The Future of Public Radio — Today

    by Margaret Rosas
    February 15, 2010

    Imagine you are public radio. You’ve spent the first sixty years or so of your existence focused on one output stream – audio. You’ve created all of your business processes and your staff has been trained around producing content for the airwaves. You produce quality content that has a great affection and trust. Your listeners pay for the privilege of supporting your efforts to produce this content.

    Around 1995 or so, you’re hearing more and more about new media and this whole Internet thing. You purchased your station’s domain name and put up a website that lets the world know where they can find you on the radio dial and lists the program lineup of shows and times. You’re good.

    By 2005 you’re podcasting. You work with a local radio geek to cut your streams, produce mp3 files and park them up on your website. Excellent, you have your broadcast stream and audio files available on your website. If you’ve taken the next step, your mp3’s are also available via iTunes. You’re good again.


    Welcome to 2010, the end of the destination site web and dawn of the come to me web. The success of the Obama social media campaign has legitimized the craft of social media in this transition. We are beginning to understand that creating a destination website is largely shortsighted and perhaps even egotistical. We need to meet the people where they are – on social networks and via search.

    What does the 2010 web mean to public radio? It means instead of a single website, your content needs to reach out via Twitter, Facebook and search. Oh, and, by the way, your audience is creating content on their own and they expect to be able participate with you. And finally, you don’t have any additional budget to achieve this task either. Cool, huh?

    Public radio stations vary in their adoption of this new paradigm. We have seen fine examples where stations have extended their reach using the social web (Economy Story and KETC’s Facing the Mortgage Crisis). But many stations rely on a single person or half-time person to command their web presence in this new way. The reporting team has not transitioned to support these efforts. With already constricted budgets, they aren’t growing their digital staff to accommodate this new multi-stream channel.


    How do we solve this? Creating a technical infrastructure and foundation is a critical first step. That is the work we have undertaken with Radio Engage. We’ve created a platform for stations to launch their content into this new landscape. We’ve also built in the ability for the platform to listen to the audience and reflect that listening for everyone to see.

    We launched our first install of Radio Engage on KALWNews.org in mid-January. The KALWnews.org site distributes content by providing audio pieces accompanied by text, blog posts and full show podcasts. This effort is a natural extension of the work KALW started when it launched its public interest reporting project in 2003. KALW has partnered with the Center for Investigative Reporting, Spot.Us and the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism to increase local news coverage.

    The KALW news team is exceptional given its size and budget. Its members have been recognized for their accomplishments most recently by the Society of Professional Journalists’ Awards. Under the guidance of News Director Holly Kernan, they have cultivated a small but passionate team of producers reporting on local issues throughout the Bay Area. Working with Senior Reporter Zoe Corneli, we have been transitioning the news team to the digital and socialized experience of the 2010 web.

    It is important to recognize this is not the public radio they were trained in. While the tenets of the public radio mission are very much supported by the socialized web, it is not a natural transition and it requires a great deal of dedication. It has been thrilling to support such a rock star news team and build out a web platform to support their needs and extend their reach.

    What has the Radio Engage-powered site provided? In addition to providing their own audio and blog posts, we are aggregating more than 120 community blogs, Twitter lists and community correspondent blog posts. KALW News’ original content is distributed via Twitter, Facebook and RSS feeds.

    We have achieved the trifecta of web reach with a near equal distribution among the following:

    1. Direct access (I typed in the URL – think “old web destination site”);
    2. Referrals (a blog, Facebook post, or Twitter link directed me here); and
    3. Search (the site is optimized for search engine traffic)

    In only one month, average monthly visits have tripled over the old site. Today, KALW is reaching a new audience. An audience that is finding them relevant enough to return week after week. In turn, the KALW News team is hearing from their community in an entirely new way through comments, blogs posts and Twitter and Facebook conversations. This model is transforming a formerly broadcast-only newsroom into a multi-directional conversation platform for the community.

    I invite you to take a look at our view of the future of public radio — today.

    Tagged: broadcasting podcast public radio radio engage social media
    • perfect!
      How do the Radio program use the content from social media such as blog,twitter, facebook?

    • Margaret Rosas

      We are using a multi-faceted approach to integrating social media with content moving both ways. Incoming –> Content is coming in via aggregation and displayed throughout the site and segmented by beat (or topic) and by geographic regions. There are also Twitter lists displayed by beat. Outgoing –> content is posted to Twitter and Facebook. Radio producers monitor comments and conversation to respond to inquiries. Overall, it is creating an environment where the radio programming can be informed by the social media conversation.

    • oh,thanks.

    • Great post, Margaret. I really dig KALW’s news site. I love the “Fixipedia” feature which gets people involved in finding solutions to community problems. I also appreciate that the site is “Hand curating” / aggregating relevant news from a variety of media, including ethnic press. Has the portal’s been successful at recruiting citizen journalists? I’d love to hear the results over time. A small suggestion might be to have some way of tagging or identifying posts so that reader-listeners know what pieces came from staff and which came from “folks like us.” Not to create a journalistic hierarchy, but to make UGC/story contribution seem vibrant and do-able.
      Best wishes,
      Julie Drizin

    • Awesome work. And I think the ideas here translate well beyond radio. Congrats and keep it up!

    • Nice going, Margaret. It’s been such an amazing learning curve to work with you.
      Julie–yes, we are getting community journalists and are working on how best to incorporate. We are trying to tag them as “community correspondents” and label their work as such, because it doesn’t go through our editorial and journalistic process. We are evolving with this technology!

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