Tuesday, July 05, 2011

NPR Digital: After All These Years, What's the Hurry?

A recent article published by Harvard University's Nieman Journalism Lab touted the great potential of NPR's Digital Service plan, saying the time is right for NPR to create a massive digital network with its stations. The author, Ken Doctor, gets it half right.

NPR and stations should collaborate on a digital network. Public radio’s success is built on the economies of scale created by NPR/station relationship. Mr. Doctor contends the time for such collaboration is now. Well, yes, but not necessarily this month or in the next few months.

The time was really several years ago, but NPR President Vivian Schiller and NPR VP for Digital Services Kinsey Wilson weren’t interested in collaboration when they first arrived at NPR. In fact, they made a concerted effort to separate NPR and stations in the digital space. So stations started coming up with their own digital solutions.

NPR’s executive leadership is now sounding an alarm about this fracturing of the system, as though it could not have been anticipated. It is, in fact, a circumstance largely of NPR’s own making. The solution on the table is also of NPR’s own making. Stations weren’t consulted in the creation of the plan and it shows. There is so much missing from the plan, conceptually and operationally, that could make it stronger for stations and NPR.

Collaboration on a digital network is a great idea, but it has to be true collaboration and not NPR forcing a top-down plan on stations.

It’s worth noting, as Kinsey Wilson has during NPR’s road shows, the current Digital Services plan was conceived under Vivian Schiller's leadership. It really begs the question, why would the NPR Board potentially saddle its next President with a plan that was conceived by a past-President who never really understood the NPR/station relationship?

The Great NPR/Station Digital Network has waited years to happen. It can wait a little longer for a better plan than current one.

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