Nearly everything you read on this almost five-year-old blog is only indirectly related to my professional responsibilities, but this is a rare post that relates directly to them (currently interim CEO at National Public Radio). A week ago, we announced a joyless decision to discontinue the innovative program, Bryant Park Project, produced in our New York facility across the street from Bryant Park. The paragraphs below are a lightly edited and linked version of an email that I sent this morning to a BPP staff member in response to a suggestion that we turn BPP into a web site.
Look for another post on the Bryant Park blog from me that provides additional information (see update below).
I've read about a quarter of the comments about the cancellation on the BPP blog and you're of course characterizing them accurately. Obviously, you and the rest of the staff have done a great job building loyalty among your audience and in presenting news in a different way. You have my gratitude for that.
I'm not sure how someone who has done articles, speeches and consulting about the importance of disruptive investments (in the Clayton Christensen sense), supported the BPP initiative when I was an NPR board member, and is now trying to shape NPR into more of a digital company finds oneself on this side of a decision to end this great project. It's not an abandonment of young people. Look at npr.org/music or our successful podcasting efforts. Age demos are curves. This is not meant to diminish BPP, but Morning Edition and All Things Considered have more younger podcast listening than does BPP, and way more radio listening, simply because wide radio carriage delivers awareness of both. BPP's great contribution wasn't quantitative, though, it was in helping us learn.
We've/I've learned -- or relearned -- a lot in the process. Sustaining a new program of this financial magnitude requires attracting users from each of the platforms we can access. 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. Web radio is growing very rapidly (much faster than FM did, for example), but it's almost all to music and, increasingly, to attention-tracking music.
Perhaps the future of news on the web is in the same user-programmed direction. 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.
Updated, 3:45 p.m. Eastern: A longer version of this has been posted to the Bryant Park Project blog.