Amid this newfound tranquility, the journalistic possibilities presented by public radio’s long-form brand of news look especially attractive — even (or especially) to journalists used to working in other formats. Marcus contrasts the current anxieties of print journalism (diminishing news holes, declining ad revenues, ebbing circulation, and job cuts) with what he sees in public radio in general and at WBUR in particular (passionate, enthusiastic employees, the like of which he hasn’t seen in print lately). “I don’t mean to cast aspersions on the print world,” Marcus says, “but there’s a lot of stress and cynicism there.”
Stephenson insists his jump to WBUR wasn’t linked to dissatisfaction with Ideas or the Globe; instead, he says, he’s just a huge fan of On Point. But Boeri, too, casts WBUR as a sort of oasis in the journalistic wilderness. “Newspapers have shallowed out, and TV news has bottomed out,” he says.” There’s very little real reporting anymore. [WBUR] offered me an opportunity to do in-depth reporting and pursue important stories.”
It’s also worth noting that the Boeri and Marcus hires fit La Camera’s stated goal of increasing the station’s focus on local news. Bruce Gellerman, a WBUR alum who hosted Here and Now, WBUR’s midday newsmagazine, before being dropped in 2002, says La Camera is succeeding. The station “sounds like it’s gone through a renaissance,” Gellerman says. “It’s really changed back to the mission of what ’BUR was, which was building a strong local-news organization, and that, I think, is to La Camera’s credit.”
But Gellerman also injects a note of caution regarding the future. “Right now, you’ve got National Public Radio doing Sirius [satellite radio], doing podcasting,” he says. “It won’t be too long before NPR won’t need local stations to distribute its national products. The question then is, what happens to local stations? Are listeners going to want to keep not only listening to local content, but paying for local content?”
It’s a good question, and time will tell how La Camera and WBUR meet this challenge. Given where the station was three years ago, however, it seems almost unfair to focus on problems that haven’t quite materialized. WBUR was a mess; now it’s not. For the time being, that may be enough.