Tuesday, July 22, 2008

National Luddite Radio

The first show on NPR that I really enjoyed listening to was cancelled recently. "The Bryant Park Project," a show hosted by Gen Xers and younger, acted as a podcast, blog and radio show wrapped in one. For an organization like NPR that is basically the same as it was ten years ago, this change was good to see. Instead of feeling like I was in a time warp to the days of Vietnam, Woodstock and Jefferson Airplane, as I often did when listening to most of NPR's content, the BPP appealed to my generational sensibilities by bringing on guests like Neil Gaiman and ?uestlove.

The CEO of NPR, Dennis Haarsager, issued this press release on the cancellation:

"In this case, radio carriage was inadequate and web/podcasting usage was hampered -- here's the relearning part -- by having an appointment program in a medium that doesn't excel in that kind of usage. . . .

"I'd like to see good minds like those of the BPP staff think about how we can do good journalism delivered via the web using techniques beyond just throwing up another portal-type web site and expecting people to come to it. Our new open API release is a great tool for that. The realities of how people use the web, how web audiences grow through search, and technologies for tracking attention and tailoring content delivery to match how people spend their attention all need to be considered. Portals still have a place, just as their close cousins radio transmitters do, but we can no longer put all our eggs in that basket.

"NPR will, I hope, be a leader in a new generation of news delivery over multiple platforms, including ones we've never conceived. But we can't make those 2nd generation investments if we continue 1st generation efforts that aren't consistent with what we know about how media usage is maturing."

Back in the 1980s, NPR was a source of creativity that brought us the classic radio adaptations of the Star Wars trilogy. I can't imagine NPR ever investing in an undertaking like that today. Frankly, if NPR doesn't leap into the present there are plenty of people waiting to replace it. The internet is filled with podcasts that rival in quality and creativity Fresh Air, Talk of the Nation or Selected Shorts.

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