Changes at This American Life

July 9, 2015

This blog post was written by Goli Sheikholeslami, who’s in charge of Chicago’s public radio station WBEZ, and Ira Glass, who’s in charge of This American Life.

Ira: Recently we’ve made a change in how This American Life is run.

Since we started in 1995 the show was co-owned by me and WBEZ. I and the staff have been employees of WBEZ. It’s worked great. WBEZ's managers and board are entrepreneurial and idealistic, which is a wonderful and rare combination. Together, we’ve built a show that millions of people turn to each week.

Goli: But that arrangement was made when the show was in its infancy, with only three paid employees, its future very uncertain. In twenty years the show has grown and launched spinoffs – the podcasts Serial and Planet Money – plus two films, a TV show and numerous live events. The staff hopes to do more spinoffs and other projects. Ira and I and WBEZ’s Board all agree that the show is now at a size and complexity that it would be smarter and simpler for it to be its own independent company, organized as a public benefit corporation.

Ira: I and the staff will no longer be employees of WBEZ, and WBEZ will no longer need to manage and approve all of our contracts, projects, payroll and expenses. This American Life and Serial will be stand-alone organizations.

This is not an unusual model for public radio. For years, Car Talk and A Prairie Home Companion have been produced by independent companies in collaboration with public radio outlets (WBUR Boston and Minnesota Public Radio, respectively).

Goli: What was important to me, WBEZ and the Board was that the shows that we created together stay part of the public radio system and stay connected to the station. And that we continue to collaborate with Ira and his team as closely as we have for the past 20 years.

So a lot of things will stay the same under this arrangement. Ira will still work closely with WBEZ. He’ll still do local pledge drives and events – we have several lined up for October, including WBEZ’s 25th Anniversary celebrations. He and his producers will still collaborate with WBEZ’s newsroom on projects like the Harper High School series. We hope for even more of these collaborations now that a former This American Life producer is our Vice President of Programming and Content. WBEZ’s name will stay on the show (and on Serial), and we’ll continue to get significant revenue from the two programs.

Ira: On the air, nothing will change for This American Life. The show will still be distributed on public radio. The listening experience will be the same. This is a change in organizational structure, but our mission is unchanged. Our commitment to journalistic excellence and innovation and the ideals of public radio is unchanged. We’ll work as hard as we always have to bring you stories that are engaging and fun to listen to, stories that document lives and ideas not heard elsewhere.