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Transom Podcast

52 EpisodesProduced by TransomWebsite is an experiment in channeling new work and voices to public radio through the internet, and for discussing that work, and encouraging more. Our podcast offers some tasty little audio morsels to go.


In Conversation: Jenna Weiss-Berman and Laura Walker

*Editor’s Note: This conversation was recorded on October 25, 2016.

Jenna: So let’s start with who are you and what do you do?

Laura: I’m Laura Walker, I’m the President and CEO of New York Public Radio.

Jenna: And how long have you been here?

Laura: Very long. [Laughter] I’ve been here for twenty years.

Jenna: Really?

Laura: Really.

Jenna: What job did you start out doing here?

Laura: President and CEO. [Laughter] I came when the board had made a deal with Mayor Guiliani to buy the stations for twenty million dollars. And there were two radio stations and, I think, two reporters. And we, over time, bought the stations and created much stronger radio stations.


The Road to WNYC

Jenna: And what were you doing before WNYC?

Laura: I started out as a print journalist and then I did radio. I worked at NPR for a little bit. I loved editing tape and I loved creating. It is so fun. And then I went to business school, and then did a little consulting, and then I was at Sesame Workshop for eight years where I worked on Ghostwriter, which was a mystery adventure.

Jenna: It was my very favorite show, probably of all time. It was such a great show. [Laughter]

Laura: Thank you.

Jenna: No, it was the best show ever. I still sing the song from it all the time.

Laura: Oh wow.

Jenna: And what drew you to public media initially?

Laura: I love the combination of mission and really great journalism and storytelling. But also competing in the real world for both attention and, you know, having to get out there and make some revenue and kind of build a business.

Jenna: Yeah, that’s interesting. [Laughter]

Laura: It’s a great combination.


Public Media’s Mission

Jenna: Just how has public media changed since you started working in it? And how do you think it still needs to change?

Laura: I think the fundamental kind of goals of public media are still very much the same. You read that wonderful speech that Lyndon Johnson gave almost fifty years ago, you know, when he set up CBP, and he quoted E.B. White and he talked about the theater of the imagination and the mission to tell the stories of America. So I think it’s still very much a fundamental mission to do great news, to tell great stories and to lift the voices of those that are not heard. When I first worked in public media, I was an intern at WGBH, and then I went to NPR and it reminds me actually of what podcasting feels like now. I mean, NPR in 1980, which is when, you know, nobody was over the age of thirty. There was this kind of like we’re changing the world thing, we’re doing something that’s really important, we’re going to be the best journalists. But we have this medium of radio that we’re redefining, and I think in some ways that’s come back. I think it’s very hard economically for a lot of the stations to actually have a mission in their communities that’s more of a news mission. They do a lot of outreach and other things. I think the journalism of radio and the deep roots in the community, and the fact that so many newspapers are, you know, like you look at what’s happened to the Bergen Record where they’re laying off half their reporters. Who’s gonna fill the void? I think it’s gonna be public radio to a large extent, and so all eyes are on us in a way that feels like we have a huge responsibility.


Podcasting at (especially small) Public Radio Stations

Jenna: Definitely. Podcasting has taken on a big role in public radio and it’s taken on kind of a controversial role. There are some people in public media who seem afraid of podcasting, there are some people who think that podcasting and radio are at war, which I don’t agree with that at all. [Laughs] I think that everything can work really well together, and that it doesn’t have to be this competition between podcasting and radio.

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