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The Future of State of the Re:Union

Dear Stations,

Seven years ago, the CPB-funded “Public Radio Talent Quest” went looking for new voices. A defining quality of the search was “hostiness,” people an audience would want to spend time with, and explore with. One of those voices was Al Letson, who created and has been producing State of the Re:Union since 2008 for NPR, PRX, and the more than 200 stations that have supported each season.

This winter, Al Letson will partner with PRX to host Reveal, a new, weekly investigative news program from The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. Watch for Reveal‘s debut in January 2015.

In turn, in Spring 2015, following the release of new Black History Month (February 2015) and National Poetry Month (April 2015) programs, State of the Re:Union will end production of its 10-programs-a-year seasons. However, Al and WJCT (SOTRU’s producing station) are exploring opportunities for additional SOTRU specials in 2015.

The 2014 fall season of five SOTRU programs is available now to all NPR Member Stations, on both Content Depot and PRX.org — have a listen now. It’s filled with the kind of work that won Al Letson and producer Laura Starecheski an Edward R. Murrow Award for the episode, “The Hospital Always Wins,” last season. SOTRU has been recognized with the Murrow two years in a row.

NPR and PRX’s collaboration with Al, CPB and WJCT/Jacksonville to share the program is something we’re all are proud of. Keep an eye out for more on Al’s new show, as well as details on possible SOTRU specials in 2015. We thank the stations who have and will continue to present Al Letson’s work, and the man himself for telling the story of America, one community at a time.

Sincerely,

Israel Smith, NPR
John Barth, PRX

More listeners and more listening

We’ve released an exciting change at PRX today: non-logged-in visitors to PRX.org will see our new story page, like this.

Why does the piece page (now a “story” page) look different?

For the love of listening. Millions of people visit PRX.org who want to hear your stories and we want them to have a simple and awesome listening experience.

We’ve been working on this experience for months — designing, coding, testing, and making changes so we can encourage more people to click play and listen for longer periods. The data we’ve collected so far shows that the changes we’ve made have resulted in just that.

When people visit PRX.org on their mobile phone, tablet, or desktop they’ll see a large play button that makes it simple for them to hear your story. We’ve also removed the bulky listener signup process, a high hurdle for most listeners that resulted in most of them not hearing your work. Moving forward it is dead simple: send someone a link to your PRX story and with a single click they can start listening.

I’m with a station or outside purchaser. How do I license?

You won’t be able to license just yet from the new pages. To license a story, just sign in, and you will see the old site with the “Buy” button.

story-page

I still see the old piece pages. Where are the new ones?

When logged-in — which is most station staff and producers — you will see the same look and experience that you are familiar with. Nothing is changing yet for people who are logged-in. We’re working on the whole site: improvements to uploading, how stories are curated and found, and so on. Stay tuned for updates.

For over 10 years PRX has been the distribution pathway for producers to have their work licensed by stations for broadcast. With updates like these we’re also making PRX a great place for listeners to hear your stories.

If you have questions, feedback or thoughts we’d love to hear them.

Asteroid miners prepare to harvest outer space

Image credit: thespacereview.com
Image credit: thespacereview.com

Don’t get too attached to your real estate — human civilization may be headed toward space.

It currently costs $10,000 a pound to transport material from Earth into space. If humans want to live in space someday, those transport costs alone pose a major roadblock. Asteroid mining companies offer an alternative idea: support life in space with resources from space. That may sound like science fiction, but these companies are already scrambling to extract goods from space rocks — an average asteroid holds about $100 billion in water and minerals. In producer Audrey Quinn’s PRX STEM Story Project piece, we’ll visit a spacecraft facility and take a look into the business, the science, and the legality of the asteroid mining industry.

In September 2013, Quinn reported for Marketplace on NASA’s interest in asteroids. As part of that story, she interviewed Deep Space Industries’s Rick Tumlinson and was struck by how committed he and his company were to asteroid mining, a prospect that sounded like pure science fiction. Quinn reflects, “I thought it would be a great chance to dive deeper into this idea that seemed so fantastical to me.”

These space entrepreneurs are thinking beyond science fiction and are are banking on the idea that humans will live in space someday, that the future of human civilization is, in fact, in space. They are also preparing to have the technology ready to make that a reality within the next couple of decades.

Quinn hopes listeners will learn that a lot of the materials we rely on here on Earth are also out there in some form in asteroids: “That could make life in space might be more viable and imminent than you realized before.”

Finding Science in Speculation with Bayes’ Theorem

Image: "Bayes' Theorem MMB 01" by mattbuck (category) - Own work by mattbuck. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Image: “Bayes’ Theorem MMB 01″ by mattbuck (category) – Own work by mattbuck. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re not mathematically inclined, one look at Bayes’ Theorem – a parade of parenthetical A’s and B’s stacked on top of each other — can be a bit intimidating.

However, the theorem can be traced to many different parts of our everyday lives. First conceived around the time that Ben Franklin experimented with his infamous kite and key, it now helps us predict things like the weather, election results, health trends, even locating missing people and things.

Sydney Beveridge’s PRX STEM Story Project guides us through different ways the theorem is used, framing it with how it might be used to help someone find their missing keys.

When asked how she chose the topic, producer Sydney Beveridge responds, “This story was an opportunity to dig into the magic and manipulation behind the numbers that we encounter in our daily lives.” Outside of radio, she works with data at the demographic research and visualization website Social Explorer, which focuses on numbers to communicate trends and ideas. Also, she admits, she lost her keys last year.

“Even though numbers feel so concrete, the way we work with them varies and can be heavily disputed,” Beveridge reminds us. While researching the story, she was surprised to learn that the field of statistics is fraught with controversy; it even has warring factions within the field. No huge surprise there, especially with books like How to Lie With Statistics juxtaposing statistics and dishonesty, and general skepticism around exit polling during elections.

However, Beveridge hopes that listeners come away from the piece better understanding the difference between Bayesian statistics and classical statistics. “In some ways, the theorem is a common sense idea…but it is also conceptually rich in its handling of subjectivity, contradictory possibilities and iteration.”

That said, if you end up listening to the piece, the odds might just fall in your favor.

Reveal Coming January 2015 from The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX

Reveal Logo

Here’s the story.

Reveal will launch officially on a monthly schedule on Saturday, January 24, 2015.

The full hour-long radio show will be distributed exclusively by PRX.org starting Thursday, January 22, 2015. The radio air window opens Saturday, January 24.

Reveal will be free to all stations regardless of PRX membership. Not sure how to use PRX? – drop us a line at PRXhelp@prx.org.

Reveal launched with three hour-long pilots in 2013 and 2014, tackling multiple investigative stories, winning a Peabody Award and leading to real impact. Hundreds of stations aired the programs.  CIR and PRX created the program because stations told us they wanted a regular investigative presence in public radio. Listeners are showing a hunger for deeper journalism with meaningful impact. Reveal will showcase the best investigative reporting together in one regular, national broadcast.

Reveal is based on a collaborative production model: many of the stories come from CIR’s award-winning newsroom, but excellent stories come from many investigative efforts. The pilots featured work from the Center for Public Integrity and public radio stations including WNYC, Chicago Public Radio, Michigan Radio, KQED and others. The pilots also included collaborations with the PBS NewsHour, various print outlets and websites to extend the reach of their featured stories. CIR and PRX are in conversation with dozens of other news outlets and public radio stations to feature their stories on Reveal.

Reveal is more than a radio program. It also produces stand-alone digital assets – from accompanying text stories, to data interactives, video, animations, and more – offered to stations for their audiences to engage with any time. Plus a Reveal podcast is in production for 2015.

Reveal won a 2014 Peabody award for CIR’s original investigation into the Department of Veterans Affairs’ role in over-prescribing opioid drugs to returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. The story put pressure on the VA and, as a result, the federal agency has reformed some of its most egregious prescription practices.

Al Letson, the recipient of multiple journalism awards for his original series, State of the Re:Union, is the host of Reveal. Al’s engaging storytelling style and straight-on questioning will be hallmarks of Reveal.

Reveal will air monthly from January through June. The air dates for the first two quarters are:

January 24, 2015

February 14, 2015

March 14, 2015

April 11, 2015

May 9, 2015

June 13, 2015

The first WEEKLY show of Reveal will be released on July 2, 2015 for broadcast starting Saturday July 4, 2015. It will be delivered to station automation systems through SubAuto on PRX or available by exclusive download through PRX.org. The weekly program will also be free to all stations regardless of PRX membership status.

Questions, comments, concerns? Contact John Barth at john@prx.org or Kathleen Unwin at kathleen@prx.org.

Radiotopia Visits Kickstarter HQ

The Radiotopia Kickstarter campaign is barreling along, with just 3 days left. We are so excited about our final stretch goal: $600,000 to start a pilot fund for new voices. Our (nearly 20,000!) backers are helping us truly revolutionize public radio.

The folks at Kickstarter recently invited us to their beautiful Brooklyn digs for a conversation with the Radiotopia producers*, led by PRX’s Jake Shapiro. They talked of the joys and challenges of making radio in a new way, building relationships with a new kind of listener, and funding their passion.


Kickstarter HQ
Some excerpted highlights:

Stephanie Pereira gave us a tour of Kickstarter’s remarkable offices, a 99% Invisible fan’s dream. Oh look, there’s Roman, snapping a pic. >>>

Special thanks to Stephanie, Kickstarter CEO Yancey Strickler, and Owen Katz for a great day.

* except Benjamen Walker who was busy teaching podcasting.


A Radiotopia Surprise…

Dear Diary,

I can’t believe I am going to stand on a stage and read aloud our secrets. Am I nuts? Will you, or technically me, embarrass me? Will I be mortified?

You, our wonderful fans, are giving Radiotopia such an incredible Kickstarter campaign (still going strong!). We have a surprise for you. And it’s a good one — not something like your prom date deciding to take your best friend at the last minute instead. Although we’d like to hear about that, too…

Please join us in welcoming the brand-new Mortified podcast — launching in early 2015 — to our Radiotopia network!
Mortified

Mortified is a popular stage show with ongoing events in nine cities. They have a documentary film, a TV series on the Sundance channel, two books and now… a Radiotopia podcast.

Imagine adults channeling their younger selves by sharing embarrassing moments immortalized in their diaries, letters, poems, lyrics and art. You will remember your own fights with parents, teenage drama, fantastical fantasies and complete preoccupation with sex — both good and bad.

Hailed a “cultural phenomenon” by Newsweek and celebrated by This American Life, The Today Show, The Onion AV Club, Entertainment Weekly, and beyond, Mortified is a comic excavation of the strange and extraordinary things we created as kids.

We are thrilled to welcome Mortified to the Radiotopia family. Stay tuned and prepare to be Mortified!

Stretch Goal #1 Reached!


We are very excited to say that today we hit our first Radiotopia stretch goal of $400,000! This means that we will be able to bring on three new podcasts, all hosted by women. Woo!

Helen Zaltzman of "Answer Me This" with PRX COO Kerri Hoffman at Radiotopia Live.
Helen Zaltzman
of “Answer Me This.”

The shows:

  • Soon-to-be-titled Helen Zaltzman words and language program(me)– Created by Helen Zaltzman, host of the popular UK show “Answer Me This,” this brand new program peels back the surface of language to find out why we say the things we say.

  • The Heart, produced by Kaitlin Prest
    The Heart,
    produced by
    Kaitlin Prest
  • The Heart – A show about the triumphs and the terrors of human intimacy, the bliss and banality of being in love and the wild diversity of the human heart. Hosted by Kaitlin Prest.


  • Criminal – Riveting true crime stories about being wronged, doing wrong, and being caught in the middle. Hosted by Phoebe Judge and produced by Eric Mennel and Lauren Spohrer.
  • Criminal, hosted by Phoebe Judge
    Criminal, hosted
    by Phoebe Judge

The Hover 20,000 Backer Challenge.

We are still working toward another huge challenge from Hover to reach 20,000 backers. Please consider backing the project and getting a friend, a significant other or a family member to back our project, too. Every $1 pledge gets us closer to $25K.



That Crime of the Month

This is part of the PRX STEM Story Project series.

PMS_2-01
Image credit: Criminal podcast

What does it mean when a woman commits a crime and attributes her actions to PMS? We revisit the first use of the “PMS defense,” in this country, back in 1981. What have we learned about the science of PMS since then? Last year, the American Psychiatric Association classified a form of PMS (Premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD) as a mental disorder in the DSM-V. How can the scientific community study severe premenstrual symptoms without perpetuating the utterly unscientific idea that menstruating women aren’t mentally competent or liable for crimes they commit?

In this PRX STEM Story Project piece, the Criminal podcast tells us about the psychiatry, law, and gender politics surrounding PMDD.

About 30 years ago, lawyers started attributing behavior to PMS as a cause for women feeling so severe they were afraid of hurting themselves or others. As one would imagine, this topic can veer on the controversial, necessitating a more open conversation about the issues surrounding it.
Criminal_Podcast_Logo_medium
When asked how she chose this story idea, producer Lauren Spohrer comments, “Obviously there are a lot of crime stories out there, and a lot of media dedicated to telling those stories in various way…and this was the one that made us say, ‘Wait, what?'”

Possibly more surprising than the story content might be the way that people react to the idea. Spohrer describes her friends’ reactions upon hearing about it pre-production: “There was an awful lot of eye rolling at the suggestion of a PMS defense…it struck me that gut reactions haven’t changed much in 30 years.”

Spohrer maintains that the piece doesn’t claim to promote any singular view but rather intends to stimulate even more discussion. She says, “We hope we’ve distilled the relevant issues such that the listener feels as conflicted as we do.”

You can find this piece and more on the Criminal Podcast.

Hey, this is exciting: The world needs more successful female-hosted shows. We hope to add Criminal to Radiotopia, our network of amazing story-driven podcasts. We need to meet $400,000 for our Radiotopia Kickstarter Project to support Criminal and more. Any amount helps!

Stretch Goal #1 and Hover 20k Backer Challenge

Helen Zaltzman of "Answer Me This" with PRX COO Kerri Hoffman
Helen Zaltzman of “Answer Me This” with PRX COO Kerri Hoffman at Radiotopia Live.

Three days ago Radiotopia hit our Kickstarter funding goal. We are thrilled! Thank you for your support and for getting the project to this point.

We are very excited to announce 2 major updates:

1. Our first stretch goal! This is huge and we’re really thrilled to share this.

As of February 2013, only 20% of the top 100 podcasts are hosted by women. We want to change that. If we reach $400,000 we will be able to green-light three new shows, all hosted by women.

The shows:

  • Soon-to-be-titled Helen Zaltzman words and language program(me)– Created by Helen Zaltzman, host of the popular UK show “Answer Me This,” this brand new program peels back the surface of language to find out why we say the things we say.
  • “The Heart” – A show about the triumphs and the terrors of human intimacy, the bliss and banality of being in love and the wild diversity of the human heart. Hosted by Kaitlin Prest.
  • “Criminal” – Riveting true crime stories about being wronged, doing wrong, and being caught in the middle. Hosted by Phoebe Judge and produced by Eric Mennel and Lauren Spohrer.

2. The Hover 20,000 Backer Challenge.

Hover is offering $25,000 if Radiotopia is able to reach 20,000 backers. Every pledge gets us that much closer to $25K and this is going to be a tough one, so please consider backing the project and sharing with your friends.