Colorado Public Radio's frequently touted news initiative hasn't exactly transformed the network. Although more packaged stories are turning up on the air these days -- and some of them are quite strong, as noted in this June 10 More Messages blog -- the service's primary news-and-information production remains Colorado Matters, a conversation-based program that saw its hour length halved some time ago. CM remains a thirty-minute show despite the way it's listed in CPR's online schedule.
Changes are afoot, however. Sean Nethery, CPR's programming vice president, says current plans call for a two-hour daily information block that will combine Colorado Matters with a live talk show that's in the works. A formal announcement will be made "in a matter of weeks, not months," Nethery points out -- but he provides some details in advance.
Regarding the new program, "it'll be a daily, live talk show involving interviews -- some done in the studio, some done remotely, with listener participation over the phone and e-mail," Nethery notes, adding, "If you say it's a live, call-in show, that gives people an image of what talk radio does, and public radio doesn't do the same kind of thing. It'll be much more like Talk of the Nation [a National Public Radio program hosted by Neal Conan]. There'll be an issue or subject, and we'll be talking to someone who's telling the story. It won't be an opinion talk show. The host won't have a set of opinions defining the show. He'll be using the tools of live radio to tell stories that complement our other coverage."
Nethery's use of a masculine pronoun suggests that the host of the program will be Dan Drayer, who helmed Colorado Matters early on, then left CPR in favor of other public-radio gigs in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere before returning to the fold in 2007. However, Nethery isn't ready to confirm that. Instead, he prefers to discuss the ways that CPR's public-insight network, in which listeners are encouraged to serve as sources and tipsters for news coverage, will fuel the latest production. "It's really the model for us," he allows. "We've got 2,700 or 2,800 people in the network now -- this giant Rolodex of people who've helped us craft lots of stories -- some we probably wouldn't have done had we not heard from them. That's the kind of role we see our listeners playing, and our goal is to expand that."
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As for Colorado Matters, it will run in tandem with the talk show -- but Nethery isn't saying if the two-hour block will be split evenly between them. He's equally cagey when responding to questions about whether CPR will have to staff up in order to keep the programs going. Right now, the network has two fulltime reporters, Megan Verlee and Eric Whitney, with the funding for Whitney's position coming from a grant provided by the Colorado Health Foundation. Nethery suggests that similar "philanthropic gifts" might finance new hires if they're deemed necessary.
In the meantime, supervisors have other ideas about how to stock the block that wouldn't require more bodies. "We're looking at partnering with existing networks of public-radio stations such as Capitol News Connection [based in Washington, D.C.] and another one called the Northwest News Network, out of Seattle and Portland," Nethery reveals. Other sharing has taken place with KRCC in Colorado Springs, where Whitney previously worked as the news director, and Nethery expects to nurture relationships with that station and others in the state as well. "After all," he says, "NPR historically has stories that come from all over the country. Doing that ourselves might be a way to provide some of the content for the program."
Finding news items shouldn't be too difficult during the Democratic National Convention in August, when Colorado Matters will be live and probably an hour long. Nevertheless, specifics are scarce on this subject, too. "We're not sure what NPR is going to do in terms of coverage," Nethery explains. "We've been working with them, and they'll have a big contingent here, but we won't be covering the convention the way they will. We'll be covering the Colorado story as opposed to the national story -- western political issues and all of that. But we'll have a big news profile and we'll be doing a lot of work on air that whole week."
That sounds like a real news initiative. -- Michael Roberts