What’s behind the expansion plans at “Marketplace”
Deborah Clark is the senior vice president and general manager of the Marketplace portfolio, including “Marketplace,” “Marketplace Morning Report,” “Marketplace Weekend,” and “Marketplace Tech.”
After a previous stint at the public radio show owned by American Public Media, Clark rejoined the team in 2009 as a senior producer and eventually was promoted to executive producer of the portfolio in 2011.
Clark has also worked as the senior producer of “California Connected,” a statewide television show, and for National Public Radio as executive producer of “Day to Day.”
Clark also worked as an independent producer for many years, during which time she worked for, among others, the “Savvy Traveler,” “Sound Money,” “Public Radio Weekend” (pilot for “Weekend America”), and “Marketplace.” Her biggest project for “Marketplace” was the two-week, three-show broadcast from China: “The Wild, Wild East: Marketplace goes to China.”
Clark has received many awards, including an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Silver Baton, recognizing excellence in broadcast and digital journalism, and a George Foster Peabody award, the oldest and most prestigious media award.
Deborah attended the University of California at Berkeley, where she received her bachelor’s degree in political science. She also holds a master’s degree in journalism from Berkeley.
Clark spoke by telephone Tuesday afternoon with Talking Biz News about the pending changes at Marketplace, which is exploring providing content in a number of different formats. What follows is an edited transcript.
Marketplace is successful, so why make changes?
We are successful. But there’s nothing new in the statement that audiences have a lot of choices. A lot of our strengths have been that we’re on the radio. And you can’t bank everything on radio anymore.
I think about it in a business sense. But I also think about it as a story teller. That’s where my roots are. I want us to reach as many kinds of different people across as many demographics and in as many demographics as you can. That makes you relevant and powerful.
For Marketplace, if we are serious about our mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country, you don’t do that by only reaching 10 percent of the people via radio.
Can business and financial news on the radio translate into other medium?
For us, the core of it is the way we do our storytelling — the unorthodox conversation or the unexpected angle; the way that we approach business storytelling that can translate across platforms. We need to produce it in myriad ways.
I can imagine us designing an app or a video game that translates it into that medium and there are people who only know that. The goal isn’t to get people to come to the broadcast.
What will all of these changes look like? Are there limits?
I haven’t thought about magazines. I just haven’t thought about them. But that doesn’t mean that’s not an opportunity. This is not overnight change. We certainly had success with live events translating our voice. There is an educational play for us.
I’m not sure there are a ton of limits. The limit is whether we have the expertise or the capacity to get the expertise quickly enough with the right people.
How far can the Marketplace brand be extended?
I don’t mean to imply that it’s easy. We want to do it in a way that appropriate and that we maintain the trust from our listeners. We need to make the right move in the right way. We don’t want to take away from the core. We want to build on it.
Are there new demographics that you’re targeting?
I think that we have a couple of low-hanging opportunities.
We have been thinking a lot across the shop about the 10th anniversary of the recession, which will be next year. That’s something to hang coverage on. One of the things I have been thinking about is that if you took a group of people who are now 25 now, who have graduated from college and are now in the workforce, they were 15 when that occurred. What has shifted in the economy during that time?
A lot of their life choices are being delayed, like home buying and starting a family. It has had such seismic shifts. How do you navigate that? What an interesting time to be that age, and how can we play a role to help them understand what happened 10 years ago and how that shapes their choices. That newly-in-the-workforce demographic is a huge opportunity for us.
And then there is the other end of the spectrum, those looking at retirement. Is that a demographic that is being focused on? I don’t know. But those are a couple of new audiences. I think just going outside of public radio, there are a lot of people who have a lot of interest in the topic. How do we reach them?
Why is the emphasis on financial literacy?
Understanding the forces that shape your world is really key. It’s not really a shift for us. It’s a sharpening. If you listen to the stories that we have covered over the years, it’s not about balancing checkbooks or how to buy stocks. It’s about understanding those forces. That’s sharpening our place in that world. It gives us a little bit more of a focus.
In the future, will I go to Marketplace’s website if I want to get breaking financial news?
I don’t think that’s where we add value. I think there are a lot of people doing that and doing that well. What we do is provide context and help you connect the dots. So a lot of our shifting digital focus and a mobile first approach is looking at connecting those dots, whether that is through data visualization or videos or explainer type of stuff that we have been able to do in the broadcast.
What was behind the podcast “Make me Smart” that was launched at the beginning of the year?
I think what happened with “Make me Smart” was that it was an idea that Molly Wood had and mentioned to me in a casual conversation. She said, “I feel like we can take what we do and have a podcast and help connect the dots in a much better way.” I said, “That’s perfect.” I had my big picture hat on and was thinking of opportunities and the actual steps you take to get there. And it felt like the right next step.
As we grow, things have to be done in the right order and in the right way, and so I am looking for opportunities like that. “Make me Smart” has the opportunity to be its own franchise. One of the reasons why I wanted to invest in it is we are trying to build a different audience engagement model for readers to give input and feedback, trying to build a community.
You are currently looking for a chief content officer for Marketplace. What will that person do?
The idea is that person is really the driver of the editorial vision across Marketplace. The first thing that person is going to have to do is create a 21s century newsroom. We have a really broadcast-centric newsroom. All of our production and revenue is around broadcast. We need a newsroom that can function differently and can be a multi-platform content producer. That is going to be that person’s job.
You’re also looking to hire additional editorial staffers.
We’ve done a pretty elaborate growth plan that identifies that in the first 18 months, and we’re in the first part of that, we’ll be adding 16 to 20 positions, and then another dozen or so on top of that. Those are sort of rough numbers.
I want us to seem mobile enough to say we thought we needed X, Y and Z, but what we really need is a social community manager. There is a need to invest in the core and strengthen the core, and have new things. We don’t, for example, have a data analytics team. We don’t have one person trained and only focused on that and able to work closely inside of the editorial team to provide feedback to our journalism conversation.
Marketplace seems to be carving out a distinct area in business and financial journalism.
What makes us distinct is the combination of the conversational and the educational. That makes it a pretty specific niche. “Planet Money” does a great job of taking ideas and explaining them in a nice way, but they’re not newsy. Quartz has a pretty attractive way of doing things, but it’s not as educational.