Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Growth Requires Calculation + Inspiration

Most of the news out of the Grow the Audience project is focused on the math part of the initiative. How many listeners does public radio have? Which audience segments does public radio want to grow and by how much?

That's all necessary but it is no different than the work of our commercial counterparts. It's just an exercise in math.

The Grow the Audience project won't take off until there are content visionaries sharing how exciting it could be to serve new audiences. It won't take off until there are inspiring conversations about how lives can be changed and communities can be improved by public radio's service.

Consider these excerpts from NPR's first "mission statement."

National Public Radio will serve the individual: it will promote personal growth; it will regard the individual differences among men with respect and joy rather than derision and hate; it will celebrate the human experience as infinitely varied rather than vacuous and banal; it will encourage a sense of active constructive participation, rather than apathetic helplessness.

Programs in the "by and for" specific cultural, ethnic minorities category could be developed. For example, there could be a linkup of stations in urban areas with sizeable non-white audiences, or student groups studying ecology, or groups with distinct lifestyles and interests not now served by electronic media. As man pulls himself out of the mass society to develop his unique humanness, his minority identification (ethnic, cultural, value) becomes increasingly important...

In order to provide minorities access to the medium, it is not only important to establish the identity of that group, but essential if the total population is to understand and appreciate the interdependence of pluralism.

The people who wrote these words also had a vision for how to turn these ideals into content. They were involved in the creation of the service from the start. Through experience and subsequent calculation their inspiration evolved into public radio today.

Now public radio is trying to do this process in reverse; to calculate first and then find a vision to fit the math. It's a much tougher task.

You can't just go out and sub-contract for inspiration. The content visionaries have to be deeply involved in the process from the start. If they are involved in Grow the Audience at this point, it's not apparent. If they aren't, it's time to get them involved.

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