Category Archives: Articles & Musings

STORY-TELLING VS. FAKE NEWS

By Jim Russell

Podcasting has arrived as a major content delivery medium. No longer a sideline, podcast companies like Spotify and Wondery are becoming serious players, with Wondery’s founder and chief executive estimating advertising revenue across the industry exceeding $500 million last year. For its part, NPR has announced that next year, it will earn more advertising revenue from podcasting ($50 million) than from its usual underwriting on broadcast radio. ABC Radio which has been around since 1943 has just changed its name to ABC Audio. The ABC Radio Network – once consisting of 6 separate format streams – is now recognizing that its principal product is audio, not just radio. As the publication Radio Ink reported, “ABC Audio will house everything on offer: ABC News Radio; the new on-demand content team; the Affiliate Solutions group; the growing business development department; the sales integration operation; and the FM entertainment team.”

Why is this happening? Well, the growth of the podcast on-demand market has grown from its feeble beginnings just a few short years ago (2004) to an economic force to be reckoned with. Just this past February, music company Spotify acquired the podcast company Gimlet for more than $200-million dollars. Gimlet’s co-founder Max Lieber explained the sale this way: “it’s just a way for our storytelling and our work to have a lot more impact.”

The key word in that explanation is “storytelling.” In an era filled with political charges of “fake news” hurled at almost all news media, it has now become apparent that the only type of information content that is immune from such slings and arrows is … storytelling. Because newscasting and news reporting is about “facts,” and we can all legitimately disagree about what the facts are and what they mean. Facts require the objectifying of our perceptions, the translation into data from human vision and hearing. Since we all see and hear differently and translate these sight-and-sound bits of data differently — since we bring to the process our own prior perceptions and prejudices — how can anything that human beings perceive and report ever be agreed upon as “the truth.” Painful as it is to journalists to hear their work described as “fake news,” how could it be truly objective news? Even to strive for a measure of “objectivity” is, while a noble pursuit, also a fool’s errand.

But storytelling is another matter. It starts from a subjective base, the human experience. It validates the significance of human experience, of feelings and emotions. Storytelling narratives are deeply personal and create immediate empathy: none of us could be so callous as to deny the validity of another human’s experience.

To hear a story is not to agree with the story or the perceptions it is based upon; rather, it is merely to respect another person’s experience and feelings that experience evokes. For example, one could easily have favored or opposed America’s participation in the Vietnam War; but, one could not easily deny the human story of the suffering that occurred on all sides of that conflict. (Indeed, in my view, politics did not end the war nor did American’s political or military systems. Instead, a single picture of a naked Vietnamese girl running from a napalm attack and other photos like it captured the country’s attention. A nationwide movement of mothers of soldiers and young men … cried for their lost sons for enough years and raised their voices loud enough to put an end to what politics and military had wrought.)

I discovered the power of storytelling as a young reporter. Based in Washington D.C., I found myself a covering an endless string of stories about politics and government. Stories that often began with “The White House said today …” or “The Defense Department reported that …” But, I knew that these were inanimate objects: “The White House” and “The Defense Department” were not human and did not themselves … speak! In using this conventional news jargon, I felt I was concealing the truth rather than revealing it. This discomfort led me to invent and focus on a type of reporting I called “Human Affairs” about real people, not merely inanimate institutions that populated “Public Affairs” journalism.

My bosses were not thrilled, considering such human-based stories less important — like “man bites dog” vignettes that the newspaper feature pages were filled with. “When are you going to cover ‘real news’ again,” they asked me. I understood their discomfort, but I was stubborn enough to continue down the path I had started.

  • When I was assigned to go talk with three academics about the worsening economy, rather than fill the airwaves with boring economists, I chose to go out and interview an elderly black lady shopping for groceries. In describing her purchases, she revealed the real economics of living while poor and old in the nation’s capital.
  • I talked to honorable Green Berets who came home from Vietnam in disgrace, tarred by the actions of a few the My Lai Massacre.
  • I went to a suburban pet shelter where I talked about and heard the sounds of unwanted pets being euthanized. I saw and described “seeing death in a needle.”
  • I did a week of stories about a jetliner that crashed because the pilots were so preoccupied with replacing a 25-cent light bulb that they literally forgot to fly the plane!

All of these stories created listener empathy and compassion for another human being. Nobody accused them of being “fake news.” Indeed, hard-nosed reporters who heard them … cried while listening.

Clearly this approach had overcome boredom and disinterest by our fellow men and women. This approach had real power. Years later, NPR continued to do these stories, calling them “driveway moments” to describe how such stories could be so powerful as to make listeners remain in their cars, in their home driveways, to hear the end of the human story.

Storytelling has always been the most important and lasting form of human communication. Stories of monumental human import have always stood out, demanded attention, and survived way beyond the time that so-called “hard news” has faded into dust. Now, electronic media such as podcasting have recognized the impact and duration of human stories as a way of capturing what is really important to humanity.

PREpurposing, not REpurposing

trashcanRepurposing content – once a leading edge “new media” concept — has become tired and flat. Instead of expanding distribution to encompass many platforms, “repurposing” now evokes an image of a tape or film editor, scouring the floor looking for gems among the discarded debris. Supposedly, repurposing creates new content gems that can somehow be edited into an entirely new “repurposed” piece of content, especially for use by another medium. As consultant Philip Cianci said, “When the opportunity first arose to distribute previously aired content over new media channels, the buzzword du jour was ‘repurposing’ – content was repurposed on the Web, on VoD or whatever.”[1]

But this form of “creation” of content via recycling rather quickly showedcrazycutter itself to be what we all suspected … trash, litter, and certainly not gems. That’s because the thinking that went into it was after-the-fact. As consultant Cianci noted, “ It didn’t take long before a media sage saw the light and pointed out that, since it was a given that content would be distributed over every possible channel, rather than produce content for one channel and repurpose it for others, content creators should ‘prepurpose’ their content while it was in the conceptual stage – that is, plan for its production, assembly and distribution over multiple channels.”[2]

Business coach Mike Sansone explains it this way: “Repurposing is taking content you’ve once created, modifying the presentation, and re-publishing in a new format.” Then, he asks the crucial question, “Can you plan for a repurpose? Would that be Pre-purposing?”[3]

But, Tyler Moody of CNN cautions that producing for multiple platforms doesn’t mean producing identical content for them all. “In order to produce entertaining and relevant content for a platform, the content should be tailored to the experience that platform delivers to its audience. Books are different from movies, movies are different from TV shows, radio and TV are different. … The content you produce should be a good fit for the platform you plan to publish on or distribute with.[4]

The bottom line in prepurposing is this:

If you know your content will end up on many platforms, think about the needs of each platform before you start creating the content. Gather and collect the needed material for all platforms, saving you the time and effort of going back later to gather additional material or to do a butchering job of repurposing one platform’s content for another platform.

___________________________________________________________

[1] Philip Cianci, Technology and Workflow in Multiple Channel Content Distribution
[2] Philip Cianci, Technology and Workflow in Multiple Channel Content Distribution
[3] Mike Sansone, Pre-purposing Your Content
[4] Tyler Moody, Multi-Platform isn’t “one for all”

 

Measuring Impact

In recent years, a lot of attention has been focused on the need to gauge the IMPACT of journalism. Journalists, editors, general managers and especially funders want to know what was the result of the time, effort and money spent to report stories. As an article in NiemanLab points out,

“The impact of Sarah Maslin Nir’s “The Price of Nice Nails,” an exposé of the abuses of workers at New York nail salons, was immediate and obvious. A few days days after the story ran in The New York Times, New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered emergency measures to protect workers. … In instances like these, when an article leads to quick legislative change and pulls in unusually high traffic numbers, it’s easy to determine its impact. But most stories don’t elicit that sort of obvious response, and most news organizations don’t have the clout or resources of the Times.”

Lots of media organizations have weighed in and developed new methods of doing this “impact tracking,” but a new tool from two fellows at Columbia University seems especially promising. Check out NewsLynx.

Do Podcasts Make Financial Sense?

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAM-AAAAJDJmZjBhOTE0LTVjZWQtNDA0Mi04NTU4LTdiMmM5ZmQyYTg5MgMy friend Tyler Moody, VP at CNN, is at it again — with a very straight-forward analysis of the finances of Podcasting. His article is titled “Why Serial Needs Donations” and in it, Tyler figures out that an enormously successful Podcast like Serial could bring in between $270,000 and $405,000 for all 9 episodes. So, he wonders, why are the Producers asking Serial’s listeners to contribute money to the Podcast?

Moody knows whereof he speaks. He was the Executive Producer of CNN Radio’s excellent but now-defunct daily Podcast, which was cancelled last year.

In his exploration of the subject, Moody discovers that for a complex, highly-produced podcast like Serial, “I can see how the math doesn’t add up to support the kind of work they are putting together.” He acknowledges that a Podcast with much lower production values, “2 or 3 people with mic’s gabbing with each other,” could make financial sense. But he ends by admitting that he wants “quality storytelling and production like Serial to live and thrive on its own, but I guess we’re not there yet.” And he decides it is time to “click and contribute.”

Read the full article. It is definitely worth your time.

Questions to Ask a Host Candidate

pidjoeIt’s hard to interview a potential program host. Afterall, that’s what they do for a living! And, you’ve already heard them in an aircheck or two. But, how do you decide if they have “staying power” … if they have real depth?

Morgan Holm of OPB asked me for some suggestions a few years ago, and I came across my list of questions recently. Check them out. And steal liberally for your next interview with a potential host.

Does the term “Multimedia” mean anything?

1-PBah1ydcuo_mqzs3IJvIwQTyler Moody is a very smart guy. He is the Vice President of CNN in charge of “help(ing) storytellers on all platforms tap into the resources of CNN newsgathering. Whether it’s audio for radio, video/photos/wire for your website, or footage for movies and television productions, I can help you power your business with the worldwide resources of CNN.”

But even in this multiplatform job, in a multiplatform media world, Tyler questions whether “multimedia” means anything. In an article on medium.com, Tyler writes “Multi-platform, or cross platform are buzzwords that are losing meaning, if they aren’t already meaningless.” His skepticism came to a head when he saw a job posting for a radio producer that read, “Must be able to produce an entertaining, informative, relevant show for multiple platforms.” Tyler’s reaction?

“That’s crazy. The person advertising for the job either doesn’t understand what multiple platforms means, or they don’t know how to make relevant platform specific content, or… they actually expect one person to do what they have described.” That’s because, Moody says, “In order to produce entertaining and relevant content for a platform, the content should be tailored to the experience that platform delivers to it’s audience.”

Check out his well-thought-out reasoning in the full article.

Passion and Podcasters

PassionMidroll Media, one of the largest ad agencies for Podcasts in the U.S., has just published a white paper called “The Surprising Secrets of Successful Podcasers.”In this useful and highly readable 22-page paper, Midroll offers practical and important tips to Podcasters, starting with the need for PASSION:

“If there is one thing we’ve learned over the course of starting two podcast networks, it’s that the most crucial ingredient in a successful podcast is passion. The best hosts have a real love for and dedication to what they’re doing and sharing— and that comes across on the microphone and draws listeners in. That same passion also helps with keeping focus while building your audience. So, what topics are YOU passionate about?”

The Midroll White Paper also gives tips on how to “monetize” Podcasts by bringing in advertising, and it says that the way you read your ad copy is critically important.

“Ad reads are where the rubber meets the road. This is what advertisers pay for. So doing a great ad read means you’re delivering for your advertiser. A good ad read also delivers value to your audience. A great podcast ad shouldn’t be something that listeners tolerate while waiting for the next segment. It should be something both informative and entertaining in itself..”

Of course, this paper is from a major advertising agency that wants to take care of finding advertisers for you, so it is not surprising they say, “Monetization can easily become one of the most significant significant demands of time and energy. While there are independent producers who sell all of their own ads, monetization is one of the strongest arguments for joining a network.”

You can download the entire 22-page PDF white paper.

What the heck is “native advertising?”

John OliverNewspapers and legacy media are now climbing aboard a digital invention called “Native Advertising” that minimizes the difference between news and commercials. Time Inc., The Atlantic, The New York Times and many other newspapers are lowering the bar between editorial content and commercials … actually disguising the commercials by making them appear to be part of the news or other editorial content. We’ve all noticed “product placement” in movies, where branded commodities show up. But up until fairly recently, the news was considered sacrosanct. But, no more.

A beautiful explanation of what Native Advertising is comes from John Oliver in a show he did last August. Check it out here. And keep your eyes keenly focused on the news you watch or click on … as it turns into something truly misleading called “branded content.”

Local stations need to sound as good as NPR

antennaAnalyst Ken Doctor says “NPR stations may have as many as 1,500 journalists throughout the country, but the whispered issue centers on consistent quality. NPR’s own staff sets a national standard for serious, if often entertaining, national coverage; local coverage can be as good, but often flags in reporting smarts, voice and quality. Anyone who has ever listened to local public radio traveling across the country can recognize the great disparities in reporting. Closing that gap is central to the next generation of NPR News – and public radio itself.”

picture-190245Ken Doctor is a Capital New York contributing writer, media business analyst, president of Newsonomics, and author of Newsonomics: Twelve Trends That Will Shape the News You Get.

See the full article.

Creating programs is mostly “alchemy”

Master_alchemist“Making a successful radio program is neither an art nor a science. It’s most alchemy, in my experience. You need a host with potential, some terrific ideas, a few great producers and a willingness to tell management to bugger off. Mix well and assess in six months.”

_dvorkinJeffrey Dvorkin, former News Director and Ombudsman, NPR and former Managing Editor and Chief Journalist for CBC Radio

See the full article.