Sunday, September 30, 2007

PRPD Reflections

Some thoughts on the recently completed Public Radio Program Director’s Conference.

· David Isay’s acceptance of the Murrow Award was a true celebration of what public radio does best. Instead of giving a speech, he delivered a driveway moment. Listen to the audio on the PRPD web site when it becomes available.

· Public Insight Journalism (PIJ), in my opinion, is by far the best use of new technology in public radio. While everyone else is talking about delivery platforms or fundraising, PIJ is creating new content that embodies public radio’s Core Values. It’s like adding thousands of people, their knowledge, and their ideas to the daily editorial meeting.

· The vast majority of people who make public radio are white and getting older. This is especially true of public radio’s leadership. When was the last time NPR, PRI, APM, or CPB hired an African American or Hispanic in a senior executive position that directly touches programming?

· George Bailey of Walrus Research showed some interesting graphs where listener response to public radio programming turns sharply negative when underwriting credits come on the air. It seems to verify NPR’s underwriting research that the “halo effect” for underwriters is eroding, at least a little.

· NPR’s research consultant Paul Jacobs was truly surprised that listeners offered unsolicited and strong negative reaction to pledge drives during the underwriting research. As I told him, I don’t see anything new here. Listeners have been doing that in focus groups for decades. But it’s a good thing if NPR responds by increasing its efforts to help stations raise more money off air and improve the efficiency and sound of on-air drives.

· There is one catch. NPR shouldn’t let its renewed interest in pledge drive annoyance distract it from fixing its own underwriting problems.

There’s more to say about the negative effects of on-air fundraising and underwriting in a future blog. But as I write this I hear NPR’s Frank Tavares reminding me that I could have had a V-8… and it’s making me thirsty.

Before I go, I will echo a comment by Paul Jacobs, who said public radio is well positioned to grow and provide even greater public service in the future. I would add that all you have to do is listen to David Isay to know it is true.


Anonymous Justin said...

I figured once that I was hearing "Support for NPR comes from..." almost 30 times each weekday. How can somebody not get sick of that month after month and year after year? I hit the button now before they even come on.

3:45 AM  
Anonymous David Chavez said...

The vast majority of people who make public radio are white and getting older.

Why is this true? Because the vast majority of people who DONATE to public radio are white and getting older...that's why. And trying to change that will frequently alienate those donors, too.

While I don't exactly endorse the idea that NPR should be the last bastion of White Liberal Guilt...for many, many years NPR was a lot more ethnically and culturally inclusive. And it was written off as irrelevant. Then NPR gradually refocused into serving a more specific audience a lot, rather than trying to serve ALL audiences a little bit. Not surprisingly, it's got a lot more listeners and a lot more money.

Why do people seem so hung up on increasing diversity on NPR? Trying to please everyone doesn't work. Instead, NPR...with help from CPB...should devote resources to creating an entire program stream devoted to minorities (or multiple streams for different minorities) and couple that with a series of incentives from CPB to get member stations to deliver the program stream via alternate means; either by getting new frequencies or by HD multicasting.

In other words, having six hours a week of "black" programming does not mean you're serving your racial/ethnic minority audience. Having 162 hours a week does...and nothing less than that will really do.

1:20 PM  
Blogger RadioSutton said...

Thanks for the comments. We agree, David, that a major investment is needed to attract and keep new listeners. That investment is not only money, but also time. It will take a decade to take hold. A previous post on the topic:

2:23 AM  
Anonymous david chavez said... make a good case, John. But I wonder if it's worth having a B- product today rather than waiting ten years to have an A+ product.

By which I mean that there are radio programming sources that directly serve minority audiences, and they're out there right now. Are they necessarily up to the same standard of quality of all of NPR programming? I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised if they're not. Still, it's entirely likely that they're "good enough".

Why not approach these outlets and license the content for national distribution? Or just buy them outright?

I'll grant you, degrading the quality is risky because you're playing games with one of the core tenants of NPR's overall brand. And certainly Air America clearly demonstrated the risks of trying to move too quickly. But to say that NPR can't really accomplish, until ten years from now, what people are demanding today, feels vaguely disingenuous.

By which I mean it feels like NPR is really more concerned with just serving their core white 25-54 upper-middle-class demo and making token efforts to appease the other demos. To be clear, I don't necessarily feel that NPR should be "required" to serve those other demos. I'm not someone who assumes that the phrase "public radio" must include every single member of the public. But please, either just acknowledge it and move on; or actually do something about it. Don't patronize me with empty promises, ya know?

6:19 PM  

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