So, I got an email Friday from Marketplace, the excellent business and finance show carried on WAMC, my local National Public Radio affiliate. According to the email, “You can help Marketplace cover the news”.
I’m glad that Marketplace is trying to engage citizens in their coverage. American Public Media – formerly Minnesota Public Radio – is experimenting with a process called “Public Insight Journalism“. The idea is that a breaking story can be made more personal and direct by involving the insights and opinions of listeners who have knowledge on that subject. This is a pretty good idea – it was raised by a few people at the Beyond Broadcast conference hosted by Berkman a month or so back.
So why does Marketplace want me, specifically, to help them cover the news?
“A while ago, you contacted Marketplace to share your insight or respond to our coverage. Thank you. Even if we didn’t get back to you, your comments and insights help us do what we do better.”
Right, I remember now. I did contact Marketplace. And they didn’t get back to me.
Specifically, I contacted Marketplace because they aired a brief story about Hao Wu’s illegal detention on March 23rd. Hao had appeared on Marketplace on January 19th, speaking about piracy in China as part of host Kai Ryssdal‘s trip to Beijing. Hao was arrested and detained about a month after – a month after that, three days after we launched the freehaowu.org site, I was thrilled to hear his name mentioned on the radio. The mention promised, “We’ll tell you more when we know it.”
I immediately wrote a note to the Marketplace staff, thanking them for the mention, and offering to cooperate, share information and generally work together on calling attention to Hao’s case.
So let’s get this straight – Marketplace isn’t able to answer email from listeners, even when those listeners are offering to help them work on getting a former contributor out of prison. But Marketplace is interested in having me fill out a 19-field form so they can contact me via email and, if neccesary, call me for a quick soundbyte on an upcoming story.
Guys, citizen’s media isn’t fairy dust that you can sprinkle on an existing program and make it magically interactive, bloggy and web2.0 compliant. If you ask your listeners to help you shape your coverage, we’re going to expect to be part of the conversation, not just a natural resource you tap every now and then for a pithy quote. This is what Jay Rosen and Dan Gillmor are talking about when they refer to “the former audience” – your listeners are going to demand to be part of the conversation around stories, and your unwillingness to acknowledge their voices, critiques and requests except when they’re immediately useful to you is not, long-term, sustainable.
Public Insight Journalism is a neat idea – it’s fairy dust that’s already showing good results for a couple of APM programs. But it’s something that works best when added to a program that’s already doing a good job of engaging with its listeners. Add it to a program like Marketplace that can’t engage in the most basic of listener communication and there’s bound to be disappointment and disconnect.
By the way – I sent an email giving a shorter, more direct version of this rant to the authors of the email I received on Friday. No response yet – will post or summarize if I hear back from Marketplace.
More than four months after his arrest, Hao Wu is still imprisoned, still not able to contact his family and still without access to a lawyer. We’ve been relying on his sister Nina’s blog posts to keep track of the story, but she’s been ill – in part from exhaustion from this ordeal – and her blog has been silent lately.
The Wall Street Journal ran an article by Geoffrey Fowler about Hao Wu that gives excellent background information on the subject. It focuses on the limits on artistic expression in China and the dangers someone like Hao Wu faces when he makes films, blogs… and speaks to international journalists, like Marketplace and the BBC.