The Pub #17: Ira hearts capitalism; The “secret sauce” behind NPR’s mic sound; All public media should be Creative Commons–licensed

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The Neumann U87 microphone (photo: David Preston), Ira Glass (photo: Peabody Awards), Creative Commons licenses

The Neumann U87 microphone (photo: David Preston), Ira Glass (photo: Peabody Awards), Creative Commons licenses

One of the most effective public radio fundraisers ever wants to quit doing pledge drives. That’s the only way I can interpret what This American Life host Ira Glass said to Ad Age last week.

“My hope is that we can move away from a model of asking listeners for money and join the free market,” Glass told the marketing trade publication following the big podcasting upfront in New York last Wednesday.

“I think we’re ready for capitalism, which made this country so great,” he said. “Public radio is ready for capitalism.”

Wow.

It’s hard to imagine anything else Glass could have said that would have been more of an affront to public media’s core identity — not that I necessarily think that’s a bad thing, though former NPR digital strategist Melody Joy Kramer definitely thinks it is.

“That made me so sad,” Kramer told me on The Pub, reacting to Glass’s assertion that public radio should join the free market.

“I think if we go that route, I wouldn’t want to be a part of it,” she said. “I feel like we’re moving just so far away from our roots.”

On this week’s episode of The Pub, we contemplate the notion that public radio’s biggest star evidently doesn’t want public radio to be public anymore.

Also on the show:

  • Kramer argues that all public media content should be licensed under Creative Commons so that people can republish it
  • NPR’s top audio engineer Shawn Fox dishes on the “secret sauce” behind NPR’s bright, sharp studio microphone sound
  • Jonah Sutton-Morse rebuts my justification for using favored pronouns when describing transsexual people (not my conclusion, my justification)

Be in the audience when The Pub records a live show at the PBS Annual Meeting in Austin on May 12! We’ll be talking about ways to expand public television’s audience. Reserve your seats here.

Please subscribe to The Pub in iTunes or your favorite podcast app, and leave us a rating and a comment! That will help boost our search results and allow people to find the show more easily.

We welcome your feedback on the show: You can reach me at adam@current.org or @aragusea on Twitter; my supervising producer at Current, Mike Janssen, is at mike@current.org; and you can contact Current generally at news@current.org or @currentpubmedia on Twitter.

If you’d like to offer a comment to be used in the program, please send on-mic tape (recorded in a studio, with a kit, a smartphone, anything) to adam@current.org either as an attachment or through Google Drive. Please keep it short!

Adam Ragusea hosts Current’s weekly podcast The Pub and is a journalist in residence and visiting assistant professor at Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism.

  • Aaron Read

    “Kramer argues that all public media content should be licensed under Creative Commons so that people can republish it”

    So all member stations should get NPR programming for free, instead of paying tens, or hundreds, of thousands of dollars, if not millions? I’d really like to know how that business model is supposed to hold up.

    • Adam Ragusea

      Sigh, commenting before listening…

      • Aaron Read

        To be blunt: yes. I don’t have 53 minutes to sit around listening to something I could consume in perhaps 10 minutes in print form. If that’s how you’re going to tease it in print, that’s how I’m going to respond to it.

        • Adam Ragusea

          Teases and headlines are not stories. You of all people should know that. I’m not saying you have to listen to the show if you don’t want to, but I am saying you shouldn’t comment negatively about something you haven’t actually paid attention to.

          • Aaron Read

            Fair enough.

          • Melody Kramer

            whoops – realize I commented above but didn’t reply to the thread. Here’s my comment:

            Hi,

            I’ll reiterate what I said in the episode, for those who don’t have the time to tune in. It is possible to stipulate which pieces and what kinds of material (audio vs. text vs. interactives) would have Creative Commons licensing.

            In the podcast, I don’t suggest making all content CC licensed. I suggest labeling breaking news stories and investigative pieces with the license, so that they have the opportunity to reach the widest audience possible. (For example, breaking news occurs in a particular market. The station immediately makes the online content available to other stations to use and place on their sites. This strengthens the system. During large-scale national breaking news events, we are not telling people which local station (and which local reporters) to follow. We should be propping up the system as a whole, no matter where news occurs.)

            A similar set-up could be used for investigative work, which often requires months of time and costs a lot of money. I’d want this work—often made in the public interest—to receive the widest possible audience.

            ProPublica does this, and requires anyone who posts the work to adhere to a list of stringent requirements, including placing a tracking beacon from ProPublica on their website. (http://www.propublica.org/abou… This is so ProPublica can say “We reached X number of people on our website, but Y number of people online.” If a unit has foundation funding, this metric is actually quite valuable because it shows impact.

            For investigative pieces, this is particularly important. What’s the point of doing a several-months-long investigative piece, and having it receive the same online treatment (buildout, length of time on the homepage) as the spot a reporter filed this morning? It’s also possible to say “The text of the web build is labeled this way; the audio is not.”

            I hope this clarifies my comments. Happy to explain more.

            Melody

          • Aaron Read

            Thanks for expanding on this in print form, Melody. It’s much more elucidating.

          • David Thiel / WILL

            On the other hand, I did listen to the show, and am wondering the same thing. The most restrictive CC license is CC BY-NC-ND, and I’m not seeing anything in there that would prevent me from broadcasting programming so licensed without paying for it. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

          • David Thiel / WILL

            Another thing I’ve wondered about: has anyone proven open-source to be a sustainable business model? I’d never heard of any of the companies you mentioned on the show. And while that’s not in itself damning–after all, there are many, many things I’ve never heard of–I did find myself asking “Yeah, they may be making money, but are they making *enough* money? Will they be around five years from now?”

          • Adam Ragusea

            Again, I’ll encourage Melody to respond. But I will say that what distinguishes public media from commercial media is its use of public and donor funds. I realize those funds need to be supplemented with business revenue, but public media’s business model isn’t supposed to be sustainable. The public gives you money to do stuff that the market won’t fully support. If you restrict access or use of your products in the name of making your business model sustainable, then you will have defeated the entire point of your existence.

          • Melody Kramer

            I could have mentioned Reddit (open source) or Mozilla (creative commons) or Red Hat (open source) – and I didn’t have time to list all of the business models associated with them: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_models_for_open-source_software – but there are ways to make them profitable, particularly if you have different kinds of licenses or offer software as a service. (License: one way for other stations; a different way for other audio and media companies.) Do we want to get into that business? I’m not sure, but it seems crazy to me that every station has to pay for the same proprietary software and are not working together more often, particularly on components that they each need.

          • Adam Ragusea

            It’s really Melody’s argument, so I’ll encourage her to respond here. But I have a couple of thoughts. 1) I don’t accept the idea that the only reason PDs like you pay NPR/PBS for programming is because you have to. The stations and the networks are all in this together, and you know that if you stop paying, there will be no shows to air; 2) Even if the networks make the programming free, they can still charge for distribution, and stations still need satellite feeds, at least for the live shows; 3) If stations really did start freeloading and airing shows without paying, maybe networks could make up the revenue by assessing overall dues to member stations instead of fees on individual programs; 4) The problems that CC licensing could create for the station system just further illustrate why the system is ill-suited to the new media landscape. We have no use anymore for middlemen who hold local monopolies on the distribution of other people’s content.

          • David Thiel / WILL

            Adam, thanks for the reply. It wasn’t Melody’s argument that had me reaching for the keyboard, it was your own question: “Shouldn’t every piece of content we create in public media be licensed under Creative Commons?” For the sake of idealism, I’ll set aside the impossibility of doing so for most national public television programming. But even working under the assumption that we own all of our content free and clear of underlying rights, performance royalties and production partnerships, I’d argue “no.”

            Yes, I recognize that without station licensing fees the shows that we all enjoy–even Ira Glass’–wouldn’t exist. That said, we in public media are facing many budget pressures, and the temptation to set our own pricing–if not freeload–would be irresistible. If shaving $50,000 from our NPR dues would net me another local music host, well, get me a razor.

            And if public radio adopted the PBS model of annual dues, then you’ve got a two-tiered system in which member stations continue paying huge amounts of money for “free” content, but any unaffiliated individual could redistribute it for nothing.

            I’d flip your final argument to suggest that CC licensing may be ill-suited to deal with the reality of financing a “Morning Edition” or “American Experience.” Without us monopolizing middlemen, the burden of fundraising would entirely fall to producers, and if they thought it was a pain applying for grants and seeking underwriting support, they really wouldn’t care for tracking individual donor renewals. Furthermore, these monopolies help us to raise money for the local activities (cough, news, cough) that make this system what it is.

  • jackbrighton

    Adam, I love The Pub and am happy to listen to it. It’s so, I don’t know, Public Radio. On the question of pledge drives versus chasing ad dollars, I take the same approach to on-air pitching as you describe at Georgia Public Radio: it’s actually an opportunity to talk about what’s different about public radio, why we do what we do, and our mission. Enough people understand and respond to this to more than keep us afloat. There’s a reason we call it public radio and that’s important to the communities we serve.

    • Adam Ragusea

      Thanks Jack! I agree wholeheartedly. I’m bullish on advertising only as a supplement to membership, which I think is the heart of the enterprise.

  • Melody Kramer

    Hi,

    I’ll reiterate what I said in the episode, for those who don’t have the time to tune in. It is possible to stipulate which pieces and what kinds of material (audio vs. text vs. interactives) would have Creative Commons licensing.

    In the podcast, I don’t suggest making all content CC licensed. I suggest labeling breaking news stories and investigative pieces with the license, so that they have the opportunity to reach the widest audience possible. (For example, breaking news occurs in a particular market. The station immediately makes the online content available to other stations to use and place on their sites. This strengthens the system. During large-scale national breaking news events, we are not telling people which local station (and which local reporters) to follow. We should be propping up the system as a whole, no matter where news occurs.)

    A similar set-up could be used for investigative work, which often requires months of time and costs a lot of money. I’d want this work—often made in the public interest—to receive the widest possible audience.

    ProPublica does this, and requires anyone who posts the work to adhere to a list of stringent requirements, including placing a tracking beacon from ProPublica on their website. (http://www.propublica.org/about/steal-our-stories) This is so ProPublica can say “We reached X number of people on our website, but Y number of people online.” If a unit has foundation funding, this metric is actually quite valuable because it shows impact.

    For investigative pieces, this is particularly important. What’s the point of doing a several-months-long investigative piece, and having it receive the same online treatment (buildout, length of time on the homepage) as the spot a reporter filed this morning? It’s also possible to say “The text of the web build is labeled this way; the audio is not.”

    I hope this clarifies my comments. Happy to explain more.

    Melody

  • thefasteryougo

    Out of curiosity, I looked up the microphone they refer to as the public radio standard, the Neumann U87. It retails for some $3,000.

    • Adam Ragusea

      Well, Shawn said the Neumann is the NPR standard. The most common public radio mic is the Electro-Voice RE20, which is like $450.

  • Bruce Wayne

    I found the intro ‘music’ to be incredibly irritating and the announcer not a lot better.