BrookSide: Talking public media with Ellen Rocco

November 03, 2014

Three years ago, Adirondack Foundation and North Country Public Radio partnered to meet a $300,000 community information challenge from The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Donors responded valiantly to the daunting challenge, meeting this year’s deadline. As a result, nearly $700,000 has poured into NCPR’s “21st Century Public Media on a Rural Map” project.

The project accomplished five major goals: all NCPR platforms are now part of a single, integrated resource for the people of the Adirondack region; the community plays a bigger role in imagining and shaping what they receive from NCPR; the breadth and depth of regional news and information content have increased; the next generation of public media professionals now has a training and employment path through NCPR; two news bureaus are established, including one in Plattsburgh, led by NCPR-trained-and-mentored young journalist Zach Hirsch. A Glens Falls bureau to improve coverage in the southern Adirondacks is planned. It just keeps going and growing.

“Adirondack Foundation is part of an increasing number of community foundations working to be sure residents get the information they need to make important decisions about their communities,” says Trabian Shorters, Knight Foundation’s past vice president. “Ultimately, our democracy will thrive only if we have informed and engaged communities.”

Cali Brooks sat down with Ellen Rocco recently to discuss the impact of the project.


Cali Brooks: What is the most important impact of this project work?

Ellen Rocco: Three key impact areas: 1) We reach and interact with a much larger audience via expanded digital activities, 2) We have created a pathway for the next generation to enter the public media world through mentoring, hands-on training and opportunities to do real work, and, 3) We have expanded our news operation and offerings to reach and serve more people more deeply, with opportunities to engage the public in the storytelling process.

Cali: What lessons has NCPR learned, including keys to success?

Ellen: This project underscored something we knew but were reminded of time and time again: substantive public media and journalism specifically is staff-intensive. We started to move much more satisfactorily toward our project goals when staff and new contributors were fully integrated and committed to those goals. Seems simplistic but that’s what happened.

Cali: What lessons came from unexpected challenges you’ve faced?

Ellen: Two important lessons. First, we learned we had to be very serious and intentional about who we brought into our next generation effort. Initially, we pretty much took any young people interested in working in public media. Eventually, we became much more selective and, at the same time, we developed a best practices method for mentoring and training. We now have an exceptional cadre of young journalists and media-makers affiliated with the station. Second, we were guessing at what we needed in terms of a digital editor/producer to connect broadcast with new digital undertakings. During the last year of the project, we figured out a lot of what we do and don’t need in that position…and there’s still more to learn.


Cali: Have you collaborated with other organizations?

Ellen: Yes, in a variety of settings and on a wide range of projects. Collaborators have included individual artists, photographers, writers; nonprofit organizations, libraries, and schools. In addition, we have worked on training opportunities as well as news collaborations with other nonprofit and commercial journalists.

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