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How Will the Zack Initiative Change Public Radio? Check Out This Meeting Transcript We Uncovered

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In its desperation to attract younger listeners, National Public Radio has engaged in a "visioning process" centered around a programming initiative code-named Zack. "We thought Zack is exactly the kind of name NPR staffers would give their male children," one NPR staffer explained to the Boston Globe's Alex Beam last week. Beam also quoted an internal NPR planning document that addressed the theoretical Zack: "We will curate for you, and you can trust us to reflect your lifestyles and interests." Also, "newshounds ... will follow the day's big stories and tell the story to the host and the audience using relevant news and interview clips." The first Zack-inspired programming will make its debut this fall.
Fresh Airhead: Will the new, youthful NPR put more of a premium on Britney and friends?
Fresh Airhead: Will the new, youthful NPR put more of a premium on Britney and friends? Credit: Goff

Over the weekend, a disgruntled NPR employee -- call him Deep Voice -- leaked a secretly made recording of a recent Zack brainstorming session to Media Guy. An excerpt from the transcript appears here.

Female Staffer No. 1: Wait, I'm confused. How would we cover stories differently to reflect young people's "lifestyles and interests"?

Meeting Leader: That's a very good question. It's not so much that we'd cover stories differently, it's just that we'd cover different stories. Ellen, the PowerPoint?

Ellen: Right. OK, what you're seeing here is the home page of RedEye, the free daily newspaper spun off by the Chicago Tribune to try to attract younger readers. The top headlines here, I think, are instructive: "BRITNEY SPEARS OUT OF REHAB." "UMA, BOYFRIEND SPLIT." "JOLIE TO RETURN TO ANOTHER KILLER ROLE." "PHOTOS: SEE WHAT CELEBS ARE WEARING."

Male Staffer No. 1: Wow, so words like "Iraq" and "President Bush" and "Alberto Gonzales" don't appear anywhere at all, do they?

Leader: Keep in mind that RedEye was surely heavily focus-grouped. I think we can learn from Tribune executives' findings that young people today are --

Female Staffer No. 2: Stupid?

Male Staffer No. 2: High?

Leader: Why would you say high?

Male Staffer No. 2: Isn't that what the name refers to? RedEye? It's a newspaper for stoners?

Leader: Well, I don't know if they're stoners, exactly. It's probably more that their pupils are dilated because they're on antidepressants. But anyway, the stoner metaphor is a good one, because if our listeners are hungry for information about their world -- if they have the info munchies -- we want them to watch NPR first.

Female Staffer No. 2: Watch NPR?

Leader: Yes -- watch. The Zack planning initiative centers around short, curated, lifestyle-centric, viral, visually driven info-pods that will be streamed at NPR.org and our new sister site, NPRtube.org.

Female Staffer No. 2: Visually driven? Viral? You mean we're going to be creating viral videos?

Leader: Management prefers to think of it as graphically enhanced viral radio. But to answer your question, basically, yes. C'mon, people. What did you think our "visioning process" was going to entail? How do you think young people are supposed to see what celebs are wearing? Or, for that matter, not wearing? You can jaw on all you want about the purity and intimacy of radio, but the next time Britney Spears shaves her head, or shows off her vagina, do you think our younger listeners will settle for us just talking about it? Why do you think Ira Glass signed a deal to bring "This American Life" to Showtime? Anyway, Ellen? The next slide please?
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