While their for-profit brethren worked the system to consolidate and homogenize the radio waves, National Public Radio remained true to their goal of being an innovator in the way people get news and information. Long before others saw the value of the Internet as a means of content distribution, NPR embraced it. They were early adopters of all kinds of web tools, from text versions of stories to podcasts to Twitter feeds. And it is paying off.
Compared to cable news, where most networks are shedding viewers, and newspapers, where circulation continues to plummet, NPR is starting to look like they have the future of news all figured out. Or at least, they appear to doing a lot better at it than the rest of the traditional media.
But what is NPR doing differently that’s causing their listener numbers to swell? They basically have a three-pronged strategy that is helping them not only grow now, but also prepare for the future media landscape where traditional methods of consumption (TV, radio, print) could be greatly marginalized in favor of digital distribution.
The three prongs? Focus on Local, Social Media, and Ubiquitous Access.
While none of those is inherently a novel idea, it seems as though NPR is among the very few media concerns that are actually making good on all three of them.
One area that I find very interesting and encouraging is how NPR is allowing listeners to customize and manage content in ways that far exceed the limited options offered by commercial radio operations. Catone's post cites NPR's willingness to allow outside application developers to remix and reuse content. This had led to cool stuff like this from Keith Hopper:
NPRbackstory is an experimental web mashup that I created to dig through the NPR archives and unearth the Public Radio backstory on currently trending topics. This "application" is currently running in Beta as a Twitter account. To use the application, you need to follow NPRbackstory in Twitter. I welcome any feedback on this idea in the comments section below.
NPR has also been at the forefront of podcasting. While other media outlets fretted and schemed over how to make money from podcasts and feeds, NPR was able to just move ahead. In fact, they have take it to a much more sophisticated level, allowing individuals to mix their own custom podcasts. This strikes me as brilliant, given that I think a lot of people quickly became victims of podcast fatigue... subscribing to way more than they would ever listen to. With this application, it is like being able to create your own mini-programming grid in one package. That is the customization and convenience that makes podcasting valuable to an end user.
Early advocates of public broadcasting would be proud. Somewhere, Graham Spry is smiling. (Yeah, I know he was Canadian, but he would have loved this.)