Rural Public Radio – Who Says “Quality” Can’t Be Evaluated?


“Mainstreet Radio,” a special series started in 1987 by Minnesota Public Radio, had the mission of reporting from rural Minnesota to all of Minnesota.  While they were still planning, we were engaged to help its four-person team of journalists articulate its vision, aspirations, and benchmarks of quality rural journalism they could use in pursuing their mission.


Effective Philanthropy: A good let-alone from its principal philanthropic partner, Northwest Area Foundation, gave MPR the much-appreciated space to create its own evaluation standards for “quality rural journalism.”

Nonprofit Management: Creating one’s own evaluation standards is good practice for any nonprofit, whether given permission or not.  It creates opportunities for productive mission-focused discussion, creates ownership in the project, gets people on the same page, and generates enthusiasm for progress.  Each staffer had these standards, which they’d helped create and approved, pinned to its cubicle wall for easy pondering when it mattered – in the creation of a story.

Community Development: Rural Minnesotans had been clamoring for some time to get “rural programming” aimed at them.  MPR’s development director heard them at “listener advisory committee” meetings specially convened at most of MPR’s stations outside the Metro, and recognized the funding opportunity, which was realized and lasted for decades with several institutional funders and an expanded listener base throughout the state.

Program Evaluation: Helping staff develop “evaluation standards” by which creative staff can develop and recognize quality work is a very legitimate role for evaluators.  After a number of “Mainstreet Radio” broadcasts were produced on-air, we convened focus groups with the listener advisory committees to see how well actual productions squared with the standards, a highly productive way to check in with the ultimate consumers of the work.


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Originally appeared: A product of Rainbow Research, Inc.

Number of pages: 1    Original date: December 1987

Author: Steven E. Mayer, Ph.D., Then Executive Director

Rainbow Research, Inc.

Minneapolis, MN