A $750,000 CPB grant will unite WAMU’s 1A with six stations for a two-year reporting project covering threats to America’s democracy.
“1A Remaking America” will build on the Washington, D.C., station’s previous work with local partners, “1A Across America,” another two-year collaborative project that started in 2018. The new initiative will include some “Across America” partners, including KMUW in Wichita, Kan.; KUNC in Greeley, Colo.; and WBHM in Birmingham, Ala. Additional stations include KVPR in Fresno, Calif.; LPM in Louisville, Ky.; and KUT in Austin, Texas.
Including partners from the inaugural collaboration made sense so that 1A’s team wasn’t starting from scratch, said EP Rupert Allman. It also helped with creating a group of geographically diverse stations.
“There’s also what I would call a healthy political spread, in terms of overly Republican or overly Democratic areas, which I think is really important for us,” he said. “The other thing that will intersect with this as well, because it’s never far from the political debate, is the fact that there’s a diversity there of their own local economies, which I think will be important when it comes to where people feel the country is headed.”
1A and stations will begin the first phase of planning in the coming months, and the project is expected to launch this spring, Allman said. Coverage will dig into divisions in communities and the growing distrust in institutions through on-air discussions, field reporting and live events.
As a town where residents run the gamut from liberal to conservative with independents in between, Wichita is a model for the nation’s ideological divide, said Sarah Jane Crespo, director of community engagement at KMUW.
“This notion of civic healing and bridging these divides is something that has been entering into the zeitgeist in Wichita,” Crespo said. “Our Wichita Chamber of Commerce is highlighting this as an issue, the divisiveness that we see between conservatives and liberals, and really looking at it head on.”
Although 1A will work with stations on planning enterprise reporting and features, some of the collaboration may include picking up on the work of the stations’ daily programs, Allman said. Even as “Remaking America” heads into the 2022 midterm elections, 1A’s team plans on examining Americans’ changing attitudes toward the electoral process rather than dedicating resources to horse-race coverage of candidates, he added.
Just as it did with “Across America,” 1A aims to avoid parachute reporting with its new project. The Washington team plans to gain the trust of an audience outside the Beltway by partnering with local stations that have established deep connections with residents.
“Logistically, you have a partnership where you have the expertise of a national live radio show, but we have the familiarity on the ground of our communities,” said Andrew Yeager, managing editor at WBHM. “So instead of them swooping in and talking to people they think need to be talked to, we can connect and help inform that conversation. The other opportunity that’s great about this is that … as we have reporters in our own newsroom who are doing stories that might line up with these themes, there’s the opportunity to build a program around that.”
The CPB funding also provides a shot in the arm to 1A, allowing WAMU to take its show on the road again. WAMU and its partners are considering bringing 1A host Jenn White to local communities for live events, though those plans are in the early phases and depend on COVID precautions.
“The project still has a live collaboration component, but as with everything nowadays, there’s a big asterisk on it, so we’ll see what the pandemic allows us to do,” Yeager said. “When we were part of ‘Across America,’ our second event with 1A was the last live event we had before the shutdown.”
Though the idea behind “Remaking America” appears to reflect the divisiveness that grew out of the 2020 presidential election, Allman had already begun considering the project in the early days of the pandemic. It wasn’t until after the election and the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol that the focus turned toward restoring people’s connections and faith in a process for peaceful transfers of power that was established over two centuries ago, he said.
“We’re trying to get inside the minds of most Americans in terms of how they now view the systems that return a democratically elected government, and I think that’s going to be a fascinating journey for us to explore,” he said.