NPR taps into local expertise with Argo Project
Next week NPR launches its multi-platform digital initiative, the Argo Project. The project creates a dozen content verticals in subject areas ranging from Seattle-based KPLU's Humanosphere, which covers issues involving the reduction of poverty as well as global health concerns, to WNYC's hyper-targeted vertical The Empire, which covers New York politics.
The Argo Project aims to expand NPR's coverage in where particular NPR member stations excel. Member stations run the blogs, which seek increasingly to fill the void where local newspapers are in decline with their own brand of non-profit journalism. “We feel that it is crucially important to the system as a whole for us to develop and deepen our local newsgathering capacity,” Kinsey Wilson, formerly the vice president and editor-in-chief of USA Today.com, presently overseeing digital operations for NPR told Current.
While listening to NPR on the radio is the way most people consume their content (27 million Americans weekly), many millions also read their stories on NPR.org, via downloadable podcasts on iTunes or even through mobile phone apps. NPR is more than just traditional radio, it is non-profit journalism attracting a wide audience. Demographically, while the median age of NPR radio listeners is 55, that number skews seven years younger -- to 48 -- among online consumers. And the NPR News iPhone app has a median age of 38 and podcast listeners average 33 years old -- a 22 year age difference from the median radio listeners age -- according to Matt Gallivan, the Senior Research Analyst for Digital Media in NPR's Audience Insight & Research group.
Ever since last October's influential Knight Commission report, station-based news projects have been experimenting increasingly with cross-platform collaboration. In fact, the Argo Project -- if it is even marginally successful --- seeks to lay the groundwork for a broader collaboration between stations and perhaps even local newspapers. The Knight Commission concluded, gravely, that the current financial challenges facing private news media could pose a crisis for democracy, and that public media -- like NPR -- should provide better local news and information.
NPR Digital media's social media strategy is robust. NPR, which long has had the reputation as the station that your parents listened to, has built itself a surprisingly vibrant online community. Earlier this month NPR's Facebook page surpassed one million fans, no small feat for a news organization that's been practicing journalism for more than forty years. When the earth quake in Haiti struck, NPR found a compelling social media angle to engage their multiplatform consumers. NPR's website is also optimized for mobile browsing on PDAs and the iPad. And who among us can forget early last year's introduction of NPR senior news analyst, the late Daniel Schorr, to the Twitterverse? Classic.
July 2010's Facebook Fans survey among regular consumers of NPR content found that 18.6% of respondents use the NPR News iPhone app, 5% use their Android app and 2.5% our iPad app. 28.5% of regular consumers of NPR content listen to NPR podcasts. Finally, 8% follow NPR on either of their Twitter pages (NPR News & NPR Politics), where they have a combined following of over two million followers.
The Argo project is named after the ship that was sailed in Greek mythology by Jason and the Argonauts in their quest for the Golden Fleece. Funding for Argo comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting ($2 million) and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation ($1 million). "The contraction of professional journalism poses a direct threat to our democracy as access to independent, in-depth, news and information is diminished," Alberto Ibargüen of Knight Foundation said at the time of the funding.
Still, looking at the blogs -- all of which are in soft launch -- it is hard to see where those Knight and CPR monies went. The hyperlocal blogs like Ecotrope -- covering the Northwest's environment -- and WGBH's Climatide -- covering climate change on Cape Cod -- come off as disappointingly half-hearted, the exact energy expected out of a blog coming out of the gate. However, Humanosphere's blog hosted by KPLU's Tom Paulson, a reporter with decades of experience covering science, medicine and global health issues, is noteworthy. Azi Paybarah, formerly of The Observer and presently of The Empire blog should also be singled out for dogged blogging -- 6 posts thus far on August 26 -- bound to hold the eyeballs of avid followers of Albany. NPR has come a long way since December 2008 when they were forced to cut 7% of the workforce and cancel programs.