October 15, 2013

A few days before the government shutdown, the former co-host of “The Takeaway” launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $92,000 for an independent radio show covering the often-ignored world between the two coasts.

But because of the Washington stalemate, the fundraising campaign to produce a show that’s not about the Beltway was canceled — for now.

“Believe me, the irony is not lost,” Celeste Headlee said.

Several factors prompted the suspension of the campaign, Headlee said, including problems filing paperwork with closed government offices and the busy schedules of people helping to develop the show who are also covering the shutdown.

Really, it was just bad timing, Headlee said.

The campaign relaunches on Oct. 25, with a push to raise the money needed to independently produce the hour-long news show and podcast called “Middle Ground.” The show’s producers will be asking for less money, too — down to $59,000 with the decision to seek three months’ funding instead of six.

Headlee, who started her career in Flagstaff, Ariz., and later worked in Detroit, Mich., found stories in those two locations that national radio just never picked up. And the kinds of stories they did choose to air fit into already comfy narratives about those places. From Arizona, most of Headlee’s stories that got selected were about Native Americans, she said. From Detroit, the national stories always focused on the ongoing decay of the city and troubles faced by the auto industry.

But there’s much more there to cover.

“Anybody that’s worked in the national media, if they’re being honest, they’re aware of a coastal bias,” Headlee said.

It’s not malicious, she points out quickly. “There’s no conspiracy theory to downplay the middle of the country.”

To cover the territory well, “Middle Ground” will pay for stories from local reporters. It doesn’t make sense to parachute reporters in, Headlee said, when writers there drive down those streets daily and know those communities.

Headlee, who currently lives in Washington, D.C., says several radio stations in the area east of California and west of the Eastern Seaboard are interested in serving as the show’s home. Once a location is chosen, she’ll move there. She’s working with Sue Goodwin, former executive producer of NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” senior editor Jacob Conrad, formerly of “Day to Day,” and producer Chris Gauthier. For now, Headlee said, everyone’s working on the show during his or her spare time.

Once funded, “Middle Ground” would join a number of successful crowd-funded radio shows and podcasts, including “Investigating Internships” from ProPublica, and Andrea Seabrook’s “Decode DC.” Community funding also got KHOI on the air in Ames, Iowa.

The whole idea behind funding the news show wouldn’t have been possible in the past, Headlee says, but with social media and growing partnerships in radio, people are more willing to support a show like “Middle Ground.”

“I think, in the end, it’s a better way to serve the public,” she said.


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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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