Sitara Nieves and Radio’s New Reality

She’s charged with expanding “Marketplace” podcast and video offerings, keeping tabs on how stories are consumed
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Sitara Nieves

Sitara Nieves

Marketplace’s Executive Director, On Demand Sitara Nieves fell in love with radio during her graduate studies in journalism at Columbia University. Although early in her career she imagined a future as a novelist or a print journalist, the allure of audio captivated her, and she is now working on the new frontier in public radio: overseeing on demand audio and video endeavors for American Public Media’s “Marketplace.”

Launched over the air on Jan. 2, 1989, as “Marketplace: The International Magazine of Business and Finance,” what was once a single radio program has expanded to include several nationally syndicated radio shows, podcasts, social media channels and a content-rich website with access to program archives, video and more.

Nieves has had a bird’s-eye view of its expansion, having joined the outlet in 2012 as senior producer and showrunner for “Marketplace with Kai Ryssdal” and then serving as interim executive producer for the entire Marketplace brand.

In her newly created role as of November 2017, Nieves is charged with not only expanding Marketplace’s podcast and video offerings, but also with keeping tabs on the evolution of how listeners, readers and viewers are consuming its business/economy-oriented programs and stories.

It’s a logical progression from her previous gigs at the daily radio news show “The Takeaway” at WNYC and the Economist (where she was a multimedia producer, including working on podcasts), as well as from her schooling.

During grad school, she got her first taste of audio storytelling, producing a weekly show — some episodes aired on student-run radio station WKCR(FM) called “Uptown Radio” with other students in her program.

Drawn in by that experience, Nieves explained, “I had started in grad school …with a print focus and had changed to radio … and just absolutely fell in love with the way you can paint scenes and tell stories through sound and all of the creative ways that you could use sound … and just the medium overall.”

In her new role at Marketplace, Nieves is working to expand on demand content (podcasts, video and on demand audio) by building new programs as well as by augmenting the offerings of current shows.

She explained, “Marketplace … for the last 26 years or so has been a suite of very successful radio shows, and over the past couple of years we’ve been in the process of transforming from that suite of radio programs to more of a multimedia enterprise, still focused on the core idea of raising the economic intelligence of the country, which is our mission.”

MULTIMEDIA MISSION

In the course of that, Marketplace has created new podcasts, hired a video team and has been increasing its digital presence. Nieves weaves it all together.

“My role is really a way to build on the strengths that we have with podcasts, like the ‘Uncertain Hour’ or ‘Make Me Smart’ and really be able to grow both those shows and create new shows that reach a different audience than the amazing people who already listen on our broadcast channels and then the same thing for video. It’s taking the core strengths of what Marketplace does and the huge audience potential of what’s in our core mission and finding new ways to tell those stories.”

As a journalist, Nieves sees the creative possibilities with multimedia storytelling; as an executive, she’s also keenly aware of the changing media landscape in 2018, where listeners, viewers and readers may be just as likely to find Marketplace content on Facebook or Alexa as they are to hear it on the terrestrial radio dial. Plus, these worlds may be blurring even further, as video content gets built into newer smart audio devices.

“We have a core broadcast audience, and we don’t want to not serve them, but there’s a lot people who obviously don’t listen to the radio in the same way as they once did.”

She added, “It’s both about reaching audiences where they are and also just being able to have the room to create new things: new shows, new videos that just take Marketplace in different directions and play on the strengths that we have … there’s that beautiful mix of reaching new audiences and also being able to flex creative muscles and journalistic muscles and tell stories in new ways.”

Sitara Nieves, right, attends an editorial meeting at Marketplace Productions in downtown Los Angeles.

Sitara Nieves, right, attends an editorial meeting at Marketplace Productions in downtown Los Angeles.

Whereas Marketplace’s website provides many audio offerings (podcasts, etc.), the video side of on-demand is oriented mostly towards its social media audience. Recent short video pieces have delved into obscure federal crimes, NAFTA regulations and self-driving car technology.

“Most of our videos are social videos, so you’ll find them more easily on Facebook and YouTube.” With a growing video team, she said, “part of what I’m working on right now is … making sure that what we make is more discoverable … I think it’s worthwhile eventually to have a beautiful home for what we make, especially when there is a series on our site. So, that is in the works eventually, but the priority right now is on social video.”

SPIN-OFFS

Video is also part of Marketplace’s year-long project about the 2008 financial crisis, “Divided Decade.” A dedicated web page includes an introductory video and audio stories and has a call for participation from the Marketplace audience, seeking questions and personal anecdotes.

Nieves said that the project “explores how the country has changed economically, culturally and politically in those 10 years, specifically looking at a whole range of things from where housing is now to what’s happened in the financial world.”

She said people have been submitting heartfelt stories to the Divided Decade team via email, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; this will provide plenty of fodder for multimedia pieces for the project.

“I’m really excited about that project in part because there is a lot of opportunity for really compelling video series.”

Marketplace Productions in Downtown Los Angeles.

Marketplace Productions in Downtown Los Angeles.

A sign of the importance of podcasts is a new, formalized process to stoke the creative fires at Marketplace. “We just started a podcast pitch season for staff to pitch podcast ideas, which I’m very excited about.”

The outcome of the inaugural season would be a new podcast to launch in fall 2018.

Nieves predicts that methods for discovering and accessing on-demand audio and video will continue to change and improve, describing the space as a constantly evolving ecosystem with plenty of competition.

“It’s a really great time to be in this job,” Nieves said. “Really excellent things” are being produced, and she senses an appetite for more.

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