100% Impressive

by William Schuth in , ,


Photo courtesy Flickr user david shortle.  Used in accordance with Creative Commons guidelines.

One of my favorite podcasts, 99% Invisible, is in the middle of a Kickstarter drive to fund its fourth season. The initial goal – enough funding to go to weekly episodes – was reached within the first 92 hours of the drive. As the duration of the Kickstarter drive was set for one month, the creator of 99% Invisible, Roman Mars, set a stretch goal. Mars laid out the first stretch goal in an email 99% Invisible backers:

A lot of people have been in touch about stretch goals and what we’re going to do if we raise more money. I’m glad you asked!

Fifty-two weekly shows is about the limit of which we are capable. I wish we could do more, and someday we might be able to, but for now, promising more would be foolhardy. What I’d like to focus on is making our little shop the best place to do exceptional work. So my first stretch goal is health care coverage.

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Stretch Goal #1

Raise over $181,200- Health care stipends for 99% Invisible workers. This includes stipends for paid interns and a new employee we intend to hire this year.

This morning, four days after the announcement of the first stretch goal, Mars sent out another update: Mission Accomplished.

As someone who grew up listening to public radio and continues to listen as an adult, I've heard many pledge drive appeals over the years. Some pledge drive appeals more successful than others: my local independent radio station, WORT-FM, holds periodic pledge drives to keep itself on the air. When I have pledged to WORT, I have timed my pledge  to show support for particular programs the station airs. That's how the station frames its pledge drive, and how Mars framed his initial request for the support to produce a fourth season of 99% Invisible. Some pledge drive appeals are less successful: if I never again have to listen to Ira Glass berate non-pledging National Public Radio listeners as freeloaders, that'd be a happy day. In the past, Glass has gone so far as to ask NPR listeners who had pledged to turn in their non-pledging, NPR-listening friends for "pledge drive justice." I've noticed that, at least during the recession, Wisconsin Public Radio has shied away from airing Glass' more passive-aggressive harangues.

What I loved about Roman Mars' approach to the time left on his Kickstarter drive was his appeal to the basic humanity of 99% Invisible fans:

Both Sam and I currently have private insurance (so don’t fret, we’re OK), and I’m not sure we should get a group plan, but I am sure I want the production of this show to cover health care premiums for all of us. It’s the right thing to do and it means a lot to me to have the ability to offer it. Except for my three years at WBEZ, I’ve been a contractor without benefits my entire radio career. I want to stop that cycle.

Mars trusted his listeners to understand his meaning – if you love this program, would you consider providing those who create it, including the interns, with secure access to a basic human right? I have never had an entreaty from NPR stick with me the way Mars' request has. This is not to say that NPR doesn't sometimes mention that, beyond supporting programing, pledges also help NPR provide health care benefits for its employees, but that, even as a longtime listener, NPR has never succeeded in presenting itself as a truly human entity instead of a media monolith. (To be fair to Ira Glass, he seems to be aware of this, too.)

What I suppose I'm driving at is the impression that NPR, at least in the abstract way it presents its funding requests, demonstrates that it regards its listeners as consumers, while Mars thinks of 99% Invisible listeners as a community with real concern for the people who create the content they enjoy.