WNYC, Takeaway encourage stations to take it apart

Carriage grows with TOTN gone; stations piloting customization

By Andrew Lapin

Public radio’s The Takeaway has more than doubled its carriage since cancellation of NPR’s Talk of the Nation, and the show’s producers are working to add even more outlets by building news collaborations with station-based reporters and programmers.

The program, produced by Public Radio International and New York’s WNYC, aired on 88 stations before Talk of the Nation went off the air this summer. It now airs on 214, recently boosted by Georgia Public Broadcasting’s decision to begin broadcasting it over its statewide 18-station network this month.

The Takeaway, which launched in 2008 as a morning-drive show, was revamped as a one-hour midday program last year. On the heels of its retooling, WNYC and PRI launched an effort to encourage stations to use segments from The Takeaway and The World, a PRI newsmagazine, alongside locally produced content.

In November 2012, WNYC convened a meeting with eight stations that were already airing the program to talk about ways of customizing the show. During a follow-up meeting hosted by Phoenix’s KJZZ in April, members of the self-dubbed “Cactus Coalition” agreed to develop pilot models for locally customized editions of The Takeaway. Participants in the meeting also represented KUOW in Seattle, WGBH in Boston, WDET in Detroit, WLRN in Miami, Oregon’s OPB and KUT in Austin, Tex., and representatives from PRI and WNYC attended as well.

The Takeaway’s producers built listener engagement and editorial collaborations into the show from its inception. Now they want to deepen their partnerships with station newsrooms and provide more flexibility for programmers seeking to customize their midday offerings.

The show has also been expanding efforts to partner with station journalists and showcase their work. Recent Takeaway broadcasts have included more reports from stations, and producers hope to collaborate further with stations on data journalism projects.

Stations pursuing deeper collaborations with The Takeaway will have to adjust their expectations and reconsider the roles of their staffers, said Laura Walker, president of WNYC.

“To do it well it requires both a commitment to staff and [using] staff in a different way, and I think it’s a pretty radical departure from the way most stations operate,” she said. “So it’s not so much about The Takeaway as it is about a station coming to a conclusion that this is something to try with The Takeaway as raw material.”

One station, KJZZ in Phoenix, has already begun experimenting with approaches for localizing its midday programming in partnership with The TakeawayKJZZ’s The Show, a one-hour newsmagazine on which local hosts introduce pieces produced by KJZZ’s news team alongside segments from The Takeaway and the BBC, debuted July 12 in the weekly time slot of 2 p.m. Friday.

Jim Paluzzi, KJZZ g.m., hopes to expand The Show to “a daily multi-hour midday service” that will blend content from a multitude of local, regional, national and international sources while “sound[ing] uniquely like Phoenix.” This month the station will launch a search for six senior-level hosts and producers. KJZZ’s audience research team will consult with national program researchers about best practices for midday news as they plan the expansion.

KUOW has also experimented with customizing The Takeaway. During the April coalition meeting, its staff presented a two-hour pilot of a localized version of the show. It was not branded as The Takeaway, but incorporated content from it and The World, as well as one to two local stories per half-hour.  A local host introduced each piece.

Now the station has developed a multipurpose, locally branded midday newsmagazine, The Record on KUOW. The new broadcast, which debuted Sept. 3, consolidates two local talk shows with a previously existing newsmagazine that mixed nationally produced programming with local content at a ratio of about 80 percent national to 20 percent local.

“Some stations will prefer to do the Takeaway-branded approach but significantly localized,” Jeff Hansen, KUOW g.m., told Current. “Our idea is to actually go further down that road and have a more local, branded show.”

Hansen added that The Record may incorporate segments from The Takeaway, which the station also airs in full at 9 a.m. daily. He plans to localize The Takeaway further as well, but doesn’t have a timetable for when those plans could materialize.

“It’s not, ‘This is The Takeaway,’” Hansen said. “It’s, ‘That is from The Takeaway.’”

Georgia Public Broadcasting added The Takeaway Sept. 2 after the program won the most listener votes during its Summer Listening Series. Listeners chose The Takeaway from a slate of possible TOTN replacements that rotated every week. The series also included PRI’s To the Point and NPR’s Here & Now, Tell Me More and On Point.

Tanya Ott, GPB v.p., told Current that The Takeaway was the only program the network piloted that received no negative feedback. Many listeners cited the program as most in line with TOTN, while others warmed to host John Hockenberry.

“I like how they are incorporating local perspectives and listener feedback within the program,” she said. GPB hasn’t been approached about creating a localized version.

Program staff traveled to GPB’s Atlanta studios for live broadcasts during its slot on the summer listening series and will also air from GPB Sept. 18–19, during the Public Radio Program Directors conference in Atlanta. That show will bring a national perspective to issues of interest to Georgia residents.

“Let’s just say that [the producers] are certainly hungry,” Ott said.

The Cactus Coalition were scheduled to meet again prior to PRPD.

Questions, comments, tips? lapin@current.org
This article was first published in Current, Sept. 9, 2013.
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