Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Who's not talking to NPR?

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I wrote the following to a frustrated radio reporter. Potential interview subjects won't talk to her, because of the rhetoric circulating these days about NPR. i wrote the following:
I'm going to respond to you as a listener who discusses all this stuff with other listeners on FaceBook and elsewhere.

A lot of us (as you can hear from the boos and laughter at the last CA governor candidate's debate on the issue of negative ads) are pretty fed up with the rabid, cynical mob mentality of contemporary political tactics. Most of us don't voluntarily listen to or watch the mouth foamers out there and are frustrated by it when someone forwards us an audio or video file. We are wondering how we are supposed to address truly critical issues in an atmosphere where school board members call for "fags" to die and campaign volunteers stomp opposition folk on the head.

We come to public & community media battered and bruised by all this, because we know we'll actually learn what the hell is going on and who's doing something about it, without a sensationalistic knife fight or freak show. This is particularly true of local decision making. ClearChannel, satellite radio, PBS (in most markets who can't afford to produce local programming), Faux Noise and tantrum (not talk) radio don't give a damn whether the candidates for President of the Navajo nation are on the take, know what a Gay person is or want to sell our birthrights to coal and uranium miners.

I know it's not your job as a reporter, but I think we need to open the doors, be as transparent as we can and have town halls and other conversations, on the local level, about public and community broadcasting, what this resource is, what its mission is, what journalistic ethics are and how we intend to provide our listeners with solid information they can actually use. Maybe public & community radio stations need to hold open houses. It would increase the subscriber base, inform the community and bridge the chasm between rabid rhetoric and what's actually happening behind the microphone.

As for your morale, you need to understand that we depend on you. We don't tell you that often enough, true. But that might actually be a compliment. We have come to trust you so much, we just expect you to be there for us. We might not even know your name or what you look like, but when we turn on the radio, you're there, and we know we can trust you because your standards are high, your curiosity is intelligent, you expect to present verifiable facts and you're not going to -- intentionally, at least -- mislead us.

If someone gets huffy and refuses to speak to you, could an editor or station manager speak with that source, explain the circumstances and try to support your need to get the information from that source?

This is not, none of it, going to be easy. It's like we can't slide down into the Dark Ages fast enough. But public and community media are probably the only brake we really have and we listeners really do support your hard work, even if we don't say it often enough. So, thank you.
All Programs Considered 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

NPR staff told to stay away from Colbert, Stewart rallies if not covering them

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Memos to NPR staffers

From: [NPR chief executive] Vivian Schiller
Sent: Wednesday, October 13, 2010 8:58 AM
To: AllStaff
Subject: FW: NPR Journalists and political activity

To ALL NPR staff,

Please see Ellen Weiss' note to her staff below (and in particular, the
reference to the upcoming Jon Stewart rally). In addition to News, the
other divisions that are required to abide by the NPR News Ethics policy
are digital, programming/AIR, legal and communications.

no matter where you work at NPR you should be very mindful that you
represent the organization and its news coverage in the eyes of your
friends, neighbors and others. So please think twice about the message
you may be sending about our objectivity before you attend a rally or
post a bumper sticker or yard sign. We are all NPR.

If you have any questions or concerns, please speak to your supervisor.



From: [Senior vice president for news] Ellen Weiss
Sent: Wednesday, October 13, 2010 8:46 AM
To: News-All Staff
Subject: NPR Journalists and political activity

As we head into the final weeks of this political season, I thought it
would be valuable to send out a reminder of what NPR News Ethics
Policies and Social Media Guidelines are regarding political activity.
These are the relevant excerpts from the full documents that can be found online .

Please review carefully and if you have any questions please talk to your direct supervisor.

Many thanks,

Political activity:

* NPR journalists may not run for office, endorse candidates or
otherwise engage in politics. Since contributions to candidates are part
of the public record, NPR journalists may not contribute to political
campaigns, as doing so would call into question a journalist’s

* NPR journalists may not participate in marches
and rallies involving causes or issues that NPR covers, nor should they
sign petitions or otherwise lend their name to such causes, or
contribute money to them. This restriction applies to the upcoming John
Stewart and Stephen Colbert rallies.

* You must not advocate for
political or other polarizing issues online. This extends to joining
online groups or using social media in any form (including your Facebook
page or a personal blog) to express personal views on a political or
other controversial issue that you could not write for the air or post

* NPR journalists may not serve on government boards or commissions.


This is a COMEDY Central event, similar to a concert. When management orders staff not to attend, they are setting weird precedent. Should we be prohibited from watching Leno, because his monologue contains political jokes? Shall we be prohibited from reading opinion sections of media outlets? If we forward a cartoon to a friend, are we violating ethics codes?

As for the proscription in their ethics policies against "friending" folks on FaceBook: if I want news from the Tea Parody (oops, slipped in an opinion), the GOP, Communists against sandals, Green Party, etc., I pretty much HAVE to "friend" or "like" those pages. I didn't choose the vocabulary of this; FaceBook did. Mother Jones is not my friend and I don't like Conservatives for Bashing Baby Seals as Sport, but I want to read their news.

If I eat free range turkeys, drink fair trade coffee, drive an electric vehicle, am I exhibiting "liberal bias?" And WHY are we letting the hysterical babble thumpers make us so NERVOUS?!?! They're all watching Faux Noise, anyway!

Friday, October 01, 2010

NPR pimpin' studio space

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This policy is, of course, going to affect the ppl who can least afford it: self-trained, low income, learning disabled, etc. If I had to pay that much, I couldn't produce, for sure. And NPR is very specific on their quality requirements; they might not accept something home made.

I think it might have been smart to write a grant to defray expenses here.

I understand there's a recession and all? But pimpin' out the studios?! Ugh. I can see my local radio station doing that and it would devastate local programming.

'course, I don't expect my puny, gimpy, trashy voice to have any influence, and it's not like I live near an NPR studio; I don't even live near a gas station. But I've been to DC and I know it's heavily low income and folks of color, so I'm thinking this makes NPR even more exclusive.

I just wanted to fill everybody in on some new practices regarding use of NPR studios to mix pieces.

First of all, the use of NPR studios to mix pieces is not an issue for most independents. Many independents are among the pace-setters in using digital technology to produce audio stories, and we’ve learned a great deal from you about the complexities -- and ease -- of using audio editing software and sending audio files over the internet. So, this will not apply to most of you, but I wanted to update everybody.

NPR is going to start charging independents to use NPR studios to track and personally mix pieces. The charge will be a minimum possible fee to cover our costs: $40/hour for a one microphone room, $60/hour for a two microphone room, and $60/hour for piece production in a studio with an engineer. The new fees go into effect on Monday, October 11.

Here’s the reason: NPR is taking advantage of the opportunities of digital technology. Work that used to be done in a studio with an engineer, such as recording interviews and mixing pieces, is now done in self-operated production rooms. We have created a workflow for our engineers and for our studios that no longer accommodates the equivalent of analog-era production. To do so, disrupts the efficient use of our studios and often requires scheduling an engineer on overtime.

NPR reporters and correspondents have moved to digital software to produce and submit pieces or elements. The same expectation is now being applied to independents. NPR has producers available to mix pieces for any reporter or correspondent – staff, station or indie -- who wants or needs to send elements and leave the mixing to us. As I say, most independents already send finished pieces or elements for us to mix, so this changes nothing for the great majority of you. But if anybody wants to continue to use a studio to track or to mix a piece, the charges will apply. (Yes, there may be exceptions when breaking news calls for last-minute tracking in an NPR studio. But, exceptions will be rare and, as a rule, the fees will apply.)
We do not expect everybody to snap her or his fingers and switch practices without help. As always, NPR will provide guidance and training for anybody filing pieces. NPR’s Charlie Mayer ( is available to discuss software options and equipment needed to properly track on computers and to send elements over the internet. Charlie can also put you in touch with an NPR sound engineer who can critique the technical aspects of your work. Jeff Towne also does terrific, comprehensive, readable reviews in the Tools column on, and AIR’s Radio College [
] is a rich repository of tutorials and articles. Paul Ingles, NPR’s liaison with the independent community, is also always available for consultation and support. He can be reached at. If Paul can’t answer a question, he’ll be glad to refer anybody to the right person at NPR.
Thanks very much and please let me know if you’ve got any questions.


Stu Seidel
Deputy Managing Editor, NPR News

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Jane Pittman idea

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I have an idea.

There's a lot of information on the internet re: this tv movie, including audio interviews with cast members, etc.

One of the things that truly drives me crazy about historically significant movies is that nobody makes the background story of the making of the movie accessible to viewers.

"Pittman" was a risky and very important project. I don't think a lot of people these days really know much about the challenges of making it.

Look, I'm a movie fan. And, until I watched it again this morning (I haven't seen it since it aired on TV when I was a kid), I didn't know it was Odetta who played "Big Laura!"

So, my idea is very simple. I look at the International Movie Database (IMDb) listing and the Wikipedia reference and I start chasing links.

I can profile individual actors, screenwriter, director, costumes, makeup, etc.

I can discuss Civil Rights through the context of the film itself, including contemporary news stories on the night the film first aired.

Kate, I could easily create a one hour documentary on this, using, primarily, online audio and local field interviews with regular folk, African American & cinematography studies people, etc. right here in New Mexico.

Who knows? I may even score a few interviews via telephone or Skype (which is better quality audio) to include in the piece.

My primary focus is on The Making Of. That narrows it to a manageable place. By introducing a new generation to this film, I can invite them to learn more on their own.

Also, I must say I have a hidden agenda in all this. I think it's WAY more than time for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to give Ms. Tyson a Lifetime Achievement Award How long did it take them to give Ms. Berry the first Best Actress award to a Black woman?

Ms. Tyson has had an honorable career. It wasn't easy, but I'm sure it was quite satisfying, "Oscar" or not. She doesn't, probably, need the acknowledgment, personally, to feel fulfilled as an actor. But there are two, maybe three, generations of young folk who really don't understand what a transformational symbol it is for an old, Black woman to take a drink of water. I think we need to remember.

What do you think?

Any suggestions on narrowing focus, prioritizing, etc. further? I don't want this diluted. I don't want it too scattered and distracting. I want this tight, profound, respectful and useful.

Too Small to Fail!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Digging my way back up and out.

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While the weather's bad, I've been studying radio production, listening to independent producers' programs to analyze what works in documentary production, reading product reviews of various hard and software.

I just settled down to watch this video of a lecture by Jay Allison, one of my heroes, at Univ. of Mich.

[quote]Brought to you by U-M School of Art & Design.
Thursday, March 09, 2006

Jay Allison is an independent broadcast journalist whose work airs on NPR's All Things Considered and Morning Edition, PRI's This American Life, ABC News' Nightline, and other national programs. He is now heard weekly on NPR as the curator and co-producer of This I Believe.

In partnership with the Knight Wallace Fellows Program.[/quote]

. . . when I had this overwhelming sense of guilt for not trying hard enough to produce radio. Jay's still being introduced by an elf like woman I don't know, but the crowd likes, so I pause the vid to come here, because I've had a revelation about that.

It's cold. I have no vehicle. It's difficult to get out of this rural neighborhood in which I live. Even if I interviewed people here, most aren't here during the day and I don't know them.

I need to be using this cold weather time to study production skills, listen to productions, gestate ideas and research them.

When it warms up, I can take my gasoline powered bike out and drive around. I can take the train to Albuquerque and even Santa Fe.

Right now, I need to be planning my productions. I can write scripts and outlines. I can research. I can make phone calls and send email. Then, when the weather's warm, all I need to do is gather sound to edit at home.

There is nothing about which I need feel guilty.