Saturday, January 3, 2009

Brad's Radio year in review: 2008

When I became a freelance journalist and blogger in 2006, I really thought I'd focus primarily on radio journalism and dabble in blogging. Over the past few years I've become more of a full time blogger with a part time radio habit. But that's worked out surprisingly well for my radio career since it means I've been able to take the time to focus on the few stories I do each year. 

In the middle of 2008 we moved from New York back to Philadelphia, so some of these stories were reported in or near each place.

In March PRI's The World ran a story I produced about ICED, a video game with an activist message. ICED stands for "I Can End Deportation." It's a lofty goal, but the developers see the US immigration policy as a human rights issue and video games as a way to reach young people.

I interviewed the makers of the game, a conservative activist, and a group of kids who had played the game for this story.

NPR's Day to Day was working on a series of stories about value and I pitched a story about a New York artist who had been picking up trash from the streets, packaging it, and selling the cubes as collectible souvenirs. 

Looking back, I kind of wish I had gone out trash picking with him or at least recorded a bit of sound of the packaging process. But I still really like the way this story turned out. 

Have you ever had one of those ideas that makes perfect sense until you realize you're actually going to have to follow through on it? This story is about a push from neighborhood groups to get bars and clubs in New York to close earlier. And of course in order to get sound for this story I needed to go out in the middle of the night and interview revelers. 

I used to be a night person. Really, I was. But I was much younger then, and standing out at the street at 2:30am with a microphone in my hand is not so m
uch my idea of a good time at this point in my life.

On the other hand, I'm so glad I did because I found some great voices that really made the story work.

I figured this would be the last story I reported in New York. But you know what? It turns out that New York isn't that far from Philly. I wound up taking a train to New York a few week back to do an interview for another story which has yet to air. 

But anyway, this was a quirky little story about a store that sells... something. You pay $10 and they'll ship something to your door. And you won't know what it is until you open the box. Some people have gotten iPod shuffles, while others get coffee mugs. Not everybody has been happy with the gifts, but many people are.

It turns out that the "warehouse" for the Something Store was really just a small rented office space in Long Island, and when I arrived to do an interview pretty much all of the inventory was boxed up and ready to ship. The company had recently gotten a ton of publicity and was having a hard time keeping up with demand, so as soon as products came in, they went back out again. In other words, there wasn't really much sound to record.

But what really made this story work was the fact that I was able to find a customer and interview him just after he placed his order and again when the product arrived. I even got him to hold off on opening the package until we spoke on the phone so I could experience the surprise with him. 

My first NPR story after moving back to Philadelphia... was about another city 2 hours away. I hopped in a Zipcar and headed to Atlantic City for this story about how the tourist destination was doing during the slumping economy. The verdict? Not so good.

While casino operators and tourism officials tried to put a positive spin on things, I spoke with a souvenir shop owner on the Boardwalk who told me that this had been his worst season in 37 years. He had to lay off all of his staff and man the shop himself this summer. 

Twitter kind of took the world by storm in 2008. The micro-blogging service seems like an odd idea at first. Users can post short, 140 character updates about what they're doing or thinking. But in practice, Twitter provides an intriguing method for keeping in touch with friends, celebrities, or opinion leaders without investing too much time and effort.

But Twitter isn't exactly a secure method of communication. So you wouldn't want to use it to talk about your company's business unless you're OK with letting the whole world know what you're working on. And that's where Yammer comes in. 

The easiest way to escribe Yammer is that it's just like Twitter - except the only people who you can communicate with are employees of your company. For this story I interviewed the founder of Yammer and some workers at a tech company in suburban Philadelphia including one who is a Twitter and social media addict. 

If you think it's hard finding money to buy things during a recession, you should try selling things. It's even harder to convince people to buy - but if you don't spend money on advertising how will you make enough money to... 

Last month I spoke with local advertising experts and the owner of an area auto dealership to talk about the difficulties facing advertising in a recssion.

I closed out the year with this story about HumanLight, a new holiday created by a group of Humanists in the New Jersey and Philadelphia area 8 years ago. The goal was to create an event that brought together atheists, agnostics, and Humanists during a time of year when many other people are celebrating religious holidays. HumanLight is now celebrated by hundreds of people around the country, and at least one group in England holds an event as well.

Other journalistic projects

Lest you think I've been slacking off (after all, only 8 reports, really?) I've been involved in a number of other projects over the past year. 
  • In New York I had the pleasure of working with Antenna Audio to help produce audio tours for exhibits at several New York Museums.
  • This summer I helped get WHYY's Its Our City blog up and running. 
  • I also spent some time working as a part time editor in the WHYY 91FM radio newsroom, but I was doing this in addition to blogging full time, which meant I was working 12+ hour days for about a month. It was a great way to get back into the swing of Philadelphia politics and local issues after spending a few years away from the city, though.
  • Now I still help out from time to time as a fill-in afternoon anchor at WHYY, so don't be surprised if you hear me announcing the news or reading the weather report every now and again.
  • It's been a great year at Download Squad. Our traffic has continued to grow and we've written some excellent articles about software and web technology.
Probably the most exciting development over the past year is the rapid growth of both the netbook market and of Liliputing, a blog dedicated to netbooks that I started in April. With over half a million page views per month, the site is one of the largest English-language blogs dedicated exclusively to low cost mini-laptops. 

It's been exciting learning not just how best to cover the netbook industry, but how to design a web site, maintain the server, and deal with advertising in a way to make the blog profitable. While Liliputing hasn't exactly made me rich, a few months ago the site started to represent the most significant portion of my income, which helps me justify the amount of time I put into it.

Next week I'll be attending CES in Las Vegas where I expect to make some connections and check out the latest trends in the netbook and mobile tech space, and I expect 2009 to be an even better year for the site. 

I'll also be keeping an eye out for any developments on the portable digital audio recorder space while I'm at CES, although I'd expect to see more consumer oriented devices than pro audio gear at this particular show. The NAB and AES shows tend to have more exciting technology for radio producers. 

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