IowaWatch Project Summary: Reaching New Audiences Through Statewide Radio Program

IowaWatch is an independent nonprofit news service dedicated to producing and encouraging explanatory and investigative reporting in Iowa. They engage in collaborative efforts with Iowa news organizations and educate journalism students to do this kind of work.

The Iowa Center will develop a statewide audience engagement program that takes its reporting to new audiences via two methods: a weekly statewide radio program, and IowaWatch-based public forums in cities where the program is aired.

The goal is to expand audience and reach more potential personal and corporate funders through donations, underwriting and advertising than is now done through heavy reliance on newspapers.

IowaWatch will hire a consultant who is an experienced broadcaster with a deep background in, and connections to, Iowa media. He will also act as producer and host of the radio programs.

Commercial radio stations will be selected based on their location, signal strength, and commitment to community-based programming and service. Ten stations are targeted for placement of a 23-minute program, with plans for 13 shows in the first and second phases of the project. These airings will be followed up with community forums in those areas where the issue is resonating. Video will also be created.

Topics to be covered will include farm safety, working conditions for seasonal migrant farm workers, meth addiction among mothers, and narrowing the opportunity gaps that exist among white, black and Latino residents. Many of these topics are critical during upcoming political campaigns. Staffing for the project will include student journalists.

What knowledge will be gained from this experiment?

The big question is whether or not a financially sustainable market exists for an IowaWatch public affairs program for commercial radio stations in Iowa and, if so, what adjustments will be required for continued growth.

IowaWatch will also find out if this project can generate operating income, through a combination of three things: Underwriting and/or advertising income from the radio show that exceeds radio show expenses; underwriting/sponsorships of community forums; and personal or corporate donations related to the programming and the exposure to IowaWatch it provides.

Reviewers felt this proposal to be solid and first-rate. The heavy dose of in-kind contributions, ten radio stations more or less committed, strong interest from several corporate sponsors and an ideally suited consultant are huge pluses.

Iowa is primarily a rural state, and radio is an important factor to small-town and farm life. IowaWatch is also based at the University of Iowa, which gives it a great deal of credibility statewide. The project has excellent capacity for replication among other nonprofit media organizations, especially those serving rural and sparsely-populated regions.