On the Media: Open up

I’m a fan and loyal listener of On the Media. They devoted their entire show this week to the fate and future of the book and though it had plenty of good segments, I was frustrated listening to it because I knew of other interviews I wish they’d done that I could have suggested — if only they’d asked.

And so it struck me that On the Media should open up the process of making its show. When they decide to make an entire episode about one media topic — which I encourage to forestall the show’s slide into becoming just another politics and public affairs show — why shouldn’t they tell the audience — media-savvy, by definition — and ask them who they know and what they want to know. They could tell us what they’re thinking of making and we could beat that. If the BBC can publish its rundown for a daily news show to ask for input, why can’t OtM?

I would have told them about the Institute for the Future of the Book, which is doing fascinating work about not only the form of the book but the process of writing. I would have suggested that they report more about the new benefits being digital brings to books — being searchable, linkable, lasting. I might have liked to have heard a debate about John Updike’s screed against digital at the booksellers’ convention a year ago. I could have sent them lots of links about all this (and I’m not pushing to be interviewed myself… though it has been awhile). I know that many members of their audience would have had more more good suggestions.

OtM did invite listener participation. They asked us to submit 12-word novels and they read the 12 best. They were amazed at the response; that should tell them something. They asked us to design their T-shirt. And that’s cute. But it’s just a tad — albeit unintentionally — condescending: ‘Go play there, listeners, but we won’t let you in to affect the real show.’

I’m not blaming OtM’s crew. They’re operating under habit, the way it has been done forever, the only way it could be done, before the internet. But if any show should shake things up and change the way a show is made, shouldn’t it be this one?

Brian Lehrer’s public-radio show is mobilizing its audience to report. I’d like to see show’s enable their audiences to create.