Friday, June 4, 1999
Filing for Marketplace Or how to finish a story in seven quick months
The following article appeared in the April '98 Intelligence Report, the monthly newsletter of public radio stations WRVO-FM 90, WRVN-FM 92, and WRVJ-FM 92.
When you hear a feature news report on Marketplace (WBUR-FM and WGBH-FM evenings, Monday through Friday), you might wonder what it takes to get that story on the air. The answer's simple: patience.
In October I called the program with a story idea. The state government was trying to encourage companies to build alternative fuel vehicles at the former Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, New York. While the news had been clogged with reports on new technologies which promised such vehicles sometime next century, the Alternative Fuel Technology Center was pushing to get trucks and buses on the road now.
They liked the story. "Great," I thought, "I'll crank out a report for them and get it on the air in no time."
Boy, was I mistaken. My call was forwarded to their environment editor, who happens to work in Oregon. She and I discussed the story, and it soon became clear they didn't want the story as I was ready to send it.
First, too many of my interviews were conducted on the phone. The folks at Marketplace don't like phone tape in features. Second, I didn't have any of the background sound that public radio features are known for.
Time for more interviews. I called Orion Bus in Oriskany, New York since they were involved in the project and had a factory up and running, producing compressed natural gas buses. After pestering their main office in Toronto for weeks, I finally got to schedule an interview with their main spokesman. We were supposed to meet at the Oriskany factory in November. Then it was December. Finally, it happened in January.
With lots of great sound from the factory floor and a solid in-person interview, I thought I was finally ready. Then came the real challenge.
The three-hour time difference between here and where my editor works (Oregon) was the first problem. Her schedule made it tough to talk any time before 4:00 p.m. Eastern. Often we would schedule a time only to have one of us get assigned to a breaking story, postponing our appointment again. We e-mailed frequently, making communication easier, but there are certain parts of the editing process which don't work well over the Internet.
When we did connect, working with the editor was great. She helped condense the story without leaving out crucial details. She also coached me a bit on how to write in the more casual style typical of Marketplace.
So after five drafts, I finished the story and sent it out to the Marketplace studios in Los Angeles. This is a news story so it will get on the air immediately, right? Wrong. Any feature that doesn't have to air by a certain date gets stuck in a pile of reports waiting for broadcast. As of writing this article, it looks like the story won't hit the air until April. Thus a story I began in October will air a quick seven months later.
Not all the stories you hear take this long. A lot of the delay passed by while I was waiting to get an interview with Orion Bus's spokesman, and the Marketplace folks assure me any breaking story gets priority treatment to get timely news on the air. I don't think we'll have to wait seven months to hear about the next stock market crash.
Eugene Sonn grew up on Woodland Road, graduated from CCHS in 1991 and Swarthmore College in 1995. He is now a reporter for NPR's FM stations WHYY in Philadelphia and WBGO in Newark. He lives in Trenton, New Jersey and covers the state house and the southern part of the New Jersey for both stations. Occasionally his stories appear on NPR's All Things Considered.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito