Since 2007, the Association of Independents in Radio (AIR), a 25-year-old professional networking group, has been trying to figure out how public broadcast stations can transition into creating innovative and diverse forms of public media, keeping the services its core audiences have come to expect (news and shows like “All Things Considered,” for example) while also experimenting with ways to tap into and engage a new audience. The results of AIR’s latest initiative, Localore, officially launch Monday.
Localore began in early 2012, when AIR chose 10 projects from independent media producers across the country to receive a year of funding and local public station support. The result is an umbrella site that hosts all the projects, which are as different as the communities they represent but all use several mediums, often at the same time, to tell stories packaged in attractive, slick websites.
Sue Schardt, executive producer of Localore and AIR’s executive director, says these projects show how public stations can harness new media forms and tap into a “21st-century workforce that is defined by innovation, invention, collaboration, and this quality of adaptability, flexibility and … a high appetite for risk” to tell their community’s stories.
Most Localore projects do this with interactive documentaries. There’s Boston’s “Planet Takeout,” which looks at Boston neighborhoods through the lens of the “vital cultural crossroads” of their Chinese takeout restaurants. “Black Gold Boom” uses short videos to show the oil industry’s impact on North Dakota. “Reinvention Stories” examines Dayton, OH, the “fastest dying city in America.”
And there are others: “iSeeChange,” for example, is an interactive, crowdsourced almanac that shows the effects of seasonal changes on Western Colorado. “Austin Music Map” tracks local performances from concert halls to backyards over a map of the city.
AIR’s done something like this before: In 2008-09, MQ2 gave eight producers five months and $40,000 to create projects that bridged traditional and digital formats. One of them was “Mapping Main Street,” which tried to document every “Main Street” in America. Three of its producers went on to create an interactive storytelling platform called Zeega using some the resources they developed for their MQ2 project. Zeega then served as Localore’s technology partner, helping eight projects build and design customized websites.
Schardt sees Localore’s projects as “media life-forms” that will continue to live and evolve even though their year with AIR has finished (many already have their own funding sources). And, she hopes, they’ll serve as examples for stations of the importance of experimentation with new formats, community engagement and participation, and how to attract younger audiences to their product. Schardt says AIR is currently “exploring a number of options” on how to pass on what it learned to any stations open to hearing it. Check its blog for updates.
In the last year, Localore’s producers generated just over 28 million impressions over websites, television, radio, and field-event participation. That’s especially impressive when you consider that many of those projects were located in sparsely populated areas.
Schardt notes that the majority of Localore’s producers were women, an unintentional but welcome contrast to the young entrepreneurial white man that typically springs to mind when thinking of these kinds of technological initiatives. She hopes Localore will give women — and men — the confidence and courage to own their ideas and take risks. “If you succeed, it’s transformative.”