Vivian Schiller, who helms National Public Radio, spoke from DC with Tom Ashbrook yesterday. Check out the lively conversation the interview elicited on the website. Get any two radio listeners into a room….
I blogged a little about Schiller’s visit to WBUR last month. She struck me as sharp, digitally conversant, and attuned to those issues that can at times make things prickly between local affiliates and the mothership.
Peruse the comments at the On Point website and you’ll see that, predictably, many revolve around the network’s alleged left-wing tint, a charge still very resonant in some quarters. I’ll reserve comment on that issue because, frankly, what can I say to assuage partisans of whatever stripe? I will, however, refer them and you to Alicia Shepard, the NPR Ombudsman (who graced us with a visit to the station last month as well). Right this way folks.
Of all the comments, the following in particular resonated with me because it touches on themes I’ve spent considerable time mulling over since I entered these hallowed public broadcasting warrens:
NPR is based on an archaic model of local station loyalties but in the age of the internet this is unsustainable. I live near Lowell MA, so my “local” NPR affiliates are WBUR and WGBH. I give them money out of charity but I have no basis for a relationship. I consume all my NPR programming via the web and I go to program-specific sites (e.g., cars.com for Car Talk) NOT wbur.org or wgbh.org. I never have to worry about pledge drives.
This really struck me: “I give them money out of charity but I have no basis for a relationship.”
Why? The kicker for me is the word “relationship.”
I think those station loyalties, a.k.a “relationships,” rooted as they are in a strong sense of local identification and history, are still powerfully resonant, even for those who have moved out of the local area (witness the traffic to the web stream). Or perhaps even for those compelled to give “out of charity.”
And strained as they may be at times, I’m not convinced relationships are ready to be consigned to the historical dustbin. Just yet anyway. We’ve got some time.
Yes, the economic model is under siege (newspapers, anyone?). Millennials are acclimated to having their digital cake and eating it too. The young’uns’ formative media experience is with the Internet. Not for them is waxing nostalgic about Cronkite or Murrow or that morning thwack! heralding the paper’s arrival on the driveway.
The future belongs to stations that are diligently working to foster more authentic (dare I say “participatory”?) relationships with their current audiences and to build bridges to future ones. How do you do this? One way is simply by opening the door and inviting your public in. Chris Brogan says it best: “It’s this embracing of the public, especially in this case the wired public, that will potentially keep a station like WBUR alive.” And of course, I think it critical that stations leverage the digital space to facilitate public participation in meaningful ways.
I expect 90.9 will be a different station in 2019. That said, I fully expect there will be a WBUR … now what will it be … Web 5.0? If we seriously invest in the relationship business.
Speaking of which, please join us Wednesday, April 29, at 6:30 PM for a conversation about relationships, radio, newspapers, and whatever else is on your mind. I hope Peter Nelson can make it as well.
And please tell me what you think. Am I naive about the future? Betting on the wrong horse?