The Sunday Magazine

Former BBC Radio head Helen Boaden on public broadcasting, Donald Trump and "slow media"

Boaden says public broadcasting has a special responsibility to produce journalism with context and analysis. She calls public radio "slow media," and says it's uniquely suited to the task.
Helen Boaden (Martha Stewart)

There has been much recent hand-wringing about the state of the news business, which has yet to come up with a business model for survival in the digital age. 

In North America, from 2005-2015, 30 billion dollars in advertising revenue disappeared. Journalists are being let go, newspapers and TV stations are downsizing; some are closing their doors.

Then along came Donald Trump.

His candidacy and election have injected new life into the business of reporting and commenting on the news. The phenomenon even has a nickname...the "Trump bump."

A recent article in The Economist reports that The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal have all seen jumps in online subscriptions. The Times signed up more than half a million new digital subscribers last year — 276,000 after the election. 

These seem like healthy signs for journalism. 

But of course, the Trump bump is accompanied by the "bubble" phenomenon — people finding their news on social media that supports, and never challenges, the views they already hold.

If you share very little, the capacity, the opportunity, for debate about what matters in your nation just gets smaller and smaller and smaller.- Helen Boaden

In this environment, Helen Boaden believes that public broadcasters have a special responsibility — and that we can do better. 

She has just stepped down from her position as Director of Radio for the BBC, her final post before leaving the organization at the end of career that spanned 34 years.

She has worked as a news producer, reporter and editor. She was a presenter and a documentary producer. She moved on to a number of management positions, including Head of Business Programs, Head of Current Affairs and Director of BBC News. She is spending her final months with the BBC on a Fellowship at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

Click the button above to hear Michael's interview with Helen Boaden.