Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘website

Refusing to take the Medicine?

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Taking the Medicine

I’ve been looking at websites of public radio stations.  And the variations among them reminds me of the whole idea of meeting the needs of your customer and of a quiet corporate fight taking place even as I type these words.

Supermarket chain A buys supermarket chain B.  Both chains run a pharmacy.  Chain B’s technology and its system for managing customers and medications is superior to chain A’s system.  But although Chain A is absorbing chain B’s technology, chain A is forcing chain B to adopt its management system.  Chain B is resisting because it knows its system serves its customers better than chain A’s.

The correlary to public radio is this.  Back in the 90s, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters was promoting an effort called “The Healthy Stations Project”.  Among the ideas was that stations should adopt a similar feel in terms of sound and look because that would help stations project an image of professionalism.  And that, in turn, would increase listener support, i.e. more successful pledge drives.

As a former federal employee, I am very familiar with concept of corporate branding.  Every agency went through such a branding process in the mid to late 2000s.  But as the huge public radio survey, “Audience 98” showed, the messages about what audiences wanted vs what seemed best for stations were confusing.

On one hand, the data seemed to show that local programming, much of it created by volunteers with little training or in small stations with low budgets, was driving some of the audience away.  Quality, in stations with trained staff and better equipment, was what the audience wanted, or so the NFCB thought.  In 2008, community radio station KRCL in Salt Lake City fired many of its volunteer staff and replaced them with professional hosts.

But on the other, many stations rejected the idea of diluting a local identity they had spent years growing from nothing and were quite proud of.  Their audiences were very protective of the look and sound of their local stations and didn’t care if they didn’t have the “polish”.  KBOO in Portland, for example, has a reputation as one of the fiercest defenders of it’s identity, whether from outside or from within.

There was a backlash, and the Healthy Stations Project died.

As I go through these websites, and see the variation in their look and feel, three things stand out;

1.  Many stations do share a “corporate” look.
2.  Many stations don’t
3.  All of the websites I’m looking at are for NPR member stations

I’m curious to know if you know whether stations that haven’t adopted one of the half-dozen or so prevailing templates are struggling to keep their own identity as NPR member stations, or if NPR is letting them be?

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I Don’t Have to Take This.

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Oregon’s governor, John Kitzhaber, walked out of an interview with KATU reporter Kelly Lane in early January after four minutes and two questions.  Staff cut the interview short because they said the governor needed to stay on schedule.  But coincidentally, the interview ended immediately after Ms. Lane asked Mr. Kitzhaber about the failed Cover Oregon website. The governor’s office has taken an intense amount of what some would call well deserved heat for a breakdown in the site at practically every level of its development and implementation.

There are many reasons why a prior appointment time may have been missed by a staffer, thus forcing an interview to be cut short. Staffers also however, have the responsibility of shielding their bosses from potentially embarrassing questions that could lead to other questions about credibility. Which precipitated this incident is unclear.

This non-interview reveals how the most simple questions can be the most explosive, with two in particular being the time honored fuse and match. They represent the most basic questions reporters must ask whenever they are talking to a politician about a high profile and potentially politically damaging subject.  Ms. Lane managed to ask a derivative of one of them. They are:

1.  What did you know and when did you know it?

2.  Where did the money come from and where did it go?

This whole kerfuffle was because the governor said he never received a message regarding an update on the problems of Cover Oregon although a member of the legislature said they received a reply from the Governor’s office that he would.  Email messages can certainly be lost, accidentally deleted or misdirected.  Which was the cause of the truncated conversation comes down, sadly, to he said “I didn’t get the message” while she says “Oh yes you did”. But there are things the reporter can do to not get in the way of these snits because such confusion can be surprisingly illuminating. And when it happens, it’s not the reporter’s job to get in their way or save an interviewee from themselves, although there can be exceptions.   Those safeguards include:

1.  Confirming the amount of time that will be set aside for the interview in advance and re-confirming that time before the interview begins.

2.  Never taking such incidents personally.  Reporters should only be a mirror that reflects the candidate’s behavior and actions back to themselves and their audience.  A clear reflection lets the audience apply their own filter and make their own judgments on candidate viability.

I’ve said before how one of the most important things that the reporter can do during an interview is prompt a “reveal”.   But as this example shows, non interviews can prompt them as well.

Written by Interviewer

February 26, 2014 at 12:21

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