Fifteen independent producers have partnered with public media stations from across the United States — everywhere from Anchorage to Philadelphia — to develop new ways to tell stories and reach diverse new audiences as part of the latest iteration of Localore, a project from the Association of Independents in Radio that fosters partnerships between stations and producers.
The projects launch today and continue through July 2016.
This round of Localore is themed Finding America, and the goal of the initiative is not to have the producers go into these areas and just report on them. Instead, their mandate is to create sustainable projects that will enable continued engagement with communities who might not typically consume public media. The public radio audience is more than 85 percent white and more affluent than average Americans.
“You’re not going to bring Morning Edition, All Things Considered, or [PBS] Newshour there,” said AIR executive director Sue Schardt. “That’s not what we’re there to do. You’re there to sit, observe, and absorb what’s happening in that place. Then, the job you have is to build something, but it’s got to be built around what’s happening there…with and for the people happening in that community.”
For example, WAMU in Washington, D.C. is using its Localore funding to open a new bureau in Anacostia, a historically black neighborhood in southeast Washington. Producer Katie Davis will work with the community to teach them to produce short pieces for the radio and online.
Sophia Paliza-Carre is working with KUAZ in Tuscon, Ariz. on a bilingual project that will place “mailboxes” throughout the city where people can submit anonymous stories in response to a weekly prompt. In Tulsa, producer Allison Herrera and KOSU are creating a project called Invisible Nations, which examines the culture of the 39 native tribes in the metro Tulsa area.
AIR said that many of the applicants this time around were already doing the kind of projects that Localore tends to support. The Localore funding will now enable those stations to expand their work and try to further integrate into their communities.
One of those stations is WUOT in Knoxville, Tenn. The station has been running an effort it calls Tenn Words where it sets up a booth around the city and asks people questions such as: What keeps you up at night? What do you love? It then takes the answers to those questions and creates radio and digital programming around them.
Through Localore, WUOT is rebranding the project as TruckBeat. It’s bringing on Jess Mador, an independent producer, and they are creating a “Question Truck” that will allow the station to travel to on underreported areas to try to cover people they might not have reached before while also allowing them to attempt new storytelling methods.
“It’s very much on the foundation of Tenn Words, which was a successful initiative that the station already had, and now they’re so excited to bring in this other element, they’re going to put 360 [degree] cameras on the truck, and they’re going to do comics out of it,” said Adriana Gallardo, AIR’s network manager who has been working with the stations and producers. “It’s really an evolution on what’s been working for them.”
AIR also took great pains to reach out to a diverse group of applicants. Forty-one percent of the producers participating in Localore are people of color, and many of the producers have also never worked in public media before.
Brown has written for publications such as Rolling Stone and The Washington Post, but has never worked with the public radio station in her hometown. AIR reached out to Brown through the Writers of Color group on Twitter and encouraged her to apply. She did, and she got selected.
“There’s no waiting for diversity,” said Betsy O’Donovan, AIR’s digital strategist and a former Nieman Fellow said. “Often people feel like in order to produce a diverse group of makers, or to build projects that respond to some of the big questions in the industry, you have to somehow put your thumb on the scales. And in this case, that is not a criterion for Localore. What was really fundamentally different was the call out.”
“We kept the bar high,” Gallardo interjected. “That’s [one] thing that I think is very offensive to lots of folks of color who are making interesting work is you see the bar is lower, or gets changed, or the requirements are suddenly very different than what the traditional ones are. We said, no, we’re producing this very immersive and intense project, where you might have to move across the country, but if you have the chops for it we’re open to talking to you. And they applied.”More than 200 producers and 44 public media stations applied for this round of Localore, and there was a 25 percent increase in the number of producers who applied, Schardt said. The application process began in May. Producers were matched up with stations and the process winnowed it down to 38 final joint proposals from stations and producers who wanted to work together. AIR’s eight-person selection committee then selected the 15 winning proposals.
Localore is funded through $3.2 million in commitments from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Ford Foundation, the Wyncote Fondation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
This is the third edition of Localore. The initiative debuted in 2011, and there are a number of new elements in this round of the program. Each participating station has a dedicated point person working with the independent producers. Since many of the producers are new to the area they’re covering — or even new to radio — the station collaborators will work to ease the transition and act as guides for the producers.AIR previously worked with Zeega to build unique digital platforms for the projects. This time, it’s focusing on using existing digital tools to develop the projects. Six of the projects, for example, are going to use Hearken, the platform founded by Jennifer Brandel that asks readers to submit questions and vote on story ideas to pursue.
Hearken grew out of Curious City at WBEZ in Chicago, and it was one of the projects that received funding during the first edition of Localore.
Brandel left WBEZ to launch Hearken, and she was one of the first recipients last year of a grant from AIR’s New Enterprise Fund, which aims to help local projects expand nationally.
AIR wants to use the fund to also help some of the Localore projects potentially live on past the completion of their initial deals next July. When the stations agree to host a producer through Localore, they can choose to keep funding the project past its initial term or the producer can take their work and continue it elsewhere.
“If we do our job, you get to keep what’s there, but you have to sustain it,” Schardt said. “This is what everyone signs on for. If we build something and the producer wants to take that model some place else, what’s what we’re going to have them do. It’s engrained from the beginning.”
Here’s the full list of Localore projects:
Anacostia, a historically black and underreported neighborhood, is where we plant a new bureau, train the community, and invite them to file short spots for broadcast and online, and show us an answer to the question “What if a radio station sounded like the people it covers?”
Baltimore: The Rise of Charm City
It used to be called Charm City. Now, our team will seek the hidden, forgotten allure of Baltimore—and its modern charms, too—with storytelling in homes, assisted living facilities, libraries, churches, and community centers.
Beyond Belief: Kansas City’s Mosaic of Faith and Spirit
With digital and broadcast storytelling and events designed with partners in the interfaith community, we explore the interplay of religious life—and lives in which religion is absent — with youth culture, race, civic engagement and economic disparity.
Dìmelo: Stories of the Southwest
Find the Mailboxes, placed in corners of Tucson where public media doesn’t often visit to collect anonymous stories with a prompt of the week. The Project responds to civic issues and themes with multimedia in Spanish and English.
Every Zip Philadelphia
What could we find if we mapped Philadelphia’s data across its 48 ZIP codes? What do people share, and where, and why? WHYY and Philadelphia’s residents rep ZIP code pride, meet neighbors, and discover a city they didn’t know existed.
In Birmingham’s Ensley community, media coverage centers on violent crime. We discover a fuller portrait of life
there, driven by people telling their own stories about life, not just death—and through those stories, we find connections to the rest of the city.
Frontier of Change
In Alaska, climate change not only threatens the natural world, it threatens cultural history held by rural and Native communities. Frontier of Change builds immersive soundwalks of a land and community caught in sudden, radical transformation.
One percent of America’s population bears a large burden: military service. Who is in the military? How do their families cope and connect? In the stronghold of the 10th Mountain Division, we are developing a model to get inside the life of groups that live and work within a closed loop.
Thirty-nine native tribes with history, community and stories are hidden in plain sight in metro Tulsa. With curiosity, creativity and shared craft, we’re drawing them to share a sound and feel that isn’t typical radio, but reflects the oldest, deepest culture in the city.
Precious Lives: Before the Gunshots
Milwaukee’s inner city is engulfed in an epidemic of gun violence. Through stories and live events created by and with people touched by this violence, we examine the roots of the bloodshed in an effort to improve life for everyone in the city.
Our storymakers—15 people raised in one of the most racially balanced cities in the South—explore divisions of race, class, and opportunity through a new public media platform created in partnership with Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies.
What challenges do you face? What makes you curious? What keeps you up at night? TruckBeat’s “Question Truck” will record Tennessee’s Appalachian voices. In real time, online and on the air, TruckBeat’s multimedia reporting will uncover hidden stories in this underreported region.
Richmond’s African Burial Ground rests under I-95 and at the center of debate about where to place a new stadium. It’s the first stop for a public radio and art enterprise that introduces us to many of Richmond’s hidden or forgotten sites and the people who cross these spaces.
Unprisoned: Stories from the System
From the world’s incarceration capital, we meet those serving time inside and outside the criminal justice system. Unprisoned shares stories across platforms and and perceived social lines, to incite conversation about the ways mass incarceration affects families, communities, and notions of justice.
What’s the Flux?: Commuter Dispatches
A daily ritual—the commute—shapes our exploration of mobility, access and economic movement from the margins of a city to its center. With broadcast, texts, social media and bus ads, we bring curiosity to hidden, nonstop migration.