Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

How a Sickness Takes Hold

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Blank Spreadsheet

I’ve talked before about my love of spreadsheets.  You really can’t trust me around them, because I tell myself I want to do something simple, and before you know it, I’ve collected tens of thousands of data cells.

Case in point:  I decided I needed some information about a few public radio stations for the book I’m working on about the public radio fund drive.  So I made a simple spreadsheet and in a snap, I had gathered what I was looking for about the few stations I was focusing on.

Then, I thought, does this really represent what is going on with a respectable number of them?  “Is this representative?”, I asked.  So, after deciding it wasn’t, I included a few more rows.  But again, the question came back.  And each time I added stations, I wondered, “Is this enough?”

I decided the only way I could be sure it was representative was to include all of them … all 970 public radio stations in the US, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, according to NPR’s most recent, 2013 List of Member Stations .pdf.

Satisfied that I had answered those few questions for all of them, I started wondering, “What if I want to know about this or that too, later?  Shouldn’t I try to answer a few more of my questions now that I have the chance?”  So I added columns – like owner, licensee, silent, website, location, HAAT, funding sources, source percentages, band, repeater, frequency, network affiliation, translator and lots more.

See, a sickness.

What was supposed to be a quick and dirty little data dump turned into an 11-hour a day, butt-in-the-seat, month long, deep dive into each and every one of the public radio stations that flies the NPR flag.  Not exactly what I was expecting (like some of the other small surprises I found).  But once the headache passes, I’ll have something that can be sorted in all kinds of wierd ways.  I won’t have to rely on a sample because I’ll be looking at the entire universe.

I think that’s going to help tell a much more interesting story of public radio pledge drives and the stations that conduct them.

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Written by Interviewer

June 13, 2016 at 12:47

Posted in Scratchpad

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