State of the Re:Union – Challenge Semi-Finalist


Our adaptive challenge

In a recent report by NPR on public media’s reach, it is clear that public media is doing an excellent job connecting with its current listeners but it needs to expand to a wider audience. Too easily media of substance can get drowned out by all of the commercial content being created. What public media needs is something that will bring attention to work that’s being done. In essence, we need to bring sexy back to public media. The Wall is a delivery system created by State of the Re:Union (SOTRU) that takes media that matters and brings it to the public – it doesn’t wait to be discovered. The Wall will be set up wherever people are, and with its sleek technology and content, it will create a gravitational pull to reach audiences public media could never access.

Why it is important that our organization address this challenge, and why now?

SOTRU must address the significant shift in media consumption while maintaining its goals to produce valuable public media and connect listeners through story. Immediate action is required in order for SOTRU to remain current and competitive, but, more importantly, because the state of our communities requires it. We live in a world where we are more connected than ever, but with less connection — because much of the content at our fingertips lacks context. However, storytelling with context is where public media excels. The Wall bridges our desires for interacting with interesting technology and connecting with media that contains context. The Wall is where content, context and connection meet.

What are the foundational assumptions that have reliably predicted success in the past that we are now questioning?

Public media was designed to be available for widespread consumption. It has served the public since its inception, and its audiences have continued to grow; generations have grown up watching Big Bird and listening to Carl Kasell. But in the last decade, the proliferation media has crowded the field and relegated public media to the sidelines. When SOTRU began, we believed that all we had to do was make engaging content and people would find it.

What is the evidence that is causing us to question our assumptions?

When host Al Letson started SOTRU, he noticed that many of the people he interacted with didn’t know what NPR was. These people were mostly between the ages of 25 and 45 and from various backgrounds. SOTRU has strived to breach those barriers to not only promote to those audiences, but to tell stories that reflect that audience. The stories we’ve told have been successful, but have had limited success in getting the community to listen and engage. There are shows and stories from public media that cross over. Perhaps the biggest example of is This American Life. TAL was wildly popular before its TV series, but grew exponentially outside public media afterwards. They found a way to cross over and reach critical mass.

What are the bold new directions we are imagining for our organization?

SOTRU will extend the reach of public media through The Wall – an interactive touchscreen story wall which records, archives and shares meaningful media. Imagine a giant iPad that travels from town to town that will allow interaction in two ways: one side will share media already produced and collected; the other side will interact with the community to collect their stories. People will respond to prompts, leave video and visual images, and participate in civic dialogue. The Wall will create a snapshot of a community by compiling the stories and highlighting the voices of that place. Just like SOTRU, The Wall will open up dialogue between people from different walks of life, and in the process create solutions to pressing issues.

Our vision of success

State of the Re:Union (SOTRU) travels around the country to bring a narrative of American life into focus. Through the lens of community, we examine the issues that divide us as well as the stories that bring us together. Our goal is to be a bridge of understanding, and to give the listener the experience of what it’s like to be a member of the community that we are engaging with. Our episodes have helped the organizations and people we feature by shining a light on their work. Additionally, our stories have helped listeners find solutions they can utilize in their own communities.

State of the Re:Union host Al Letson.
State of the Re:Union host Al Letson.
State of the Re:Union is a nationally aired public radio show that travels to different American cities and towns to tell stories about everyday people who are doing extraordinary work to help each other, to engage their community, and to overcome obstacles. The show is available as a podcast and broadcast on more than 200 public radio stations with a weekly audience of 500,000 listeners. This established platform and audience provide SOTRU the perfect opportunity to expand the public media audience via The Wall.