The pesky arc, part I

When I was younger, I wanted desperately to be different from my parents. And I am. The dog lives inside and climbs on whatever furniture he wants, for example. Our cats are decidedly more indoor than out. My husband and I don’t have a perfect marriage (does anyone?), but it’s very solid. I’ve never owned a car for less than 5 years, and I’ve never bought a new one.

Then there’s the truth: I am very much like my folks. My house will always be “lived in” (that means messy). I am stubborn, just like my dad. Though I’m hesitant to ride on a boat with my father (a few really bad experiences scared me off), I love the water.

I love books and reading, like my mom. I was in her attic the other day and found the boxes of books that lined every house we grew up in. The original blue woven color of Nancy Drew mysteries were some of my mom’s first books, and she passed them on to me.

Mom dragged my brother, sister, and I to the organic health food store when we lived in Athens, Ohio in the mid 70s, long before such things were considered cool. When she tried serving us whole-wheat pasta, I reminded her (as only an 8-year old can), that “spaghetti is white!” And let’s not even talk about the time she tried to give us spaghetti squash with marinara sauce

Cold cucumbers soaked in white vinegar were my favorite snack after playing outside on a hot summer day. I still remember mom showing me how to pick cucumbers carefully, so my hands and arms didn’t break out from handling the plant’s prickly stalks. My mom was no gourmet cook, but she knew good food.

Now, I only eat whole-grain pasta, and I love vegetables. I’ve never craved sugar-coated cereal, except for a brief college obsession. All because of my mama.

Next up: The Pesky Ark, Part II: Mom’s Summer of ‘64 in Nashville

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Posted in Life, Music, Uncategorized, Writing


Been gone a long time, yet I can’t quite say goodbye to this blog. Since I’ve gone to work for the United Methodist Church, I’ve hung back from the music scene and public media.

I’m ready for that to change.

Part of the reason I stood back for awhile was that I needed the break. My years at West Virginia Public Broadcasting were great, especially the last few, when I had the opportunity to do some cool stuff with some really talented people.

In the end, though, I wanted to explore options that my role there would not have allowed me to. I wanted to get better at something I felt a natural affinity with: connecting story with an audience. When this is done with care and attention, the community wins – and grows – with the content. In the end, it’s something you make together. For me, there is nothing more rewarding than that.

The years at WEKU were incredible. I learned so much there about the other side of public media. PTFP grants, stretching the hell out of a budget, watching our work reach new platforms and audiences. Really cool stuff – and incredibly hard work.

The recent struggles at West Virginia Public Broadcasting, highlighted by Phil Kabler have provided a glimpse into the struggles I experienced – and a few that I haven’t.

There’s no question that the Great Recession had an impact on revenues for public media. But, as this data shows, Public Television audience and revenue are where the hit was severe. In fact, public radio has grown in audience and revenue:

Between the years 1995 and 2010, public television stations’ cash revenues rose, plateaued and then crashed with the 2008 recession, falling altogether 14 percent: down $291 million (adjusted 2010 dollars).

Public radio stations, meanwhile, expanded their revenue by 67 percent: up $355 million.

– From “Current”, the publication for public media, January 2012

I will save the reasons for public television’s demise for another post. It can be summed up in one sentence: Public television forgot it’s core values and mission a long time ago. All you have to do is watch it for a week during a fundraiser and you will get the idea. The bottom line: you can’t insult your audience by replacing shows like the The NewsHour, Frontline, and Nova with Yanni at Red Rocks and expect revenue and viewership to go up. People have been pointing this out for a long time.

With all due respect to women’s sports (I’m a woman, after all) – WVPB’s decision to air WVU women’s basketball is a classic example. When I heard about this decision – I knew desperation must be behind it. Anything to get viewers, even if it is completely incongruous with your mission.

Kabler’s column makes the case for why public media is still needed – and necessary – in American society:

Some would argue that Public Broadcasting is an anachronism in an age when there are multiple cable networks that provide similar programming, as well as dozens of satellite radio stations and innumerable Internet radio channels.

However, not having legislative coverage through public television’s outstanding “The Legislature Today” would be a major loss for viewers around the state.

Commercial TV stations in the Charleston-Huntington market generally do a poor job covering the Legislature and, presumably, coverage is even worse (or non-existent) on TV newscasts from stations in outlying cities.

       – Phil Kabler, The Charleston Gazette, June 10, 2012

Quality local programming is a must for public media’s future – West Virginia Public Broadcasting has some great stuff on the air now. The Legislature Today and West Virginia Morning (on the radio side) are examples of local programs that serve West Virginians with high-quality content.

The problem is that WVPB simply doesn’t have the personnel at the production level to do more than they are in terms of local programming. There are some very talented, hard-working folks over there who make great content. Unfortunately, it appears that upper management at WVPB is out-of-touch with them, public media best practices, and the needs of their audience. Commercial broadcasting is driven by very different interests than public media – and right now WVPB’s top management has a commercial perspective in terms of how they run things.

That’s a problem.

Brave New World
Knowing who you are as a media organization has never been more important than it is right now. Digital and social platforms have transformed the industry, pushing us all into unfamiliar ground. It’s the classic challenge/opportunity coin. One public media outlet, Ideastream in Cleveland, Ohio, is adjusting to the new world.

Instead of a newsroom, there is a content center, where a staff of 18 prepares news and information and educational content for television, radio and the web, with support from another dozen technical and support staff. CEO Jerry Wareham, the former president and general manager of WVIZ-TV, and COO Kit Jensen, the former president and general manager of WCPN-FM, share a vision of multimedia community service. “I think this radio and TV stuff is so 20th century,” says Wareham, speaking of the traditional separate organizational structures of the services. Their numerous collaborations include Cleveland’s newspaper, The Plain Dealer, which partnered with ideastream on a four-year multimedia project“The Quiet Crisis” on the economic downturn in northeast Ohio.

Think of the possibilities this kind of silo-busting presents for the state of West Virginia.

I highly recommend Rethinking Public Media, a white paper written by Barbara Cochran in 2010 for more on the challenges and opportunities that face public media. The possibilities are there; in fact, they are limitless. And we as a society need it.

But, the leadership at the top must have a deep understanding and commitment to public service with the community. They must love and cherish public media and what it can do to enhance the lives of West Virginians.

I hope they do, because West Virginia needs and deserves a great public media service.

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Posted in Life, Music, New Media, Public Media

Don’t be afraid of the new thing…

Ah, summer. Life finally slowing down for a bit after a rather manic spring season. And, I’m thinking it’s time for a change in terms of this blog. I’m trying out some new stuff tech-wise; starting spaces over on tumblr and typepad, which bills itself as a slightly more professional wordpress kinda thing. So far, I find it a bit more difficult to deal with, though that’s probably due to my familiarity with wordpress more than anything else. I also started to dabble around with google + (I was lucky enough to get an invite from a friend), and so far, it looks pretty cool.

First of all, both Google + (GP) and tumblr are minimalist compared to Facebook and WordPress. Google + has a cleaner overall interface, which I like. I also like the way GP organizes by ‘circles’. I refrain from posting certain things to my current FB page – because I don’t want everyone I’m ‘friends’ with on FB to see it. With GP, I can control who sees what. To be fair, FB has the ability to direct posts too, but the process is a bit less streamlined.

Tumblr is a blogging web space. Again, clean, simple, and good design are built in and easy to get started with. I like the fact that I can upload photos up to 10MG in size – something you cannot do on FB. I also like the link-friendly way tumblr allows users to share photos and other content. It allows for a more seamless posting experience, which is nice. Sometimes I spend way too much time adjusting photos/text alignment in wordpress…it’s frustrating. On the downside, I can only post one audio file per day, which could be troublesome if I began hyper-producing audio pieces again.

Both GP and tumblr reflect the changing digital platform space for content delivery. It will be interesting to see how they fare.

Stay tuned…and in the meantime enjoy some Plej:



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Posted in Life, Music, New Media


I want one of these.

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Posted in New Media, Uncategorized

Let ’em go…

One of my favorite U2 songs ever is ‘Bad’. It’s the song that made the band famous in the glorious days of the mullet, which Bono showed off quite well at Live Aid in 1985.  It’s a song about heroin addiction, which was a bit of an issue in the economically depressed town of Dublin, Ireland at the time.

It’s made me think of how we as a country have been addicted to the drug of fear for the past decade. And now, the person who was the face of that fear is gone. Leaving us to struggle along without an object to vilify or blame.

If I could, through myself/Set your spirit free
I’d lead your heart away/See you break, break away
Into the light/And to the day

Maybe I’m way off here…but those words remind me a little of the Gethsemane prayer of Jesus. In my head today, I’m thinking this is what God might pray for us:

If you should ask then maybe they’d
Tell you what I would say
True colors fly in blue and black
Blue silken sky and burning flag
Colors crash, collide in blood shot eyes

If I could, you know I would
If I could, I would
Let it go

This desparation
In temptation

Let it go

Best version of the tune is this one, IMHO.  Here’s the Live Aid performance:

Posted in faith, Life, Music, Music Monday

Starting Fresh..again

I’m like most writers I know who care about what they write.
I obsess about each word I choose. I worry about being good enough.
And yet, nothing pleases me more than reading a good sentence.

It really doesn’t matter what you write for. I’ve written or radio, web, and print…and the obsession is the same.

It’s part of the reason I haven’t blogged nearly as much as I would like – nor as often as reasonably good ideas come to me. Stories are everywhere, after all, if one pays attention.

Since I am in confession mode – here’s the other truth: I am a person of faith. A follower of Jesus Christ – or at least I try to be. I have hesitated to share that faith in this space, but that is something I’m going to try to change.

Music. Faith. Creating stuff. This is who I am and what I’m going to be more faithful in writing about.

I hope.

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Posted in faith, Life

freedom to play

Wow. Nearly a month since my last post. I guess my head just hasn’t been in the right place for blogging.

It’s been busy. In early March, I went to the Duke Center for Documentary Studies to learn how to make audio slideshows using still photos and well, audio. Big Shed, a group of media producers I remember well from my pub radio days partnered with CDS to do the training.

I purposely chose photography, to work on an area of weakness I’m falling in love with. My partner, Krissa, did a great job gathering the audio for our piece. Then, we sat down and put the final product together.

We were told our piece had to be 60 seconds long. I took nearly 500 photos on the shoot, Krissa had about 30 minutes of tape.

Whittling it down to a minute was tough, but it forced us to really think about the heart of our story, something any producer/writer knows is maybe the toughest part of creating this kind of content.

The applications of this form of story-telling for the church (and just about anything, are infinite). I’m excited to apply and share what I’ve learned with others, especially young folks in the church.

The best part of the weekend for me is that I went to play and learn. I wasn’t worried about being the best – or worst – at the stuff we were learning. It was liberating to learn something that brought together skills I already have (writing, audio) and developing new ones (photography).

Play more. That’s what I learned.

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Posted in Life, New Media, Photos
@laurahallen on Twitter

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