Yes, public radio is thriving — and we must do more

Krista Almanzan
Dec 12, 2019 · 3 min read
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love podcasts. I love data journalism projects. I love investigative reporting that changes lives. To all these amazing things NPR and public radio stations with a lot of resources do so well, I say, Yes!

Yes, and…

What if every NPR station produced local content? Local newscasts. Local feature stories. Local call-in shows. Every day.

Could public radio eradicate local news deserts, those places where communities have limited access to the local news and information they need?

This is the challenge that brought me to my yearlong John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship. I arrived at Stanford after spending nearly 15 years in public radio, including more than a decade as news director at KAZU, the NPR station for California’s Monterey Bay area.

KAZU now has a two-person news department, but for the majority of my time there, I was both the news director and the entire newsroom. Tiny newsrooms are not unusual in public radio.

As one person, I struggled to cover a diverse region. I constantly heard from listeners who said, “Yes, I love hearing local news. And can you do more?”

Wherever a public radio station’s signal reaches, you will find people hungry for information.

NPR, through its member stations, is within listening reach of 98.5% of the country. Let that number sink in: 98.5%. If we can leverage that reach, public radio stations have the power to bring local news to the majority of the U.S.

It’s analog. It’s old school. But the infrastructure is there. For all news consumers, radio has a low barrier to entry. Once you have a radio, the information is free for everyone who cares to tune in.

The accessibility and reach of these public radio stations gives them the potential to eliminate news deserts.

To do that we need more local news, and all of NPR’s 1000+ member stations need to air local news. I know some stations have long been answering this call. They’re working harder. They’re adding newsroom staff. They’re bringing more local stories to the airwaves as newspapers cut staff or fold altogether. To this I say, Yes, keep it up!

Yes, and…

Let’s not forget the small, public radio stations with fewer resources. Those that produce limited local news or no local news at all. Those stations reach news deserts too. In fact, I’m going to make an educated guess that those stations reach more news deserts.

What can be done to help these small public radio outlets increase local news and reach these information hungry areas of our country?

After all my years working and experimenting with ways to do that in a small station, I don’t yet have the answer. But that is what brought me to the JSK Fellowship.

Small public radio stations, I want to connect with you. Tell me about the ways you do more with limited resources? What are the great initiatives that died due to a lack of funding? What’s already working? Let’s connect. Please comment below or email me, kalmanza@stanford.edu

JSK Class of 2020

Insights and experiences from the John S.

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