Wednesday, September 17, 2014

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Radio
Sustainability Coverage Gains Momentum

Mention sustainability and hybrid cars and solar power might well come to mind. Look a little deeper and the connections start to multiply rapidly. "Nothing is more important to the future of the economy and, ultimately, to our survival than awareness of how our actions affect global sustainability," says JJ Yore, executive producer of American Public Media's Marketplace. It's a sentiment echoed across several other programs from American Public Media--the production and distribution arm of Minnesota Public Radio.

A grant from the Kendeda Sustainability Fund of the Tides Foundation is allowing MarketplaceŽ, Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett, Weekend America and American RadioWorks, to expand their coverage in this area and reframe the topic in interesting and highly relevant ways. So sustainability becomes as much a story about lifestyle, economics, society and religion as one about the environment.

Marketplace's Sustainability Desk (the Marketplace programs have dedicated editorial desks covering work and family, entrepreneurship, innovation, health, and the Americas, too) is headed by Margaret Koval. "It's not a story anymore where there's an environmental group out there saying 'you should be paying attention,'" says Koval. "More than ever before it's a business story."

Each program offers a different perspective on sustainability and explores the issue in a variety of formats, filling in a different piece of the picture. Where Marketplace focuses on the business and economic implications, Speaking of Faith focuses on the ethical and religious aspects of the discussion. And where Marketplace Morning Report covers the topic in short news stories, American RadioWorks goes into great depth in hour-long documentaries on a single topic. The interpretations vary, but the coverage complements rather than contradicts, creating a detailed picture of what sustainability means.

"American RadioWorks has focused on how people are coping with issues of personal sustainability," says Project Manager Misha Quill. "In-depth documentaries about big issues like national welfare and bankruptcy reform on a human scale. One of the programs in this vein: 'Bankrupt: Maxed Out in America,' is one example".

One important component of sustainability coverage by all of the programs is that it draws on the public for insights. By incorporating Public Insight Journalism-an approach to reporting that draws on the expertise, experience and knowledge of the audience-the programs gain insights that might remain under the radar. Joellen Easton, who works with public sources for all of the programs, considers it a natural fit. "In a sense, it's sustainable journalism," she notes. "We're asking people who are knowledgeable to tell us what they know, what's important."

The result: a more effective way to identify the many ways that the topic has filtered into the broader culture while making the coverage more relevant.

(This article also appeared in the June 2006 "Plugged In" section of Minnesota Monthly.)