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Watch Our Webinar – Meet Our Makers

Earlier this month, the National Center for Media Engagement hosted a webinar to share the innovative models of MQ2 with public radio and public television stations across the country. More than 130 people in the public media world registered for this hour-long online event, which featured AIR Executive Director Sue Schardt, KUOW’s Jenny Asarnow of The Corner: 23rd & Union, and Kara Oehler of Mapping Main Street. If you missed it, you can catch the whole thing which is archived right here.

Thanks to Anne Wilder, Bryce Kirchoff, Charles Meyer and everyone else at NCME who helped make this Webinar a success. 

As usual, there were more questions than time would allow. We agreed to gather up the unanswered inquiries and do our best to provide responses. If you haven’t watched the Webinar, I suggest you do that before reading the Q & A below. Questions are in bold. Answers are in italics

Jenny: What portion of your budget was allocated to technical issues – call center software, labor costs, etc? I’d like to know the answer to the budget question since figuring out how to technically do some of this work is a challenge.

Our technical budget – which included the Web developer, software engineer (who created the automated phone / Web system), PrettyMay call center software, toll free number, and Skype was about $10,000 – a quarter of the total budget. Our biggest technical challenge was creating the automated phone system. I think you would need to spend significantly more, and certainly have more time, to create a highly successful and replicable automated phone system. (Ours had a number of glitches and the sound quality wasn’t great). So honestly, if you’re on a limited budget, I wouldn’t recommend repeating our experiment. I’m guessing you could ask people to leave a message on a standard voicemail or VoiP voicemail, manually upload the audio onto your web site / outgoing message, and spend a lot less.

Jenny: How did you ensure that the stories were 2 minutes in length when they called in?

The phone line automatically cut people off after two minutes. (It was unfortunate at times). Callers were invited to leave as many 2-minute messages as they liked.

Jenny: Did you screen the content at all before it went up on the site? Did you edit pieces at all?

At first, I didn’t screen the content before it went up on the site and into the phone line – that happened automatically. Later, I did begin to screen content, but that was mainly for a technical reason. I did listen to new messages once a day. I only deleted one because it contained hate speech. The other calls I deleted were people hanging up without saying anything. I didn’t edit the pieces on the Web site or the phone line at all. I did edit the calls in the podcast we created, as well as the calls on our “Features” page on the Web site. I edited all the content that aired on KUOW and Hollow Earth Radio.

Jenny: From the phone message, it sounded like you were asking if people were on the corner of 23rd and union right then. Did people call from the corner itself? Was there a phone on site? Were you also taking stories from people calling from elsewhere (seems like there could be a lot of road noise otherwise)  

Some people called from their cell phones on 23rd and Union, or from the pay phones on the corner. Many others called from elsewhere. Road noise wasn’t a big problem. The sound quality of the phone system wasn’t terrific anyway, though.

Jenny: Do you validate the story to make sure it’s true? How do you prevent it from being used by some people for PR purpose?

As I said we put everything on the Web site. I validated material aired on the radio. I did a lot of research, and a lot of interviews with a wide range of people, so I had other material to work with, besides the calls we got on the phone line.

Jenny: Did you produce audio specifically for listening on cell phones, and if so, did you have to approach that differently than producing broadcast-quality audio?

Yes – I narrowed the frequency range in the audio meant for the phone line (did some extreme low/hi pass filters) and compressed it much more than I would normally. I experimented a lot, especially with music. I processed the files into a mono mp3 format.

Jenny: Did this project change KUOW’s demographics, e.g., attract more Black listeners?

I don’t know. KUOW hasn’t measured this.

Jenny: Did you have to get clearances to show pix of people on the street?

Yes! They signed release forms.  

Jenny & Kara: Was there any formal evaluation process associated with these projects? – For example demo numbers of how many people were aware of them?

JENNY:  We have audience numbers for KUOW, the Web site, FB page, number of those who called, and number of those who left messages. We didn’t try to measure who saw the installation, or one of the posters or flyers we created, or who knew about the project.

JULIE:  AIR is working with Jessica Clark at the Future of Public Media project/Center for Social Media at American University. She has authored several studies on public media metrics and is helping to evaluate MQ2 projects.  An article by Jessica and Sue Schardt is forthcoming. Watch this site for publication.

Jenny: To what degree did KUOW make use of your project and all the material that flowed from it?

KUOW broadcast a 2-4 minute segment every Friday from July 3-August 28 (on All Things Considered, our noon talk show The Conversation and our Saturday program KUOW Presents). Ross Reynolds also interviewed me about the project on The Conversation. Each segment featured 2 stories (messages from callers and produced interviews) from the Corner. KUOW also broadcast 20 second promos throughout all dayparts for several weeks. And the station broadcast three long features at the end of August (10-12 min each). The station is going to host The Corner’s Web site, which is now archived.

Jenny & Kara: What kind of release forms, if any, did producers ask participants to sign?  Or if it was an audio release, what specific uses were they agreeing to?

JENNY: We had participants sign release forms for the images we took of them and for music we used. In addition, the phone line had a statement callers could chose to listen to that stated the ways we might use their messages.

Jenny & Kara: How are music rights handled on these projects?  (I noticed there was some music on one of the Corner clips we saw.)

JENNY: We got rights to the music we used. All the music we used was created by local musicians who shared rights for little or no cost. 

JULIE:  Mapping Main Street commissioned musicians to compose songs about Main Streets, so those creators were compensated.  

Kara: What was your research process for finding stories in so many different communities? Did you begin simply by spending time on Main Street?

We researched our 3 Weekend Edition Saturday stories, searching for Main Streets with distinct traits. In Chattanooga, Main Street had problems with homelessness, prostitution and drugs. In San Luis, Main Street was a port of entry for Mexico. In Lewistown, Main Street had all of the trappings of a “typical” Main Street – a soda fountain, a pharmacy, city hall, etc. For the other 80 Main Streets we visited over the summer, it was just a matter of staying off the interstates and interviewing people who were there.

Kara: Do you know of any localized projects of this vein at other stations?

I don’t know of any.

Kara:  Do you have a “Mapping Main Street” widget to embed the maps?

We’re creating a widget that can be customized to local stations. Maps are a part of that widget. The widget will show Main Streets near the station, most recently added local images and a map.

Kara:  After driving 14,000 miles, did you have to use the entire budget on a new car?

Hah – the 1996 Suburu station wagon is still kicking!

Sue: How do you describe the “transition” [from public radio to public media] you referred to?

I recommend reading my “forecast” for 2010, “We Can because You Do.

Sue: When you say “next round” do you mean it will be focused on stations, as opposed to indies?

As we work on the next generation of projects and consider costs, we ask the question “what does it take to establish an effective way to cultivate 21st century talent to the benefit of the industry?”  AIR believes that the public media needs to address what is essentially a gap in infrastructure and MQ2 provides important seeds for a new direction. These are demonstration projects, with useful information about the cost of multi-platform production, invention, and assembling collaborative teams. These projects  ($40K each) blended institutional and independent culture, with producers embedded at institutions, but operating independently, as pseudo start-ups. The freedom from institutional culture was essential from the standpoint of invention, the ability to move nimbly, and ability to make leaps/take risks. The projects also benefitted from being embedded, with in-kind editorial and other support from the institutional partner. Institutions have lessons learned from having taken part in the projects. We now understand this to be an effective approach for building talent resources…blending the existing station/network infrastructure with the spark that comes from outside/independent culture.  

At the conclusion of their projects,  we learned  that the key factors affecting costs are necessary outsourced  expertise – application and web developers, photographers, etc and building in a reasonable fee for the principal producer(s). These are costs that both producers/independent collaborative teams as well as institutions would need to calculate. Were a station to adopt the MQ2 model,  some of the costs associated with overhead, legal fees, etc…would certainly be absorbed by the institution. The actual costs of these independent MQ2 projects, as designed in this first round, was double or even triple the amount of the grant. The producers worked within their budgets by aggressively negotiating, and cutting back on their own fees.  

We know, anecdotally from AIR members and others out side the organization that it common for acquirers to expect to “add on” to traditional story gathering other services and deliverables such as photography, slide shows, or other formats called from in the digital/multi-platform world. This may be a short-term solution, and it makes sense from the stand-point of organizations operating on tight margins, but this is not a long-term fix. Organizations that are thinking in new and imaginative ways about resources and what it takes to build this capacity for invention and change are ahead of the game. 

Going forward, we are refining our model to build on the strengths of the blended indie-institutional approach, and will share what we learn. Stay with us by subscribing here.