Public Radio Goes to Camp

A unique collaboration to benefit public radio, MPR and maybe all of media for that matter took place at the studios of the Minnesota Public Radio on Saturday July 12th.

The PublicRadioCamp was organized by Dan Grigsby and those behind Minnebar and Minnedemo here in the Twin Cities along with MPR. The “camp” was positioned as “a new community event” and the purpose was to examine “the tons of really interesting content, data, audio, meta-data and feeds.” and to spend the time “collaboratively remixing and mashing up these goodies.”

The designers, bloggers, journalists, internet types, and plenty of MPR representatives (about one for every non-MPR attendee), assembled in the deluxe UBS Forum. The space had been lined with work areas complete with large whiteboards indicating there wouldn’t be much observing and plenty of brainstorming. Within minutes the group divided into what resulted in four groups; Data Access, User Generated Content, News Visualization, and Nuevo Radio. My time was spent in the Nuevo Radio group, a name I gave it as a spicier take on radio. Besides nouveau seems so snooty. The results of it and the other collaborations are briefly reviewed below.

Data Access API-One glance at this group and you knew the developers were hard at work with plenty of tech talk and activity. As described on the Public Radio Camp wiki this group felt it would be really useful for users, developers, media and MPR itself if there were one universally accessible source (API) for searching all MPR content by location, time, keyword and article. It appears they are already hard at work to bring this to fruition.

User-generated Content-This group addressed helping people build news stories and their content, possibly to be used by MPR through the use of a how-to guide that could be posted online. They looked carefully at the process of developing a story and where collaboration could occur. They indentified ways the public could address everything from interviewing to writing, editing and producing. The real potential for such an idea is following up those stories that have a shorter on-air shelf life.

Nuevo Radio-The group sought ways to keep relevant to its listeners. User-generation was a focal point as well. Where the group described above focused on an online play, this group built on the idea of a “civic journalism center” or even coffee shop concept. A location where people that are inclined to be more participatory could gather as well as have access to the necessary tools and resources to build content. The idea of merging this plan with public libraries was also discussed. Other ideas included shuffling the on-air programming schedule on a regular basis to showcase the offering available online to be heard at the listener’s convenience and using HD channels to provide raw interviews and video to accompany on-air content.


(Photo Courtesy of Bob Collins)

News Visualization-This group looked to give visual life to the content of news stories produced and heard. Similar to a category cloud familiar to many who read or produce blogs regularly, the result of running an RSS feed through Wordle was “art” that would highlight the topics and words that dominated within the stories. (Example at left.) Of course this would change throughout the day. As noted by MPR’s Bob Collins, someone commented that this is a new version of the “weather ball.”

Clearly the afternoon will bear fruit for MPR as they continue to enlist the talents of this, as MPR’s Julia Schrenkler noted, “enthusiastic” group. Hopefully it will lead to not only allowing those in this group to derive satisfaction and perhaps compensation for these ideas but that radio broadcasters beyond MPR will act on what is being learned and attempted.

MPR has discovered the power of enlisting “the crowd” to build it’s product. Merging old and new media, technology, and people is a noble effort and has every chance of elevating the quality of journalism as well as the expectations of radio consumers.

NPR Is Radio Too

This morning my friend Steve Borsch from Connecting the Dots sent me a link to a post by Jeff Jarvis over at Buzz Machine. It is regarding CEO Ken Stern being forced out at NPR (not my words, theirs). It appears to many, though not the “official” reason, that his push to move NPR further into the world of program distribution via new and emerging media had ruffled too many affiliate feathers.

My reaction… you seem surprised? I don’t know Ken Stern from Adam and have no idea if his internet strategy had anything to do with his termination. However, I do know that many in radio believe online is the enemy. You’ve heard me rant that this has been going on in commercial radio for years.

We can talk forever about how NPR is “different”, how they are most concerned with the quality of what the listener hears. Clearly, to a great extent that’s true. But after all the puffery, high-mindedness, and the hob-nobbing with the hoi polloi (perceived or real), for the local affiliate NPR’s focus is to help them get people to listen to their stations.

You bet NPR has made great strides in distribution, but if all of the public radio listeners, especially the younger ones…with money, head to the internet for their news, information, book chat, and Bach (a bit snarky, I know) then Hooterville Public Radio has a stick (antenna) that they have invested in that suddenly becomes worth a whole lot less. Number of listeners and revenue derived from them is what stick value is all about.

In most of my conversations with those in public radio, the honest ones anyway, they have been quite frank that even there, the bottom line is…well…the bottom line, the same for all radio. Look you can’t pay the bills without revenue, I don’t care who you are.

The opportunity for radio is still a big one. People, currently the vast majority, still turn on the radio. But every day  as technology evolves they are given more and more ways to get the same or better content. Yes, there is opportunity for the medium to try and build a strategy and revenue around the new distribution channels but the real opportunity is to provide great content for those channels to keep people tuning in. Gone are the days of counting on revenue because it’s the only place to get content. Now it’s about where to get the best content.

Broadcast is freaked out because the big money is on the distribution channel not on the content in it. Content is where they save money through quantities of scale. That’s why NPR exists, that’s why affiliates like Hooterville Public Radio need them and that’s why many fear change.

It is clear that NPR, at least under Mr. Stern, is aware of the need and is trying to change the paradigm. The affiliates may or may not have the same vision, but they most certainly don’t have the same money to dedicate to exclusive content.

If Ken Stern was shown the door for his internet/new media strategy that’s a shame…but it wouldn’t be a surprise…at least to me.