If you saw John Schwartz's excellent post the other day, you'll appreciate this reasonably robust reply from the the top brass at NPR.
Remember to also check out a strong case for online news investment, prompted by this thread, filed by Todd Mundt.
Begin forwarded message:
From: Vivian Schiller <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: April 19, 2010 4:56:28 AM PDT
Subject: Some comments and update on pubradio's digital future...from Vivian and Kinsey
Reply-To: PUBRADIO - PUBLIC RADIO DISCUSSION GROUP <PUBRADIO@LISTSERV.BOISESTATE.EDU>
Dear Station Colleagues;
We promised you further thoughts and some updates on NPR's efforts to
forge a stronger partnership with member stations and articulate aM
digital vision that will enhance public radio's strength and relevance
as technology and consumer habits change.
Jon Schwartz touched on some of these issues in his recent note to
AReps. And in meetings with stations reps across the country, many of
you have expressed a desire to understand and engage in a conversation
about public radio's digital future and the business models that will
Certainly, we don't have all the answers. No one does. And we understand
that NPR is just one of many public media organizations that are
thinking about these issues and proposing strategies. But with those
caveats in mind, we'd like to share some thoughts.
Simply put, we believe that public radio is uniquely positioned to
address the news and information needs of the American public at a
moment of crisis in American journalism - and that digital media will be
a core part of that solution.
* We believe the public radio system has an opportunity to
achieve national authority and local relevance across an expanding
number of platforms by forming a digital network whose impact is far
stronger than the sum of its parts - an approach that has been so
successful for us in broadcasting.
* Audio will remain at the heart of what we do, whether on-air
or in the digital space, particularly as mobile delivery assumes greater
importance and internet radio becomes available in cars. But we'll also
need to develop greater versatility in the way we deliver content and
meet audience expectations.
* Strengthening our efforts in news on digital platforms - at
both the national and local level - remains our most immediate and
urgent priority. But there also is great opportunity in the music space,
as we've discovered through NPR Music's nascent partnership with a dozen
or so member stations around the country.
* Public radio's diversified revenue base is a source of great
strength. And while no one can say with certainty what the business
model will look like in 10 years, we think our model stands a better
chance of holding up on new platforms and devices than the commercial
* Last but not least, as mission-driven organizations we have an
obligation to think first and foremost about our audience. And our
audience is already online. Prudent investment in digital media is not
merely an option, as Todd Mundt persuasively argued the other day
< http://bit.ly/a4awD8> . It must be a priority.
This is a vision we've long held at NPR, and more importantly one to
which we've devoted considerable resources despite the budget
limitations imposed by one of the worst economic downturns in U.S.
And from the start, we have focused money and manpower on addressing the
digital needs of Member stations, not just those of NPR.
Fundraising efforts and discussions with stations about Project Argo
began in March 2009. Plans to overhaul Public Interactive began last
summer. Discussions around the creation of a Public Media Platform and
the fundraising required to support it got underway in September 2009.
Efforts to develop a digital training strategy for stations began in the
late fall. And station-focused work on the API has continued throughout.
As we'll detail below, we're making progress on each of these
Admittedly, our investments in digital strategy have yielded more
immediate returns at the NPR level. Frankly, if we couldn't demonstrate
some success at home, there'd be no reason for the Member stations to
have much confidence in our ability to deliver on the broader vision.
But our focus is absolutely on the strength and potential of our
network. We hope that our actions of the last year have demonstrated
NPR's commitment to our function as a membership organization.
But there's also no escaping the fact that laying the foundation for
radio's digital future is a costly and complex undertaking that will
take some time.
When efforts of this kind are undertaken in the private sector, they are
typically eight-figure, multi-year endeavors. When NBC decided to bring
the web operations of its 10 owned-and-operated stations in house in
2008, it hired 60 people and spent millions building new infrastructure.
AOL's expansion of Patch < http://bit.ly/dz1Zvs> - its online local play
- is a $50 million-a-year undertaking that will play out over five
years; Yahoo! And MSN < http://bit.ly/cNvawj> are embarked on similarly
ambitious local plays. And even single-market startups like those
launched in San Francisco and Washington are expected to consume $5
million to $10 million a year and take several years to break even.
We don't' have those kinds of resources today. But we have a
relationship with our local audiences that's those organizations don't -
-and perhaps never will. And we haven't been standing still.
* Project Argo - which will demonstrate how stations can build a
stronger online presence - is underway and funded for two years. All
twelve sites will be up and running by the end of August. And one
station has said it plans to apply the model to as many as a dozen
different subject areas as it seeks to deepen its online presence.
* The NPR API has been continually improved and is now capable
of supporting not only NPR traffic, but that of large member stations.
WBUR has been the first to take full advantage of this service,
integrating NPR content into its site and driving steady growth in its
traffic. We are encouraging any and all stations to migrate our content
to their website and integrate as their own.
* We're currently working with a half-dozen stations to
demonstrate how to put their content into the API so that it can be
widely shared throughout the public radio network. As the first piece of
evidence of how this can work, a story from the Northwest News Network
automatically flowed through the API to WBUR. Imagine if all stations
had access to each other's content. That's what we're working towards.
* We have begun to overhaul Public Interactive which will make
web publishing and content sharing quicker and easier. In the next few
weeks, we will name about a half dozen small and medium-sized stations
that have been selected to participate in a test of a new open-source
content management system that will form the foundation of PI's new
service. All of this, incidentally, is being funded, for now, from
existing PI revenues, which are up 10 percent year-over-year.
* And finally, we've reached out to other large national
producers in public broadcasting (APM, PRI, PBS and PRX) and raised
nearly $1 million toward the planning for what we're calling the Public
Media Platform - a more robust version of the NPR API that would expand
public broadcasting's ability to serve the content and technology needs
of the system.
NPR can and will provide editorial leadership, technology infrastructure
and some financing. But even as we're bringing these resources together,
it is important for stations to begin taking steps on their own.
WBUR has seen exponential growth in its traffic not simply because it
embraced the API, but because it undertook a redesign of its site,
overhauled its news operation and began forging partnerships with
Boston.com and other local news outlets.
And it's not just the big players who have led the way. Tiny KALW has
also been a leader in the online space by redesigning its news site
< http://kalwnews.org/> , revamping its newsroom and recruiting citizen
volunteers to help fuel an expanded online presence in the Bay Area.
While there are a number of other examples like this throughout public
radio, we recognize that the vast majority of smaller stations need
significant support of all kinds to compete online. Please know that NPR
is committed to that support. In fact, it's one of the areas of study of
our strategic plan currently under discussion with the NPR board.
We will continue to seek your input on these efforts, involve you
directly in experiments as they come online, and keep you informed of
progress at every step of the way.
- Vivian Schiller and Kinsey Wilson