‘Marketplace’ Exec Producer Deb Clark: Economic Turmoil Brings Great Opportunities

“‘Marketplace'” has a good formula because we are able to break things down in an understandable way, but we need some new energy doing that”

Deborah Clark, newly named executive producer of "Markeplace," has a long history with the American Public Media program, having first worked there in 1995 as a producer of the overnight show. After stints as freelancer and at NPR, she returned in April 2009. 

She spoke with TheWrap on Monday about the opportunities in economic turmoil, the need to grapple with the problem of the long-term unemployed, and a digital strategy that's very much a work in progress.

Also read: American Public Media Names Deborah Clark Executive Producer of 'Marketplace'

What is the first order of business as the new head of editorial?
We have a great opportunity right now. What’s been happening in recent weeks in particular with lots of market turmoil is it means people are focused again on the economy and the direction this country is headed in terms of its growth, economic health and its place in the world. Our job is to take that and go with it.

What "Marketplace" has always been good at is explaining it all in a way that people who aren’t business types can understand. That doesn’t mean dumbing it down but taking complicated issues and making them understandable.

Has anything surprised you in the media’s coverage of all this economic turmoil?
I was at a dinner party on the day the debt ceiling deal finally happened, and it’s so interesting because it was just a group of regular people — we all have kids the same age and we were swimming, hanging out on a nice L.A. afternoon — and they wanted to know from me what was happening with the debt. Talking it through, I was surprised at their level of knowledge.

Then, as I’m there, I got the announcement through a wire feed on my phone that there was a deal. They were like "Oh great, tell us about it." I thought maybe I need to change my friends to get people with different interests. [Laughs] I was really fascinated at how interested they were in that.

Is there a story you feel has not been covered that "Marketplace" can jump on?
The picture of the long-term unemployed is fundamentally changing in this country. That is a great story for "Marketplace" to do in a broad way. Listeners can see us set an agenda where we are following regular people from all different sectors — different parts of the country and demographics — and telling their story over time.

How involved are you in the digital and social media strategy?
That’s a key thing or any of us and something we’re trying to be better at. This hasn’t been a strength of "Marketplace," and we're really trying to change that. It started about a year ago we finally hired someone to run our digital offerings here in L.A. With every hire we make now we are thinking about digital background — not just radio — but it is still very much a work in progress.

So, what specifically are you doing?
We just launched our iPhone app and are planning more stages of it. And just last week we developed very quickly a numbers widget we made available to two stations. They can put it on their website with market numbers, context, statistics on wealth created or lost in that given day. We are trying to do more offerings like that.

So, as someone who has been involved with it for as long as you have, what do you want to be the imprint you leave on "Marketplace"?
"Marketplace" has a good formula because we are able to break things down in an understandable way, but we need some new energy doing that, and I think our competition has gotten better at doing that.

How do you take a program that has been around for 20-plus years and still be able to incubate new, fresh ideas? It’s something I’ve thought a lot about … How do you create an environment — and this is the single most important job for a producer — that allows people to be really creative and find those pockets of time and space where you put together weird combinations that maybe don’t normally work together and put them together and have them work on projects that really allow everyone to benefit from that.

We can have these new teams to infuse ideas and enegry into the place because there are some really smart people here who are also creative.