NPR + PI = ?

I started writing Thursday afternoon about the NPR purchase of Public Interactive, but I figured I’d better stop. I have experience with both entities, I’ve read the press release, but I’m going to give the NPR and PI community 24 hours to express their thoughts first.

Because, at face value and based on the PR piece, I’m baffled as to why this is such great news.

The only way this purchase makes sense is if there’s something new NPR is planning that didn’t get described in the press release.

Please, public media blogosphere and Twitterverse, educate me! Can you complete the equation in this post’s title?

Doug Gordon's Modest Proposal for Public Radio

Don’t bother bringing the forks, knives and napkins, but Doug Gordon has some thoughts to share for the public radio work in the U.S. Delivered via — gasp! — video!

Definitely some interesting thoughts delivered by this Corner Gas extra.  Okay, not really… I mean, they are interesting thoughts, but I don’t think he’s been on Corner Gas. 😉

My favorite suggestion is the last — engaging the public in co-creation of public media. Which is a really scary thought for some pubmedia types I know.

By the way, I stumbled across this video because Doug Gordon posted it himself on the new, and growing, DirectCurrent social networking site put up by Current. Thanks Current!

Welcome KSKA listeners / visitors

I’m dropping in on KSKA Public Radio’s “Community Forum” program this afternoon (live at 2pm Alaska time) to talk blogging. For visitors stopping by — Welcome!

I’ll be posting links mentioned during the live show over at KSKA.ORG.

UPDATE: You can listen to or download the audio from today’s Community Forum program here.

One last BPP article (probably) and On The Media's Garfield feels the sting of the hive

Three good pieces of note that I’m finally getting to this evening.

First up (blogged earlier by Todd Mundt) is a take on the Bryant Park Project collapse from someone else that’s young and actually creating public radio programming. Only in this case it’s done on a small scale and is therefore sustainable.

The Sound of Young America‘s Jesse Thorn chimes in on both the BPP and the Fair Game cancellations. He offers lots of insightful commentary (so read the whole thing); here’s one great passage:

Fair Game and especially BPP were designed for a multi-platform future that’s in its earliest stages. Despite speculation to the contrary, both were building very strong podcast audiences. That said, both PRI and NPR are organizations that can’t afford to alienate stations, and that means they can’t really go directly to listeners for money. So the only real option available to them to monetize those online audiences is underwriting, and that’s a pretty modest revenue stream right now. So while both shows were relatively good at online stuff, they weren’t getting much money out of it. Certainly not millions of dollars.

Separately, On The Media‘s Bob Garfield is getting a lesson on web comments this week in the wake of the latest OTM show. Garfield went off in the show about web-based comments and commenters, even provoking Ira Glass to refer to him as a “royalist” with respect to how he views comments and the great unwashed masses.

One media commenter and experienced software pro — Derek Powazek — went a step further and wrote two pieces about comments and how they should work, taking Garfield to task for ignoring a long 10-year history of better comments across the web as well as playing the part of Grandpa Simpson.

This is Not a Comment (26 July 2008)

The story completely missed moderation queues, reputation management systems, or any of the hundreds of comment systems built over the last decade to address this very problem. Garfield seems to base the entire story on some bad comments on the OTM site, a site that provides a completely open, no signup required, comment system. But instead of asking “Is there a better way to do this?” he goes for the much easier story: “Gosh internet commenters sure are dumb!”

10 Ways Newspapers Can Improve Comments (28 July 2008)

The real reason comments on newspaper sites suck isn’t that internet commenters suck, it’s that the editors aren’t doing their jobs. If more newspapers implemented these 10 things, I guarantee the quality of their comments would go up. And this is just the basic stuff, mostly unchanged since I wrote Design for Community seven years ago.

Powazek’s seminal book is basically out of print at this point, only available via used book sellers starting at $50 a copy. But the 10 points he offers above are a great condensed version to get you started.

I’m hoping to use his ideas (and the book) to get things rolling (someday!) in my own shop in Anchorage.

And I’m still in the camp that believes your ability to serve your community — online or otherwise — will keep you alive whereas a mass media approach in which you teleport content in from other places won’t make it in the future.

UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis recounts the many examples in which the web community has responded to Garfield’s notes on comments. He links to no less than 8 cogent comments on commenting.

The BPP ends, the BPP Diner begins

Well, today is the first Monday without the Bryant Park Project since they went on the air last fall. Last Friday they posted this tongue-in-cheek end-of-show video:
Find more videos like this on The BPP Diner

BPP lovers can continue to meet on a new social networking site here, kindly started by BPP listener and public media consultant extraordinaire Robert Paterson.

I’ve joined and I’ll be fascinated to see if the community is sustainable once the core of the social network — the hosts and staff — are no longer working 40+ hours a week on an NPR program and sharing that experience with the “diners.”

Sex testing for athletes? The future is here!

Okay, this has nothing to do with public media, but it just caught me off-guard today. The NY Times reports Olympics officials in China are prepared to do gender testing on athletes to ensure females competing in female events are actually female.

Well, this was predicted several years ago by the short-lived (though still alive) animated series Futurama. Good news for the Olympics — they’re still around in the year 3000…

[flashvideo filename=video/BendHer.flv /]

You're going to create scarcity on the web? Wow. Let me know how that turns out.

I just met with a true innovator in public media this week, someone that’s a bit of a hero, really, and in this brief conversation I was surprised to hear a comment about the web that was, well… stunning. (And I’m not going to divulge the identity of this person because it’s irrelevant to the story.)

When asked by a colleague of mine whether this public media company was currently selling online advertising via their web presence, the answer was not only “no,” but “no, and we don’t plan to.” This person went on to say that the cost of putting together and managing an online advertising system would outweigh the advertising revenue that could be gained. Their take is that careful cost analysis must be done before they do any new projects and right now the web doesn’t look like a good cost bet.

Fair enough. That’s actually the tack I’ve taken at our shop in Anchorage. Why bother with the rules, the systems, the web redesigns required when the payback would be so small on sites with comparatively low traffic numbers?  I’ve avoided it to date.

But the comments didn’t stop there. This person further said they were going to wait until they had created a “scarcity” in the market for web advertising (on their properties) and then set prices for online ads when companies are “begging” to get their ads on the target site(s).

You’re going to create scarcity? On the web? Really?

I almost started to counter this idea right there, but out of respect left it alone.

Later I checked my RSS feed subscriptions and discovered a blog post from Google talking about how many pages there are in their index of the online world. Their numbers:

  • 1998 — 26,000,000 pages (26 million)
  • 2000 — 1,000,000,000 pages (1 billion)
  • 2008 — 1,000,000,000,000 pages (1 trillion)

And presently the index grows by several billion pages each day.

But you’re going to create scarcity. Mmm-hmmm.

Okay, snarkiness aside… you can create scarcities online, I know. And public media entities are in a fairly good position to do that if they can gather their comparatively rarified audiences in the online space in large numbers and on a regular basis.

But there are two problems with this notion:

  1. You’re not the only property online with desirable demographics for advertisers, because your web audience also visits lots of other sites and other sites can offer more targeted demographics.
  2. Public media sites, especially for local stations, are… well… pretty bad as core web destinations. You’ll never be able to profitably sell such small and fairly broad audiences to advertisers in a market where #1 is true.

For the most part our public media (station) web sites are sorry shadows of our on-air presentations (there are, of course, a few exceptions where real investments have been made, mostly in the largest markets). Why?

  • Our web services are typically afterthoughts.
  • We do them because we “have to.”
  • They are not must-see daily destinations.
  • They are not valuable social networks.
  • They have a fraction of the news presented by any local newspaper site.
  • They are often unattractive and hard to navigate or bland, boring and so on.

The site visitor counts are understandably low.

And I level that charge against my own sites as well as the sites of other public media companies. They’re just not worth visiting regularly unless there’s something you heard/saw on air that you needed to hear/see again or you want to make a pledge online.

Further, if you did sell online advertising, how would you do it? You’d use your existing development / sales staff, wouldn’t you?  Commissions, salaries, healthcare costs, etc. all loaded up on top of the sales.  And then there’s the overhead costs of the rest of the organization as well.  No wonder web advertising isn’t worth it — it works on a different scale.

And thus we return to the same point made recently about the Bryant Park Project failure at NPR: you cannot expect broadcast economics success from a web economics property. Web properties work on a different scale than radio or TV. It’s a smaller, lighter scale. It supports fewer overhead costs and requires less staff.

Two solutions:

  1. Create a web property that works on a web scale and draws its own audience and community. Make something that is a must-see daily destination, or create a site that solves people’s problems or provides a core service they need every day.
  2. Create your web property in an economic “bubble” outside the normal expectations of staffing and profitability of broadcasting — at least to start. If you want your web property to help pay your transmitter bills, you’re dreaming now and probably forever.

So I agree — don’t bother selling advertising on bland sites with low traffic. I wouldn’t try to “monetize” most station sites today.

Instead, discover how network economics can work for you and build something compelling outside the expectations of the legacy properties. This might even be — or probably should be — a spin-off property, a la Mark Fuerst‘s recommendation, captured on video here:

Former NPR digital chief Thomas moves up at Etsy

Back in April I mentioned the departure of Maria Thomas from her digital post at NPR. She left to join handmade crafts marketplace Etsy as their COO.

Well, just a few months laster she’s now CEO, as noted on the Etsy site and by Fred Wilson, venture capitalist and blogger extraordinaire.

Congratulations to Maria and Etsy on great news!

It makes me wonder what might have been had the stations and NPR actually agreed to do something in the wake of the New Realities conversations a couple years ago, conversations in which Thomas participated deeply. Had Thomas stayed at NPR, she could have kicked (even more) serious online ass for the network, but instead NPR, via the Board, has signaled the importance of the “R” over all things digital, especially in the BPP cancellation.

Someone I bumped into late this week with knowledge of the public radio system commented that the stations need to get out of NPR’s way and let it grow and mature. I couldn’t agree more — and I work at a station, one that ostensibly could be “hurt” by NPR’s evolution. A strong, vibrant, changing NPR would be good for everyone.

Here’s the thing… NPR’s future success cannot come at the expense of local stations if they are truly engaged with their communities. If NPR built direct relationships and funding deals with the public,  that would only cut stations out of the picture if their local community relationships were weaker than the ones NPR could build. If that’s the case — if NPR’s success really would be your station’s death — then just what are you doing in public media anyway?

Favorite BPP reaction comments (so far)

When the announcement went out about the cancellation of the Bryant Park Project, the comments on the NPR site numbered in the hundreds. The counts I saw stopped around 600, yet there may be more (who wants to count?).

Now the comments are piling up in reaction to interim CEO Dennis Haarsager’s posting about the cancellation. I already gave my comments. What I find remarkable is that so many in the audience “get it.” Making NPR’s decision here all the more puzzling / frustrating.

Here’s a selection of comments and comment excerpts that I found compelling and instructive (they’re numbered here for reference, but are not numbered at the NPR site):

Continue reading “Favorite BPP reaction comments (so far)”