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This is a federal case a weekly show that takes up an issue of government and takes a good look in Washington D.C.. I'm a producer for the national educational radio network. You know it's an interesting thing that newspapers newsletters magazines exist in quantities. Commenting and criticizing the oil industry. What's new in sardine packing. What's going on in computer software. There is virtually nothing that does that in communications and indeed until very recently you'll notice if you look at your local paper. Watch your local TV station listen to your local radio station. There is a lot of criticism and evaluation of what goes on in other professions. None about what goes on in communications has been a sort of gentlemen's agreement among communicators for a long long time. That you don't comment.
On the neighbor's ballgame. We think that's wrong. We think it's needed. We're trying to feel part of that cat. The man you just heard is Peter Strauss. What he's talking about is pretty simple. When you watch the news every night on television you get a lot of facts about what happened that day in your town and in the federal government and around the world. But you don't really know whether the news you're getting is the very best whether the guy is reading it to us stumbling more than he should or whether he left out a sentence or two or more important whether he has any sense at all of what is really going on behind the story and whether you even cares. For all you know he may be far more interested in making money than in being a good professional responsible communicator of the news. Now Peter Strauss is running an operation to try to make the people who run newspapers and radio and television stations
do a better job. He probably has a weekly newsletter which he sends out to broadcasters and editors who subscribe to it for fifty dollars a year. This newsletter has the swinging title of Strauss's editor's report. The reason we're making a federal case out of this particular operation is that a team Niek this newsletter serves a purpose that nothing else does. It brings the press in the media all over the country a little closer together and it makes them look hard at what they're doing to see if it's good enough. Furthermore this is one of the many operations that go on in Washington D.C. without being a part of the federal government. Sure it's here because the government is here but it's a private enterprise. Even so. This newsletter is trying to perform a service the government can't if they even began to try the screaming about freedom of speech would make us all deaf. Strauss himself is a fellow in
his 40s who owns three radio stations in New York and was worked in and out of the federal government in the fields of labor and international relations. We're going to hear him explain first exactly what he's trying to do every week with this newsletter. What we try to do editor's report is to tell the editor the publisher the broadcaster what's happening of concern to his trade his profession his business. Copy that by and large is not of interest to his readers. I think we have a kind of double purpose one is to keep him apprised of things that are going on. In Washington and elsewhere in the country the concern him has a newspaper discovered a new technique for the women's pages in San Francisco. If so. The guy in Dallas or the guy in Tallahassee may be very interested in that or if a television station has tried a new format. For late night programming in some city and it bombed. It was terrible.
Nobody chose to watch it. That would be a minister other television broadcasters. That's one part of it. The other part is covering governmental affairs that concern them. And the. Second sort of separate department of what we're trying to do is the role of critic. Commentator if you will on public communications the United States if you were a newspaper editor or a radio station manager you might have received an advertisement for Strauss's editors report that began by saying you've been missing a valuable new source of management inside then I would go on to hint at some of the stuff you would have missed like broadcasters and publishers face an increased tax bite from state and local governments and qualified Negro town is hard to find. Try these five sources. And be warned but not intimidated by the Justice Department warnings about using tapes from Iron Curtain countries. Now
here's what you can do. That's the kind of facts this newsletter gives out. Now you're going to hear about how this operation works and how the publication is set up. Why did you set up Strauss editors report to operate out of Washington. It seemed to us that after a bit of market research and thinking about it that. 80 percent of what the editors the publishers the broadcasters in the country. Need to know and want to know more about. Are the things that happen in Washington. You can cover newspapers obviously from any place in the country and if you want to do a lot of travel and the group here is you can also cover TV in magazines. Local papers radio stations. But it still comes back to the fact that for publishers and broadcasters. A very great part of the things that they're concerned about things that are happening in Washington on the Hill.
In the capital. In the legislature. In the attorney general's office in the Federal Communications Commission the Post Office Department. And in general these are the things about which they feel ill informed and a little bit at a loss they want to know more about it and there is no trade publication that covers both these fields and tells them what's going on that. We think they want to know. How much of a guarantee is it that you're going to continue to send out a weekly report on the good Lord willing we hope not to get run over to die on the spot we're going to keep going. Are you making money. No we're not making money yet we don't our projections are that we'll be breaking even a year from now or something like that. But our concern is not that at this stage Fortunately we're adequately finance for the moment our concern is to do a job that we think needs doing. And I must say that so far the reaction has been well encouraging us I guess the most conservative way of stating it's
been absolutely fabulous indicating to us that the need that we thought was there is in fact how many newspapers and television stations radio stations subscribe. Well one of the secrets of the newsletter trade we had discovered getting into it is that you get read out of the society if you give circulation figures. What I don't know is letter does that for a variety of reasons it's sort of grown up as a tradition and they just don't like to do it. If you. Take advertising. You have to give circulation figures as all newspapers and broadcasters know. But newsletters don't take advertising so there's no real reason to give out circulation figures and in general terms since most of our subscribers 80 percent of them are professionals that is people who are known to their colleagues. And who work for companies that are known they by and large don't like to be listed on subscriber lists.
OK but let me ask you this if you're happy with your subscription you have a very very yes why did you pick the title you pick. We went through. I suppose the same agonies that an author goes through for a magazine article or a book you know you put 100 titles on a page and then you pick them apart. And we sat down and did that for a good many weeks. We thought of some that are much sort of snappy are much more hip. It seemed to us that what we were really talking about was a fairly workman like piece in a fairly responsible piece that would come out weekly and would tell professionals in the field what they're interested in. We hope what they're saying. And so we pick the kind of a conservative title editors report it seemed to us said about what what we are about. It's for editors it's also for publishers. But the editor is the guy when you really come to it on the news side of broadcasting and the information side of broadcasting.
And in newspapering who is the focal point for what goes on he's the guy who decides subject matter he's the guy should be the best informed. So we directed at him. He's the guy we think about when we write the piece. How many people he used to get your information for you. We we're five professionals here and a couple of other staff people and then we have a big and growing list of stringers. Who. Cover the major cities in the country for us from there and call in their reports. It's four pages. Is that a good length. Anticipate making it bigger. I don't think so. First of all the just the tradition of newsletters is that by and large they are four pages. Two. A very big part of the response and as I say it's been in credibly good beyond our wildest dreams and hopes. A very large part of the response consists in saying Sure we'll take your newsletter show we'll pay for it if you can give us in a short time.
Some kind of a capsule of the highlights of what it is. You think. We should know. That has happened in the United States in the last week in our profession. We because inevitably I suppose like for busy executives news people editors publishers managers directors. Are busy. And I think we probably can expect them to spend more time with us than it takes to get through a four page newsletter. Why did you start this. You get into this in the last year because you felt the same way that there was a lack of because you had a background that would make you very interested in this one. We've been in newspaper publishing a bit and broadcasting a lot. And so I suppose I and a lot of other people in the organization began to think that there was a need just from our own professional experience. But if I had to put my finger on the single thing that sparked the idea originally it goes back
some years it's been the back of my mind for some years. When I returned to broadcasting from government service some time ago it's now I did 10 years ago. I really wanted to find out what was going on in that venue. Radio This was the early days of you should excuse the expression rock n roll but it was making big inroads in the country and listenership nobody knew much about it nobody knew where it came from or what in the world was happening with it or why. We know now in retrospect and it's easy to see with 20 20 hindsight that what was happening was a new view of. What younger people want. The beginnings of the generation gap kind of problem and so on but nobody knew that at the time. And the only way I could find out what was going on was to travel around the country which I did for two months with two radio sets in case one went out listening to stations.
I would have paid a lot of money for a newsletter publication service of some kind which said here's what's happening. This is the most exciting thing that's happened in Seattle radio in the last five years. Station in Dublin. OK something rather has done doesn't so there was until we started publishing a few months ago. There never has been. A publication that does that gives you a view of what's going on around the country where new ideas are born all the time you know those of us who live on the East Coast New York City Washington other classics let's assume that. Where the fountains of all knowledge and all good ideas begin here it's all. In Communication terms. In my view the exact opposite is the truth. New York Washington D.C. Are the last places to catch on a good idea. It usually gets started you know in Kansas City or Peoria
or someplace. A guy has a very good idea and it works. Otherwise why is that. That is an interesting question I'm not sure I know the answer to and I suppose that all it really says is that wisdom is about equally. Spread around the country despite the the views of some of us who are the more prevention on the East Coast I don't think so. How much of a critic are you in your report. We try to. Criticize I suppose the classic phrase is constructively. We pointed out for example when Robert Taylor died. He died of lung cancer I believe but very few papers very few of the wire services. Very few broadcast organizations bothered to mention that he was a heavy smoker. We thought that was relevant. We did a study of it reported on who did it and who didn't mention that fact. And subsequently when someone else
tragically enough and I forget who that was a couple of months later died. Same general symptoms I'm not a doctor. It was widely reported almost uniformly. That seem to be some cause and effect relationship. I think that's important and I think it probably would not have happened had not someone mention that you know one of the first time around. So we tried using some pretty the style in additives report it varies a lot and sometimes you're a little tongue in cheek sometimes you get your straight informative sometimes you're here you get a little inside bit of information as I'm not sure I want to laugh and humorous style. Why do you have to style vary so much. We're dealing with professional communicators. They their trade. Is words. The language. They're. Pretty. Good critic critics themselves of style and content.
And if you don't keep them a little off base and interlarded it with some change of pace you're going to get bored. They see a lot of copy every one of our subscribers read an awful lot of stuff in the course of a week. I think ours has to be just a little bit brighter and a little bit. A little bit more fun to read than the average or we're not going to get their attention. We like to think about it and we visualize this guy who has big responsibilities and who doesn't wear an eye shade and garters around the sleeves anymore. It was a pretty sophisticated American dealing communicating with large numbers of people every day. We like to think of sort of reaching across the desk to him and getting him by the coat lapel if he still has his coat on and getting his attention for five minutes seven minutes. You can't do that. Unless the. Unless the writing is pretty bright.
Would you tell me a little bit more about what your exact role is in this. What do you do and how you got into it. I really try to do two things here. One is preside over the operation in the sense that we want to see it grow and be more more effective. And that means signing stories on occasion thinking of ideas and supervising the rest of the staff who are really very well equipped but any newsletter has to have a single focus each week or each month so somebody has to do that. That's me. The other part of the job since they or all the other people on the staff work a lot harder than I do. The other part of the job is to try and think where we're going three months from now six months from now six years from now. The rest of our editors and reporters are really busy on the stories for this week and checking the facts digging out the
information. Somebody is going to think about what it is. John Smith. Editor Midwest town is going to want to know about six months or so I spend most of it. Well how do you come up with what they want six months from now. Talk to a lot of them spend a lot of time on the telephone. A lot of time traveling and and listening. Very often that editor that general manager of a broadcasting station does not himself have very much time to put his feet up and think about what he'd like to know if he had his druthers would he like to know the Nexus. But if you sit him down and cause him to not answer the phone for a few minutes and not dictate. Mail. You can find out quite a lot. Can I get you to give me an example of something you think that a lot of newspaper editors in the country are going to be interested in six months from now.
Yes one of the things we're doing out right now is an I think terribly interesting one the whole question of polling and circulation of who you reach in a newspaper or with a radio or television station has become much more sophisticated over the past couple of years two or three years and I think we have to begin to give some leads to trade associations and broadcasters and publishing organizations. As to how they might go about finding out a little more about whether the average reader viewer listener spends 10 minutes with you a day 10 minutes a month or five hours a day really with you concentrating on your communications. That's the kind of thing that I think we've got to do when thinking about why does it help them. This kind of information presumably helps them do well. It helps in one obvious way. Length of one of the standard debates is how long should an article be how long should a negatory will be how long should a commercial be all of these.
How many pages should a paper be optimum. How long should a program be a half hour is the kind of classic television like. Is that the right and I don't think we really know. It's just grown like topsy. If you think TV is like radio only with pictures you don't think like Peter Strauss. Now we talked for a minute about what's happening the television the radio and the differences between them. I would think that the major problem with television is its very size. The numbers of people to whom it talks. What they want from it in very large measure is entertainment. I think there's no question about how far you can lead them. And I believe you can lead them to want more egghead kinds of things more of the time than is often now given. But how far you can get out ahead of what people really want is something that I don't think anybody knows the answer to. And as long as it is an advertising medium and an important advertising medium and a wildly expensive
way of communicating with people in large numbers we are going to have these problems of what goes on the air. The real difficulty the underlying difficulty with television is that despite the fact that you and I sit at home and so does everybody else in America. And think of television as being free once you've invested in a quite expensive set. It is anything but it is the most expensive way ever imagine my manner of communicating to large numbers of people. You can print newspapers in 72 colors you can stand on your head and send blimps over with signs on and all of that is cheaper than getting this piece of electronic equipment to function in the home. It's a very expensive way of getting a newscaster and information broadcast over what was the outcome of that you do less and less communicating with information as a result of that was part of what you're saying. Now but it has to carry a very heavy commercial that is to say monitor fiscal load. And I think it is probably true
that information hard. And important and sometimes controversial information is more likely to get more widespread in the United States over the coming years by the cheaper media. Cheaper I mean economically. Less expensive. Radio is. At once the most economical and most inexpensive way that contrast of television that's ever been discovered by men. You cannot hire kids at your school to put handbills under doors or think of any other form of communication that is as inexpensive as rape. So that it is. An easy thing to deal with and extremely flexible and change without having to have newsprint or camera crews. You can change the subject matter from minute to minute and
change what you or. How you're relating to your audience. Something that's. Been much too much much too little understood I think by broadcasters and people around them. It's a medium that we're just beginning to experiment with Interesting. Mr. Strauss is essentially an optimist. You ask him what's wrong with something and he talks about the challenges you're going to hear him do that and you're also going to hear him talk about the kind of effect he'd like his trade newsletter to have and all communications in the country. And if nothing else after this program we should have some sense about one of the many operations that are located in Washington that have no connection with Congress or the White House and yet are trying to perform a genuine national service. Well let me see if I can get you to generalize from it about some things you think are wrong with radio and television in the newspaper profession in the country.
It's awfully easy to say what's wrong. I think one of the most exciting things going on. In the profession is the rapidity of change. The. Emergence of very rapidly now of a consciousness on the part of editors both electronic and print of the need to dig to do the background piece to tell not just who what where when and why but background what does it mean. What is it. Where is it taking us. How do we get there. How do we get to that place. That kind of. More thoughtful. Carefully prepared piece is seen more and more now in front pages of papers even shows on television and radio broadcasts. The communications arts or profession are changing more rapidly
now than than than ever before for all kinds of obvious reasons. There's a lot wrong. I think probably most easily summarized. By a kind of Maj you know line philosophy where it exists. There are newspapers there are broadcasting operations in the country that still are communicating in a fashion that may or may not have been suitable in the early 1900s and surely does not relate to today. The advent of television has made the single biggest change obviously has made a great change in what people want out of their radio. The radio station they listen to and it's made enormous change out of what people want from their newspaper and their news magazine. The difficulties for example that life and look the Nationals are in Saturday Evening Post of late lamented fame. The difficulties that they're having are television difficulties. Basically they did not adapt. There may
not be room I daresay there may not be room in the United States and need in the United States for a mass circulation picture magazine 10 years from now. Because the picture magazine is on the tube in 90 percent of the homes in America. And 5 percent homes. So mass circulation magazines are going to have to do something else there are a lot of things they can do. But how do they adapt to this change that's going to be interesting to watch. It's the adaptation of a total communications effort the United States that. It is going to be the most interesting thing in my view to watch over the next 10 years. What's your name what's your overall aim I mean you say its editors report continues for another year or two what they want to see happening in the country as a result. Happening in the newspapers and the radio on television stations. Broadcasting for some time has thought of itself as entertainment primarily
in more recent years. It's thought of itself also as a news medium information medium. Newspapers for a much longer time have. Thought of themselves as a news profession. But only recently. And really only recently with the joint operation between broadcast and print and many many cities that is to say there are many newspaper organizations that have radio and television stations. On the contrary many radio television stations that newspaper affiliates only in recent years and when this is begun to happen. Have we begun to see the emergence of a journalistic profession whether electronic or print. What we would like to see is the growth of that profession. Greater interchanges between the two the electronic and print elements of people greater flexibility going back and forth.
And more self-consciousness if you will in the sense that. We believe there should be more criticism or introspection. This is not just. A moneymaking business this communications business. It's not just entertainment and it's not even just information. It is a profession. If 10 years from now we have contributed to the building. Body of professional knowledge and a consciousness of this is a distinct profession will be very very pleased what we've done. This is been a federal case. Your correspondent and. This program was distributed by the national educational radio network.
A Federal Case
Episode Number
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National Educational Radio Network
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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"A Federal Case" is a weekly program produced by the National Educational Radio Network which examines current political topics in the United States and Washington, D.C. Each episode features interviews with experts, members of the public, and lawmakers concerning a specific issue of government.
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Politics and Government
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Producing Organization: National Educational Radio Network
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University of Maryland
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Duration: 00:29:30
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