Wednesday, April 15, 2009

NPR and the state of the news

I am an avid NPR listener. And when I say avid, I mean ridiculously obsessed (here's a shout-out to WBUR, my local NPR affiliate - love you guys!). I listen in the car, when I'm cooking, while I put on my make-up.. you get the idea. One of the first melodies I could sing as a small child was the trumpet-lead "doo dooo do do DO DO DO" of All Things Considered (thanks, Mom).

However, I was still surprised to hear that NPR's Morning Edition audience is 60% larger than the audience for Good Morning America, and 33% larger than the audience for The Today Show on NBC. Over seven and a half million people listen to Morning Edition. NPR's audience has increased 47% since 2000. That's a lot of people getting their news from a non-profit organization.

Perhaps the other traditional media can learn something from NPR. A few reasons why I think it's doing so well:
  1. It's portable. People are on the move, with an average commute time of 25 minutes. Personal radios are small, though some of us consider it a fashion statement to carry our bulky boombox around (see guy at right).
  2. Most of us still commute by car - in fact, 77% of commute alone by car. Even the most basic of cars have a radio. What better riding companion is there than the smart people of NPR?
  3. NPR is tech-savvy, which gets GenY-ers like myself to listen even more. NPR tweets, it Facebooks, it blogs, it has an awesome streaming iPhone app, and some shows are even in Second Life.
  4. It has interesting news. Well, and not-so-interesting news, but the point is that it tells me what the heck is going on in Boston, the US, and the world. They have reporters giving first-hand descriptions of what is going on. They do research. They talk to the people behind the stories. There's a difference between a primary news source like NPR, and a secondary one (like many online sources, including most blogs).
  5. It's un-biased. Yes, NPR's listeners may skew slightly liberal, but in fact NPR is 62% more likely to have a Republican on air than a Democrat (source: And just 2% of NPR's funding comes from the government. Most of it actually comes from its member stations, which are funded by donations, foundation grants, and private bequests, or corporate underwriting. NPR itself works hard to prevent bias.
However, I wonder if NPR will always be there for us. Sure, I made my annual donation, but will that be enough? As of 2004, 83% of NPR's journalists were also employed by other typically more traditional news organizations, which are having issues right now (to put it mildly). I mean, the Boston Globe may shut its doors in May! And currently, NPR has an $8 million shortfall in its operating budget.

The overlapping-sources issues aside, traditional media has a lot it could learn from NPR and local affiliates. I still mourn the loss of BostonNOW, which I feel was the best example of Web 2.0 combined with traditional media... though it ultimately folded, so perhaps not.

What do you think of publically supported news sources like NPR? And how do you see our news sources changing?

Related Posts: Read the Paper!; BostonNOW is no more; More News about News; Boston Globe and OYFP; We're good enough for.. (1) and (2)


John R said...

WBUR is having a loosely structured gathering at 6:30 on Wednesday, April 29, with a tour of the station followed by free-flowing conversation on all things new media-ish

Questions? Tweet @WBUR @kengeorge or email

hashtag: #wbur

OYFP Boston said...

See, John? Twitter DOES have a purpose!

Casey said...

Hhahahhha check this NPR Name Generator out. My NPR name is: Acasey Nidiri. Has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

Dave said...

NPR has a lot of great content, but like many organizations are definitely struggling financially, like you mentioned.

I read an interview with Ira Glass in the Chicago Tribune the other day, and the major impetus for them doing a live version (which they're simulcasting in theaters around the country on April 27) was because of a $120,000 shortfall. Interview here:,0,3078280.column

But what I've noticed amongst my friends, is a knowledge gap. Those who know of NPR,listen frequently and love the content. But those who don't know, obviously aren't listening. There doesn't seem to be any middle ground, where people are aware of NPR, but not choosing to listen.

Casey said...

Hmm.. many of my friends also listen to NPR, but those that don't listen do know about it. In general, though, I'd say you probably have a pretty good point. So if NPR listeners are so loyal, why don't they donate more? (I donate yearly, though my donation this year was 1/2 as much as last year.)

And as far as the live This American Life, you can watch it here on April 26 live in movie theaters!!!! I was totally going to, but I have my freaking group project to work on that day...