“Radio Engage” Collaboration Enlists Participation, Leverages Open Source

Bill Haenel, Dale Hobson and Jack Brighton at Public Media 2008 (Photo Credit: John Tynan)

I’ve worked as a webmaster in public broadcasting for almost a decade. And over the last several years, I’ve seen a slow, pragmatic shift towards increased collaboration in online ventures between local public broadcasting stations and national organizations and producers as evidenced (in NPR’s Podcasting initiative, their relaunch of NPR Music and) in the ongoing Election Collaboration. At the recent Public Media Conference in Los Angeles, Bruce Theriault recalled how he motivated national organizations to collaborate around the 2008 Election by saying, “we will only fund this project if there is collaboration across silos – and if its shared with stations.”

And, while this initiative has exercised great strides towards increased cooperation across numerous organizations, it is my opinion that we still have yet to come into our own as a network. As Bruce Theriault says again “we need to get out of the walled garden of public media and allow the public and other institutions a chance to play.” To a greater or lesser degree, these initiatives are still fairly centrally controlled and (aside from the NPR podcasting initiative) have yet to truly leverage the unique characteristic of public broadcasting as a distributed, network in general, and more specifically the potential of an open source model of collaboration.

Imagine what we could accomplish if we leveraged the combined efforts of the fifty or so interested and capable web professionals all working at public broadcasting stations (not to mention the larger community of programmers and the general public, many of whom happen to love public media… a lot) who would welcome the opportunity to work together towards a number of shared solutions (many of which would have clear benefits to our audience directly).

With that in mind, two weeks ago, I sent out an email to a half-dozen of my colleagues citing my reasons for why it would be useful to begin collaborating around open standards, common practices, and a common software and scripting platform distributed through an open source license. My email went something like this. I proposed that we form:

1) A co-op for public broadcasters to share code – and costs – where we agree on a similar solar system of scripting resources and practices – where we leverage upon an existing codebase and (ideally) share our efforts among stations and among the open source community as well. When needed, we can collectively raise money to pay outside developers to tailor code to our needs and – where we are literally invested in the success of this venture and of each others sites.

2) Rather than relying on our own expertise alone to steer this ship, I propose we talk with a hosting provider or a organization like NPower or NTen or grassroots.org (which specializes in supporting non-profits with their technology needs) about providing hosting and (some of) the ongoing support. This way, we could focus on initiatives which we could band together and leverage shared code and programming costs and not have to be reliant on each other for the maintenance of the system.

Anyone who has gotten to know me over the years knows that this is my baileywick (As evidenced from This post from last year’s conference. However it turns out now this idea is not just important to me… or to a few of my friends… just recently…

The Knight Foundation awarded a $327,000.00 grant to Quiddities to develop an open source website and content management tool for KUSP as a model for public radio stations nationwide.

I’m sure the bright folks at the Knight Foundation and KUSP had given this idea a great deal of thought… and I know there are a ton of other excellent ideas percolating within public broadcasting right now as well… but I can’t help feeling like the guy who happened to step in front of the right parade at the right time. What I’m trying to say is this, I can’t take any credit for this grant, but I can say that I’ve seen it coming, and I could not be more delighted for us all!

With that in mind, as a first step in enlisting input from other stations on this project, Steve Laufer from KUSP got on the phone with Bill Haenel from the Integrated Media Association, Dale Hobson from North Country Public Radio, Jack Brighton from WILL, John Tynan (me) from KJZZ, and Matthew Tift from Wisconsin Public Radio to begin to discuss how we might work together on such a project and what first steps we would begin to take.

Some of the tasks that came out of today’s call were to:

  • Set up a wiki to generate and focus some specific questions about what people would want to see in an open source CMS for their radio or television station.
  • Create a survey to identify and prioritize features of the proposed CMS.
  • Identify the skills and interests of people wanting to be involved in this project.
  • Identify what existing project people would be willing to contribute to this endeavor.
  • Identify how this could promote participation (and interoperability) between stations and national producers and our audience.

Please know that these initial impressions of the project are more personal than they are official. Aside from our conference call, I had only talked with Steve Laufer a few times between sessions at Public Media 2008. I have not been privy to the discussions between KUSP, Quiddities and the Knight Foundation. However, I know I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. I am sure that there is more than a handful of people (like me) to whom the principal parties can turn to for assistance and who will be be happy to devote their energies to the project’s success.

Cross posted at pubforge.org.

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  • Great ideas! And as always Don’t Forget the Independent Producers who may not have station affiliations, but are doing good stuff online. It’s one more opportunity for stations and indies to collaborate across “silos” (what a nice rural metaphor!) for the benefit of OUR listeners.
    Cheers!

  • Randy Kinkel

    can you explain this in more non IT terms? be more specific? what are you hoping to accomplish? Thanks.

  • Randy Kinkel

    I’m thinking I’d like to see more LOCAL content and not so much national and international. I want to know more about MY area, where I live. and that might not be too interesting to everyone else.

  • Thanks Catherine!

    I’m listening to some of your radio stories right now: http://savingthesierra.org/radio An excellent example of independent producers doing great things on the web.

    Thanks Randy! You’re exactly right. Being clear about what we want to do is essential. I’ll work on this for another blog post. I believe you’ll have a way for you to chime in on what is important to you in this project.

    Making Local information available is essential to making this relevant. Your participation as a knowledgeable person who is involved in the local arts community will be crucial to having a relevant and useful site. I look forward to seeing where this project goes and to your involvement in it.

    You both make excellent points. I’ll certainly let you know how you can become more involved as the project progresses and as I find out more info myself. I’ll be sure to keep your priorities in mind in my work with this as well.

    All the best,

    John T.