Should I Try to Indeminfy?
July 4, 2016 10:09 AM   Subscribe

I'm working on a book about the public radio pledge drive. I'm looking at how and why they work as they do and what might be done to make them work better. I'll be referring to specific examples of what I think are weaknesses in how stations conduct them and how those practices, in turn, annoy listeners and hurt drive effectiveness. Does that mean I have to identify the stations?

I'm finding these are industry-wide practices, not just of the sample of stations I've followed and examined. I don't want those stations to feel picked on, though I think they will and consequently, feel unfairly treated. Is there any way around this problem or, in the course of good research, must I identify them as proof that they actually did what I say they did?
posted by CollectiveMind to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Can you give some context? Are you a communications researcher? Media marketing professional? Avid but irritated listener? Why book length rather than an editorial or article?

I suspect many of these stations are working from a best practices approach developed over many years nationally, in conjunction with NPR. In fact, I suspect much of it is evidence-based and carefully planned. You'd probably want to dig into that issue -- research what folks in the industry know -- before you make your decision and write your critiques.

What you find annoying might be effective practice.

But, in general, if you are critiquing a specific practice, sure, use specific examples.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:23 AM on July 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

If you conclude that you need to name them, it can help to be extremely factual: Station A did X and got Y results. Station B did S and got T results. These are representative examples. The data suggests X typically leads to Y and S typically leads to T.

But, generally speaking, it is your writing and you likely have a lot of choice as to how to handle this. I typically try to remove identifying information where possible and extract the essential info of X leads to Y without naming where that info came from.

There are situations where you just can't sanitize it. Some data is inherently identifying if you say anything meaningful about it. At that point, you can either err on the side of "polite" and say nothing or err on the side of being useful and tell the story anyway. You can make it more palatable by not suggesting incompetence, malice, immorality, etc. in the way you frame things.

It can also help to list both pros and cons when describing specific outcomes and to propose solutions, if you have any. In other words, bring solutions, not complaints: "Most stations do X and it leads to Y. Although this is standard practice, so completely understandable, a small subset does S and gets T results. Unless your goal is specifically G, S seems to be a better approach to the problem space."
posted by Michele in California at 10:34 AM on July 4, 2016

I think it would be ideal to identify stations unless they signed a specific NDA with you. I have followed you since you started writing about this here, and I think there is a reason to identify best practices based on who started them while also identifying creator sources, like Mal Warwick, etc.
posted by parmanparman at 10:39 AM on July 4, 2016

In my quick search of the scholarly literature there is a ton of research on this already. I assume that this knowledge spreads at public radio conferences.
posted by k8t at 11:02 AM on July 4, 2016

I will add that it will also depend upon the goal of your writing. What are you trying to accomplish here?

However much writing or research already exists is irrelevant. A lot of research is poorly done. If you have something solid, you may well be adding real value. If you do have something solid, it will pay off to stick to the facts and be as neutral as possible and let your readers draw their own conclusions about certain aspects of it.
posted by Michele in California at 11:07 AM on July 4, 2016

In my experience as a scientist doing stuff-of-public-interest if a reporter or writer names a specific person or entity they will also give that entity a chance to be interviewed or to respond or clarify in some way. If you do that you'll likely get some very frank and good answers since public radio is not a corporatin but I suppose there's a slim chance you might get stonewalled. If you don't contact them your book might be regarded as a hack job no matter how good it is just because you didn't.
posted by fshgrl at 11:13 AM on July 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'd need more information about who this book is for, what you're trying to accomplish, who you are, and what your interest is—partly for the reason that fshgrl names above. Like: do you have any relevant expertise here? What can you as author add?
posted by listen, lady at 12:26 PM on July 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm finding these are industry-wide practices, not just of the sample of stations I've followed and examined. I don't want those stations to feel picked on, though I think they will and consequently, feel unfairly treated.

Will your book discuss these stations in other contexts as well? Because it's easy enough to write, "All of the XX stations I visited use Y and Z techniques, which isn't surprising--they are industry-wide practices meant to bolster pledge-drive returns. But as I've discovered, these approaches are actually damaging." Etc.

If these are industry-wide practices (and you can prove it and cite your sources), then you don't have to identify each individual station in this section of your book A. if you use similar language to above and B. you list those stations elsewhere. At least, that's one way I might have approached it back in my reporting days. Because you're not attempting to call out these individual stations, you're attempting to call out one or more ineffective standard practices. So there's no need to be all pointy-fingered about it as long as you provide context, etc. IMHO. (Me mail me if this answer is confusing.)
posted by Bella Donna at 2:03 PM on July 5, 2016

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