Friday, October 04, 2013

Transition for NPR Highlights Major Industry Issues - Part 2: The NPR-Member Station Relationship

A recent article at highlighted some of the financial and membership issues facing NPR as it looks for its next leader.  Our last post considered the financial side.  This post considers the membership issues.

Current reported on NPR's recent customer satisfaction survey among member stations.  NPR scored well when it came to representing stations on regulatory, legislative and legal matters.  NPR received very low satisfaction scores on engagement with member stations.

It's no secret that stations have felt for many years that NPR hasn't been looking out for their best interests. The surprise here is the depth of dissatisfaction.  NPR was hoping to score 7.5 out of 10 on the engagement portion of the survey -- that is, NPR aspired to a "C+" average -- and it scored a 5.9.  On attentiveness to small stations, NPR scored 5.1 out of 10.

The low customer satisfaction scores are an especially big deal because NPR's Board is controlled by member stations. Also worth noting is that the past three NPR Board Chairs have come from medium-sized stations, not large stations. 

There's a long history of tension between NPR and stations over financial, audience service, and governance issues.  That tension has grown in recent years as NPR's digital efforts allow more listeners to get content directly from NPR.  This "bypass" is a scary proposition for NPR member stations and most stations view their control of NPR's board as the last line of protection against NPR grabbing their listeners and donors. 

The thing is -- it's not working at that well.  Stations can wield their governance power to prevent NPR from doing some things but they can't seem to use it to get NPR to act in their best interests. The recent satisfaction survey is evidence of that.  Member stations control the Board. Through their votes they control which station managers sit on the Board,. Yet with all of this control at the top, NPR still gets an "F" on customer satisfaction among member stations.  Station control of the Board isn't translating into a better NPR-Member Station relationship. 

So where's the disconnect?  It's easy to blame the executives in charge at NPR but perhaps the issue still rests at the Board level.  Here are two factors to consider.

First, NPR's Mission and Vision statement doesn't embrace helping member stations succeed. Even though NPR is a membership organization, the Board has not charged the executive leadership with serving member stations.  The mission statement says NPR partners with member stations. It says NPR represents the member stations in matters of mutual interest.  But it is silent about NPR acting in ways to help stations succeed.

The second factor, and this is probably linked to the Mission/Vision statement, is the role of the CEO/President.  Recently, the NPR Board has taken to hiring leaders of NPR but not leaders of the NPR membership, and certainly not leaders of the public radio system. That has to change if the NPR Board wants to repair relationships between NPR and its member stations.

More in our next posting.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I'd say this is the clearest evidence yet that NPR has zero desire to improve relations with member stations. In fact, watching that video at 1:20, they rather expressly say "don't listen to your local NPR affiliate station, even in the car. Listen to NPR through only."

Certainly that was my takeaway from this. It wasn't "how can all of NPR make the listener experience better." It was "how can NPR and NPR only make it better for listeners, and we don't care who gets thrown under the bus in the process."

2:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoops. Forgot the link:

(the video is in the article)

2:08 PM  

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