Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘problems

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

The Personal Lessons of HealthCare.gov

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US Map

I listen with sadness to the problems plaguing the Federal Government’s health exchange website rollout. I’ve been working on a website that is kind of a big deal to me since May, and I’ve been doing it alone. I can’t afford IT people. Besides, when I hired an IT person to build a different site, they gave me lousy artwork, pages that didn’t link and grammar that sounded like it came from the same people who made “I want cheezburger” famous.

The fewer people working on a project, the better, although alone isn’t ideal either. The progress is really slow. But the accountability is 100% and that can make it worth it. This problem with healthcare.gov reminds me of the British problems with the rollout of its health service website 5 years ago, the Medicare Part D portion of Bush’s prescription drug plan seven years ago, and most recently, the massive foul up associated with the reworking of the USAjobs website. Whew!

And, I’m seeing that being in a rush to make other people look bad only gives them ammunition that eventually makes you look bad. So, I don’t have a deadline for my website, but I am working diligently and consistently to finish it. With no deadline per se, I can go through the steps with everything I’ve learned and everything I already know.

And there are a lot of them. There are the design questions like, what do I want the site to look like, since for webpages, function follows form. And there are other, big sky questions – What do I want the site to do? Can I do it? Will it deliver the value I expect it to? Then, there are the technical questions. I’ve shared plenty of those – how to create a scroll follow box, how to deal with host site content limitations, how to create an image map, how to link drop down menu selections, how to overcome out of memory messages, etc.

And there are marketing questions – who should be contacted; newspapers? Think tanks? Political bloggers? Marketing basics say never use a shotgun to spread your message because you’ll tell a lot of people who don’t care. But the people who care, really care. So devoting the time to them is extremely important.  And that comes down to the grunt work of creating lists.

The saddest thing about the healthcare.gov debacle is somewhere along the way, somebody said they were bringing in the “A Team” to fix it, to which I wonder, so who did you start with?  No IT person wants to come in to clean up the mess of a lesser IT person.

My site will be the most complicated thing I’ve ever done, and I’ve done it essentially by myself. And I will have some advantages over heathcare.gov; I’ll be able to test pieces of it independently and collectively because I don’t have to coordinate with other IT people or their schedules half a world away; I’ll get opinions on the content from people most interested in it – people whose opinions I trust; I can remove stuff, tweak stuff or add stuff. But the greatest luxury I have is time.

That being said, I think my site will be ready by Veteran’s Day.

Written by Interviewer

October 24, 2013 at 06:45

Falling From Grace

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Falling from Grace2

I love Scrubs. But there is one episode that I particularly like. John McGinty plays Percival Cox, Dr. Perry Cox. He’s Resident Supervisor and all around asshole. He makes life miserable for new doctors Elliott Reed and John “JD” Dorian, as well as other staff, management and the general public at large. He good, very good. And that makes him arrogant, very arrogant.

So one day, a dying patient comes in. And doctor Cox sees an opportunity to save three patients with the organs of this one dying patient. So, he barks to his resident staff and the surgical teams to do three transplants. Problem is, Cox misdiagnoses the dying patient and puts organs infected with rabies into them. All three die.

Cox is demoralized and devastated. And because the hospital is a family deep down, all of the staff decide to set up a round the clock visitation at his home because he won’t leave his couch, he won’t shave, he won’t talk. He is a broken man.

Cox mentors JD. So, of course, he is constantly humiliating him because, in his own way, he sees it as making JD tough. JD loves it, like a puppy looking for the next belly rub. And because he idolizes Cox, it’s hard for him to admit the mistake Cox made. So he avoids his mentor while the rest of his friends cycle in and out of the big man’s apartment.

But finally, he shows up. He sits down, and you can see JD is the only one Cox really wanted to see. And JD tells him he was scared to see him fallen. The point of the visit was for JD to tell Cox how proud of him he was. He says, “after 20 years of being a doctor, when things go badly, you still take it this hard. That’s the kind of doctor I want to be.”

Sometimes, after doing years and years of something, you can forget what it took to get there. You can forget the ethical struggles and the technical hurtles and the learning curves. You can forget the stupid mistakes and the need for forgiveness. You may be an expert, yeah, but you didn’t come out of the clam shell that way. You start to take what you do for granted. And then, something happens. The Indigo Girls relate to this in their song, “Watermark”, when they sing that every five years or so, you circle back to something you think you conquered only to realize it’s just a more complicated version of the same problem.

Sometimes, you need to be hit with a cruise missile of a problem that comes out of nowhere to remind you that, no you aren’t God. You aren’t even a lesser God. And it is at that point, I think, that you get real all over again.

Written by Interviewer

August 1, 2013 at 00:36