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Are Talk Shows Journalism?

Talk radio has been a part of public radio for at least 20 years ever since somebody decided that not everything carrying the NPR brand had to be scripted, edited and pre-recorded. The state of public radio talk programs was a matter of discussion last month when I and people from stations around the country attended the annual Talk Show Conference, sponsored by PRNDI, Public Radio News Directors, Inc.

One of the biggest questions that came up at the Washington D.C. conference was whether talk shows are journalism.

Public radio talk shows are the step children of newsrooms and many of our talk show hosts are former reporters or news directors. Yet a lot of people in our business wonder whether its time to start thinking about talk shows in a new way. Jay Kernis, NPRs vice president for programming, was at the conference. He called news an alien form to talk radio, and news departments should not run talk shows.

He has a point. Good journalism always seeks to verify facts. And verifying facts on a live talk show is very difficult. Lets say a caller to my live show, These Days, insists that the mayor of San Diego was once a Hari Krishna. How do I know thats not true? We could try to call the mayors office to check it out while were on the air, but we probably wouldnt get an immediate answer. Thus, a likely misstatement of fact slips through with no timely correction.

And what about the host? Do listeners want the host to be a neutral moderator the journalistic model or to be a jovial companion who cracks jokes and tells you whats on his mind? Maybe talk shows should be considered entertainment, rather than journalism. But does that mean we should be interviewing naked women like Howard Stern does?

At These Days we think about this stuff too. Thankfully, our show has a mission statement that I always find useful whenever I dust if off and read it. Heres what it says on this subject:

These Days approach to talk radio is journalistic, with high value placed on fairness, accuracy and a spirited dedication to the truth. The show seeks to be thorough and intelligent, in keeping with the overarching values of public radio.

Maybe what we do is journalism or maybe its merely journalistic. What matters in the end is deciding what your values are and trying to live up to them. After that, I guess you interview whoever you want, naked or clothed.

The trolley downtown

Ever since San Diegos Metropolitan Transit System opened its green line, with a stop at San Diego State, Ive wanted to take the trolley downtown to find out how quick it was. KPBS is on the SDSU campus. So last week, when I had a 1:30 meeting at the country courthouse downtown, I took the trolley. Heres my report.

From embarkation to terminus my downtown stop being the Santa Fe Station it took about 40 minutes. That does not include time spent walking to and from trolley stops or time waiting for the trolley to arrive. All things considered, it wasnt bad. As usual the trolley ran on time, provided a comfortable ride and allowed me to read some research in preparation for my upcoming show.

But I did lose at least five valuable minutes changing trains at Old Town station. The fact that people heading downtown from Mission Valley now have to transfer at Old Town not the case with the old blue line has been a deal breaker for some people I know who have weighed taking the trolley versus driving.

My advice to the MTS: Make the necessary changes to the cars or the tracks so that the green line can keep going. Small time savings make a big difference to busy folks who have the option to drive.

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