Sunday, November 15, 2009

Public Radio: Do local news or die

I just joined up to attend an online seminar on The Future of News.

I couldn't agree more with the general manager of Milwaukee Public Radio who says, "The whole area of upgrading local reporting at public radio stations is absolutely vital to our survival. If local stations are simply going to be downloads of national programs from NPR, PRI or any other source, we will find ourselves disposable in the future.”

More about the conference here in the publication for public broadcasting.

Much of the focus will be on a newly released Columbia J-School report, The Reconstruction of American Journalism.

The authors write: "“The failure of much of the public broadcasting system to provide significant local news reporting reflects longstanding neglect of this responsibility by the majority of public radio and television stations, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and Congress."

They conclude: "Local news coverage remains underfunded, understaffed and a low priority at most public radio and television stations, whose leaders have been unable to make or uninterested in making the case for investment in local news to donors and Congress."

My only problem is, while they're holding the conference, I'll be up to my neck doing local news!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

19,000 KSFR newscasts!

I've been thinking a bit about KSFR's fund-raiser coming up in a few weeks (it starts September 20) and about what the News Department has done during that period.

I surprised even myself. Since we started seven and a half years ago with an emphasis on local news, we've done some 19,000 newscasts, 10 to 11 times a day, weekdays, plus a Saturday news roundup.

We produce a full hour at noon weekdays and a full local-international broadcast at 7 a.m.

And this is everyday.

When it snows, we have to leave home extra early to meet our a.m. deadline. We've been on air even when other staff members couldn't dig out to come to work.

That's not all. We've broadcast every municipal, county and primary election returns live -- often simulcasting them with the community television station. We've broadcast several town halls during the presidential campaigns so Santa Feans could sound off after they hear the candidates speak at their debates.

Wow and double wow. Kudos to my absolutely dedicated team of a dozen volunteers, plus me and Dan Gerrity.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Public radio reach expands

Public radio continues to grow.

The latest Arbitron report (for the full year 2008) shows that public radio stations increased their overall weekly reach, rising from 11.2 percent of the population in 2007 to 11.8 percent in 2008. Increases were seen in all demographics and age groups, especially among women 18-24 and 35-54.

Arbitron says the lion's share of public radio listening comes from adults 35+.

Men 55 to 65+ still are the top audience, followed by women in those same age groups.

The News/Talk format is still the most dominant, followed by News/Classical music. News/Talk gets more than half the public radio listeners around the nation.

As for public radio's share of allradio listeners, the numbers vary. The highest is 10.6 percent in the Pacific Northwest. Next are 8.3 percent in the South Atlantic, 7 percent in the East North Central, and 4.4 percent in the Mountain region, which includes New Mexico.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

On reporting about swine and seasonal flu

I'm on a jag about flu.

We'll urge people to get their flu shots, of course. But the question that's always bugged me is, how can 30,000 Americans die a year and I haven't even heard about one, much less known one -- especially after all my years? Now, they're saying 40 percent of us will get, if not be killed by, swine flu.

As I've written before, I regularly challenge the state health department about their reporting of deaths. Last year, they reported that in one month alone, 19 New Mexicans had died from flu and pneumonia complications. I asked: "How many died of flu by itself?" "A couple," they replied. Why lump the numbers together? To make them more compelling?

The CDC says seasonal flu hits the young and the elderly the most. Even the CDC, and the state health department, will admit it's difficult to define the precise cause of death in the very young and the very old, two population groups susceptible to pneumonia, to which flu is just one contributor, but not the only one.

So I raced to the phone several years ago when I ran across a paper by a CDC research published in the New England Journal of Medicine (one of the most respected medical-research journals anywhere). The editors don't publish garbage.

The paper reported on a huge effort by CDC to get health departments in a dozen states to step up their efforts to separate actual flu deaths from all others, then count the number of young people (0 to 18) who actually died of flu. The number was 143. Remember, this is one of two most susceptible age groups.

Extrapolate the numbers anyway you wish. It's nigh impossible to arrive at 30,000 total deaths with such a low rate among one of the two groups most likely to die of seasonal flu.

You watch for it -- the media will dutifully report this fall that more than 30,000 Americans die each year of flu.

KSFR News may say that, as well. We can't disprove it.

But neither can they prove it.

I'll remain healthfully skeptical.

No hysteria, please

Ambulance chasing, aircraft crashes, swine flu...

We don't do hysteria at KSFR News. At least we try not to. In fact, I think we may go out of way to avoid the news items that seem to want to lead to hysteria.

When the four teens from Santa Fe were killed in a head-on collision. We didn't air the tape of the 911 call.

When the state police helicopter crashed in the mountains above Santa Fe, I thought about asking state police for the taped communications between base and copter. But I chose not to. When other outlets put the audio on their websites, morbid curiosity led me to go there and listen to them (maybe to get a new angle to cover the story?). But KSFR did not air them.

There's enough anguish in the actual fact of those types of events that would not be better served by repeating raw, emotional details -- at least not for us.

So, what about swine flu?

Each year when flu season comes along, I grit my teeth that even talking about it and promoting the fact that the flu shots are ready will add to hysteria. Of course, we'll urge people to get their flu shots. But I'll do it while also asking the question, do 30,000 Americans really did from flu each year? I've never known or heard of one. So, I challenge the state health department about their numbers all the time. Last year, they reported that in one month alone, 19 New Mexicans had died from flu and pneumonia complications. I asked: "How many did of flu by itself?" "A couple," they replied. Why lump the numbers together? To make them more compelling?

Now, we're confronted by not one but two types of flu. Will swine flu be more deadly? The hype makes it sound that way. Who will be more susceptible to it, the young and elderly or somewhere in the middle. The early evidence suggests it will be those somewhere in the middle.

And how many will die? It's always seemed like 30,000 Americans falling to seasonal flu each year is a lot, although I spoke with a statistician recently who says for a population our size, it's not many at all. If it's not many at all, why the hysteria? Many times more people die in auto crashes.

Yes, we'll report about swine flu. I'll even see how the state's emergency preparedness people are getting ready.

I just hope that whatever we report on KSFR News will contribute to education, not to hysteria.

Robin Lustig of BBC news has these thoughts about swine flu on his blog.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

G'bye, Walter

I've read the tributes to Walter Cronkite but they can't surpass my own memories.

As for where news was and is now, Ted Williams of Associated Press sums it up nicely.

"At the end of last year, according to Gallup, 31 percent of Americans considered the Internet to be a daily news source, a 50 percent gain since 2006. That's almost 100 million people actively reaching out to get their news rather than flipping on the TV and waiting for it to come to them.

"Nightly American comfort, Cronkite style, is a thing of the past, if it ever really existed at all. Perhaps, in the Age of Many Voices, comfort and reassurance is not meant to be our lot. Maybe that's just the way it is."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pub radio listeners

Been away for awhile, but a new study caught my attention.

What technologies are public radio listeners using, or drifting to?

The upshot is that more than three-quarters of 30,000 listeners surveyed showed they still like and use the old fashioned radio.

But the study commissioned by the Public Radio Program Directors Association shows some other trends:

-- Listening to streaming radio is growng

-- Cell phones are ubiquitous, and the iPhone is owned by half of them

-- Satellite radio has not made much headway, with only 12 percent saying they have one.

-- Only 3% own an HD radio. As for very likely, somewhat likely or not likely to buy one, they were split almost evenly in thirds.

The point about cell phones and iPhones is an important one and should cause more programmers, especially news directors, to push their audio out to these phones.