SRG Activity Update
February 2018

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From Tom Thomas & Terry Clifford

On a recent SRG board call, Chicago Public Media's Goli Sheikholeslami observed that "this January seemed really l-o-o-o-on-g." Yes indeed. But amidst winter's drear, a lot has been happening in the SRG domain. Here are some highlights of recent activity.

Culture of Journalism
Last summer we reported on some initial conversations around strengthening the culture of journalism in public radio. Those conversations grew out of a March 2017 meeting on Opportunities in Journalism that SRG organized in partnership with Mark Fuerst and the Wyncote Foundation. NPR's Mike Oreskes and PRX's John Barth were particularly energized on the "culture of journalism" track.

We had an interesting set of SRGList exchanges on the topic last June and shared this thinking with NPR.

Oreskes's departure from NPR was a setback to this effort, but others at NPR have taken up the issue, in no small part because getting alignment between NPR and stations around culture and principles and standards is seen as essential to advancing the "collaborative journalism network" element of the NPR compact.

Roll forward to January, when SRG joined content and newsroom leaders from some 17 public radio stations, the majority of them SRG members, at a meeting convened at the invitation of NPR's Keith Woods and PRX's Barth and hosted at St. Louis Public Radio. NPR turned out a half dozen senior executives for the gathering.

The large themes at the very collegial meeting were "we are all in this together" and "how can we create a genuinely shared space, an authentic 'we' for public radio journalism."

The headline of post meeting to-do list was to develop and promote shared journalism standards and guidelines - quite literally getting public radio newsrooms on the same page(s). Training was seen as critical in this effort, helping all journalists and managers understand what a culture of journalism entails and sharing best practices across newsrooms of various capacities.

Right behind that were notions of how to realize collaborative operations and editing and a myriad of tasks around the growth and development of public radio's collective journalism enterprise, including building a talent pipeline and taking up the persistent issues of diversity.

Several people are taking follow-on responsibility to move this agenda forward.

NPR Standards and Practices Editor Mark Memmott drafted a statement of "NPR News and NPR Members' Guiding Principles" that draws heavily from the NPR Code of Ethics. Many at the meeting had urged NPR to take just this kind of leadership and Memmott's draft is circulating among the meeting participants.

Donna Vestal, director of content strategy at KCUR and the supervising editor of Harvest Public Media, is coordinating several other follow-up efforts, including developing sessions at coming industry conferences and creating a vehicle to share leads on up-and-coming journalist talent.

We will have more to report in this space. But things are happening; NPR and stations are working together; there is a solid agenda of work to be done.

Digital Strategies for Classical Music Public Radio
Judy McAlpine will become SRG's newest CEO when she takes the helm at USC Radio in just a couple of weeks. But before she does, she has been hard at work with SRG finalizing a several months' exploration of the digital landscape for classical stations.

Aided by an Advisory Group of leaders from Classical Music Rising stations and informed by dozens of reports, blog postings, and station data (you can check out a very robust digital bibliography), this project is yielding a fact-based tour of the current landscape and recommendations for next steps in digital audience research, work on music rights, adoption of Key Performance Indicators, and more. While the lens of the inquiry is classical music, much of this work is applicable to all SRG's members that present music programming.

The report is getting its final review prior to publication next week. We will send it to both the Classical Music Rising group and SRG members generally.

Music Rights
At the end of 2017, SRG and our Triple-A working group reached agreement with Sony on a template for agreements with Triple-A Music Discovery stations. The template sets out how stations may use audio/video recordings they make of the label's artists - videos on the stations' sites, postings to Vu-Haus, YouTube, etc; podcasts and compilations; and other uses. The framework also provides for some limited uses by the label of the stations' recordings. This was a significant accomplishment reflecting months of work. We are only now "socializing" that agreement among the Triple-A stations in SRG's membership and others.

On the triple-A front, our next steps are to work through similar arrangements with some of the smaller labels that are more aligned with "indie" artists.

We are also ready to add a classical front to our rights work, guided by recommended priorities emerging from the Classical Music Rising Digital Strategies Project.

Related to all the above, we've connected with NPR's revivified Policy & Representation team, which is launching the "noncomMUSIC Alliance" to promote a greater awareness of public radio's role in connecting musicians, performers, and artists with the audiences who enjoy and support their music. This is an important step in all of our music rights work, with particular relevance to possible copyright reform efforts in Congress.

Audience Intelligence
We have two tracks running with respect to our efforts to increase stations' capacity to understand their digital audiences.

  • We are publishing reports on our work over the past year and a half to an audience of SRG members, national organizations, and leading stations in public radio and public television.
  • We are continuing conversations with CPB (the most recent this week) about a second phase of station-centered work that will build on what we learned in our initial project.

    With respect to the "second phase," we believe there are several productive directions and activities. The right focus will depend in part on how our work with station partners fits into a larger public media digital ecology and the steps that other national organizations are prepared to take (and the timetable for doing so).

    We sense a number of "digital itches" ready to be scratched and a sense of opportunity from taking up many tasks as a group.

    CPB Data Collection
    Yawn! No, pay attention. Your organization spends many hours filling our surveys and reports for CPB: ISIS (when they thought up that acronym, who knew?), SAS, etc. CPB is examining how to do this better. What information really matters? How best to use information already collected? How to lighten the station burden? Can CPB return more value?

    SRG is on the case and we had a useful first meeting with CPB staff and the outside consultants they have retained for this exploration. Do you have thoughts on this? What are the questions where you just scratch your head and say, "why are they asking this?" What are reports from the kinds of information you have submitted where you would find value in seeing system-wide data or other context for benchmarking? Let us know.

    CPB Radio CSG Review
    It has been five years since CPB went deep on the rules and regulations that surround its multi-million investment in annual grants to public radio stations. A recent "focus group" meeting with several station leaders was a first step in ramping up a CSG review that is expected to extend through 2018 and into 2019.

    SRG met with CPB Radio staff for a briefing on the plans and process, which will include a general survey of CSG recipients, recruitment of an outside expert to help guide the work, and convening a panel of public radio station and system leaders. CPB Vice President for Radio Erika Pulley-Hayes will be the "point person," with active involvement from Senior VP for Journalism and Radio Kathy Merritt and other members of the radio team.

    SRG Strategic Planning
    If it is not already apparent, SRG's current strategic planning work is one of the board's highest priorities for its work this year. The board of directors regularly reviews and refines SRG's activity plans, but every so often it is important to take a step back and examine the big picture. This is one of those times.

    If you have already completed your strategic planning survey, thank you. If not, get to it!

    The SRG board will be meeting in New York February 15-16 for a winter retreat that will take up strategic issues along with other business. There will be continuing work in the months ahead and another planning-focused board meeting in May.

    The aim is to have a draft plan in front of members by early summer and a robust discussion and approval at our annual members' retreat in August.

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