Tuesday, April 17, 2007

National Campfires and Audience Diversity

The reign of personal media technology is putting out the national media campfires. Instead of getting our news from a few sources such as the big three networks, we are all now getting the same news but from many, many different sources.

No news in that, really. But it is an essential point as public radio struggles with audience diversity issues.

If it was folly 15 or 20 years ago to talk about an individual station or network program diversifying its broadcast audience, it is an even greater mistake today. There are too many media choices. Pulling current listeners, let alone new ones, to the same source at the same time is becoming increasingly difficult.

This was especially apparent with the Don Imus and Virginia Tech shooting stories. If you survey the people you know, chances are very good that they tracked these stories differently than you did. There might be a little crossover in news sources and channels, but they probably got their information from a largely different set of web sites and cable networks in addition to NPR.

This speaks to public radio’s need to think about serving diverse audiences, not diversifying its audience. It’s an important distinction. The idea of a truly “national audience,” people hearing the same thing at the same time, is fading away.

The goal now is to reach different people across different channels at different times with ideas and content that still has the power to bind those individuals into a community. It’s a tremendous new opportunity to achieve public radio’s audience diversity goals. Those goals can only be met if we remember that the challenge is not about technology and backroom operations but what we choose to communicate for the public good.

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