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For six weeks, Florida Matters shared stories about the state of our environment, housing, transportation, and more.

In 'Our Changing State,' Florida Matters explores the state's transforming landscape

Sky Lebron, left, and Matthew Peddie in studio
Chandler Balkcom
WUSF Public Media
WUSF's Sky Lebron, left, talks with Florida Matters host Matthew Peddie about the upcoming "Our Changing State" series.

The six-part series will examine how Florida's population boom has impacted areas including the economy, politics, and transportation.

On July 25, WUSF Public Media debuts a new Florida Matters series called“Our Changing State.” It will explore six topics — housing, environment, transportation, economy, politics, and culture — and the impact Florida's growing population has had on them.

WUSF’s Sky Lebron sat down with Matthew Peddie, who hosts Florida Matters, about what the audience can expect from the show over the six weeks.

When did this idea to address the state's rapid changes come about? Obviously, we're seeing it as Florida residents. Was there a specific event that made something just pop up in your head or made it clearly apparent that this had to happen?

The idea for the series came from a show that we produced late last year and was about the political environment in Sarasota County. And as you know, Sarasota County is kind of a focal point for conservatism — or has become so in the Tampa Bay region in recent years. So the question that emerged from that conversation was, "Has there been a fundamental shift in Florida's culture and the state's politics as well?" As you're probably aware of not so long ago, Florida was seen as a purple state or a swing state, and now that's not really the case. And at the same time, there’s this political change, as whatever cultural and political changes are happening, there's the fact that Florida's population is just constantly growing. And we decided to explore that through the series of shows.

And what I noticed is that the topics for this series are very focused. It's things like politics, housing, transportation, a couple others. How did you hone in on these specific subjects for the series?

Before we began the reporting, we reached out to a bunch of people and some of those had families that have been here in central Florida in the Tampa Bay region for generations, or others who are more recent arrivals to the state. And we conducted empathy interviews that are a little bit different from traditional journalistic interviews. It’s more of a conversation. The questions are a bit more open-ended. They’re kind of aimed at encouraging the people we talk to, to share stories about their experiences. And then from those interviews, we found some common threads, like common elements to the kinds of change people are experiencing in Florida, and what that means for them. And that led us to the six topics that we're focusing on for the series. As you mentioned — housing, there's the environment, transportation, the economy, politics, and culture.

And there's an interesting start to each episode, with kind of a five-minute segment at the beginning, where we hear from a Florida resident on this specific topic that's being addressed for that episode. How did that idea come up? And what's the value and adding that voice to the top of the show?

Yeah, that's kind of one of the most exciting aspects of it for me. We're calling these "sense of place interviews." It's a way to personalize the topic with a story because a lot of these, they're pretty big topics like housing. It's a pretty vast, sprawling topic, but what we're trying to do, again, it comes back to the common threads that are woven through the series — transportation, the economy, politics, etc. — and, you know, we're still having those discussions as part of the series with experts about the issues. But first, we're setting the scene with a story from a very specific place. And that could be, you know, a boat ride to a vanishing island, it could be a street corner in Ybor City with the roosters crowing in the background.  

Nothing like rooster sound to really get a sense of place of Ybor.

That's right. I mean, it's one of those iconic things, right? So yeah, anything like that, I think just helps just locate the series and it puts you right in the place. And that's the beauty of radio, too. You can kind of paint that picture in your mind as you're listening.

So obviously, you're the main host for Florida Matters — a pretty darn good one, I'm not being biased. And you're also working on Florida Roundup, sometimes as well. I'm sure you're used to a certain formula for the show. But this one really mixes it up because it bases a lot of the questions that you're going to present on listener comments and questions that they had. How do you think that strengthens the show?

It strengthens the show in a couple of ways. One, we know that these are issues that are very engaging to people, the challenge of renting or trying to buy a house, for example. And two, it just reveals and illustrates those commonalities for our listeners. These are things that everyone's going through, but everyone's experiencing it in a different way.”

So this first week, can you can you give us a bit of a preview on what people can expect for this first episode that airs Tuesday?

This week, you're going to hear a vignette from our reporter Craig Kopp. He was invited into a home that two Tampa Bay residents had just bought. They talk about what it's like trying to buy a place to live in the superheated real estate market. And then we're going to talk with a couple of experts. And again, as I mentioned before, we turn the questions over to the audience for the conversation. I think it's a fascinating discussion. I certainly enjoyed it. And I'm hoping our listeners will get a lot out of it, too.

Our Changing State debuts at 6:30 p.m. on WUSF 89.7, or stream it online at WUSFNews.org.

As a host and reporter for WUSF, my goal is to unearth and highlight issues that wouldn’t be covered otherwise. If I truly connect with my audience as I relay to them the day’s most important stories and make them think about an issue past the point that I’ve said it in a newscast, that’s a success in my eyes.