My Visiting Nieman Application Essay

This is the application essay for my Visiting Nieman Fellowship. It was based off of this talk I gave in August, as well as lots of conversations I’ve had with people across public media. I am very excited to spend May-June 2015 at Harvard and MIT to begin to develop these ideas. If you’re interested in learning more, please email me melodykramer@gmail.com or tweet me @mkramer.

Here’s the application essay:

I recently gave a speech where I asked 500 young web designers the following three questions:

How many of you listen to public radio? (Lots of hands.) Are you members of your local public radio station? (No one.) How many of you would become members if you could donate time or a skill to your member station instead of pledging money? (Every hand went up.)

That membership model doesn’t yet exist; I want to use a short-term Nieman Fellowship to create it. The fellowship will give me the time, resources, and support to research and then launch what I’m tentatively calling The Media Public — which will re-envision public media as an opportunity to strengthen both the media and the public in which it sits.

The Media Public will redefine the 835 public media spaces that exist around the country as sites of community and contribution. It will do so by expanding the definition of public media membership beyond the traditional monetary model and offering up the public media’s physical space as locations for community building. In this way, the Media Public will elevate non-financial forms of contribution that provide valuable support for local stations (e.g., digitizing an archive, coding a new app, volunteering at an event) and inculcate a sense of ownership and identity among listeners — allowing them to feel more connected to and invested in public media’s content, work, and mission.

I plan to work with the Kennedy School of Government’s Marshall Ganz, who teaches how to organize communities that can “mobilize power to make change” as well as HBS’s Alnoor Ebrahim, who researches impact in mission-driven organizations. I also look forward to collaborating with MIT’s Center for Civic Media and Ethan Zuckerman in particular, with whom I’ve talked about this project.

In addition to the project outlined above, I plan to continue work on an audio-tagging platform I’m currently developing with MIT Media Lab graduate students. This platform will make it easier for non-coders to contribute to their stations in meaningful ways — through tagging archival content, which can then be disseminated in new ways to audiences.

I believe the expanded membership model has the potential to transform the relationships members have with their stations. In contrast to membership models based solely on pledge drives, which are largely passive and discrete, I want to create a more active, ongoing, and collaborative form of membership for the audiences public radio currently isn’t attracting — and use the physical spaces of our local stations to do so.

Melody Kramer is a Peabody award-winning digital strategist and editor at NPR, where she launches and then manages projects involving breaking news, analytics, archives, social media and long-term editorial strategies. Before that, she launched and then ran digital operations for Fresh Air with Terry Gross, was a writer and editor at National Geographic Magazine, and directed, produced, edited and wrote for NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. She started her career as a Kroc Fellow at NPR. She codes in Python, takes twice-weekly water aerobics classes at a public pool in DC, and tweets @mkramer.