‘The Pub’ #68: Betcha can’t fix this script!

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(Photo: Willow Belden)

(Photo: Willow Belden)

Certain public radio editors have a term for a script that is beyond saving: “We call them a FLOG,” said Inside Energy Executive Editor Alisa Barba on The Pub.

“For the love of God!,” is what it stands for.

On this week’s episode, recorded live at the Public Radio News Directors Inc. conference in St. Louis, I present Barba and NPR Midwest Bureau Chief Ken Barcus with a bunch of FLOGs to flog, in a game I call: Betcha Can’t Fix This Script!

Also, NPR Collaborative Coverage Senior Editor Bruce Auster discusses the impending editor shortage that he and others have predicted and ways that public media could help foster the next generation of editors.

“You have to make so that the editor job, within the organization, is something people value,” Auster said. “I don’t know that we quite have that culture.”

Plus, I consider whether public radio is really experiencing an “existential crisis,” as proclaimed recently by The Wall Street Journal’s Ellen Gamerman (and rejected by NPR’s Michael Oreskes).

Special thanks this week to St. Louis Public Radio General Manager Tim Eby, who saved this live show by loaning me one of his station’s PA systems at the last minute.

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.

  • JasonL

    The idea that public radio has a huge problem with digital is a tempest in teapot. Isn’t it interesting that those who no longer have a vested interest in radio but in podcasting (such as Ragusea, Davidson, Nuzum, et. al.) are the peddlers of the idea?

    • Adam Ragusea

      Did you even listen to the thing you’re commenting on?

      • JasonL

        Yes. Saying that the recurrence of negative stories about NPR’s adoption of digital means there must be something to it, is rationalizing. The measure of whether there’s something to a story is the quality of the sources and information.

        So far no reporter has done real homework: sourcing people who run digital businesses at NPR and at stations; including data on how many managers, reporters, announcers and other employees at NPR or at stations have been economically or emotionally harmed (or to what extent) by posting audio online.

        I and many others would welcome a piece that delves into it materially. And if there’s nothing newsworthy there, other than people people solving problems and doing their jobs, move on.

        What’s troubling, Adam, is your stated distaste for the NPR news presentation model as well as local station content, and extolling the virtues of podcasting over radio. Is this why you keep giving life to this negative angle of public radio’s future?

        • Adam Ragusea

          So he says five hours later.

          Why is any of that troubling? True, I’ve said that I don’t really care for the dominant NPR radio aesthetic anymore, which I think sounds a bit old-fashioned and inauthentic relative to its emerging competitors (some of which are coming from inside the building). True, I’ve said I think that, as a listener and content creator, podcasts have certain intrinsic advantages over radio. True, I’ve said (from much experience) that a lot of the content produced by under-resourced local stations isn’t very good and probably couldn’t carry its own weight if it weren’t subsidized by the national programming. Yes, I would absolutely acknowledge that those are all factors (among others) in the calculation that leads me to conclude public radio has challenging times ahead. Why wouldn’t they be factors?

          Regarding you accusation that no reporter has done “real homework,” I think plenty of reporters have interviewed people who run digital businesses within public media, and the data you’re asking for don’t exist yet and may never exist. The national radio ratings declines are real, but the extent to which the attendant revenue declines may or may not be balanced by emerging revenues and how equitably those revenues will be distributed through the system remains to be seen. And we will likely never be able to prove a direct causal link between the growth of digital audio and the decline of terrestrial radio. Just because you can’t prove a thing doesn’t mean it does not exist.

          And I didn’t say that because many outlets have reported something means “there must be something to it.” I said it indicates there might be something to it, and if you think I’m wrong, then you don’t believe in the journalistic method (which would be a perfectly legitimate position to take).

          • Jason Lopez

            “Just because you can’t prove a thing doesn’t mean it does not exist.” Huh? That would mean you’re Elvis.

            Seriously, you’re saying reporters have been doing their homework and interviewing people who run pub radio’s digital businesses. Please provide some urls. Let’s deal in sources and facts.

            If you’re going to parse “might” from “must” then sure, I agree with you. Something that “might” be true is worth looking into. But it’s not worth reporting on with only “might.” You need good sources and facts.

            My beef with you on this one topic (I really like what you report on audio and many other topics, btw) is that framing this issue, such as tag-teaming on the WSJ piece, to make it sound like NPR/public radio is dropping the ball is a disservice to people in public radio. It’s speculation.

            Please understand my position. There’s reality and then there’s speculation. If NPR is dropping the ball then examine it, get the facts, understand it–interview the SEO strategists, heads of digital, platform managers at NPR and at stations, as well as traffic analysts, iTunes officials, etc. But if it’s not based on talking with the people who would really know, then it’s speculation.

          • Jason Lopez

            Also, I want to sincerely say I appreciate that you’ve softened your stance over the past year in these debates. That you now say it as, “public radio has challenging times ahead,” is more centrist. However, I’m not trying to make you agree to anything. I’m just trying to challenge the idea of public radio having big problems for the benefit of anyone who reads our back and forth.

    • Adam Ragusea

      First of all, it’s quite an overstatement to say that I have a vested interest in podcasting. Current pays me a little to make The Pub, but my primary source of income is my full-time job teaching journalism at Mercer University. Also, The Pub is a podcast about public media for the public media community — if public media collapses, I won’t have an audience, so if anything you could say that I do still have a vested interest in radio.

      Secondly, if we’re gonna dismiss Nuzum and Davidson’s doomsaying about radio because they no longer work in radio, then we’re also gonna have to dismiss all the sanguine things that people who do still work in radio — like Jarl Mohn and Mike Oreskes — say about radio. Everybody is coming from somewhere; everybody has a bias. Knowing that bias doesn’t invalidate the opinion; it merely contextualizes it. I reckon that Davidson left public radio because he’s more bullish on podcasts, but if you want to believe that he’s more bullish on podcasts because he left radio, then so be it. I don’t think that particular chicken and egg conundrum matters very much.

      Lastly, if you had actually listened to the episode you’re commenting on (or listened to / read any of my other work instead of just assuming you know what’s in my head), you’d know that “public radio has a huge problem with digital” is a gross oversimplification of my views.

      Yes, I think digital presents a major longterm threat to many local stations that don’t produce enough quality local content survive as they gradually suffer the effects of partial disintermediation. On the other hand, I think some stations and NPR do tremendous digital work, and the (less serious but still significant) problems they face have little to do with their content/platforms and more with the public media economy and the organizational links between the networks and the stations, all of which depend on radio at a structural level and will unless/until the system undertakes major organizational reforms.

      If you don’t believe me because I don’t work in radio anymore, ask someone who does: WNYC CEO Laura Walker, who wrote last week that NPR and stations “must align our respective incentives — financial and public service — so that we are collectively motivated to succeed on both radio and in the digital space.”

      But again, if you had listened to the episode before snarking on its comment thread, you’d know all that.

      • JasonL

        My goodness, Adam, listen to yourself. “But again, if you had listened to the episode before snarking on its comment thread, you’d know all that.” Wow, your painting of me as an incompetent boob started with the first post I ever made about radio’s resiliency on an FB discussion board a couple of years ago, in which you chimed in, “Pshaw…” and proceeded to condescendingly instruct me how it isn’t. You mention the exchange in the interview you did on the Nieman Lab podcast.

        But let me once again pull this back to the issue.

        My aim in our exchanges has been to challenge the idea that there’s something wrong in NPR’s/public radio’s adoption of digital that rises to the level of constant newsworthiness, that it’s the angle we need to see digital adoption from.

        Walker wrote what I and many others have been saying for years: “From where I sit… the news is overwhelmingly positive.”

        I just don’t think it’s right for someone who reports on public radio to keep the idea alive, that something’s wrong, among the very people they report on.