Andrew Sussman – Executive Producer, PRI’s The World
Sixteen years ago, at a time when international news coverage could have used a boost, three news entities – PRI/Public Radio International, BBC World Service and WGBH in Boston – joined together to create a co-produced radio program called PRI’s The World. From its outset, the show was the first of its kind to provide daily international news across the United States. Andrew Sussman was there at the launch in 1995 as a reporter and producer; and last month, he took over as executive producer to take the show into the digital age.
The hour-long weekday program includes news, interviews, features and music from around the globe and is heard by over 2.5 million weekly listeners on 301 radio stations nationwide.
Sussman oversees production of both broadcast and digital efforts that stem from the Boston studio headquarters and its London bureau. “I typically check in with the show producer throughout the day, as well as the host (Lisa Mullins), but also spend a great deal of time on the larger strategic goals for the show, including larger-scale reporting opportunities and series, partnerships with other programs, digital initiatives and, of course, budgetary and financial concerns,” he said.
Sussman’s longtime dedication to the program is complemented by his colleagues’ ability to work great as a team. “This remains the best newsroom I’ve ever worked in. Everybody has been incredibly supportive of my ‘upgrade.’ It makes all the difference in the world – no pun intended,” he said.
Fluent in French and Russian, Sussman moved to Moscow in his 20s and oversaw all aspects of a newspaper joint-venture with the Russian daily, Komsomolskaya Pravda. After that, he joined the newly launched English-language daily, the Moscow Times, as an editor. In 1994, he moved to Paris and served as a host and reporter at the newly formed Europe bureau at Radio France. His international news experience paved the way for him to excel at The World.
“I think my time reporting overseas and my years of producing a daily show have really served me well for this role. You need to be resourceful and creative, just like any field reporter, but also decisive and collaborative, like any decent show producer,” he said. “In short, you need to really engage with people (your staff), listen carefully and always get the story right.”
When Denver-born Sussman moved overseas, he found that he learned journalism best by simply doing it and surrounding himself with other inspiring journalists. “I have actually found the greatest inspiration from foreign-born colleagues who report in places where the risks are very high, even life-threatening,” he said. “I once had the privilege of spending an afternoon with a Russian reporter and writer who was later brutally killed. She was a very brave woman; her memory is a constant source of inspiration.”
Certain challenges do come up, as it is the case with most nationwide news shows. “But there is also the elephant in the room: our industry is changing dramatically on a daily basis. Our journalistic values remain the same, but we are witnessing a radical reworking of the practice of journalism, the means of distribution and even of the role of the news consumer,” he said.
As newer technologies emerge in the radio industry, Sussman reflects on how complicated it used to be. “When we began, it was reel-to-reel tape decks, reporters FedExed their tapes, and we had a host in London and a host in Boston. All that’s changed, and the show gradually coalesced and has grown stronger and stronger,” he said.
Other changes are attributed directly to the shift of media and the sometimes oversaturated social media landscape. Sussman finds it to be “exhilarating, at times terrifying, but never dull.” He believes that with the vast amount of knowledge and information available, there still needs to be someone to synthesize it and put it into context for the consumer.
The World utilizes Twitter, Facebook and podcasts daily for different global segments and news items. “Twitter is really, in a sense, a kind of unvarnished news feed. You always need a number of sources, but social media can be a powerful tool to not just galvanize, but inform,” he said. “I think the trick is to understand that there is often never one true story, but many competing versions of the truth. Social media helps get at the truth, and in return, to disseminate what you’ve discovered.”
The personal connections made through these social media tools are exciting to Sussman, but he realizes that he still must trust his journalistic instincts. “We’ve done stories on the show where listeners can then actually connect with people in the story via our website. That’s exciting. For me personally, I think it means always staying open to change, but also always trusting your gut,” he said. “The boundaries of journalism are being pushed and rarely a day goes by without a push into the great digital unknown.”
Looking into the near future, Sussman hopes to make every show, along with the website, “full of engaging content, surprise and value.” He wants to continue the show’s success in informing listeners of global events and culture as the news media naturally evolves and shifts. “We are very aware that we’re the only nationwide show devoted to international news out there,” he said. “It’s not a role we take lightly.”
Sussman’s dedication and passion truly stretch past his daily responsibilities at The World. “I actually am an international news junkie,” he said. “Sad but true, I enjoy taking work home.”
Sussman prefers to receive press materials via email. Attachments are accepted, but “brevity is key.”
“Every pitch should be brief and to the point. There needs to be a compelling international angle. It doesn’t always have to be pegged to the news; we love human interest, but it does need to stand out,” he said.
A well-pitched story or interview catches his attention when it is tailored to the show. He also doesn’t mind follow ups. “It never hurts to follow up. The newsroom is pretty busy and hectic place. Things can get lost in the shuffle,” he said.
One thing to remember is to make sure a pitch would be appropriate for what the show would cover. “We do receive ‘blanket’ pitches, in other words, items that really have very little to do with our show,” he said. “We most appreciate it when the pitch is from somebody who knows what we do.”
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