What Listeners Told Us: Focus Group Comments
It's all levels
It zeroes in…
It takes some little piece that you think would be irrelevant
But they take a person
In a situation
And they can make it global
- Public radio described by a listener in Canton, NY
We talked with more than 375 listeners in the "Sense of Place"
Project. Here are some of the major themes that emerged in those
conversations - as voiced by the listeners themselves.
We found that the mental map or Sense of Place in the minds of public
radio listeners does not match standard geographic or political
boundaries but is based on other dimensions like history, environment,
and culture. And while there is lively debate about whether or not we
are becoming a cookie-cutter, "placeless" nation, we found that public
radio listeners across the distinctly different communities we visited
all feel a strong Sense of Place. They were eager to tell us about their
sense of place and there was no disagreement in any group. For example,
Flagstaff listeners told us they love the beauty of their community but
lament its high cost/low wage economy, calling it "poverty with a
Our listeners strongly believe that metropolitan daily newspapers have
deteriorated in the quality and quantity of their coverage and are
instead going to the Internet and actively using sites around the world
like the New York Times, BBC, CNN, and Manchester Guardian. This came up
spontaneously in virtually every one of 36 focus groups and was true
for both small town papers and nationally known papers like the Boston
Our listeners would value a station that covers their place with depth,
intelligence and a global perspective just as NPR covers the nation and
the world. There's no doubt that they like the CONCEPT of a station that
does local news with the same attributes that they associate with NPR.
They like the idea.
Unfortunately, the actual performance of locally produced news and
information programming too often fails to deliver on its promise. When
we played program examples (from both their own local station and from
other project stations), we heard a lot of disappointment. In the case
of local talk shows we found that the call in format itself tends to
alienate an important segment of public radio listeners.
Many stations are investing considerable time and resources to produce
local, stand-alone showcase programs. We found that these shows too
often fail to deliver - even on the selection of topics. "Hit or miss"
was a phrase that came up over and over and over, across the markets.
When we started this project we already knew that our listeners assign
personal importance to news and information programming that resonates
with their Core Values--intelligence, depth, civility, authenticity and a
global perspective. That resonated in their reactions to cutaway
newscasts when the message we heard was that listeners would rather have
fewer stories, each story in relative depth.
The phrase "global perspective" is very important. Here's a listener to
North Country Radio in Canton, NY talking about what he values form his
local public radio station - context, perspective and connection.
Our listeners will not value a story that has been approached from a
merely local perspective. If we are not thinking about local happenings
as they do - from a wider, even global perspective - then we fail. In
order to frame our local news programming to appeal to these listeners
we need to ask questions that emphasize context and connection.
Rigorous, consistent work on the selection and shaping of our content,
talent and craft of our work is required to achieve program quality. We
know listeners trust us - to respect their intelligence and curiosity,
to make interesting choices on their behalf and to enrich their time not
waste it. But too often in this study, we heard listeners say they
didn't learn anything from the local program examples we played - they
want programming rich in facts and data not "fluff "built on conjecture,
opinion or pitches to our emotions.
Our "Connect the Dots" Listeners also took us to task for failing to
cover subjects from the variety and range of angles they felt were
warranted. We jokingly said that very quickly, our project began to
feel like the world's longest editorial meeting with listeners who
deconstructed what they heard with amazing speed and were very
articulate in describing what they thought could be done better!
Local reporters and hosts need to give the subjects they cover the depth
and complexity our listeners demand.
The second programming filter that divides great programming from
everything else is the selection and shaping of talent. Listeners judge
the talent we put on the air at our stations - our reporters, our local
hosts and the guests they invite on their programs by the same standard
set by their favorite national shows. They don't cut us any slack just
because we're local.
While gathering listener reactions to production style was not a project
goal, they told us plenty about it. We all know that sound can be an
extraordinarily effective tool for storytelling, but listeners told us
that it can also be a distraction and an annoyance when not used well
and with a clear purpose.
The main message we heard over and over was that our news programming
needs to be straightforward - with well written, well-structured stories
and interviews that get to the point quickly.