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Will MPR's 'Daily' show make news more interesting and fun?

Fourteen years ago, I did an interview with Bill Buzenberg when he took over Minnesota Public Radio’s news operation. The subject of the 9-11 a.m. “Midmorning,” came up, and I mentioned that the show too often featured the “social service provider of the week” – earnest guests who weren’t exactly in the news cycle. Buzenberg made it clear: “Midmorning” would get newsier.

Over the years, it did, especially right after Buzenberg brought on then-KARE11 political reporter Kerri Miller in 2004. To my ears, the show has gotten less urgent in recent years, as (for example) Miller’s literary proclivities can make Midmorning a less-visual version of C-SPAN’s “Booknotes.”  

With my philistine credentials established, I’m tentatively pleased with the news that the new "Daily Circuit" will subsume “Midmorning” and the 11 a.m. hour of Gary Eichten’s “Midday,” beginning Feb. 21. Though the name is awkwardly generic — one click above “MPR NewsQ” — several overdue changes are afoot.

First, Daily Circuit won’t be locked into the guest-an-hour format that dominated the “mids.”

Says MPR general manager Tim Roesler, “As you’ve noticed, in Gary’s show and on Midmorning, the topic sometimes doesn’t really go where you want it to go. We want to treat the audience with respect; we hear the same things you do.”

Miller says the new show will feature “one in-depth interview an hour, 35 to 45 minutes. I feel like that’s our brand, people want it, that’s context, and we don’t want to lose that.”

At the same time, the show will be faster-paced, with more topics and topicality, more newsmakers, more reporter debriefs. (Conflict-of-interest note: Miller invited me to be a guest Friday in the 9 a.m. hour, which should be a stern test of this new paradigm.)

Second, MPR — which has greatly expanded its newsroom since Miller signed on — will actually include original reporting in the show. Tom Weber — until now MPR’s schools correspondent — will handle that. Weber will salt his reporting into his newscasts and, potentially, more in-depth stories.

“We want to follow the news cycle — absolutely,” Roesler says. “We haven’t totally broke something new on ‘Midmorning’ and 'Midday' — Gov. Ventura announcing he wasn’t running on Gary’s show, that might be the extent of the newsmaking. With Tom, we’ll run things first on ‘Daily Circuit.’”

With their growing newsroom, there’s really no reason for MPR to take their foot off the reporting pedal (aside from newscasts) for six hours between “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.” Anyone who reads MPR’s website knows they produce more news than fits into their current line-up. If Weber’s ascension extends the reporting bridge between morning and afternoon drive, that’s a very good thing.

Third, in grabbing Weber and “Movie Maven” Stephanie Curtis as social media impresario, the show gets younger and, potentially, looser. The stentorian Miller polarizes MPR listeners in a way no other host does; she can be an excellent interviewer — aggressive by the network’s standards — but many find her affected.

Anyone who’s listened to “Movie Maven” segments knows that’s not a problem for Curtis; she’s really one of the down-to-earth people at MPR who can laugh at herself, and even her workplace, while still upholding its values. Too often, the network’s “no rant, no slant” ethos drains correspondents of their personalities; there are plenty of opportunities for authentically fun people to remain authentically informative.

I don’t know Weber well, but he’s held in very high esteem around the shop and appears to “get it” about engaging audiences in new ways while still being a topical reporter.

Miller acknowledges her style hurdle. “I think you’ve got something there; it’s the balance between getting the answers and still be warm to the audience. Do I feel need to work on this? Yes. Is this the opportunity to work on this? Yes. We can have a little fun, be a little warmer” with Weber and Curtis to bounce off of.

She adds, “When I watched [former KARE11 anchor] Paul Magers do this, he had a nice balance, he knew his stuff and it showed, but he was warm and accessible on the air, not afraid to engage in fun, cross-talk.”

Like many new media ventures, “Daily Circuit” also promises more audience interaction.

Roesler says “Daily Circuit” will include “audience input stuff, tweeting, a Facebook page, as well as having a form-builder on the website, so you can just engage via the website if you want to. In the past, we might have taken a look [at Twitter, Facebook, etc.] after the show, or once in awhile during the show. Steph will be doing it minute-by-minute, feeding the newsroom. We’ll also do some exchanges off the air — the ‘always on’ that’s new to this field, so we can keep learning and sharing at, say, 3 p.m.”

Says Curtis, “We’ve never married social media to a news program. That’s all I’m going to do.”

Is this some sort of pell-mell rush for younger audiences, a la NPR’s late, barely lamented “Bryant Park Project”?

Roesler says the changes are “not going to shock. It’s less driven by a need for younger audiences than developing the next, best, talent. When you spot a really good talent like Tom is, you want to take advantage of it. Combining a new voice with Kerri and her success may yield a younger listenership, but we want to honor who’s listening. And we already have a very good chunk in the 18-34, 30-ish audience.”

Roesler says ultimately, "Daily Circuit" will "be in the news cycle, but not abandon literary and authors; there’s a really loyal audience who loves that. We want to make public service interesting and fun — we’ve done an OK job, but with the new format, we can be even better at that.”

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Comments (10)

Too bad they didn't use the change to try to re-install Catherine Lampher as host.

David:

"The stentorian Miller polarizes MPR listeners in a way no other host does; she can be an excellent interviewer — aggressive by the network’s standards — but many find her affected."

"Stentorian" means loud. I never thought of her as a McLaughlin or Olbermann.

I've been listening to Kerri Miller only since 2007, and I've been favorably impressed with her approach to interviewing.

"Affected," to me, is Terri Gross of "Fresh Air," whose halting hesitation before posing a question -- as if to imply that it's a hopelessly dumb question, but here goes -- can get tiresome pretty fast, especially since the questions are usually pretty good.

You got kyven burger sitting out there. Or maybe bring back Lizz instead to MN. I sure would like some counterbalancing comedy. Or even Brian lambert when he gets snide he's hilarious. Or king? It's time for a greater change. Its so bad that I'm streaming old morning shows at mpr in the am.

Count me among those who find Miller extremely off-putting (only the hopelessly tongue-tied Tom Crann seems more out of place on MPR's air,) but this change seems mildly encouraging. I do appreciate Miller's willingness to brook no nonsense with political guests, and a newsier show might bring me around to her camp.

What we know of the format of the new show actually reminds me a lot of a midmorning public radio show I've listened to for years during summer trips: WAMC's Roundtable. Multiple hosts each specializing in different areas, a mix of regional and national news, plus arts, books, guests, etc. If the Daily Circuit goes in that direction, I'll happily be a regular listener.

Hal - And here I was feeling so clever. I did look at one definition that said "powerful," but that's not quite right either. There's a sort of TV reporter contrived formality to it ... Ah well, back to the thesaurus.

When public radio is at its best, it's unpredictable and slightly eccentric, with a sense of humor about itself and a relaxed nature. For better or worse, that has never been MPR, which has long tried to be the New York Times of the air: gray, authoratative, and blandly affable.

I'd like to think Bill Kling's retirement might open up MPR to a looser style and a more experimental approach to what it does, but it's hard to believe that certain quality David tried to relate about Kerri Miller is not baked into MPR's DNA.

With a staff as big as MPR's, it could be so much more than the radio/web home for serious minded, educated, earnest people. It could break news. It could make waves. It could take risks.

Alas, MPR's very size and success mitigates against that. MPR is a lot of good things, but it never has really been cut from the cloth the most authentic public broadcasting wore.

When Kerri was on the political beat at channel 9 I always thought she was hands down one of their best talents. On par if not better than Kessler or Hauser. You could just tell she knew her stuff and all the different angles of an issue, not just reciting talking points.

My only real complaint about the Midday show sometimes is that occasionally the topics and guests can be extremely boring. I realize that booking a weekday show has to be incredibly challenging but some of the guests/topics are just so dry to me I have to turn it off.

I think the new show, if it stays focused on things going on right now, is promising. I like the idea of making it more interactive too.

I, too, really miss Catherine Lampher. Loved her curiosity, her occasional irreverence, and her giggle. Kerri exhausts me with her intensity and speech pattern. Nevertheless will listen to the new show because MPR is significant enough to attract good guests, and listeners are engaged enough to ask good questions. But gosh, it would be fun if Catherine showed yo as a guest host once in a while. I'd love to hear more about her NY experience!

You used the word "affected." I think it's more a case of ego. Kerri Miller is the anti-Eichten. She can't last a single interview without talking about herself and her own highly regarded opinions.

Whether it's Kling, or Collins, Crann, or Miller -- they all seem to be "affected" with an enlarged feeling of self importance. They often sound more pretentious than even the national public radio personalities. MPR should go back to basics and stick to regional news and culture.

How about a review of TDC?

The show has been on for a month or so now. How about a review, David? It would be great to get your take in it.