Freelance radio and print journalist Ashley Milne-Tyte set off a lively exchange of the philosophical differences between radio producers who work under deadlines to produce daily news stories and those who focus on long-form personal narratives that have been popularized by programs such as This American Life and Radiolab.
Writing on her personal blog after attending this month’s Third Coast International Audio Festival in Evanston, Ill., Milne-Tyte questioned why so many attendees and presenters seemed to turn up their noses at the prospect of reporting daily news. The vast majority of public radio’s listeners tune in for the news, she wrote, and there’s a lot of skill and discipline involved in producing news spots.
Milne-Tyte has produced daily news spots for American Public Media’s Marketplace and has done features for NPR, WNYC and PRI’s The World. “Spots and short features are great instruments through which to hone your writing, and you learn so much doing them,” she wrote. “I’m no longer even in the business of daily news but I still listen and appreciate those spots, packed with information. It takes skill to pull those off.”
Milne-Tyte was reacting in part to Current’s recent report on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s role in the Center for Collaborative Journalism, an experimental partnership between the GPB radio station in Macon, Mercer University and The Telegraph, a for-profit daily newspaper. In the story, Adam Ragusea, GPB Radio Macon’s sole full-time reporter working on the collaboration, said the news-sharing arrangement frees up time for him and Mercer journalism students to produce audio-rich features. “I hate daily news,” he told Current.
Ragusea was among several public radio news veterans who commented on Milne-Tyte’s post, and weighed in to clarify his remark: “I was saying that I hate the preposterous, Sisyphean struggle many small stations engage in every day to do something we are utterly unequipped to do.” His approach for strengthening local public radio news coverage is to be selective about the stories that get in-depth treatment: “Pick one or two stories a week on which I can make a real impact, bringing listeners voices and sounds that move them and help them understand the issues of their community more intimately.”
Michael Marcotte, a former public radio news director who now works as a consultant, also chimed in on the exchange, calling on indie producers and station-based reporters not to split themselves in warring “tribes.”
“I’d hasten to reach for the peace pipe,” Marcotte wrote on his own blog. “We’re much too small a band to be pointing fingers at one another.”