Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘Marketplace

What is Old is New again

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rolled-parchment-paper

As I continue working on my book about the public radio pledge drive, I came across a quote from Susan Stamberg’s “Every Night at Five”, published in 1982.

“We ask people what they make of the tax cut, the threat of radioactivity, Watergate.” “Their reactions are barometers of the political climate.  Lyndon Johnson is supposed to have said that when Walter Cronkite criticized his Vietnam War policy, he knew he’d lost ‘Middle America’.  During Watergate, when a Nixon voter in Manhattan, Kansas, told us he’d lost faith in the president, we knew Richard Nixon was suffering heavy losses.”

I found this the day after reading Kyle Pope’s critique in the Columbia Journalism Review on how the media missed the in/out debate by paying too close attention to the left/right debate.  That, after hearing Scott Simon commenting on criticism of the media in wake of the election.  And that, after discovering an interview PRI’s Andrea Seabrook did with Current magazine back in August where she articulated the same thing; the “what unites us is much more than what divides us” argument, and how many people are angry about the same things.  For example, in Portland, Oregon, KBOO news director Lisa Loving said she was pitched a story of Wall Street Occupy protestors reaching out to Malheur Occupy protestors.

Ms. Stamberg’s quote reminds me that the media goes through cycles of lucidity.  With the election of our president-elect, it seems it has, again, emerged from a period of darkness.  And while it parries criticism, it will double down on a new way to explore something that it once learned, forgot and has apparently found again.

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Written by Interviewer

November 15, 2016 at 03:01

Radio Silence

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Flatline

At about 6:43 p.m. PDT on April 28, 2016, listeners to KOPB in Portland stopped hearing American Public Media’s “Marketplace” and instead, listened to about 15 minutes of buzzy static.  When the program returned, the board operator didn’t make any mention of the technical problem.  I’ve worked evenings and nights at a public radio station.  I know that after quitting time, there is a skeleton crew, if any, in the building with you.  I also know that problems with a network feed are pretty much out of a board operator’s control.  At my station, there was a “B” line that we could switch to if there was a problem with the “A” line.  I don’t know if the board operator tried that, or if that option was even available.

The point of this post, however, is about the non-comment over signal loss after the signal returned.  And admittedly, I don’t know if there was any kind of explanation for the signal loss later in the evening.  Maybe there is no protocol, i.e., no generic script in place for board ops to read in case of a signal loss like that.  Though, anyone who has grown up with American TV and radio knows trouble slides and trouble music are as much a part of broadcasting in the U.S. as test patterns and the National Anthem.  So, why no mention?

My suspicion, and it has been my suspicion for awhile, is that stations don’t want to draw attention to their problems, whether those problems are in or out of their control.  It makes sense.  Radio is an ephemeral medium, meaning it’s designed so that you only hear something once and then, it’s gone, on its way to Alpha Centauri, forever.  Just like there is no crying in baseball, there is no repeating in radio.  So a mistake made a second ago deserves to die there.  The audience will forget it a second from now because there is always new stuff filling up their ears.

But, although that rationale might work with commercial stations that repeat formulated playlists every 90 minutes, I think the public radio listener is more of a challenge.  And, ironically, they’re more of a challenge because they’re public radio listeners.  We’re told they’re smart, they’re politically active, they have long memories.  All of the things public radio stations wax romantic about during pledge drives.  It’s why they wax romantic – public radio listeners are special.

So if they’re so special, don’t they deserve to know why stations have flubs?  If they’re supporting stations with their hard earned dollars in tough economic times, if they’re constantly referred to as “shareholders”, don’t they deserve to know when the machinery breaks down and what’s being done to fix it?

When I lived in Utah, KCPW, one of several public radio stations that served Salt Lake City, went through a period when for up to half an hour at a time, the station would inexplicably play the same :30 second commercial over and over.  Or, there would be long stretches of dead air.  I was a loyal listener and contributor and I can’t remember hearing an explanation.  Eventually, I had to contact the station directly, where they told me about a technical problem that involved their then sister station – KPCW.  Anyway, even though the interruptions continued for months, I decided to keeping listening and giving because I understood the issue.

But that I had to call, and them not volunteer to tell me, really chapped my ass.  And the thing about being taking for granted like that, over time, the effects become cumulative.  One could start to feel like stations really don’t care about how their behavior affect the audience.  And that is a mistake.

Someone said, “I’ve come to expect it.  Stuff happens.”  And yes, that’s true.  Why should we care?  I ask instead, what good, really, are calipers or scales or rulers or, for that matter, standards if they can be always be fudged?

Hey, I’m that loyal, smart listener, remember?  Own up and start talking to me about everything I’m helping support.  When stuff like this happens, tell me something rather than try to make me feel like it never happened.

It’s a little thing, but not really.

Written by Interviewer

April 29, 2016 at 10:06

Extruded Answer

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toothpaste

Kai Ryssdal of Marketplace was talking to Jeff Selingo, author of the book, “There is Life after College“.  He responded to a comment Mr. Selingo made about how, instead of recruiting seniors, businesses are now looking at sophmores so they can “try them out before they buy them.”

“That’s a little harsh”, Mr. Ryssdal responded.  And then, three seconds of silence which, in radio, is a least one and a half forevers.

You could feel Mr. Selingo being pulled through the tiny hole Mr. Ryssdal had formed around his incredulity over how colleges are being ruthlessly business-like.  Eventually, almost reluctantly it seemed, he replied.  This led me to two observations;

1.  I thought Marketplace was a business program that stared clear and cold eyed at business realities.  This surprises you, really?

2.  Again, the crushing weight of radio silence bent another human to its will.

I’ve talked about the host pause before, so no need to dwell on it here except to say, man, does it work.

 

 

Written by Interviewer

April 20, 2016 at 05:48

Add it Up

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I just heard a story on American Public Media’s “Marketplace” about a group of hackers that stole almost a billion dollars from some of the world’s largest banks.  The story didn’t identify the banks because, … oh who knows why.  I’ll get to that in a minute.  However, the reporter noted that the hackers were careful as to steal only 10 million dollars per bank before moving onto the next bank.  The assumption seems to be that a bank won’t notice a theft of 10 million dollars being slowly stolen over a long period of time.

But, if you divide 10 million into 1 billion, that means hackers hacked about 100 banks this way.  And if you assume that they probably focused on the top 100 banks in the world, and you know what that list is, then you can probably make an educated guess as to which banks got hacked.

Sometimes, when reporters tell a story, they can’t always just say what they want to say.  Sometimes, they don’t know.  Or sometimes, there are political consequences.  Or sometimes, they know in their gut but can’t say something definitively and categorically.  So they have to bury those fine points in a story and assume; and hope the listener is really listening and smart enough to connect the dots.

I talked about something like this in a post last year.  Then as now, I’m talking about how the real story depends on a relationship between the listener and the reporter that goes beyond the actual words coming out of their mouths and into the spaces between the lines.

BTW, here’s a list of the top 100 banks in the world.

Written by Interviewer

February 17, 2015 at 14:51