October 2008

I know if you’re reading this you’re a true fan. So I’d like to invite you to check out something we’ve been quietly developing for two years as part of the WORKING project. It’s called the Worker Browser, and according to our propaganda (which I wrote and therefore must live with) it “allows working people around the world to share and compare their work experiences.”

Which is true! Anyone with access to a computer can fill out a simple questionnaire and upload it to a database that can be manipulated in all sorts of intellectually and aesthetically pleasing ways. The topics are both objective (income, education, commute, etc.) and subjective (satisfaction, security, dream job). If you don’t want to add your profile to the mix, that’s fine; you can just explore what other people have posted. (I’ve never been able to describe it — if you go there and poke around I promise it will make sense!)

We’ve also begun uploading all the audio, photos, and reporters’ notebooks from the radio profiles that are airing every month on Marketplace. So theoretically you could spend hours there.

The url is http://working.homelands.org. It’s still in “beta” — we’ve been madly testing and editing it for the last few weeks (especially the last few days), and there’s still work to do. But it basically works, and we’re ready to start “populating” it with real people rather than fake Latin placeholders. Please do take a look and, if you’re brave enough, upload your own profile. And let us know what you think! We’ve never done anything remotely like this before.

The Worker Browser is designed by Thiago Demello Bueno of Made of People!, with lots of input from Sue Johnson, Matt Shultz, and yours truly. We’re excited to be working with the Global Affairs Club of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR School) at Cornell University — they’re basically in charge of spreading the word. But don’t hesitate to do that, too.


P.S. Just learned that Kelly McEvers’ profile of Agus, an Indonesian pirate, has been rescheduled for October 30. It’s worth the wait.


The Third Coast Festival has come and gone. What an amazing community we indie producers have managed to create! Two and a half days of hugs, grins, coffee, wine, and dancing. Oh, and networking, workshopping, CD-swapping, and technical talk. (There was a touch of the Titanic about it, with news of failing banks and free-falling financial markets burbling quietly in the background.)

On Saturday afternoon the fabulous Kitchen Sisters (a.k.a. Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva) presented their “favorite things” to an exhausted and admiring crowd; somehow they coaxed all 400 of us to stand up and join in rousing renditions of Sixteen Tons and A Little Help from My Friends. That night Homelands’ pal Chris Brookes was named this year’s “Audio Luminary” (that’s the festival’s lifetime achievement award) — if you’ve never heard his work PLEASE check him out. A good place to start is an award-winning piece he did as part of our Worlds of Difference series called A Map of the Sea.

Sandy, Cecilia, and I snuck away from time to time to talk about our next project. We’d like to do a multimedia series on hunger. As with WORKING, we’ll want to focus on individual human beings. It’s a timely topic, sad to say: the number of hungry people around the world is now more than 900 million, and rising. With the economic mess, water shortages, food and fuel price volatility, rising populations, and climate change, things are unlikely to improve in the near term. If you have thoughts about the topic, or if you have ideas on who might support the project, please let us know!


P.S. Next up on WORKING is Kelly McEvers’ profile of a pirate who robs ships in Indonesia’s Strait of Malacca. If you want a reminder, go to our website and sign up for our mailing list.

This week, as the global economy collapses, Sandy, Cecilia and I head merrily off to the Third Coast International Audio Festival in Evanston, Illinois. It’s an annual meet-up of people who tell stories with sound, with a pretty heavy emphasis on radio (the festival is organized by Chicago Public Radio) but also with sessions on podcasting, social media, and other 21st century formats. I’ve gone every year since 2001 and it always makes me giddy. For those of us who work alone in our attics or basements, it’s awfully nice to spend a few days soaking up the collegial vibe. And of course it’s inspiring to hear the great things folks are producing.

Before I go I thought I’d quickly report on what’s going on with WORKING. I’ve been editing three terrific profiles with three terrific reporters. Kelly McEvers spent more than two weeks tracking down a pirate in Indonesia (check out her blog for an amazing peek behind the journalistic curtain); the guy she finally found goes out at night on a little boat, climbs a pole onto giant cargo ships, and robs the crews with a machete. The intrepid Gregory Warner journeyed from Rwanda, where he was on another assignment, to the end of a tiny tunnel deep in a jungle in the Democratic Republic of Congo to find a guy who spends his days chipping away at a wall of rock with a little spike, looking for a mineral used in cell phones and other gadgets. And the inimitable Sean Cole spent a few days with a Ukrainian dancer doing a death-defying Argentinian cowboy act for a Russian circus traveling in England.

It’s weeks like these that remind me what an incredible privilege it is to do this work. I’ll let you know if the feeling persists.


Homelands Productions has been around since 1990, creating public radio features and documentaries, writing articles and books, and generally doing our artfully journalistic (journalistically artful?) bit to promote world peace and understanding. In the last few years we’ve started taking the web pretty seriously (see the links to the right). But this, dear Visitor Person, is our first foray into the blogosphere. It’s a small step for mankind, to be sure, but a good-sized leap for our little cooperative.

When I say “our little cooperative” I mean Sandy Tolan, Alan Weisman, Cecilia Vaisman, and me, Jonathan Miller. As a group we’ve produced seven major series for NPR and other public radio outlets, often teaming up with other independent producers. We’ve worked in more than 40 countries and won 19 national and international awards. We all have professional lives beyond radio – Sandy (The Lemon Tree) and Alan (The World Without Us) have just written terrifically successful books, Cecilia is working on a video documentary from Cuba, and we all consult and teach.

Right now our biggest project is WORKING, a monthly series of intimate, sound-rich profiles of workers in the global economy for Marketplace, public radio’s daily show about business and economics. More than any of our previous projects, WORKING lives both on the radio and the web. As I write this, we’re rushing to finish a fancy interactive web module that will let working people around the world share and compare their work experiences. We’re calling it the “Worker Browser.” It’s hard to explain without actually looking at it. Send us a note if you want us to let you know when it’s ready. 

You can find out more about who we are and what we do at our website. We’ve put up almost all the audio we’ve ever produced and installed a little player, so you can listen for hours. In a few days we should have a functioning search. I suspect it won’t be too long before we venture into the world of the podcast. Poco a poco, as they say in Spanish, we’re getting our online act together.

That’s it for now. It’s good to be here, thanks for visiting, and let’s keep in touch!


P.S. The photo at the top of the page is from the village of Quilcas, 13,000 feet up in the Peruvian Andes. The two sisters are from a family of llama herders. I had just recorded their dad playing his fiddle and their mom singing and banging a drum. I handed my earbuds to one of the girls and she put one in her ear, the other in her sister’s, and they both listened to the music.