$5 per copy (postage extra) Contact us to order
Dr Peter Pockley
Science Communication ®
Fax: +61 (0) 2 9660 6239
Some notes on upcoming changes to ABC Radio National
On 25 September, the ABC’s Manager of Radio National, Michael Mason, circulated to “All Staff” a memo announcing “proposed changes to a number of areas of Radio National”. He said:” These changes stem largely from the findings and recommendations of the RN Production Sustainability Project (PSP) but also from editorial considerations relating to the 2015 schedule”. Here, I make eight major points, though more can be said.
1. Million dollar cut: Unsurprisingly, this memo received wide circulation outside the confines of ABC RN staff and became the basis of critical comment FABC braches and print media. Mason said, somewhat ominously: “We are proposing very significant changes that will affect many of you. The PSP is a once in a generation opportunity for change, and it is critical that you understand the reasons behind the changes we’re proposing”. We are dealing here with a “plan” that is replete with “management-speak”; e.g. the feel-good term “sustainability” really means “our budget has been cut and this is what is left for us to survive on”. Concomitantly, the report is light on real substance. Seriously, too, the “proposals” are, in effect, decisions that have already been made and the ink is only waiting to dry.
2. Details needed: Particularly disappointing for not only RN staff but equally for RN’s many supporters in radioland is that the report meekly accepts the cuts which have been handed down and shows no sign that RN “management” debated the financial consequences with those higher up the management chain, first stop being the national Director of Radio, Kate Dundas, and finally the Managing Director, Mark Scott. FABC would do a public service by asking for details of the cuts to RN and equivalent statements for any budget changes – up or down – for 2013 in other main divisions like TV, News, and Web/Online. Who has really been driving the shrinking of RN?
3. Senior responses needed: This is a time, not for descent into micromanagement “solutions” for dealing with budget cuts (as described in Mason’s memo to staff), but for framing strong and convincing arguments for retention of the specialist units and producers who give RN its special character with its unique contributions of fact and independent analysis to national affairs. Most unfortunately, this report on RN is devoid of such context, primarily, in ABC as a whole, and, secondly, as a major division in ABC Radio. This is why substantive responses need to come from the Director of Radio and the Managing Director.
3. Some issues addressed, but: The report makes useful comments on some areas of production and there is an overdue recognition of “succession” issues as prominent staff move towards retirement. Also, the proposed Creative Audio Unit sounds interesting but it is only vaguely defined and does not have an obvious, committed champion from within RN staff to establish and lead it. Overall, I cannot perceive anything proposed from these items that will be noticeable to listeners. They certainly notice those programs which are being shut down, like drama, or shrunk.
5. Online to pay RN for supplies? The relative resources available to RN and ABC Online have never been revealed and it’s time to have some clarity on the current budgets and trends planned into the near future. A particular concern in recent years has been the support being transferred from on-air output to online/web services. RN programs, especially the stand-out specialist programs on RN contribute strongly to the content and quality of the online/web services and it has long been suspected that there has been a steady drain of support (i.e. budgets, staffing and resources) away from on-air. This review of RN should have made a strong argument for, or at least acknowledged, an internal re-balancing of resources accordingly, but there is no hint of detailed costings, direct and indirect, involved in internal balances and transfers. For internal fairness and measure of relative support, the ABC budgeting should provide for internal costs of RN’s contributions to web/online to be repaid back to RN’s budget.
6. RN key feed for ABC Online: In another huge hole in the report, I can find no reference of any nature to the audience(s) for RN programs and their reactions. One or two programs are mentioned as having strong followings, but this seems to have been judged by such indirect measures as requests for transcripts (essentially, an online/web area which should be costed there, not out of RN’s diminishing budget). There is no mention of downloads of podcasts which indicate “popularity” of certain content and presenters. Philip Adams, for one, maintains a huge national and international audience for Late Night Live from this online service. It is grossly inadequate for a review like this to avoid any mention of feedback, let alone some kind of analysis of this and how it is handled. This must be of particular concern to FABC followers who, too frequently get the brush-off from our comments which may be critical at times but are always constructive in support of an improved ABC.
7. Audiences not consulted: I wouldn’t want to get stuck on simplistic measures of audience “ratings” as these are not especially applicable to RN as a whole or any of its component programs, but it is extraordinary that this report is constructed entirely internally and the writers didn’t have the good sense to engage in some external consultation. FABC Vic has direct experience of this in the way their painstaking and constructive survey of dedicated ABC followers was dismissed out of hand with a “form” letter.
8. Program quality: Apart from the closure of a few programs, there is no indication that RN “management” gives any leadership in critically assessing program and presenter quality. Of the much-vaunted changes in the 2012 schedule there are some duds which cry out for corrective action or major change. Sunday Extra is one such case. This “flow” program stands in sharp contrast to its companions Saturday Extra and RN Drive which are sharp, inventive and invariably good listening. Much of the difference lies in the regular presenters with Geraldine Doogue, Fran Kelly and Waleed Aly carrying their audiences with them in natural, relaxed style, whereas for Sunday Extra Jonathan Green is limp or mannered (unnatural upward inflections on most words in scripted intros) and frankly irritating in practically all aspects of his presentation. A firm producer of his style and an editor of his scripted pieces in advance of delivery are badly needed; pre-recording him in place of “live” delivery would allow for such improvements, if he has this within him. But this review does not open the door to any firm action on such failures.
From: Michael Mason
The Weekend Planet
Based on the findings of the PSP, were proposing to redeploy 0.5 of producer resource for Weekend Planet to coverage of events in WA for various programs to increase RN coverage of the State, reducing Weekend Planet from four hours to two hours per week. This will enhance WAs arts and general reporting for Radio National, which the PSP noted was lacking.
Under our proposal, we plan to make a number of changes in the Features Unit, both in terms of its production model and staffing levels.
The output of the RN Features programs 360documentaries, Hindsight and Into the Music are a distinctive and brand critical strand of RN output.
Currently, the allocation of producers (and resources more generally) across these programs is very uneven, and EPs need to manage a complex set of cross-program production arrangements in order to meet schedule requirements.
The PSP has made a number of recommendations about the output requirements of producers in the Features pool:
Producers will be attached to one program in the Features Unit Hindsight, 360 or Into the Music. They will rotate annually to other Features programs. This will mean that there is a tighter focus around program briefs, with an annual rotation to reinvigorate each program strand.
Currently our complex Features are given an eight week production cycle. Given benchmarks across the network, the PSP has recommended that this is reduced.
Producers on 360 and Hindsight will be expected to produce the equivalent (pro-rata) of seven to eight major (45- 51) features per year six or seven for their assigned program and one for either Poetica or the new Creative Audio slot/s (see below). This means an average production cycle of six to six and a half weeks a reduction from the current average of eight weeks.
Producers on Into The Music will be required to make the equivalent of eight to nine full length features (40 45) per year seven or eight for their assigned program and one for either Poetica or the new Creative Audio slot (see below). The revised program brief for Into The Music will have to emphasise the expectation that these programs will generally be simpler in construction/ambition than 360 or Hindsight. This means an average production cycle five weeks for Into the Music.
We realise that this target will be contentious, but the PSP Working Group and Steering Committee gave this issue a great deal of scrutiny and our data suggests that it can be achieved. We simply cannot continue to produce three documentary programs on the current production schedule as budgetary pressures continue to grow.
Features producers will also be required to undertake at least one substantial freelance supervision project, in addition to the above requirements.
Producers working to Poetica will be required to make 10 editions of program each year and undertake additional freelance supervision.
The processes for commissioning programs by both staff and freelance producers will be formalised and strengthened to ensure Features output best meets RN editorial goals and is achievable within the available production resources.
Please refer to the Proposal for Features Commissioning (Internal & External) 2013 in the attached PSP Report.
With the above production quotas in place and a tightening of focus in each program strand, two less producers will be needed in the Features Unit. This is in addition to the producer/presenter position that will not be needed as a result of decommissioning The Night Air. Based on the operational and editorial requirements of the Features programs, we are proposing to rebalance band levels in the Features Unit and to reduce the number of Band 8 producers who are neither EPs or Series Producers.
We have let the affected group of Band 8s within Features know about how this may impact on them and will continue to consult with them in the coming days and weeks in relation to the potential impact of them.
Creative Audio Unit
The decommissioning of Airplay and The Night Air will allow us to think about new ways of presenting new writing, performance and contemporary storytelling on Radio National.
Hybrid forms of documentary & drama
The storytelling movement
Our proposal to establish the Creative Audio Unit (CAU) means we will be able to bring people together to develop stories, giving space to fresh ways of creating audio movies pictures for the mind. The CAU will have a strong emphasis on creative commissions and partnerships to bring our audience unique ways of seeing and hearing the world.
The CAU will ensure the sustainability of RNs ongoing engagement with artists and the creative community more broadly, and to meet RNs changing editorial needs and changing audience listening behaviours.
RN will not retreat from its commitment to supporting Australian artists and creative industries, and through the Creative Audio Unit, RN will continue to be engaged in the development and broadcast of new, original and innovative audio for broadcast and online delivery.
As well as continuing to work with writers and other artists, the CAU will engage a new generation of creative producers working across media and forms.
The Unit will be staffed by the following:
1 FTE x EP (Sydney B8)
1 FTE x Senior Producer (Sydney B7)
1 x FTE x Producer (Sydney B5 6)
.5 FTE x producer (Melbourne B6)
We anticipate an engineer will be assigned to the CAU on a rotational basis to take full advantage of what they can bring to production material.
The Units external expenses budget will be drawn from the current Airplay budget.
The Unit will be charged with the production of projects to be broadcast in the Airplay (Sunday 3pm) and The Night Air (Sunday 8pm) slots, and current repeat slots.
The programming of the afternoon and evening slots will be distinctive and complementary. The Sunday afternoon program focussed on widely accessible, narrative driven content mixing fiction, real life storytelling and creative features. The evening will be programmed with a wider diversity of material, offering listeners opportunities to sample some of the most innovative and adventurous radio being produced in
Detailed programming of the two CAU slots will be the responsibility of the incoming production team, which we hope will be in place by late November. As the Unit develops its commissions for the year ahead, we will showcase some gems from our archive of audio performance. But in the medium term, we will be producing work that firmly sees us as leading the way in the development of creative audio performance work. This will include collaborations with theatre companies and cultural institutions, as well as commissions from our best and brightest writers, real-life and fictional storytelling and audio performance.
The CAU will also begin developing creative projects in the digital/online/mobile space, actively collaborating with appropriate ABC and external partners, including Paper Radio, Pool, ABC Open, ABC Innovation and ABC TV Arts.
The Creative Audio Unit will be an extraordinary opportunity for RN to engage in the audio performance space in a way that is new, exciting and sustainable. In doing so, we hope to find ways of engaging an audience looking for new ways to listen to performance radio. See the Proposal for The Creative Audio Unit in the attached PSP Report.
Due to the proposed decommissioning of Airplay and other programs and the resulting fall in work load, an increase in self-oping and the examination of benchmarks across ABC Radio, the Operations pool in NSW will be reduced by 2 positions.
We are consulting with the Ops NSW group today about a selection process for the NSW Ops positions, and will continue to do so in the coming days and weeks.
The recommendations for self-oping will have an impact on the work flow and practices of some programs teams. We will be going through these implications with teams over the next few days.
Using benchmarks across ABC Radio the PSP has made several recommendations regarding the current RN Admin structure.
The PSP noted the complex nature of administration in RN, flowing from its unique programming and management structure. However, it found that streamlining workflows and readjusting work practices could result in efficiency gains. The PSP found that grouping programs geographically for administrative purposes would further streamline workflow for administrative staff.
Under the proposed changes to RNs Administrative Support areas:
the number of RN Unit Managers will be reduced from 3 to 2, with tasks redistributed;
Admin Assistant position in Brisbane to be upgraded to a Band 4 Unit Co-ordinator position to take on some of the duties of the Unit Manager position being abolished; and
Listener Enquiries Officer to move from 0.8 FTE to 1FTE, with added administrative duties, detailed in the PSP Report, including receptionist duties.
We have let the administrative staff potentially affected by these proposed changes know, particularly around the reduction of Unit Managers by 1FTE and the selection process for the two remaining Unit Manager positions. We will continue to consult with them over the coming days and weeks.
Again, I realise that there is much to digest from the PSP. I urge you to read the attached Report, and talk to your EP/Editor about the implications.
Id like you to keep in mind that tough decisions need to be made. For many years the RN budget has consistently run at breaking point.
Some of you may be wondering if the changes have been made in light of the extra cost of the 2012 schedule changes. The changes made to the 2012 schedule were part of the strategy for renewal of the network so as to engage with new audiences in the face of demographic and technological change. It was critical that we made those changes, and critical that we maintain a process of finding new ways to engage, inform, challenge and entertain our target audience. We were given a one-off grant to implement the new schedule which we now must return and get back to a sustainable on-budget position. Indeed regardless of the schedule changes we did not have a sustainable model to stay within our financial footprint.
Doing this within our budgetary framework is the only way for the network to remain sustainable into the future. We therefore need to make tough editorial and resourcing decisions that we believe are critical to the ongoing health of the network.
THE DRAFT 2013 SCHEDULE
It is our view that Lingua Franca should not be recommissioned in 2013. While the program has provided an important depth of exploration into words and their usage, we feel that the time has come to find different ways of energising the way we deal with the subject.
We are aware of how passionately our audience feels about language and words. We will continue to explore this area on Books and Arts Daily and Weekend Arts.
We plan to commission one-off segments from the wider linguistic community to offer fresh insights on aspects of language. These will be broadcast and offered as podcastable segments.
We have let the program maker potentially impacted by this proposed change know and will continue to consult with her in coming days and weeks.
Julie Rigg has decided to retire in January 2013. This provides an opportune time to consider how we wish to deal with film going forward. Movietime has been a popular program with our audience, but we believe that a specialist film program has actually prevented other RN programs from engaging with film criticism and film culture. It is vital that cinema, such a fundamental part of the contemporary conversation, is reviewed and discussed across a number of programs. We therefore do not plan to commission MovieTime next year. We will be able to give our audience more access to information and criticism across programs, without forgoing our specialist knowledge and experience.
It is particularly important that movies arent quarantined from our daily arts offering, Books and Arts Daily. From 2013, the program will have a regular movie segment in 2013, featuring criticism, discussion and interviews.
RN Breakfast and Drive will have regular spots for movie reviews and news.
RN will maintain a strong presence at Film Festivals around the country, and will continue to engage in cinema culture through Books and Arts and Common Knowledge.
Cinema discussion and review will be aggregated on the RN website, in the form of audio on demand, but also written reviews.
Julie has contributed a great deal to the network and the wider ABC, and we will miss her.
Jason Di Rosso will continue to co-present Common Knowledge, as well as providing film criticism on a broader suite of RN programs. Jasons knowledge of cinema and cinema culture is highly valued by the network and its audience, and he will continue to provide criticism, review and interviews. This material will then be used as an RN Movietime podcast. We have met with Jason to discuss these changes.
Common Knowledge will replace Movietime on the RN schedule.
The Philosophers Zone will be played in season with the BBCs In Our Time, in the same 12 week schedule as Body Sphere and All in the Mind. The presenter will be confirmed. The Philosophers Zone is a great RN program and we would aspire to have it played year round when possible.
Additionally to the major changes detailed above in the draft 2013 schedule, there are programs that have been moved to different timeslots on the schedule, and some will have a refined brief to work to next year. We will be discussing this with affected teams in the coming days.
Both the outcomes of the PSP and the 2013 schedule will bring change to several people and program teams. I am very aware of how difficult this will be for many of you.
As I have mentioned, the Radio National Executive and I have spent several hours this morning talking to affected staff. We are aware that the proposals we have developed will have a profound effect on some staff, and will continue to provide the best advice and counsel we can along with the ABCs People and Learning Division.
This afternoon I plan to meet with the Drama and Features Unit to talk through our proposed production guidelines for the future.
Staff Meetings - A
The proposed changes based on the PSP and the 2013 schedule signal a great deal of change that you or your close colleagues may be affected by. Each proposal has been developed with a great deal of thought and discussion. We have not taken any of this lightly, but we need to make tough decisions that I feel are absolutely critical to the future sustainability and health of the network.
We will be continuing to formally consult over the coming weeks regarding implications arising from the PSP report and editorial changes affecting staff. We anticipate being able to commission the 2013 schedule in mid-November.
I look forward to talking to you more about these proposals and the changes they bring in the coming days and weeks.
Manager, Radio National
T. +61 (0) 2 8333 1500
F. +61 (0) 2 8333 1381
mmasonabc on Twitter
Radio National on Facebook
Web Twitter Facebook iTunes
Last Updated (December 2012)
?? ??-???????? "??????? ????? ???????? ?????? ???? ???? ?? ??????"?? ????????? ???.
??????, ??????? ??? ?? ???????.
Last Updated (April 2013)