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The Most Influential Women in Technology 2011 – Alisa Miller

CEO, Public Radio International

The Most Influential Women in Technology 2011 – Alisa Miller

While hand-wringing over school lunches and Happy Meals continues apace, Alisa Miller is concerned about another kind of nutrition deficiency in America. “There are very few voices in the U.S. news making global-local connection,” says Miller. And as CEO of Public Radio International she’s working hard to find the antidote to what she calls our news nutrition deficiency. “We need to understand the global issues in order to be a vibrant society. Our backyards are the whole world, and everything is interconnected.”

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So what better way to connect the dots than by plugging in to technology? Indeed, between regular programming, podcasting, and simulcasting, PRI’s news reaches 13 million listeners each week, and its iPhone app boasts 5 million downloads.

But that doesn’t begin to tackle the problem of how to diversify an audience about as ethnically and economically varied as Wonder Bread. That’s why Miller believes in disrupting traditional methods of news gathering and reporting, including using mobile tech to engage and generate content. “Your newsroom should be far greater than [its] resources. The people formerly known as the audience should be part of your content creation,” she says.

Miller witnessed this concept in action–and its profound results–this past year.

Working with a number of organizations including WDET, Detroit’s public radio station, and Mobile Commons, a software platform that organizes and responds to information sent as text messages, on an experiment to encourage citizens to work with reporters on stories that mattered to their community, a story surfaced that had been flying under the news radar for years.

Mexicantown, a residential part of the city, had fallen prey to illegal truck traffic. The diesel-spewing and road-ripping assault caused both property damage and health problems. Yet by texting WDET each time they saw an illegal truck on their streets, residents were able to feed local reporters enough information to bring the damage to wider attention. Parts of the story were broadcast on PRI’s The Takeaway, a program designed to attract a diverse audience. The result: having the national spotlight glare on the trucking companies made several stop the traffic and one even offer to help fund a health center for the residents.

For Miller, aggregating text messaging for news validates the marriage of technology and crowdsourcing as a way to take action to solve problems. On a global level she says, it helps people see their relation to the whole. “That is the way we will remain relevant and help rebuild trust of the media.”

About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.

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