sight of everything in front of your face: to stare through that dish in your hand, ignore your children, drop into a glazed-over trance of our making. Maybe don’t drive off the road, but please do miss a few exits or get stuck in your car. Good audio should be dangerous that way.

But it’s very hard to accomplish, especially these days, when more and more audio comes to us via that distraction machine, the Web. Hence these posts. In the Storyboard spirit, I’ll be talking with audio producers and editors about how they accomplish their best stories, what obstacles they’ve overcome and the strategies they’ve learned along the way. I should point out that conversations about audio craft have long been underway on sites like Transom and airmedia.org. And there’s a great new podcast, “How Sound,” from longtime audio instructor Rob Rosenthal, who also interviews intrepid producers. In the posts I’ll be doing for Storyboard, I’ll simply be adding to (and sometimes echoing) all those worthy explorations.

I got my start in radio in 1995, while pursuing a master’s degree in nonfiction writing at the University of Iowa. Doing airshifts at WSUI, the university’s then-analog AM public radio station, was for me just an amusing side trip on the way to a blurry future in magazine writing. But then we started airing a new show, “This American Life,” at 6 a.m. on my Sunday shift. I had a huge list of things to do during that hour, but I kept forgetting about my impending newscast and listening to the radio instead. The stories, at once mesmerizing and funny and surprising, actually endangered my work. So I had to start putting TAL on cassettes to hear later, like a portable, or pocket – or what’s the word? – cast.

Since those days, I’ve been a radio reporter, an editor, and contributor to such programs as PRI’s “Studio 360” and “The World.” Still, every time I sit down to craft a new audio feature, it feels almost as hard as the first time. Every piece is its own hellish puzzle.

That said, audio – especially broadcast radio – is a pretty conservative medium. Listeners appreciate familiarity and tend to punish experimentation (see below for one example). On the upside, I really don’t have to try anything new. On the downside: well, not to offend anyone, but there are plenty of places on the low FM band where, format wise, it remains 1979. That’s fine for many; I don’t want it to be fine for me.

So I sometimes go in search of the subtle shifts that amount to major trends in our hidebound world of audio storytelling. To that end, I talked with two people with their ears especially open: Julie Shapiro, head of the Third Coast International Audio Festival (TCIAF) in Chicago, and Roman Mars, who was a judge for TCIAF’s awards competition this year – and who produces a successful and innovative podcast of his own, “99% Invisible,” about design. (Full disclosure: I’ve edited Roman’s work and also did a story for him).

Hundreds of aspiring Next-Big-Thing audio producers submit their best work to TCIAF from around the world. When I asked Shapiro and Mars what trends they’re hearing, most of their answers fell under one surprisingly simple category: the “Radiolab” Effect. WNYC’s “Radiolab,” in case you haven’t heard it, is an occasional broadcast and regular podcast about science, and it’s as highly produced as anything on the radio. Most “Radiolab” stories are crafted from hundreds of hours of audio, a ratio that that’s hard for even the most accomplished programs to pull off. Ira Glass recently confessed in Transom, “If they could do an hour of this every week, I think I’d have to quit radio.”

So Shapiro and Mars aren’t hearing a replication of of Radiolab’s labor-intensive production values, but they are hearing another trademark of the show, its conversational style. You’d think, since the talk radio format is mostly talk, that this would be a given. But radio evolved in the age of oratory, when a stentorian delivery helped pierce the broadcast static, and that’s what listeners still expect.

In the age of HD and earbuds, though, producers are finding they can sound more like themselves. “Radiolab” co-hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich break down complicated stories through a relaxed Socratic dialogue, an approach that’s also been popularized by NPR’s “Planet Money” and APM’s “Freakonomics.”

“People are starting to recognize you can have fun and talk about interesting things as well,” Shapiro says. Or as Mars puts it, “In America, we explain things a lot. So much that we need two people.”

Shapiro and Mars also hear a big “Radiolab” Effect in the deeper integration of music and storytelling, far beyond the musical scoring that’s a hallmark of “This American Life.” You can hear Jad Abumrad’s Oberlin music composition degree in the show’s use of original music to explain concepts (this segment from the episode “Loops” is a good example). That technique is showing up in more TCIAF award winners, like this independent piece, “Kohn,” about a man with a disability that causes him to speak slowly but also causes his brain to hear himself as speaking like everyone else. Producer Andy Mills reached out to the band Hudson Branch to compose a song about Kohn’s brain, and the spoken story acts almost as a setup for the performance.

TCIAF’s winning story this year, “The Wisdom of Jay Thunderbolt,” takes the musical approach a step further, remixing whole swaths of an interview with an underworld character who runs (or ran) a strip club out of his Detroit home. The nervous, disorienting result crystallizes at the point when Thunderbolt pulls a gun on his interviewers.

“None of us could stop listening,” Mars says of the piece. “It solved problems in really creative ways. Almost every step was chancy.”

“Chancy,” of course, thrills the veteran producers behind TCIAF, and it’s their job to reward it. Yet flagship programs such as NPR’s “All Things Considered” get a lot of flack when they showcase even mildly risky work. So it’s to the show’s credit that it teamed up with the independent producers at Long Haul Productions to air their story about the relationship between hydraulic fracking and earthquakes in rural Arkansas. The piece breaks many formats: it’s non-narrated, meaning interviewees and “found sound” do all the talking; and it features a commissioned song interwoven among the interviews. Listeners were quick to vent their fury at NPR. “I don’t want artsy, stylistic reporting; I want factual reporting,” said one.

“How Sound” podcaster Rob Rosenthal later interviewed the producers, Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister, about the experience. The upshot? It sucked, but ATC’s editors are standing by the team, and maybe next time they’ll make more effort to explain experimental formats ahead of time.

At least the angry ATC listeners were, well, listening. And maybe catching a whiff of how dangerous that can be.

May 24 2011

14:00

“Expanding the palette of public radio”: Marc Maron’s WTF moves from podcast to program

Last month, we posted an interview Josh did with The Sound of Young America‘s Jesse Thorn. During their conversation, Thorn mentioned that he was working on trying to bring his friend Marc Maron‘s interview show WTF to public radio sometime in the “late spring of this year.”

Well: It is done. Last week, WTF was picked up by PRX (FTW!), thus making it available for distribution to stations around the country. And a number have already signed on: WTF has been licensed so far by New York’s WNYC, Chicago’s WBEZ, and, as of yesterday, Austin’s KUT — with more, Thorn told me, on the way.

WTF both is and isn’t standard public radio fare. On one hand, it’s two people sitting behind microphones, one interviewing the other, a form as old as the medium. On the other, it’s far less formal and more sprawling than what you’d get from a Terry Gross or a Diane Rehm. Maron interviews comedians in each episode — Conan O’Brien, Robin Williams, Patton Oswalt, Louis C.K. — in loose conversations that can extend well beyond an hour. The format and Maron’s abilities have led to surprisingly open and revealing interviews. As Ira Glass told The New York Times, “People say stuff to him that you can’t imagine them saying to anyone else. And they offer it. They want to give it to him. Because he is so bare, he calls it forward.”

As part of the shift to a public radio format, podcast episodes had to be compacted and reshuffled to fit into one-hour time slots. There was also some bleeping necessary; WTF suggests “sensitive listeners should be advised.” Glass, who championed the show’s move to radio, insisted on keeping the name intact, acronym moralists be damned. (Check out Glass’ promos for the show below. You can hear all 10 episodes, pulled from the best of WTF’s archives, at PRX’s website.)

Thorn said he hopes that WTF can be part of a move to broaden the kind of content — and the kind of show formats — on the public airwaves. “I think the type of interview that Marc does is something that’s new to public radio,” he says. His interview style signals a shift not because it’s profane or vulgar — “which I think is what, sometimes, program directors assume about it” — but because it is raw and real in a way “that you don’t hear almost anywhere in broadcasting — outside of, to some extent, your semi-exploitative television interviews” (Oprah, Barbara Walters, etc.).

That emotional, human-to-human connection can be a rarity within a platform whose definition of professionalism is often bound up in the interviewer’s ability to express both empathy and detachment at once. (Paging Jay Rosen.) “I don’t think it’s something that has existed in public media in the context of an interview show — and especially on a public radio show,” Thorn says. He likens Maron’s interviewing style to that of…Howard Stern, since, say what you will about the shock jock, “one thing that he’s capable of doing brilliantly is finding emotional revelations in his guests. And he does that by being so honest about himself that the guest can’t help but be honest about themselves.”

That authentic element, Thorn notes — the closeness, the rawness — is part of what has made shows like This American Life and Radiolab into successes, particularly with younger listeners. And when Glass made his push to promote WTF into a show, furthering that trend was part of the idea:

It’s high time we on public radio harvest the very best of the podcasts out there and bring them to our audience. This is a great, easy, audience-friendly way to do that.

It’s about, essentially, “expanding the palette of public radio,” Thorn says: about providing listeners with new ways to understand the intimacy of the spoken word. “I think that Marc recording the show in his garage, with his books, feeds that strength of audio as a format,” Thorn says. “It’s like having something whispered in your ear. It’s automatically very intimate.”

January 27 2011

17:17

How WNYC Used Texts from Citizens To Map Snowstorm

The radio station WNYC is creating on-air and online stories using two things that are very familiar to people in the Northeastern United States: mobile phones and snow.

A snowstorm over the holidays was the heaviest December snowfall in six decades. It dumped up to 20 inches in many parts of New York City. The story quickly became one of snow removal and how the city was not removing the snow as quickly as people had hoped.

Jim Colgan and the WNYC newsroom wanted to get a sense of what was happening on the streets. Problem was, there was no good or easy way to do this. The station couldn't rely on the city for real-time information, and reporters couldn't get to many of the areas. The answer was to have the listeners share their own reports and stories, via mobile phone.

"The Takeaway" is broadcast from WNYC and distributed by Public Radio International. The program is no stranger to mobile technology. "Part of what we are trying to do with the show is be more multi-platform and use interactive tools," Colgan said. The program has used mobile technology in sourcing through texting endeavors and frequently receives SMS reports from subscribers ahead of a given show. "The Takeaway" and WNYC also reach out to audiences on Facebook and the Internet, but Colgan said the most direct response comes from connecting with people via mobile phone.

How WNYC Reported on the Snowstorm

To report on the first major snowstorm, WNYC asked a very simple question: Has your block been plowed? On-air, they asked people to text the word PLOW to the shortcode 30644. Once they did so, that person received a message asking for their address and their response to the question.

After this, the person was sent another message asking if they would like to contribute more details, in their own voice. If the person responded to this SMS message, they were connected to a voicemail line at WNYC and could describe how the snowstorm and roads were affecting them. The station received hundreds of reports, especially for the first snowstorm, and close to 100 people left voice messages with detailed stories.

Some stories included issues of access to emergency services, getting to and from work, and the ensuing trash buildup after the storm.

A Multi-platform Approach

The station took a multi-platform approach to the snow story. In addition to mobile and voice responses, it also mapped the reports. Because they had good, clean data from the mobile texts, the team was able to map the information via Google Fusion to create a visual sense of the situation.

TheTakeawaySnowMapedit.jpg

The day after the initial snowstorm, when the city had made some headway in clearing snow, WNYC asked for more mobile reports from the public and made a second-day map. On the third day, the station texted everyone that had already participated and asked about their current situation. (Here is a link to all three maps.) At this point, most people texted that local roads were clear, and they were finally able to get out. Visually, this was evident between the three different maps.

A Texting Service Can Be a Big Help

One key to the team's success was to partner with a texting service, in this case, Mobile Commons. "The Takeaway" and WNYC had worked with the company in the past, and knew what they could do based on prior experience, Colgan said. Mobile Commons had the infrastructure in place to help launch the campaign quickly.

"It was about 20 minutes between the time we decided to do it and the time we could promote it on the air," Colgan said.

All WNYC had to do was set up the campaign and the key word. This timeliness is key, especially in breaking news situations.

The Mobile Commons system also worked well in that the texted data came in and could be easily exported via CSV to the Google Fusion map, including a public link to the MP3 of a citizen's voice report. So, for everyone that called in to leave a message, a site visitor could click on the map and link to hear the detailed audio story associated with that report.

Not Meant For Every Story

On the day of my interview with Colgan, fresh snowfall was predicted for the region. I asked if the PLOW campaign would be promoted that day. Colgan warned against overusing a service like this.

WNYC doesn't want to badger people into sending reports, he said. If it serves the reporting, it is justified. But if it's evident that streets are being cleared, the reports are obviously not useful.

After the December snowstorm, it became clear that trash was not being picked up, so the station called upon the people who had already texted in about snow removal to see if their trash was being picked up. In this case, the trash reports were not mapped, but the program did get voice stories about the situation to play on air.

During a second storm, when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was under pressure to show that snow removal was under control, the station did the same thing. This time, the story became one of how quickly streets had been plowed.

"Some people even complained about how many times their streets had been plowed," Colgan said. "But it's really great to know that we have it as a resource the next time this happens."

This mobile, multi-platform approach to newsgathering and storytelling has potential for uses outside of snowstorms, too.

17:17

How 'The Takeaway' Used Texts from Citizens To Map Snowstorm

National morning radio program The Takeaway is creating on-air and online stories using two things that are very familiar to people in the Northeastern United States: mobile phones and snow.

A snowstorm over the holidays was the heaviest December snowfall in six decades. It dumped up to 20 inches in many parts of New York City. The story quickly became one of snow removal and how the city was not removing the snow as quickly as people had hoped.

Jim Colgan and his team at "The Takeaway" wanted to get a sense of what was happening on the streets. Problem was, there was no good or easy way to do this. The program couldn't rely on the city for real-time information, and "Takeaway" reporters couldn't get to many of the areas. The answer was to have the listeners share their own reports and stories, via mobile phone.

"The Takeaway" is broadcast from WNYC and distributed by Public Radio International. The program is no stranger to mobile technology. "Part of what we are trying to do with the show is be more multi-platform and use interactive tools," Colgan said. The program has used mobile technology in sourcing through texting endeavors and frequently receives SMS reports from subscribers ahead of a given show. "The Takeaway" also reaches out to its audience on Facebook and the Internet, but Colgan said it has the most direct response when it connects with people via mobile phone.

How "The Takeaway" Reported on the Snowstorm

To report on the first major snowstorm, "The Takeaway" asked a very simple question: Has your block been plowed? On-air, they asked people to text the word PLOW to the shortcode 30644. Once they did so, that person received a message asking for their address and their response to the question.

After this, the person was sent another message asking if they would like to contribute more details, in their own voice. If the person responded to this SMS message, they were connected to a voicemail line at "The Takeaway" and could describe how the snowstorm and roads were affecting them. The program received hundreds of reports, especially for the first snowstorm, and close to 100 people left voice messages with detailed stories.

Some stories included issues of access to emergency services, getting to and from work, and the ensuing trash buildup after the storm.

A Multi-platform Approach

The program took a multi-platform approach to the snow story. In addition to mobile and voice responses, it also mapped the reports. Because they had good, clean data from the mobile texts, the team was able to map the information via Google Fusion to create a visual sense of the situation.

TheTakeawaySnowMapedit.jpg

The day after the initial snowstorm, when the city had made some headway in clearing snow, the Takeaway asked for more mobile reports from the public and made a second-day map. On the third day, the program texted everyone that had already participated and asked about their current situation. (Here is a link to all three maps.) At this point, most people texted that local roads were clear, and they were finally able to get out. Visually, this was evident between the three different maps.

A Texting Service Can Be a Big Help

One key to the team's success was to partner with a texting service, in this case, Mobile Commons. "The Takeaway" had worked with the company in the past, and knew what they could do based on prior experience, Colgan said. Mobile Commons had the infrastructure in place to help launch the campaign quickly.

"It was about 20 minutes between the time we decided to do it and the time we could promote it on the air," Colgan said.

All "The Takeaway" had to do was set up the campaign and the key word. This timeliness is key, especially in breaking news situations.

The Mobile Commons system also worked well in that the texted data came in and could be easily exported via CSV to the Google Fusion map, including a public link to the MP3 of a citizen's voice report. So, for everyone that called in to leave a message, a site visitor could click on the map and link to hear the detailed audio story associated with that report.

Not Meant For Every Story

On the day of my interview with Colgan, fresh snowfall was predicted for the region. I asked if the PLOW campaign would be promoted that day. Colgan warned against overusing a service like this.

"The Takeaway" doesn't want to badger people into sending reports, he said. If it serves the reporting, it is justified. But if it's evident that streets are being cleared, the reports are obviously not useful.

After the December snowstorm, it became clear that trash was not being picked up, so the program called upon the people who had already texted in about snow removal to see if their trash was being picked up. In this case, the trash reports were not mapped, but the program did get voice stories about the situation to play on air.

During a second storm, when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was under pressure to show that snow removal was under control, the program did the same thing. This time, the story became one of how quickly streets had been plowed.

"Some people even complained about how many times their streets had been plowed," Colgan said. "But it's really great to know that we have it as a resource the next time this happens."

This mobile, multi-platform approach to newsgathering and storytelling has potential for uses outside of snowstorms, too.

November 23 2010

16:30

The Business of Public Radio: WNYC Bulks Up, Builds Out

CSM logo small.jpg

The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

On a recent chilly night in downtown Manhattan, about 130 fans of WNYC's Radio Lab chuckled at quips exchanged between show hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich in the station's new event space.

The performance wasn't part of the public radio show's on-air lineup, but was instead a live event for which the audience members had paid $25 per ticket. This is just one way the station is reaching out to the community -- and in the process making a few bucks.

WNYC, the flagship public radio station in New York and the most listened to public radio station in the country, has in recent years developed a lot of ways to, in the words of CEO Laura Walker, "diversify revenue streams." It has increased its member base, used new fundraising techniques, attracted new grants, conducted capital campaigns to buy radio licenses and build new offices and studios, made financial investments, developed new sponsorships, increased web revenues, rented out its event space and more.

"What we have done is been a leader within the public media industry in applying both traditional and non-profit fundraising techniques," Walker said in a telephone interview. "We're taking the best of the non-profit world, the best of the public media world."

While WNYC has the advantage of being situated in the largest U.S. city -- a financial and artistic hub Walker says is "at the center of the creative world" -- the station also provides lessons in how public media can try to improve, even in difficult financial times.

LauraWalker_ScottEllisonSmith_medium_image.jpgWalker took charge of the station in 1995, when it was owned by the city and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was looking to sell it. Some of Walker's first tasks were to launch a campaign to raise $20 million to buy the FCC license and to negotiate a deal to stay in the city offices for a few more years, rent-free.

She later worked to diversify the programming and sources of income and to develop a five-year plan to bring more news and information to an audience that grew swiftly after the 9/11 attacks that occurred just blocks from their Municipal Building offices.

Growth in Audience, Staff, Funds

In 1995, the station's operating budget was $8 million, and "there was no endowment to speak of," Walker said. Today, its budget is about $55 million. In fiscal 2010, which ended in July, the station raised $56.2 million in revenue and support, according to its financial statement [PDF]. It has more than $16 million cash on hand, and a staff of about 252 people, including 31 news reporters and producers, and 13 salespeople at the national and local levels.

The audience has grown more than 40 percent since it became independent to 1.2 million people weekly, a spokesperson said, for its two stations, one each on AM and FM. The station's members in fiscal 2010 gave the largest share of contributions, $15.4 million of the $33 million received. Major donors, who gave $1,000 or more each, contributed $2.4 million. About $3.25 million, 6 percent of the station's yearly operating budget, comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, according to the spokesperson.

The CPB also is expected to donate more than $1 million to help support "The Takeaway" morning news program, which WNYC produces in partnership with Public Radio International.

Fundraising Activities Raise Millions

To bolster its ability to create programming and keep expanding, the station has launched campaigns that in the last several years raised $62.9 million, Walker said. Members of the board, which include many New York media and society luminaries, have donated close to $22 million. Thirteen individuals or family foundations have given $1 million or more each to help support the station and its shows, she says.

takeaway-logo-sm.jpgWNYC partners with PRI and American Public Media to produce shows such as "Radio Lab," the "Studio 360" arts and culture show, "On the Media," "Freakonomics" segments for the Marketwatch business show, and "The Takeaway." Costs and revenues are shared with the partners.

For local audiences, WNYC launched "Financial 411" segments that explain economic issues, "Mainstreet NYC" to explore how the economy affects New Yorkers, and the Peabody award-winning "Radio Rookies" that gives teenagers, often from less privileged communities, a voice, among other shows, programs and events.

Last year, WNYC moved its operation to new headquarters that include the performance space, which was created with the help of a $6 million gift from the Jerome L. Greene Foundation. State and City agencies gave another $10 million toward the move. The space is working to become self-sustaining financially, said WNYC's Indira Etwaroo, who runs it.

The Greene space, as it's known, has hosted cooking demonstrations, concerts and readings, and is accepting applications for a second "Battle of the Boroughs" talent quest in which performers compete to host a concert and perform during the summer at Central Park's Summer Stage.

The recent 11th-annual gala, a glittering event hosted by station friend and listener Alec Baldwin and Ira Glass, host of Chicago Public Radio's "This American Life," raised close to $1 million. Baldwin, star of the hit TV show "30 Rock," not only donated his time, but also starred in a number of humorous radio spots used for the recent fundraising drive.

The station raised another $15 million to purchase and operate WQXR, the nation's most-listened to classical music station, from the New York Times this year. (Of that, $11 million was used to purchase the FCC license, and $4 million went to operations.) WNYC has since moved its classical music programming from WNYC-FM to QXR and now concentrates WNYC-AM and -FM on news and talk.

It all adds up to a station that has become a big fundraising presence in New York, bringing in dollars that support current activities and allow for new ones that, in turn, attract more interest and generate more revenue.

Walker Is Station's Highest Earner

By public media standards, Walker has been well-compensated for her efforts. According to the station's tax return for 2008 [PDF], the most recent provided, her compensation was $512,870, with $150,000 of that amount as a bonus. She was the top earner at WNCY, with former "Takeaway" co-host Adora Udoji coming in second at $332,147 (the other co-host John Hockenberry received $265,595). Dean Cappello, chief content officer and SVP was the third-highest earner, garnering $309,341.

Not everyone, of course, has been happy with everything Walker and the station have done. Last year, amid a decline in membership dollars, the station laid off four staff members, eliminated 11 unfilled positions and cut senior staff pay by five percent. Like any station, WNYC gets complaints when it changes programming or schedules, but because it's in New York, those complaints can come from highly visible individuals.

While the station has diversified its audience to better match the multi-ethnic and racial mix of New York, some believe it could do more. Maxie C. Jackson III, was the station's senior director of program development until a year ago. He is now president of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, and thinks the station's fundraising should reflect "a greater diversity."

"There needs to be a focus on generating revenue from communities of color," he said of WNYC and other public media.

Walker said the next phase for the station is "about doing innovate, creative programming in New York" and also "building out new revenue sources."

"I think we are uniquely positioned because we have diversified revenue streams, unlike our traditional non-profit brethren that often have less" and have to rely more on government and foundation support, she said.

While WNYC does have some unique advantages by being in New York, their efforts may hold lessons for ways in which public media can grow, prosper and expand its mission in the years to come.

A former managing editor at ABCNews.com and an MBA, Dorian Benkoil has devised and executed marketing and sales strategies for MediaShift. He is SVP at Teeming Media, a strategic media consultancy focused on attracting, engaging, activating communities through digital media. He tweets at @dbenk. He and his wife, residents of New York, support WNYC as members.

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

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November 18 2010

18:10

Special Series: Public Media 2.0

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

About this Series

How are public media makers and outlets evolving in the digital, participatory age? Stories in this week's special package examine how various players are rising to this challenge, from public stations, to community access projects, to citizen journalists. MediaShift contributors will report back from this weekend's national Public Media Camp in D.C., where developers and community members will join public broadcasting staffers to brainstorm digital projects and engagement strategies. Kim Fox of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation will offer crowdsourcing and citizen journalism lessons learned from its coverage of the G20. And we'll take a look at what viral public broadcasting spoofs tell us about what still needs work.

The entire series is linked below.

Check Out All the Posts

> 5 Emerging Trends That Give Hope for Public Media 2.0 by Jessica Clark

Coming soon

Friday: Katie Donnelly analyzes a raft of public broadcasting news experiments

Saturday: Colin Rhinesmith reports on how community access centers are supporting more inclusive reporting

Sunday: Todd Bieber of the Upright Citizens Brigade dissects viral video spoofs of public broadcasting

Monday: Public Media Camp coverage from Corbin Hiar and Amanda Hirsch

Tuesday: Dorian Benkoil on how WNYC has changed its business model

Wednesday: 5Across show produced and hosted by Mark Glaser, with guests from KQED, Oakland Local, Bay Citizen and ITVS

Thursday: Kim Fox of CBC shares lessons learned from the online team's street-level coverage of the G20 in Toronto.

Your Feedback

What do you think about our series? How could it be improved? Are there other series you'd like to see MediaShift tackle in the coming months? We'd like to hear from you either in the comments below or via our Feedback form.

CSM logo small.jpg

The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

October 27 2010

18:07

DocumentCloud Users Make Ballot Design An Election Issue

When we make lists of the kinds of source documents users can upload to DocumentCloud, they can get pretty long. DocumentCloud is court filings, hearing transcripts, testimony, legislation, lab reports, memos, meeting minutes, correspondence. I can say with absolute confidence that in all of our planning, "ballots" never once came up as the sort of document a news organization might want to annotate for readers. Our relentlessly creative users have shown us otherwise.

This summer, the Memphis Commercial Appeal rounded out its guide to August's primary elections with a sample ballot. Their digital content editor told us that many readers who'd missed the sample ballot in the print edition turned to the version online as primary day approached. Earlier this month, they added the general election ballot to that guide.

New York Ballots

WNYC, New York City's NPR affiliate, also published a few ballots this summer. In an effort to comply with a 2002 federal law that mandates significant updates to voting systems in each state, New York City introduced paper ballots for the 2010 primary election, replacing the city's famously arcane voting machines. One look at the new design and everyone was up in arms, proclaiming its absurdity, but WNYC actually invited a group of ballot design experts to review the city's new ballots. Their findings: the ballot was confusing

Design for Democracy works to increase civic participation, in part through a ballot design project that aims to make voting easier and more accurate. WNYC used Design for Democracy's feedback to annotate a sample ballot on their blog, offering readers vital voting advice.

When the city released sample ballots for November's general election, a local think tank pointed out that the instructions erroneously advise voters to mark the oval above their candidate's name. In fact, the relevant ovals appear below candidate's names. WNYC highlighted the issue by embedding a sample ballot on their blog. Apparently the "oval above" language was mandated by state law. Don't believe me? See for yourself -- WNYC posted the legislation, with the relevant passage highlighted.

From now on, my laundry list of things DocumentCloud catalogs will most definitely include ballots.

September 09 2010

14:00

The Newsonomics of public radio’s Argonauts

[Each week, our friend Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of the news business for the Lab.]

Overnight, it seems, journalism has been transformed from a daily grind to an heroic quest. Rupert Murdoch has dubbed his adventure to get readers to pay for tablet (and other) content Alesia (after a Roman/Gauls battle) and now public radio formally launches Project Argo. Ah, journalists pursuing the golden fleece. Forget Woodstein — the pursuit of journalism itself is now an against-all-odds mythic trip against budget monsters and business model slayers.

If last year was the year of massive cutting, this is the year of new news creation popping up from unusual quarters. AOL’s Patch is probably the biggest hiring agent, with more than 400 new full-time jobs covering local communities. Sites like TBD.com and Bay Citizen are crafting new products and strategies and hiring dozens of journalists. Now Argo pushes forward, in a quest to stick a new flag of public media in terra incognita, and is hiring journalists in the process.

Argo is intended to bring a high level of attention to hot button topics, covered from a regional perspective. “We want to be the best means of authoritative coverage,” NPR Digital Media G.M. Kinsey Wilson told me recently. [We want] to be the top-of-mind choice for issues like immigration [now covered out of L.A. by KPCC with the Argo site Multi-American].”

Coverage is handled by the increasingly familiar reporter/blogger/curator, finding the most relevant coverage for readers. Largely providing a single new full-time position for each new site, “hosts” come from some impressive reporting backgrounds, like WBUR’s Carey Goldberg, former Boston bureau chief of The New York Times, and Rachel Zimmerman, former health and medicine reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Much of the content — and there’s an impressive amount at launch — is text, not audio.

At first, Argo seems hard to put in context. It’s public radio becoming public media becoming locally topical, but in ways that can inform more than local audiences — which we used to think of as public radio listeners, but who are now public media listeners and readers. Got that?

I’ve talked to a number of people in the emerging public media landscape — a fairly merry lot of Argonauts and other dragon slayers who see lots of upside — so let’s take a look at the emerging newsonomics of projects like Argo.

By the raw numbers, Argo is a $3 million investment. That’s not much by traditional journalism standards, but in this day and age, it wins headlines, like the minor economic development miracle of a new big-box store being covered on the Metro front. The money comes both from a foundation — the omnipresent Knight Foundation at $1 million — and from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting at $2 million.

That Knight funding reminds us of the good that’s still being done by the once dependable profits of newspaper companies, as Knight Ridder funding built one of the 25 foundations in the country, one that has been instrumental in seeding sprouts of the new new journalism.

That CPB funding reminds us that our tax dollars have been supporting news for more than four decades now, even as the debate rages abstractly on whether it’s a good idea to have “government” in the news business. NPR’s news effort — supported by members, philanthropists like Joan Kroc and yes, our tax dollars — makes a pretty good case that some government funding is a good idea, especially if we compare NPR radio news to what is elsewhere generally available in the growing desert of commercial radio news coverage.

Argo itself is 12 sites, produced by 14 public radio stations (two sites are jointly produced), each specializing in major topics like education, health, immigration, and ocean health, and exploring that topic regionally. Journalists are hired by individual public radio stations, each of which applied for the funding. The initial funding is intended to sustain the sites through the end of next year — and to provide “prototype products,” according to Wilson.

So that funding is one of the first things that tells us about the business of this effort. Like Silicon Valley startups, the effort is about building a product that seems to meet a clear audience need, building that audience — and then finding a sustainable business model. That’s what has built companies for decades in the valley, and it’s in contrast to how much of the journalism business has long gotten funded.

Looking under the covers, though, here are three more things to watch about the emerging economic model underneath Argo:

  • It’s local and vertical. In the conundrum that the web has been for newsies, publishers often felt compelled to choose “local” or “vertical,” the fancy term for topical. Of course, readers’ concerns encompass both, and an education site that focuses on local education (such as Minnesota Public Radio’s Argo site On Campus) creates double value and may multiply audience. Even though, it’s “local,” just as WBUR’s CommonHealth, it will find national audiences as well.
  • It’s built for networking. Public radio used to a fairly one-way street, with national NPR and then Public Radio International and American Public Radio essentially licensing or syndicating shows to local stations, of which there are more than 250. Now built on increasingly flexible technologies like NPR’s emerging API and PRX’s exchange, local stations can increasingly both syndicate their own work, Argo-funded and other, to each other — and pick up other stations’ work more easily. In a sense, we see an alternative wire in creation, especially as the Public Media Platform goes forward.
  • It builds on public radio stations’ local news push. A number of stations represented in Argo have also begun building out their local/regional/statewide news presences. KQED, in the Bay Area, which is launching MindShift through Argo, just hired eight new news staffers as it launched KQEDNews.org (Good piece by MediaShift’s Katie Donnelly on the initiative and its context.) So in KQED’s case, as in WBUR’s, KPCC in L.A.’s, and Oregon Public Broadcasting’s, the topical initiative receives more play due to the expanded news reach — and the expanded news reach gets more public notice because of the new topical coverage.

Each of those factors are multipliers, multipliers of public radio’s emerging digital news business. They multiply audience. They multiple the ability to get members and membership income. They multiply sponsorship opportunities, the “advertising” of public radio. That’s on the business level. On the journalism level, public radio’s news values — the closest to newspaper’s traditional ones — get to flex their muscles, another early test of just how far public media wants to go in filling the yawning local news vacuum.

September 03 2010

16:00

An open and shut case: At the new TimesOpen, different models for attracting developers to a platform

One phone rings, then another, then four more, now a dozen. The 15th-floor conference room is suddenly abuzz with an eclectic mix of song snippets and audio bits, an intimate peak at their owners before each is picked up or silenced. Having impressed the audience with the telephony technology behind the product, the presenter moves on to the next demo.

The intersection of mobile and geolocation is still an unknown world, waiting to be invented by hackers like the ones at round 2.0 of TimesOpen, The New York Times’ outreach to developers, which launched Thursday night. We wrote about the first TimesOpen event last year: It’s an attempt to open the doors of the The Times to developers, technologists, designers, and entrepreneurs, who can use Times tools to help answer some of the field’s big questions. This iteration of TimesOpen is a five-event series this fall, each focusing on a different topic: mobile/geolocation, open government, the real-time web, “big data,” and finally a hack day in early December.

On the docket Thursday were Matt Kelly of Facebook, John Britton of Twilio, Manu Marks of Google, and John Keefe of WNYC. Kelly presented Facebook Places; Britton gave one of his now New York-famous live demos of the Twilio API; Marks dove deep into the various flavors of the Google Maps API; Keefe — the only non-programmer of the bunch — discussed lessons learned from a community engagement project with The Takeaway.

Building community around an API

An API, or application programming interface, allow applications to easily communicate with one another. For example, any iPhone or Android application that pulls information from a web-based database is most likely it through an API. If you search local restaurants through Yelp, your location and query are passed to Yelp and results given in return. For any company with an API, like the three at TimesOpen, the challenge is to convince developers they should spend their time innovating on top of your platform. Strategically, when there’s an entire ecosystem living on top of your platform, your platform then becomes indispensable and valuable.

What’s most fascinating to me, however, are the approaches each company is taking to build a community around its API. The community is the most important key to the success of an API, a major source of innovation. One of the keys to Twitter’s explosive growth has been its API; rather than depending on its own developers for all new innovation, Twitter inadvertently created an entire ecosystem of value on top of their platform.

Let’s contrast Facebook and Twilio, for example. Facebook hopes Places, launched in mid August, will become the definitive platform for all location data. Interoperability can happen, but it should happen over Facebook’s infrastructure. Facebook envisions a future where, in addition to showing you where your friends are in real time, Places will also offer historical social context to location. Remember the trip through South America your friend was telling you about? Now you don’t have to, all of the relevant information is accessible through Places.

At the moment, though, Facebook’s only public location API is read-only. It can give a developer a single check-in, all check-ins for a given user, or check-in data for a given location. They have a closed beta for the write API with no definitive timeline for opening it publicly. Expanded access to the API is done through partnerships reserved for the select few.

Twilio’s demo power

Twilio, on the other hand, is a cloud-based telephony company which offers voice and SMS functionality as a service, and whose business depends wholly on extensive use of its API. Developer evangelist John Britton made a splash at the NY Tech Meetup when, in front of hundreds, he wrote a program and did a live demo that elegantly communicated the full scope of what their product offers. On Thursday, he impressed again: Using the Twilio API, he procured a phone number, and had everyone in the audience dial into it. When connected, callers were added to one of three conference rooms. Dialing into the party line also meant your phone number was logged, and the application could then follow up by calling you back. All of this was done with close to a dozen lines of code.

At TimesOpen, Britton stressed API providers need to keep a keen ear to their community. Community members often have ideas for how you can improve your service to solve the intermediate problems they have. For instance, up until a week ago, Twilio didn’t have the functionality to block phone numbers from repeatedly dialing in. For one company using the platform, the absence of this feature became a significant financial liability. Once rolled out, the feature made Twilio much more valuable of a service because the company could more closely tailor it to their needs. To make experimentation even easier, Twilio also has an open source product called OpenVBX and brings together its community with regular meetups.

Facebook already has the scale and the social graph to make any new API it produces a player. But for wooing the hackers — at least when you’re a small and growing platform — open and inclusive seems to win out over closed and exclusive.

August 25 2010

16:45

NPR’s Argo Project becomes the Argo Network, mixing the local and the national on reported blogs

NPR’s Argo Project (or Project Argo — it seems to vary) is starting to take shape — launch is set for one week from today, September 1. Argo is the network’s $3 million effort (with Knight and CPB money) to ramp up the online presence and reporting capacity of member stations by building a network of reported blogs grounded in topics of both national and local interest. As project director Joel Sucherman puts it, describing the now-christened Argo Network:

Each Argo site is run by a different member station, but all of them cover news that resonates nationally. While KPLU’s ‘Humanosphere’ covers the development of a burgeoning global health industry in Seattle, for example, it will also be a worthy bookmark for anyone interested in the worldwide mission to end poverty and improve health.

The sites promote each other, as in this box of “Network Highlights” that appears on article pages. It’s that network functionality that’s one of the most interesting things about Argo; NPR is made up of its member stations, and there’s long been tension between the growth of the national organization and the health of the individual stations who comprise its membership and rely on the network for much of their programming. For the mothership to be supporting local programming — even if just on the web — could smooth over what has at times been a contentious relationship. But it also raises challenges of how to make sure the content is useful to both a local and a national audience.

We’ve got the full list of Argo sites below — go check them out. Some have already softlaunched and look to be in full flower, while others are still on the Argo staging server. NPR officials declined to talk for this post, saying they’re not quite ready.

Name: On Campus, based at Minnesota Public Radio
Blogger: Alex Friedrich
Tagline: Everything higher education in Minnesota.

Name: Ecotrope, based at Oregon Public Broadcasting
Blogger: Cassandra Profita
Tagline: Covering the Northwest’s environment.

Name: Multi-American, based at Southern California Public Radio
Blogger: Leslie Berestein Rojas
Tagline: Immigration and cultural fusion in the new Southern California.

Name: Humanosphere, based at KPLU (Seattle)
Blogger: Tom Paulson
Tagline: Covering the fight to reduce poverty and improve global health.

Name: The Informant, based at KALW (San Francisco)
Blogger: Rina Palta and Ali Winston
Tagline: Cops, courts and communities in the Bay Area.

Name: The Empire, based at WNYC (New York)
Blogger: Azi Paybarah
Tagline: Everything you need to know about New York state politics and governance.

Name: The Key, based at WXPN (Philadelphia)
Blogger: Bruce Warren and Matthew Borlik
Tagline: Discover Philly’s best local music.

Name: MindShift, based at KQED (San Francisco)
Blogger: Tina Barseghian
Tagline: How we will learn.

Name: Home Post, based at KPBS (San Diego)
Blogger: Jamie Reno
Tagline: The military in San Diego.

Name: DCentric, based at WAMU (Washington)
Blogger: Anna John
Tagline: Gentrification w/o representation.

Name: CommonHealth, based at WBUR (Boston)
Blogger: Carey Goldberg and Rachel Zimmerman
Tagline: Where reform meets reality [in health care].
[Note: Still hosted on beta server.]

Name: Climatide, based at WGBH (Boston)
Blogger: Heather Goldstone
Tagline: Oceans, coasts, and climate change on Cape Cod.
[Note: Still hosted on beta server.]

July 29 2010

22:10

Pop and Politics Blog Becomes Converged Radio Project

These days it's not so unusual for a public radio program to boast a companion blog. But few shows begin online and move to broadcast.Pop and Politics is the exception.

Farai Chideya -- a high-profile public affairs reporter, novelist, and the former host of NPR's late and lamented African-American current events program "News & Notes" -- began the Pop and Politics site 15 years ago when she was working at CNN as a political analyst. The project, she said, has evolved through "a few different lifecycles" -- from a multi-author blog covering issues of race and culture, to a student journalism training organization, to its latest, a multi-platform radio show.

"I decided that now was the time," Chideya said. "There have been so many times that I have been a part of 'converged media' but it was too soon or didn't quite work. Now, all of the market conditions are right."

She described the project as more of a "media ecosystem as anything else," comprised of a broadcast, podcast, social media feeds, and mobile content -- all under the Pop and Politics brand.

Election Plans

On air, the program -- formally titled "Pop and Politics Radio With Farai Chideya" -- will launch in a pilot version just before the midterm election. It will be a series of hour-long broadcasts recorded live-to-tape from spots around the country where there are critical races. The goal is to feature perspectives that aren't always highlighted in national election coverage.

"All politics is local, life is local," Chideya said. "I want to meet people where they are, to be respectful of the fact that not everyone lives in a big city, that not everyone thinks the same way that I do."

She plans to work with American Public Media's Public Insight Network to uncover local sources for stories. Click on the video below to hear her describe the show's format.

News + Entertainment

A mixture of reporting, a panel of guests, interviews and live performance, Pop and Politics Radio draws inspiration from popular late-night comedy programs by mixing news and entertainment.

"I want to enjoy the act of making media, and I want people to enjoy the media I produce," Chideya said. But instead of just relying on celebrities and politicians to comment on the day's events, she'll draw in independent producers and reporters to contribute fresh content.

Her program targets a demographic that isn't young exactly -- around 35 -- but younger than the usual boomer-generation NPR fan, as well as hipper and more multicultural. Online, Chideya notes, with search, peer recommendation, streaming audio and podcasting, it's now possible to find audiences for public radio content, "even among those who don't consider themselves public radio listeners."

The show will be produced out of WNYC, the New York-based NPR station that is also home to such innovative shows as Radiolab and The Takeaway.

Fans of News & Notes -- who launched an online campaign protesting that show's cancellation -- will be excited to tune in. But they still have awhile to wait. "It's going to be a bit of a slow bake," Chideya said. Right now, she's focused on revamping the Pop and Politics site for its latest incarnation.

Jessica Clark directs the Center for Social Media's Future of Public Media Project, and is a Knight Media Policy Fellow at the New America Foundation. Tracy Van Slyke is the Project Director of The Media Consortium and was recently named one of "30 Women Making History" by the Women's Media Center. Together, they are the co-authors of Beyond the Echo Chamber: Reshaping Politics Through Networked Progressive Media, published in February by the New Press. The authors would like to thank the Ford Foundation and The Media Consortium for their support in conducting the summits and associated research.

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