Volume 3/Issue 5
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- About J.J. Sutherland
- Discuss this with J.J. Sutherland.
Intro by Jay Allison
Getting together and putting on a show is one of the draws of radio, isn’t it?
Months ago, I asked JJ Sutherland if he’d keep a journal about creating NPR’s new “Day To Day” from scratch, and then join us for the final month before launch.
Here he is.
I’m grateful to him, and to NPR, for letting this happen at the absolutely MOST inconvenient time. Plus, it’s a sensitive time full of risk and ego and fear. Who wants to open the door while you’re still undressed, who wants to reveal process when it’s chaotic, who wants more hassle when you’re hassled?
Well, JJ says he does, within reason, and we hope his staff and host will pitch in too. We think we can learn a lot by listening to what they’re going through. So welcome them, and be friendly. They’re working hard. They’re putting on a show.
Day to Day – A New Radio Show
Some Assembly Required
Before the Beginning – WHY?
A little over two years ago I had a 3 hour meeting with Jay Kernis, the Senior VP of Programming at NPR, about a new radio program. It would be a newsmagazine. In the middle of the day, sometime between Morning Edition and All Things Considered. It would be different than the other NPR newsmags, but not so different that it wouldn’t be an NPR newsmag. It would have to not draw too much on the resources of NPR News, it should be able to produce the vast majority of its own material.
Then he sent me away to think and write about it.
Since that time the idea of the show has evolved and grown. But the first question I had for Jay was, “Why?”
You have to begin with “Why?” Why does this show need to exist? What purpose does it serve? Believe me, there are many reasons not to launch a radio program, and if you can’t come up with some overwhelming reasons to do it, it is far easier to keep doing what you’re doing.
The answer? Without getting into detail, because listeners and stations want one. We (and I say we, but really other people did the work) did a lot of research, asking questions like, who is listening then, would they listen to a new newsmagazine, would it help build audience for public radio stations, where are they when they are listening, how long do they listen, what else are they listening to besides public radio, why is that, what would bring them back, etc., etc. We also talked to stations, asking them if they wanted a program in the middle of the day, and what kind of program, what would help them the most.
Now WHAT? And WHO?
So we had they why, or at least I was convinced it was a good idea. Then we had to answer the what. What would it be? It will be an NPR newsmagazine, but different. It will be an NPR fix for the listener in midday. It will be fascinated not so much with what happened, although it will tell you that, but with what ideas, beliefs and behaviors lurk behind the news of the day. It will be personal. The host and a cast of characters will become your companions through the journey of your day.
And we decided we would do it in partnership. In partnership with Slate magazine, which in my humble opinion, is produced by a group of the smartest and best journalists and writers working today. Sitting in an editorial meeting with Michael Kinsley and Jacob Weisberg is, shall we say, an invigorating experience. It is fantastic fun to help bring the voice of Slate to the radio.
Okay, so it has a reason, it has something of a what, and it has a partnership. The next thing in launching any program is the most important decision you can make. Who is the host? Any program is the host in a very real way. It doesn’t matter how great a staff you have, or how smart you are, if you don’t have a great host, you are doomed. We work in a performance medium. And in any performance, the core of it is casting. Who is the lead? Who is the master of ceremonies who will tie everything together? Whose personality will be the show to any listener? Not mine, they don’t even know I exist, except perhaps in some odd theoretical way. The host is the show.
And we got lucky. We got Alex Chadwick. I won’t go into how extraordinary Alex is here, I’ll just say the truth. He is the best. Trust me on this one. Of course, we haven’t done the show on a daily basis yet and I am sure I will soon damn him for all eternity, but, at the moment, I’m in love.
HOW? Good Lord, HOW?
And now we get to the hard part. How. Over the next few weeks, I’ll try and share some of how we’re going about it. I’ll just start here with some of my observations over the past couple of months. Jay Allison asked me to keep a diary of the recent past, and looking back over it a few themes emerge.
First, your host. You have to keep your host focused and create an environment that allows him (in this case) to perform at his best. Host handling is a tricky art. It isn’t always acceding to their demands, but it is listening to them. It is encouraging his best and protecting him from his worst. One of the jobs of a producer is to convince the host that he is safe. He’s the one out there on the high wire, your job is to convince him you have a net in your back pocket. He may not see it, but he has to trust that you can whip it out at the last moment.
Second, systems. The systems are your net. How do you get from point A to point B? Who schedules interviews, how are they scheduled, what calendar does everyone look at, who writes the copy, who edits the copy, where does the copy end up, what does it look like when you print it out, who takes it to the studio, these are just a few of the questions you have to answer. Not only answer, but ingrained in everyone who works on the program. I cannot tell you how much time I’ve devoted to script handling. Because if Alex is on the air and looking for a piece of paper he needs, it better be obvious where that piece of paper is, and where it comes in the show. We’re piloting tomorrow, and my main focus is going to be paper.
Third, regulars. One thing we’re trying to do with this show is to have regularly scheduled segments appear on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is serving the listener. The ideal here is Bob Edwards discussions with Red Barber. Every Friday people would tune in to here that conversation. It was always at the same time on the same day.
Another example would be the Puzzler segment on Weekend Edition Sunday. It is a segment that has become part of people’s routine. We want to make those kind of things happen every day. Besides the listener aspect of it, it also makes producing the show a lot easier. If you know that you’re going to have your movie person every Friday, or the advice columnist on Thursdays, you can plan and produce ahead. This will save you in the first few months of the show, when we will be struggling every day to put something out. The downside is that you lock yourself into certain things, and it will cramp you to an extent. Believe me, you’ll be grateful after six weeks on the air that you don’t have to worry about the top of the B segment on Tuesday, that’s your personal finance bit.
Fourth, and this should probably be second only to the host, staffing. I have been extraordinarily lucky in the people I have hired so far, everyone is individually remarkable. But it has taken, by far, the greatest amount of my time. I am incredibly psyched about the team that I have (and yeah, I’m glowing a bit here) but the amount of time and effort that go into hiring has turned out to be far greater than I expected it to be.
NEXT? The Final Month…
Here I want to throw it open to you. We’re 4 weeks away from launch. We’re working as hard as we possibly can. We go into daily show production next week. One thing we are looking for is independents to produce for us, and we have specifically set aside time and money to put you all on the air.
My main motivation has always been a combination of fear and the sheer orgasmic bliss that comes from putting out a great radio show. I’m not sure if this is a manifesto, or an explainer, but over the next few weeks I’ll be updating you all every few days on where we’re at, and what I’m afraid of now.
A Conversation w/ J.J. Sutherland
Did Slate Blush?
Jeff Howitt – July 3, 2003 – #6
I would be very interested to learn how you (or Jay, or whoever) came up with the idea of collaborating with Slate, and then how that decision unfolded. Specifically, what led you to the conclusion that you needed (or at least wanted) a partner? How did Slate respond when you approached them? What adjustments did both NPR and Slate need to make to each other?
JJ Sutherland – July 4, 2003 – #11
I came up with the idea of partnering with Slate very early on in the process. Why? Because I honestly think we’ll do a better radio show with them than without them. Also, we are designed to be somewhat self-sufficient without drawing on the full resources of the NPR desks (they already have to fill 4 hours a day). So, Slate gives us access to some of the best and smartest journalists working today, and they are incredibly eager to do radio.
How did they respond? With incredible enthusiasm. They had already explored doing some sort of radio show, but they weren’t quite sure how to pull it off. In this endeavor they have hired long time NPR correspondent Andy Bowers to help them produce for radio. My main goal in working with them was to not have them be a source for 2-ways, but be a source of produced elements. Andy is helping them to deliver that.
How did we adjust to each other? Honestly, not that much. I wouldn’t want to have a program that sucks the Slate out of Slate, and I don’t think they would want to have a show that isn’t naturally public radio. I have been in many meetings now with the principals at Slate and worked with many of their contributors, and I have to say the only thing that I have encouraged is that they remain true to their voice.
They are not the only part of D2D, but they are a significant one, and I wouldn’t want to partner with them, without them bringing the voices that are so apparent on Slate already.
All For Slush
Andy Knight – July 3, 2003 – #7
One thing we are looking for is independents to produce for us…
Do you have a certain style in mind? Will you be looking for more of the essays and news-connected stories found all over shows like Morning Edition and ATC, or are you going to throw the door wide for stories that don’t strictly fit the news format. Will your show bring back the active slush pile to the halls of NPR or is this open casting call only temporary?
Catering Through The Chatter
jake – July 4, 2003 – #10
It’s crowded out there in pubrad talk land. Half a dozen national talk shows, the newsmagazines, a bunch of strong local shows in top markets. All chewing over the same news, authors, movies, politics. How is D2D going to break through all the chatter?
What does the research, or your instincts, tell you about who your listeners will be in the middle of the public radio day, and how do you cater to them?
You addressed the Why, What, Who, and How, but now tell us about the Where. What’s the West Coast/LA influence on the show?
Angling Short, Slightly West
JJ Sutherland – July 4, 2003 – #13
The chatter? Well, there is no other NPR Newsmagazine in that time period, which is good. But the same news, etc…it’s tricky, our first job is to reassure the NPR listener that we are actually paying attention to the news, and if there is something major, we will be all over it. As for everything else – I don’t think that public radio even touches on the great diversity of things that are going on in this country and that there are plenty of things, or at least plenty of angles that the rest of public radio won’t be touching on.
Who are the listeners? Well, if you believe the research (and if you have something better to believe in, please let me know), to a large extent it is the standard NPR listener, and that is our first target. How do we cater to them? I think we will try and cater to their listening habits: shorter than in the morning or afternoon, but still interested. Part of our mission is to give something to the midday audience that they aren’t getting at present, a newsmagazine. At present it is either talk shows or long form interview programs of various stripes. We’re looking at people who may only have 15 minutes or less to listen to the radio, how do we serve them? Well, you got a great 3-minute piece?
West Coast…Well…we are a show from the West Coast that isn’t about the West Coast. … we’ll be informed by the place that we live in, just as Boston informs the Connection or Chicago influences This American Life.
Entice ‘N Enrich-Ready
Julia Barton – July 4, 2003 – #14
Thanks for opening up the process of this show’s development in such a way–it’s really interesting and unprecedented.
Just a couple of questions on behalf of independent producers. Will your show be part of the desk/editor system at NPR, or will people pitch to you directly? And what, to be bald, is to entice us to bring an idea to you as opposed to NPR-at-large or other shows? More creative possibilities? Three minute or shorter pieces are fun, sometimes, but often as much work if not more than longer features, for less pay. Maybe you have a different payment structure not based on the facetious formula of airtime=effort? In which case, I would LOVE to hear about that.
Oh yeah, and is the Slate partnership a one-way street? Will D2D material make it onto the website as well?
JJ Sutherland – July 6, 2003 – #18
We aren’t part of the desk/editor system at NPR, and we will accept direct pitches. However, we are coordinating closely with the desks so we don’t have conflicts…
Why us? Well, perhaps more fun, but mainly it is another outlet that will be buying material, which I can only imagine is a good thing for independents. Also, we’re looking for a strong sense of voice and personality, which I think will warm the hearts of producers and reporters everywhere. We are looking for shorter pieces, but not exclusively under 3 minutes, that kind of rule is kind of silly. We are looking for stories that have a sense of pace. I’m sure everyone has heard 3-minute pieces that feel like they are 6 minutes long, and vice versa. I’d like the former not to be on this show.
As for pay, we have the same pay structure as the rest of NPR for the simple reason that we want consistency throughout the company.
As for the 2-way street, I think you’ll see some of that, but we’ll have to see how and when it makes sense, both for us and for Slate.
Midday Tension, Schedules, Slate, Diversity
Sean Cole – July 6, 2003 – #16
We know about the recent tension between “cultural” (i.e. music) programming and talk programming at some public radio stations and how unhappy some (many?) listeners get when music is replaced with talk. At a lot of stations, midday is a time for long stretches of classical music punctuated by NPR newscasts. Is that tension playing at all in your marketing the show to stations and listeners?
Also, you said you’re going to be having some regularly scheduled segments. You mentioned movie reviews and personal finance as hypothetical examples. Are those the kinds of things you’re thinking of doing, or stuff that isn’t already done on the other shows? I imagine there’s a delicate balance…between being recognizable/playing to NPR’s strengths and yet not being repetitive.
Are Slate writers going to start doing actual radio stories? Getting tape, writing scripts, voicing, etc?
You said “I don’t think that public radio even touches on the great diversity of things that are going on in this country…” Could you give an example?
Identity Building, Slate Converting
JJ Sutherland – July 8, 2003 – #28
In my experience some listeners get mad whenever you change programming, whether it is music to news or from one news show to another. We’re trying to present another option to stations in the midday time slot. Program Directors themselves certainly know their audiences and schedules better than I do, we’re just trying to produce a program that is better than what they currently have available to them.
One of the things that we’ve talked and thought about a lot is repetition. And we’re trying to make sure that we give people something different than what you hear on ME and on ATC. It is annoying when you hear the same person interviewed about the same book on a bunch of different shows on the same day. We also want to sound different in terms of style and approach, a little more conversational, perhaps more personality. It is a tricky balance, we want to sound different, but as you said, play to NPR’s strengths at the same time.
So we ask ourselves always if we need to do a story that has already been done, and if we are going to do it, how are we going to be different?
Slate writers will be doing radio stories from top to bottom, although I think they’ll almost always need a producer to help them out. Some of them are naturals at it and their work is easily converted into radio.
Amy O’Leary – July 6, 2003 – #17
So what is it that you’re actually doing in a given day? What did you do today?
Stories, Desks, Cleaners
JJ Sutherland – July 8, 2003 – #22
Well, we’re piloting this week Thursday and Friday, and all of next week…
So, today I tried to get a grasp on what stories we have coming in, from Alex 2-Ways, commentators, in house reporter pieces and freelance pieces. that was part of my day…most of it was taken up by the kind of bureaucratic nonsense that makes the world go round. Where did so and so’s paycheck end up? How is the hiring process going? I talked with our new Associate Editor Luke Burbank about his ideas for the show. I thought about how to make sure that all the people within NPR are working from the same page on the show. I discussed pitched ideas for pieces with Martha Little, who edits all our pieces. I made sure everyone has a desk (a new PA started today) and checked in that their IT accounts were up to date. Where is our contact database? Who is managing it?
It’s odd being an Executive Producer because very few things go all the way through the process with me alone. Most of the time I think of an idea, or am pitched one, and I pass it along to someone else, telling them that it sounds good to me. Or I come in later in the process and kill something and piss somebody off. But that kind of thing is what I get paid for.
Tomorrow, I hope on nailing down a few more regular commentators, and filling out the weekly grid of what pieces we do when. Should I have the internet/gadget person on Tuesday and the Alex essay on Thursday? Is there any real difference?
I also have to move on more hiring stuff, and begin to make sure 2-way’s are nailed down on Wednesday for Thursday’s pilot. And we’re having a launch party and I have to make sure we have the names of whom we want to invite for that. And I have to pick up my dry cleaning, fix this faucet in my house, and try to explain to my wife why I haven’t dealt with our taxes from last year.
And The Name?
frodo – July 7, 2003 – #20
d2d… How did you come up with the name for the show? What kind of reaction has it gotten?
Battlestar G. Was Taken
JJ Sutherland – July 8, 2003 – #23
The name…arggh. Well, to name anything these days you have to come up with something the lawyers pass on. Like, Viagra or Acura, a made up word.
We solicited name suggestions from staff at NPR and came up with something on the order of 700 names. After culling the ones we didn’t like we had 5 or 6. After running a trademark/copyright check on those, none of them passed muster. I honestly don’t know who came up with “Day to Day” but that one finally did check out with the lawyers and it became the name. Is it my absolute favorite? No, but lawyers warned me that both “Star Trek” and “Battlestar Galactica” were protected by small minded companies that might just sue us. Bastards.
What Gives JJ The Wakies?
Minerva – July 7, 2003 – #21
So you’re starting a new, daily, hour-long national program. What is your biggest fear of how it will sound? Stodgy? Glib? Too many quickie 2-ways? Too much fluff?
Trying to give a show personality and making listeners feel like its contributors are companions is obviously a hard thing to do (and the reason why everyone still talks about Red Barber…it hasn’t happened that often since he died).
So, JJ (or any other staff member willing to fess up), what wakes you up at 3:00 am?
Day After Day
JJ Sutherland – July 8, 2003 – #24
What wakes me up at 3? Doing it every bloody day. I have every faith that we can make a show that sounds good and different and exciting and wonderful and joyous once a week, or even a few times a week. It’s the everyday thing that freaks me out.
Do we have enough ideas? I think so. Do we have enough staff to pull it off everyday? Again, I think so. But I don’t know. We haven’t done it yet every day, five days a week, week after week, no time off.
My biggest fear (besides the daily fears of inadequacy that I hope plague everyone else) is the fear that we can’t pull it off day in and day out. I’ve tried to plan for it, anticipate the burden, but until we are actually on the air I won’t know if it works. I think it will, and to tell you the truth, I believe it will, but I just don’t know. Talk to me in a couple of weeks.
They Should Just Call It The Carrier Inn
achadwick – July 8, 2003 – #25
These people are right to want to get paid more for short pieces. We can’t ask them to do creative work and then insist on NPR’s minute rate in order to be consistent. The only reason the company wants to use that rate is to avoid all the crap it takes when it tries to pay people on a quality of work basis. But we’re right to want to use the best material we can find, and of course that involves editorial choice…something we should be willing to both defend and pay for. We want good work; we have to be ready to pay people to produce it – and pay them enough to live on. That’s how I got Scott Carrier on the air these many years ago with his legendary first piece about hitchhiking across the country. (I wanted to include a credit at the end of the show: “When in Washington, guests of Weekend All Things Considered reside at the 5th Street Men’s Shelter”, which was true for a while.)
Give them the dough and we’ll explain it later. Or you will…I’ll be at the beach.
Ducking In Fairness
JJ Sutherland – July 8, 2003 – #29
Rates are tricky, and, as you know so well, are set somewhat above my pay grade…we have to assure some fairness in the process, as well as some consistency. As a company we have come up with a system, is it perfect? Probably not, but I’m going to wisely leave it to others who are more deeply involved with it to figure out a better one.
Details And Math
JJ Sutherland – July 9, 2003 – #31
Well, we have a show tomorrow, the first of 7 in a row. Tomorrow looks pretty good actually, lots of stuff. And as we don’t have a regular sports person yet we’ll be trying out many, many people over the next couple of days.
The hard part about producing, at least for me, is in all the details that have to be right. Is all the language correct, do we have the right intro to this guy, or the promo for that segment, how do we back-announce this commentator. Where do all the files live, have I made sure we’ve done our math right and the segment won’t be too long or too short.
Jason Rayles – July 11, 2003 – #34
Slate is owned by Microsoft. I find the idea of a show half-owned by them on NPR exceedingly bizarre. I understand that Bill Gates is not an editor or producer of your show, but self-editing by reporters is a real phenomenon. A show’s character comes across in not only the ideas discussed but also in the conclusions that its reporters draw. Unless your show draws some offensive conclusions, raises eyebrows, ruffles feathers, etc., then you surely will draw fire for supporting the status quo and, by extension, gigantic, transnational corporations (dare I say monopolies) whose influence we like to believe that NPR is free of…
D2D 2B Un-Soft On Micro
JJ Sutherland – July 14, 2003 – #35
First, a minor correction, but an important one, Microsoft doesn’t own half the show. We are producing it with them, in partnership, but the program is an NPR program, Slate is producing segments for that program.
But that aside, I honestly believe we will produce a better program with Slate, than without them. They really are some of the sharpest and smartest people I have ever met. I also think that they have done a good job over the years of covering Microsoft themselves. I expect D2D to do quite a good job covering Microsoft if events call for it.
Also, D2D is not a standalone entity, it’s part of NPR News, and believe me, no one there is about to hesitate for a moment on Microsoft.
Thinking Free, Staying Sane
Mary McGrath – July 15, 2003 – #37
You and I took this leap once before [on The Connection]. Back then we didn’t worry about audience research; we worried about filling up two hours Every Day with interesting, new, edgy talk. There are obvious differences between talk shows and magazine shows but what I’m most curious about is how free are you to think outside the box? I remember some of your more far out, crazy and always brilliant ideas. We put ‘em on the air. Some worked and some didn’t. We took chances every day and that was the fun of producing a show like The Connection. Starting a new NPR show is a different animal. How will “Day to Day” be really, substantively, different and get someone like me to listen? I daresay I know why you’re doing some regular segments (for sanity) but I don’t know…
JJ Sutherland – July 16, 2003 – #39
To those of you who don’t know, Mary was my boss for quite a while, and what she probably doesn’t know is that I’ve always been eternally grateful.
As for far out crazy ideas…well, now I don’t have you to stop me. No, seriously, I’m following the same thing you taught me, convince me, be passionate, and heck, throw it on the air, some of it works some of it doesn’t. I just did a bit about the inherent superiority of pirates to superheroes, and I think it came off pretty well. I just referenced the high concept Connections the other day as what we should strive for…
Framing The Ledes, Reeling The Listeners
JJ Sutherland – July 16, 2003 – #40
Okay, our first full week of pilots and it is Wednesday night. I am tired, exhausted, an exhilarated. I think we can actually pull this off every day.
One thing I’m struggling with today is what I’ve taken to call “framing.” How do you explain to the listener why this piece is on this day at this point in the show? How do you give the listener that’s been there for a while a payoff, while not losing the person who just tuned in?
Also, the lede…News, but not the same news that Morning Ed. or ATC will do, and something more than the newscast will provide. We’re struggling with doing a news lead, but like Mary would say, make me want to listen. And we have to figure out an exciting way to do the lead.
JJ Sutherland – July 16, 2003 – #41
Here’s a question for all of you out there…what would you lead with tomorrow or Friday? What is the top story of the day, and how would you go about approaching it?
Jay Allison – July 17, 2003 – #42
My question back would be – have you fully decided to go with “top story of the day” mode or are you open to something else? Or at least on days when there’s no clear winner? I know that dailyness is embedded in your title, but it also makes you just like everyone else, on public radio news and elsewhere, i.e. leading with the Top Story of the Day, etc. etc.
What if you went SIDEWAYS, or went LONG? Maybe you could look at larger, underlying questions, or wildcards. I know that public radio is now charged with being up-to-the-second a la CNN, but the fact remains that it is poorly staffed to take on such a challenge. It does, however, have lots of smart dedicated people (including independent producers) who are good at finding things that other reporters don’t. They are good at looking at life in an unexpected way…and I swear I think that’s what people love public radio for. Not just for the Top Story.
Your trick is to take that exceptional, off-center work and frame it, as you say. Why are we hearing this now? Why today? But if you can solve that problem, you could set yourselves apart from the rest of daily din.
No News, No Pirates
David Greene – July 17, 2003 – #44
I feel a tremendous news vacuum in the middle of the day. Between “Morning Edition” and ATC, I can get several hours of people opining on “issues of the day”, and some terrific Terry Gross interviews, but, if I want to know whether North and South Korea are still shooting at each other, and why they started shooting at each other, I’m kinda stuck. 45 seconds in a newscast ain’t gonna do it. I couldn’t tell you what’s on CNN in the middle of the day, because I’m not in front of the t.v…and, if I did have a tv, I’d still rather get my news from NPR…
What’s gonna make me listen, and keep me listening? The feeling that I can trust you to fill that vacuum, and that you’re choosing a lede because you think it is the most important story for me to know and understand at that moment. I also want reporting, and not just commentary. Once I know you’re doing that, you can give me pirates vs. superheroes, and if it’s well produced and funny, you’ve got me. I don’t give a rat’s patootie how different you sound from Morning Edition or ATC, or This American Life for that matter (though I am gonna get pissed off if I hear the same book being flogged everywhere)…I just want to get re-connected to the world.
New Over Nanosecond
Jay Allison – July 17, 2003 – #46
I agree with David in times when something is breaking, but if we’re talking today about what is the lede for tomorrow, how does that satisfy a need to fill the news-of-the-nanosecond vacuum in the middle of the day? Especially when the show’s being put together in the pre-dawn hours in California for noon in the East.
(I confess, too, that except in a time of crisis, I’m generally less eager to hear that instant’s news than I am for something that will make me think or hear in a new way, something real, something I’ll remember)
If This, Then THAT
Sean Cole – July 17, 2003 – #45
Back when “Here and Now” (WBUR’s noon show) was a local show some big, major, national news emergency occurred. This was years before 9/11 and I can’t even remember what the story was. But they covered it. As opposed to finding the elusive local peg to the story or leaving the news to the network newscast and going with the top local story of the day, they worked the phones, got a bunch of people, and did an hour on the breaking news and even got their show carried on other, far-flung stations. It went really well. And then the next day they went back to what they were doing.
I guess what I’m saying is, if the news calls for it, do the news. If the obvious judgment is to lead with the top story of the day because the top story of the day is still a story, still breaking or changing, and isn’t a parroting of the morning newspapers, of course that’s the lead. But if that’s not the case, in my mind you’re free to do what you want….I like Jay’s analogy of sideways or long. What if you found something in the big story that no one else thought of and went with that, came at it from an entirely [different] angle right from the get-go.
I know what David’s saying…He’s right that there isn’t any solid news coverage in the middle of the day. But I wonder if that’s because there often isn’t any solid NEWS in the middle of the day… if it’s because the stories aren’t usually “breaking” or “developing” then, but gestating. And since many people are at work in the middle of the day they’re not able to seek out news if they want to. And if they do take the time to seek out news, many of them do it on line. (I realize these are all wild assumptions on my part.) So this prompts me to ask if the goal isn’t to make a show that people will tune into especially to hear THAT SHOW and not necessarily the news.
JJ Sutherland – Jul 17, 2003 – #47
Well. I think we’re trying to go a bit sideways…Today we’re doing Blair speaking before congress…but how we’re hitting it is how does a democratic leader lead a country where it doesn’t want to go? And why is Blair so strongly in favor of the war in Iraq despite public opposition in Britain…a lot of people in Britain (we have a Guardian correspondent on) say it is because of his Christian faith, and that he believes the war is the moral and right thing to do.
A little sideways, but still on the news…
bw – July 17, 2003 – #48
I am very curious as to what your thoughts are on this framing thing. in my opinion there is never a payoff when I hear framing on public radio, it seems that the only way out of the puzzle is to throw framing out the window…
Jay Allison – July 18, 2003 – #53
I agree with BW’s assessment of “framing” if you have that liberty. Do you? I understood that you were to be a news show. If you can be a SHOW first and NEWS second, you could surely be a lot more inventive. But once you turn the words around, the framing issues of “why today?” come to the fore.
Once Upon A War…
Jackson – July 18, 2003 – #55
Others elsewhere have talked about a golden age of radio — back when Krulwich was topikmeister. Some of his old ATC stuff had a butterfly in the rainforest quality to them, the startling connections and analogies — and yes, metaphors — he would make.
So, if the show is going to have news, will the news be told in stories and not just in recountings of the facts?
That Framing Shadow
JJ Sutherland – July 22, 2003 – #61
Well, the show will have news, but we hope to approach it in a somewhat different way than other NPR newsmags…through stories, through people, through ideas. My thinking is that people will have heard the facts on many stories by the time they turn to us (disclaimer here, unless there is a story that’s moving or breaking, then we just let people know what happened.) So our job is to put those facts into a context or metaphor or analogy that people can understand and relate to.
But it is a tricky bit to try and make sure you have enough facts, enough data for the listener to come away with something that makes sense to them. You can’t just leap halfway in, it has to be explained why you are putting this story on here, if you can’t you shouldn’t put the story on.
For instance, tomorrow, I’m thinking that the lead will probably be the deaths of Qusay and Uday Hussein today. Probably, but maybe not, so I have some Liberia stuff lined up, just in case, and am wondering what exactly our angle on Uday and Qusay will be…
JJ Sutherland – July 22, 2003 – #62
So today we prepared for the pilot tomorrow and Thursday, getting back in the saddle, getting ready for the launch on Monday. I actually think we’re ready…
I heard the first promo for the show today on KCRW. They’ve been running for a few days, but I’ve missed them. It sounded awfully official, like it is actually going to happen. There is also a piece coming out in the LA Times on Friday about the show, the reporter spent a couple of days with us last week. It is a bit odd being on the other end of the journalism thing…I kept on thinking to myself while I was being interviewed, “Don’t I tell my friends to never talk to the press?” …
Tomorrow we’re doing our second to last pilot, we’ll do another on Thursday. We’re going through the shelf of stuff we’ve produced over the past few months and making choices about next week. I think it will work…
Speaking Of Metaphors…
Jay Allison – July 23, 2003 – #63
I like the What You Did updates. What happens to these pilots? Who hears them? Are they immediately pickled and analyzed? It must be a strange exercise, like arranging a stillbirth for an autopsy.
Steve Rhodes – July 28, 2003 – #73
I thought the first show was ok. I didn’t like the attempt at a cute handoff to the NPR headlines.
Too many interviews…and not enough produced pieces (I’d think you’d have a backlog from the test shows). I hope you won’t interview that many people from Slate every day. I like Kinsley, but he has always been a better writer than speaker.
I was a bit surprised there was a MarketWatch biz segment rather than one from NPR’s biz desk (though there is enough biz news on public radio, so I don’t think it is needed – I’d rather see an interesting produced piece).
But NPR already has a good daytime newsmagazine – the Tavis Smiley show…and it seems to do fine without Slate…
Sean Cole – July 29, 2003 – #77
Just took a quick, cursory tour through today’s show. I agree about the dearth of produced pieces. I think the writing is very good, very smart and clear and creative and entertaining. And I think Alex’s interviewing style is refreshing and these 2-ways (one-on-one interviews) are taking a bit of a different approach to their chosen stories (sort of sidling up to them). And 2-ways are necessary. But I think there’s only a certain distance you can go into a listener’s imagination with them. My prejudice has always been toward taped radio over live radio. And 2-ways, when they’re done well, sound like they’re live and often are constrained in the same way, just by their nature. I also agree that you don’t need a DAILY business segment….
All that said I like what I heard. It definitely does sound different and refreshing, which was seems to have been part of the goal.
PS: If you ID Slate at the top, do you need to ID every one of the Slate contributors as being from Slate? Can you call them Day to Day’s so-and-so? Otherwise I think it sounds a little like Alex is obsessed with this one magazine, which I know is not the point.
Out Of The Box
JJ Sutherland – July 31, 2003 – #81
We launched 4 days ago. We got an interview with CA Gov. Gray Davis (he’s facing a recall election) for the first show, which was nice. I think it went well, lots of kudos anyway, for what they’re worth. The last few days have been a total blur.
I think I liked Tuesday the best, we threw out the whole first 13 minutes of the show and did the story about the Texas Democratic Senators fleeing the state to avoid having to vote on redistricting. I now have a new law of radio: When possible, put Texans on the air. Accents, character, the whole bit…love ‘em….
So, I’m getting in at 5:30, writing stuff for Alex (today I did an essay on the last VW Bug which was kinda fun). The trick is making sure that everyone understands what they are supposed to do.
There has been some craziness in the studio because of mislabeled scripts, or a misunderstanding on who is supposed to be writing a script. There were a few, shall we say, terse, conversations, but what came out of the box sounded pretty good, if I say so myself.
Still not quite the show I want it to be, I think it should be a little sharper in some way that I can’t define, but will know when I hear it. But it’s the first week. Jay Kernis told me, “Do it once a week this month, then twice and so on…” The show as it is now isn’t the show that it will be in six months and that is important to keep in perspective.
I need more freelance pieces…
It’s just hit me today that we have to do this every single bloody day. Forever. Should be an interesting ride…
JJ Sutherland – August 1, 2003 – #84
…We did it, one week, and only one major screw-up technically, and, you know what, in the grand scheme it wasn’t that major. Fired the wrong piece, then did it again, then tried to fix it. The secret is that if you do the wrong piece, pretend that is what you meant to do all along. Although Alex did the best he could and acknowledged the mistake on the air, which is important to do as well if you’ve already screwed up in an obvious way. It’s not like people don’t notice…
Daniel Costello – August 2, 2003 – #85
Thanks for acknowledging mistakes. My local NPR station has serious problems with its automation equipment and almost never admits mistakes. They play the news or weather from a previous day, truncate breaking news with automated promos, promo the upcoming stories of the wrong hour, etc. The only time they have acknowledged a mistake that I have heard is when the host thought the mic was off and said fuck to the equipment several times…
I hate that they think their listeners are too dumb to notice. Best thing is to just fix the problem!
JJ Sutherland – August 3, 2003 – #86
Well, it’s Sunday afternoon and I’m in the office, which I think will be something of a pattern for a while. No big news, so I think we’ll go with the show we have (that of course might change in the next few hours).
Today, I’m trying to get a grip on futures planning. What are we going to do for 9/11? What events are coming up that we should pay attention to? Are there particular anniversaries we should do? What pieces are in the pipeline? What pieces should be in the pipeline? What are we doing this week…or next week?
I’m supposed to write a bit of an essay type thing for tomorrow we’re calling the index. I’m trying to figure out a way to avoid writing it because I am drawing a blank on something clever and pithy to say…
Jay Allison – August 3, 2003 – #87
Anniversaries. What if you sometimes didn’t do them, or even made a point of not doing them? Is that broadcast heresy?
The handy thing about anniversaries is that they answer that question of “why now” for things you wanted to do anyway. They let you frame some beautiful random piece about a civil war battlefield by tying it, however loosely, to today.
On the other hand, the obligatory anniversary pieces are so often dreary in their expectedness.
2 Don And Dress
JJ Sutherland – August 4, 2003 – #88
I completely agree with you about the sheer predictability and dreariness of obligatory anniversaries.
But they do give you a reason to do pieces you’d like to do anyway. For example this September is the 35th anniversary of 60 Minutes, and I’ve always wanted to interview Don Hewitt anyway, so why not?
And tomorrow, 41st anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s death, gives me a chance to have someone try on her dresses…
Steve Rhodes – August 4, 2003 – #91
One thing websites for news organizations don’t take advantage of enough are the archives. Instead of doing a long story on an anniversary, people can be directed to the website with past stories on the topic.
It will be a while before D2D has that kind of audio archive (though there are Slate pieces – they are one of the few sites to regularly highlight old stories in a feature called recycled).
Most people won’t go and listen to the stories but many of those who are interested will (and more and more people over time will access to listening online).
Where’s The Beef?
tod mesirow – August 4, 2003 – #92
below is an e-mail I sent directly to the show….until I showed up here, I had no idea the concept was to reach a “younger” audience….there’s no clue to that in any aspect of the show, other than the incredibly short length of the stories….otherwise, the show sounds like most other news-based show on NPR:
hello. as a decades-long NPR listener, I’m increasingly appalled by the direction in which NPR is heading. this program is new, I know, and still searching for its own distinctive voice; rest assured it hasn’t found it yet.
the entire beginning of today’s show had so many stories I thought I was listening to USA Today on the radio. where’s the depth?
if you’re trying to differentiate yourself from Morning
Edition and All Things Considered, why not try something new? how about
theme shows on current topics now obsessing the nation and the world?
this “mc-story” approach isn’t working.
and, it might be nice to have the relationship with SLATE spelled out…..who’s running the show? Slate or NPR?
Tim Allik – August 8, 2003 – #94
Righteous effort with lots of potential. A few quick comments:
1. I like that you’ve broken up the show into segments for online audio, but it would be nice to be able to also have the opportunity to hear the show in its entirety, with the intro and bumper music mixed in. The air check so to speak…
2. On anniversaries. The only anniversary shows that work IMO are the ones that celebrate the anniversary of something you didn’t know happened in the first place. Boston’s Great Molasses Flood of 1919, for example. Now THAT’S a story.
3. Calls from listeners. There’s something about live phone calls that really sounds LIVE. It’s also slightly dangerous to produce, which adds to the excitement. Not for you, for the listener
4. I dig audio diaries by people from all walks of life all over the world about everything. Is that broad enough for you?
5. Humor. People always can use a laugh. Sometimes NPR takes itself too seriously…
Steve Rhodes – August 25, 2003 – #100
D2D should start running the pieces Harvey Pekar does for WKSU. I listened to the hour-long compilation the other day and a few of the other commentaries.
One of them was about how Morning Edition rejected him. D2D has a chance to rectify that mistake.
Toy Chest Aloft
JJ Sutherland – August 28, 2003 – #101
Okay, it’s been almost five weeks now since launch. I’m still working 12 hours a day, my eyes don’t seem to want to open after a night’s sleep, my wife seems to be something of a stranger at times, and I try not to think too much about how much coffee I’m drinking. And I’m having the time of my life.
I do hope it calms down a bit, and I’m sure it will, eventually, but I love it. I get to open up the toy chest everyday and play with anything I want to. Someone on the staff has an idea at 6 am, it’s on the air 3 hours later. Always wanted to talk to someone, they’re only a phone call away. Want to write an essay about something, you can do it and put it on the air. The only thing stopping you is your own hesitation.
Of course, now I worry not about launching a show, but doing a show. I have to constantly be critiquing, analyzing, reading, searching for stories and talent and ideas. And I worry every night about whether the show is as good as it can be, what I didn’t do that I could do to fix it.
Best job ever.