Three Things for December 9, 2021
This week: Predictions for 2022. Plus the lens of the West Coast, the States Newsroom expansion, and telling public radio's local news story.
THING ONE: It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year … for Predictions!
December brings all of the joys (and hassles) of the holidays. It means a time for looking back over the past year and, more importantly for strategy geeks like me, it means projections, predictions, and forecasts for the coming year.
One of my favorite places to go for predictions in journalism and media is NiemanLab. They annually offer a diverse platform of thought-leaders offering their crystal ball to what lies ahead in the coming twelve months. Public media is always well represented in these posts.
Last year Joni Deutsch, the on-demand content and audience engagement manager for WFAE | Charlotte, wrote about the value of arts and music as part of a healthy journalism culture. Journalist Celeste Headlee contributed an excellent piece on the need for the radical expansion of transparency in the newsroom. KPCC’s chief content officer Kristen Muller offered her insights into the need to bring engaged journalism into the daily editorial work of a newsroom. And Raney Aronson-Rath, the executive producer of Frontline, wrote about the importance of understanding and confronting misinformation.
But that was last year.
NiemanLab has just started publishing its predictions for 2022. I recommend starting with a piece from PRX CEO Kerri Hoffman on the democratization of media through trust, quality, empathy, and engagement, and an essay from Sam Guzik, product strategy lead at WNYC, who writes about how emerging technologies will change how users find and consume news.
Elsewhere, other writers and organizations offer a range of ideas for the nonprofit and media sectors for the coming year. One that I liked for the practical ideas that it provided came from the blog of the giving platform Classy.
Last week Classy CEO Chris Himes offered his 5 Nonprofit Fundraising Trends to Watch in 2022, and I think a lot of this is very relevant for public media organizations.
Nonprofits need to Embrace Flexible Giving Options.
This is a place that most public radio organizations are far behind. How many stations are set up to incorporate digital wallets, like Google Pay and Apple Pay, into their giving pages for mobile devices? The facial recognition features built-in to these tools allow the donor to automatically populate payment information on a donation form without using a credit card.
Accepting Paypal, Venmo, and the Cash app will also reduce the abandon rate for online giving. Himes notes that donating through PayPal or Venmo captures the interest of 55% of donors who share they would likely contribute if nonprofits presented these options.
Cryptocurrency donations are also on the way for the nonprofit sector. Last month, Jeff Bundy from WFAE shared on the PRADO list that they have registered the station to begin accepting cryptocurrency gifts. The folks at FreeWill (I just love those folks!) have built cryptoforcharity.io, a new tool that allows any donor to direct a donation of crypto to your organization. They also published an excellent FAQ for nonprofits to learn more about Crypto for Charity.
These giving options are a real barrier for University-licensed stations because of security restrictions within campus IT systems. However, as more donors look to give through these channels, stations will need to embrace this type of giving.
Nonprofits will need to adapt to meet the individual personalized experiences of donors
This is about privacy, data, and personalization. The focus on privacy will result in nonprofits modifying how they reach and connect with donors and prospects.
Meanwhile, data and personalization go hand-in-hand. This is where most public media organizations need to step up their game. We have a wealth of data floating around our organizations and with our national partners. Still, we have yet to take full advantage of this intelligence to better connect and serve our audience.
We should hope that 2022 is the year that the Digital Infrastructure Group (DIG)1 and others in public media can help bring about some of the standardization around business intelligence and data management so that stations, large and small, can better manage the information that resides within stations and the networks.
Hybrid events will enhance live and local events with tech-driven experiences
As we enter 2022, the idea behind hybrid events will expand in ways that will benefit both in-person and virtual attendees. In his post, Himes writes that “for local organizations, hybrid can open new opportunities to enhance live events. Technology-driven experiences will continue to bring causes beyond their physical city borders. Even when we’re in person, there are innovative capabilities that can be used during events to shape the way we connect with donors.”
Himes suggests exploring such new ideas as creative NFT auctions. He uses an example of an environmental nonprofit connecting with their donors to actually own a representative piece of that environment they are protecting (like an NFT representing a square mile of Amazon rainforest or the Great Barrier Reef).
Given the talent within public media and the intimate relationship we have with our audience, there could be a long list of non-fungible tokens that might be offered as a new way to impact and engage donors while raising money to support our mission.
Himes also noted that recurring giving will be moving fundraising to more of a digital experience. This is one place where public media is much farther ahead of much of the nonprofit sector, although there are plenty of stations with headroom to increase the percentage of sustainers in their donor base.
In addition, I think there are also ways for us to continue to look at how we can more effectively upgrade sustainers to maintain the revenue growth needed to offset increased expenses.
Explore the Potential of Workplace Giving
Public media has typically not sought to engage much in this area of fundraising, but it might be something to explore in the coming year. According to America’s Charities, approximately $5 billion is raised through workplace giving annually.
Himes notes that with the changing dynamics in the workplace where employees report the importance of aligning their values with their employer, this might be a place for growth.
In addition, as many workplaces continue to operate remotely or in hybrid mode, connecting employees through charitable causes can be a way to engage people in new ways.
For public media, we might be able to take the strong loyalty from our audience and translate this into opportunities for giving at the workplace. This would be a new type of engagement supported by volunteers that could help introduce a giving experience at work that matters.
In Himes’ blog post, he writes about the high potential for workplace giving:
Internal communication through platforms like Slack will fuel organic employee outreach and fundraising opportunities. This would be an excellent distribution method to share interesting news stories or interviews from the local station across a company.
Giving recommendations could give employees curated suggestions for causes they’d connect most with, the same way Spotify builds a playlist. A place to start with this might be with current underwriters.
Corporate donation matching will play a more significant role in enticing employees to support causes that their employers feel connected to. This might be a component of on-air pledge campaigns if done creatively.
Designated time to give back will rise in importance as more employees seek companies based on values that align with public radio and television.
These very practical ideas are worth considering in the year ahead.
One other idea I’ll tease out for public radio is to begin to think about the idea of canvassing. As many public radio stations struggle to add new donors to their ranks, canvassing on the public television side has been remarkably successful. There are some early signs that it works for public radio as well—more on that to come.
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THING TWO: The “Lens of the West Coast”
It should come as no surprise that Southern California has become an innovative center for on-demand audio with KPCC’s LAist Studios and KCRW, along with many other producers rolling out some great shows across a wide variety of topics.
Wild, from LAist Studios, was recognized by Apple podcasts with one of the best episodes of the year with its episode “How Do I Love Someone?” This episode is described as a nonfiction rom-com about love during the pandemic. Writer Erick Galindo collaborates with producer and host Megan Tan for the series that takes you inside the lives of ten people and how they found light in a year of darkness. CPB wisely provided some funding for this fascinating storytelling voyage.
KCRW, meanwhile, has its own variety of programs, including UnFictional. Bob Carlson hosts this collaboration with the best independent audio documentary makers and storytellers from around the world that takes listeners on a “journey through the journey through the thoughts and lives of people near and far, far away.”
Both stations also produce plenty of news-focused shows as well.
And in the last year, they’ve been joined by a new daily podcast from the Los Angeles Times that was showcased recently in a piece by Sara Guaglione in Digiday.
Guaglione talked with Jazmin Aquilera, the L.A. Times new head of audio, about some of her aspirations for the company’s podcasts. She spoke about her goals of connecting the audio products to the L.A. Times brand and its “lens of the West Coast” approach.
That statement sparked my interest in what Aquilera is trying to do by creating audio products that reflect a sense of place that will center her work in alignment with the rest of the L.A. Times editorial initiatives.
In the Digiday piece, Aquilera says that it’s all about “a tone and a vibe that isn’t so stressed and harried and so intense. This is important, but we can sit down with a cup of coffee or sit down on the beach and listen to a podcast.” She described the “west coast sound” that she is aiming for with the L.A. Times’ podcasts as “more colloquial and informal in tone, less concerned with the prestige of itself and more concerned with connecting to its audience.”
This sound she is envisioning may come from working for 6 1/2 years as an audio producer for Snap Judgment followed by stops at The New York Times, Conde Nast, and as the co-host and supervising producer of “The Cut” podcast from New York Magazine.
The new daily news show, “The Times: Daily News from the L.A. Times,” is described as its flagship show that joins an increasinglyy crowded marketplace for daily news podcasts. What Aquiliera is hoping to achieve, though, is to distinguish this program by leaning into a West Coast “vibe and tone. ” As an example, Aguilera tells Digiday’s Guaglione, are those moments when the show’s host Gustavo Arellano occasionally breaks into “Spanglish” during the podcast.
The podcast has been in production for about seven months and is ranked #31 in the Chartable podcast charts for daily news programs leaving plenty of headroom for growth. However, a closer look at the list will reveal that, if the focus is to be that lens of the West Coast, it’s well ahead of potential competitors such as KQED’s The California Report and LAist Studios The L.A. Report.
Digiday notes that the L.A. Times is committed to expanding its portfolio of podcasts in the year ahead. In the piece, Aguilera sees space for a podcast in the “cultural entertainment space” — one that’s a “happy medium” between the deeply-reported narrative shows and the conversational, inviting nature of a talk show. “What I want to stay away from is the engaging talk show hosts shooting the shit on something that’s culturally-based. It’s a little overdone,” she said.
Newspapers have certainly taken notice of the success that some traditional print outlets have had in podcasting and are undoubtedly aware of the advertising dollars being poured into digital audio.
Last month, WideOrbit and the Local Media Association partnered on a webinar designed to demystify digital audio. The marketing for the session was for how broadcasters can capitalize on the revenue opportunities, but I found the discussion more around how non-broadcasters can enter the space in partnership with Audacy. The panel includes Audacy’s John Morris, SVP, Streaming, and Lindsay Grant, VP, Marketing, plus Corey Elliot from Borrell Associates. It’s an informative 50-minute conversation.
The efforts of the L.A. Times and others entering into the audio space of how the competition for time and listening is increasing every day and from all corners of the media landscape.
THING THREE: States Newsroom Seeks to Fill the Void in Covering State Government
A little more than ten years ago, NPR joined with public radio stations in eight states to announce a major journalism network pilot covering the impact of state government actions and decisions on citizens and communities.
The State Impact reporting project’s goal was to hire and train two reporters in all 50 states to focus on this critical (and under-reported) beat. Member stations in Florida, Idaho, Indiana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas were the first states to take on this oppooruntiy that is so vital to helping citizens better understand the workings of state government and the issues central to those regions.
Unfortunately this ambitious plan from 2011 didn’t pan out. Today, two states are still using the State Impact brand, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, with the remaining states still collaborating in various ways but have moved away from this specific initiative. However, the Texas hub, an outgrowth of this initial effort, is being viewed as an example of a collaborative effort designed to increase statewide coverage shared across the state.
Meanwhile, in 2017, the States Newsroom was established as a network of state-based nonprofit news outlets funded exclusively by contributions from readers and philanthropists.
The States Newsroom2 is centralized from the business standpoint with offices in Chapel Hill, NC and Washington, DC. It created its network of affiliates and partners in 25 state capitals that it supports, providing daily statehouse news coverage and in-depth investigative reporting to readers across the country.
The sites do not run any advertisements or accept corporate sponsorship. Through a Creative Commons license, they provide their content free of charge to media outlets to republish within specific guidelines and with attribution. I see a lot of public radio news sites that are pulling stories from the States Newsroom network into their sites.
This week, The Washington Post reported that the organization would be doubling its presence from 25 states to around 40 over the next two years. Nebraska, Alaska, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Kentucky will be the next five outlets opening across the country.
In a press release announcing the expanded efforts, Chris Fitzsimon, director and publisher of States Newsroom said that “Research shows that not only do newspaper closures cost taxpayers, they also erode civic engagement, voter turnout, and competition in local elections. We need experienced local journalists to hold government officials accountable, cover policy debates, and tell stories that would otherwise go uncovered. With News from the States, we will bring all of that coverage together in one place for the first time.”
The Washington Post piece also looked at other nonprofit news outlets stepping up to address the local news crisis, including Report for America and ProPublica3. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, the substantial growth in journalists in public media - 1,150 positions added over nine years - is ignored when media outlets cover what is happening to address the local news crisis.
Our inability as an industry to coalesce around a message of the growth and impact local public radio journalism is having across the country hurts us as we seek to grow our philanthropic efforts around the work of stations in local communities.
We need to communicate that nearly 50 local public radio stations (close to 20% of all of the NPR Member Stations) now have 15 or more full-time radio journalists working at their stations.
But who will tell that story? It’s really not NPR’s role as they are focused on its own marketing initiative.
Perhaps a group of stations focused on growing its local journalism efforts working with the regional organizations, SRG, PRPD, PMJA, and Greater Public might forge a comprehensive communications initiative to tell our story to media outlets and journalism funders.
I was talking recently with a CEO of a growing NPR news and information station, and they said it as well as anyone “that public radio has an unquestioned role in helping preserve our democracy.”
It’s not about podcasting, platforms, and products.
It’s about our role in preserving our democracy.
With the collapse of local news and the growing distrust of many civic institutions, local public radio organizations must play a leading role in repairing local communities’ information and cultural health.
In addition, local public radio organizations must strengthen trust across the political spectrum to bridge divides, foster productive conversations, and fuel open-mindedness.
That’s what this is about.
There are plenty of other entities like the States Newsroom trying to take this idea and own it. And that’s fine. We need as many voices as possible promoting civil dialogue and a shared set of facts.
But public radio - or all of public media for that matter - has been far too modest about telling our story. We can no longer be shy about putting a flag in the ground for what we stand for as no one else will do it for us.
As always, I welcome your comments and ideas. Thanks for reading.
DIG is a cohort of digital leaders from PBS, NPR, WGBH, KQED, and CPB.
I highly recommend Margaret Sullivan’s in-depth piece, What Happens to Democracy When Local Journalism Dries Up?, in the November 30, 2021 edition of The Washington Post Magazine. The WBEZ - Chicago Sun-Times merger was mentioned in the report.