Monday, September 24, 2007

Every Solution Has Its Own Problems

The data are clear. On a national level, "new technology" has not helped public radio grow its radio audience or donor base.

We email listeners, stream audio, offer multiple programming channels, podcast, blog, twitter, take contributions online, and more. Yet the public radio donor base is shrinking. A bounce in the most recent audience estimates comes after a few years of audience decline.

Certainly, some stations have figured out how to make new technology work for them. There are also lots of new problems caused by technology that public radio as a whole is not handling well.

Automation seems to be among them. I hear more dead air, double audio sources on the air, and dated material than I ever heard five years ago. One of public radio Core Values is Quality of Craft. Broadcasting is a craft. I think we've slipped in this area.

Most stations haven't figured out online communications either. I get fundraising emails that are oblivious to my membership status at a station. It's clear that the email fundraising effort is independent of the direct mail effort. The stations either don't know how to make the email database talk to the membership database, or they don't care to try.

Almost every time I give money to a joint licensee during a radio pledge drive, the first direct mail solicitation I receive asks me to give again because public television is so great. Again, either the station can't figure out why I gave the first time, or it chooses to ignore that I want to support radio. Either way, the station is clearly sending the message that it doesn't understand me as a listener and donor. That's not a great way to get me to give again.

This blog is not immune to the problems of technology. My desire to get material out quickly while multitasking has resulted in way too many typos. In some ways, I feel like it’s a microcosm of what’s happening in public radio.

We try to do more because technology allows it and we press on even when we know our output isn’t up to our high standards of excellence. That has to change.

Perhaps the reason public radio isn’t getting better results is because our misplaced faith in technology has caused us to confuse “more” with “good.”

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