In my role as a reporter for Current, the trade newspaper about public broadcasting, I often wrote about various efforts within public media to reach a more diverse audience. “Diverse” often serves as shorthand for “racially diverse,” but people in public radio (my particular beat) also invoked the buzzword when talking about attracting younger listeners, or just listeners who differ demographically from the listeners they already have.
The conversation increasingly gained momentum since I started covering the field 10 years ago. It seemed that every public radio conference I attended featured at least one presentation or panel discussion on the subject. At first it seemed like more talk than action, with a lot of the talk being fairly abstract and vague: “We need to do this, so go do it.” Less was said about why people don’t listen to public radio and how exactly stations and producers could get on their radar. Some stakeholders weren’t even sure that public radio needed to change its strategies at all. They argued that a more diverse audience simply wasn’t important, or that the audience would naturally diversify over time.
My colleague Karen Everhart at Current went to a conference of public radio program directors a few months ago, and it’s clear from her coverage that some things never change — there’s still lots of talk going on about diversifying the audience. On the other hand, her article does suggest that a growing number of stations, producers and journalists are in fact walking the walk. Effecting change on this front requires people committed to actually doing the work, and just as important, funders who will put up the money for it, such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting or the Knight Foundation. A project pursuing a new audience may not turn a profit anytime soon.
The article about September’s Public Radio Program Directors conference is worth reading for a review of several projects that are underway or were recently attempted, along with a dose of advice from This American Life’s Ira Glass. His show gets knocked or spoofed (check out this Onion article) for some of its subject matter, but there’s no question that its sound and unorthodox approach have turned on a lot of people to public radio who previously weren’t that interested. “…[T]oo often we sound like stiffs,” Glass said at the conference, referring to how many public radio hosts and reporter sound on the air. “We have to be chattier. We have to talk like real people.”
I was especially interested to read about LA>FWD, a new multimedia site covering Los Angeles that also hopes to have a radio station someday. I’d written about the project months ago and hadn’t heard the latest on what they’re doing. You’ll notice the Public Media Corps isn’t mentioned in the roundup, but I hope public media will hear lots more about us and our projects soon.