Thursday, December 4, 2008

Lehrer in the City Room

Take a moment to read this excellent Q&A from Brian Lehrer, host of the 10am-12pm community/public affairs slot on WNYC. We might also note that it's significant in and of itself that Lehrer goes to lengths to make himself available in other forums like this -- a great promotional tool and a good way to enforce accountability to the listenership. He's an excellent ambassador for his station and his program.

His thoughts on the future of radio and podcasting are notable in particular:

Question:As a listener who catches up with your show by podcast later in the day or the next morning, my question is: Do you feel the future of radio programming such as yours is in podcasting? While your show often works on late breaking news and more immediate issues of the day, it has also proven to be quite valuable in the new forms of media which aren’t live, and therefore potentially lose timeliness. I wouldn’t be listening to your show in the first place if it wasn’t for traditional radio, but if not for podcasting I wouldn’t be able to continue listening, so considering that from a listener — how do you, as a host, reconcile your love of radio with the on-demand nature of the increasingly Internet-driven world?

— Posted by eric620

Answer:Eric, this is a huge question for the future of all radio shows. While old-line radio programmers compete for younger demographics, the real story is that many college students today aren’t choosing which local station to listen to. They simply don’t own radios. Poof, you’re history. Frankly, I don’t consider my program a radio show anymore. I think of it as a radio-based multiplatform interactive news and issue … media thing. If we come up with a short, cogent name for that, I’ll use it. Ideas welcome. But we use Twitter and Facebook and Flickr and YouTube in various ways in addition to the live radio stream and the podcast. Here, for example, is a video snippet of my interview with Felicia Pearson (Snoop from “The Wire”), which has drawn many thousands of hits on YouTube, gradually over time.

Like many shows today, we are improvising our way through the changing balance between real time and time-shifted listening. We seek to serve both real time and time-shifted audiences the best we can. The bottom line, though, is that we are a live show in the middle of business hours, and we never sacrifice live, real-time programming. The podcast is divided into separate files for each segment of the show. So downloaders can choose to ignore the dated ones and listen to the ones that hold up. In the future, we may slice the podcast in different ways and offer podcast streams by topic in addition to date, but so far that has felt too artificial.

A larger issue is that I don’t know where it will all wind up. But I’ll say I think this two-way street (really a three-way street: me-to-you, you-to-me, you-to-you) is very good for democracy — much better than any media model we have had before. I do not pine for any golden days of broadcasting, which, in the context of news and democracy, I don’t think ever existed in the first place.

1 comment:

camdiggidy said...

Full disclosure: I listen to Brian Lehrer almost every day.

I think the part of his answer that's most telling is when he says he doesn't consider his show "just" a radio program, but as "a radio-based multiplatform interactive news and issue … media thing."

I think this type of approach (and the fact that Lehrer, despite his insane schedule, still makes himself available and accountable to listeners--I think his answering questions on the blog personally is huge) can be really instructive for the station, and for this and future classes based around it. I think it's important to remember that what makes a show and the station of which it is a part fully function is the engagement of its staff on every level, not just when the particular show they work on is on the air. (When I worked in public radio in San Francisco, during pledge drives, Listener Services would regularly get on the PA and remind the entire office to get to the phone room during their shift and get to work!) I think it's important to stay engaged in this way, because the listening public can really hear the difference, and will feel the commitment of the station as a whole through the programming.