Here is Kit Jensen of Ideastream talking about the future of Public Radio and what is happening in Cleveland
So Kit how is technology affecting public radio?
we have to understand its power, we also have see it as a tool. The
changes that it is driving are more disruptive than ever but it still
is only a tool or a resource to take you somewhere.
So what is that somewhere for you? How do you see public radio today?
I see it as being more than radio or broadcasting or even media. I see it as being central to the health and success of where we live.
organization is part of the revitalization of our city (Cleveland) and
region. "ideastream" was founded in 2001. We are a public service
multiple media organization made up of 7 partners that include Radio,
TV, several education units and alliances with others. Soon (this
month) we will have completed our move from three locations in
Cleveland into one specially designed facility that is “converged”
technically and spatially.
Was this movement based on where Cleveland was as a once great city now in decline?
Yes. Our research (The Listening Project) picked up that our listeners and viewers loved our shows and the stations, but they expected and wanted more from us.
The need that was revealed is for us (ideastream) to help them mobilize to help themselves get through our challenges and to celebrate successes as a community/region. They wanted more than good reporting on what was going on and good features.
needed a neutral body to "Convene" the community so that it could
itself explore what was going on more deeply and decide amongst itself
what best to do. For it is becoming clear to many that issues such as
health, education and development cannot be dictated nor are
improvements easily found in the normal political and business
channels. Wide spread partnerships are required and the question was
who will call the meeting and who will hold the space? We are finding
that the answer is a partnership that includes public radio and TV,
other content providers and other media.
How long have you been working on this and how is this going?
The key has been the partnerships. No one body has the resources or the required power. But together we do. Our iconic initial work was a project that was called the "Quiet Crisis". Our partners were the ideastream’s public TV and radio stations and the Plain Dealer. The objective was to offer a wake up call. The conventional wisdom in the community was that we were doing OK. No one wanted to tell the truth that we all knew at a deeper level. On the other hand merely attacking people would have shut everyone down as well. The Quiet Crisis was a periodic series run by the radio, TV and the Paper where stories that showed what was really going on were systematically handed over from one media to another and progressively built upon created a huge public awareness.. We may have lead with the radio, moved it to the paper, amplified on radio again, and handed off to TV with each medium providing enterprise stories as well as common shared content. The audience experienced Audio, Text and Video from different sources all telling the same story. We filled the mind and hearts of the community. Of course at first many community leaders hated this. Who wants to hear the truth? That is the block. We were saying things that hurt but that everyone knew. We set the context for action and mobilization.
Change or die?
Exactly! But we don't need a crisis - we need an activating force. But the voice for change has to be inclusive and reasonable. We have to speak to each other as peers. If the word is heard as an attack by an expert outsider the community will freeze. Public radio, public television, and public media have the potential to enable a continuum of change because it is a voice that can be heard and trusted. It is the voice of the people with no axe to grind other than the betterment of the broader community.
I think that we have created a civic culture of continual change as a result.
I think that we have set in motion forces that are making a big difference in the region. It has been 5 years now and with our move now into a downtown and very transparent facility with even more partnerships there is an expectation and sense that “Ideastream” is just embarking on what it can do.
What have been the lessons about how to organize like this?
The core idea was that we had to disrupt ourselves.
had to break down our own walls in order to partner effectively and we
had to accept that we could not do this on our own. We had to change
our own view of ourselves to establish a new and better relationship
with our communities. We had to subsume our own organizational ego to
become Central to our communities - to really serve them.
How do you see the future now you have made this start?
We have to be careful to maintain momentum - inertia is a powerful force that can always pull us back into the comfort zone.
The assets that we have created (the movement and support in the community, the partnership and a 42 million dollar new building that will house the partners) are still emerging. We had 3 aims when we started this:
1. Create one organization that could offer multiple media
2. Add to revenues by $5.0 million a year
3. Fund and build a new overall facility as platform for this work
We have completed all of this but the revenue line-- where we stand at an increase of $3.0 million -- still great. I think that we are just beginning now and we have only built a base. The real movement of our impact on Cleveland and the Northeast Ohio region and on our own sustainability is just beginning.
What does your experience mean to NPR?
My advice to NPR is that they do their best to avoid the tech trap.
I think that the future is all about a better relationships and hence partnerships.
programming on its own will not be enough. I think that we need to
remember the goal of public radio and public media which is that we
serve the public. If NPR holds this before them they will find their