NPR embraces 'multimedia audio,' adds news-apps team

By Erin Dismeier

Days after The Washington Post reported NPR is running a deficit of $2.6 million, the renowned radio organization announced it was adding a team dedicated to making news applications. Will this help the company get out of its financial slump?

We can only predict, but there may be a chance.

Public-radio listeners are generally better-educated than the average population and are typically middle- to upper-class. That means they're more likely to have devices that can support news apps. Also, around one in 12 listeners donates to his or her local NPR affiliate.  The network's audience may not be huge, but it's an involved bunch that's willing and able to lend support. It will be interesting to see if these listeners keep donating after NPR starts pumping out apps.

It seems radio has been the last news medium to accept tablets and mobile devices. In January, the BBC's Tim Davie told The Guardian he's reluctantly chosen to accept mobile journalism and encourages radio people to generate "creative visual content to attract younger listeners."

So, why has radio been last to welcome technological changes?

I think it's because radio has always been the purest way to get news out.  Rather than wowing readers with intellectual words print reporters might use, radio anchors are conversational and to-the-point.  And unlike TV journalism where narration plays off visuals, radio news relies solely on strong voices to tell detailed stories.

Kinsey Wilson, chief content officer for NPR, told Poynter the addition of the news-apps team doesn't mean the organization will change its focus from broadcast to the Web. Instead, the new team will complement what NPR journalists are already doing.  Poynter also quoted NPR Managing Editor Mark Stencel, who said, "Adding this allows us to take reporting that often has been underneath that type of storytelling and surface it in a way that also is just as engaging and powerful." It seems NPR wants apps to make stories easier to understand.

And I think Davie would agree. In the earlier-mentioned article, he said, "I'm a big fan of pure audio and I have always felt that audio will hold up for a long time but in terms of devices, it will have a screen on it

On a side note, journalism students can learn from NPR's addition.

News professionals know that although the economy is recovering, the job market isn't great. So, for a moment, pretend you're an employer.  Who are you going to hire?  The person who's a great reporter and fantastic writer?  Or the one who's both -- and can write JavaScript? Programming-savvy journalists can ensure none of their stories' vibrancy gets lost in the text-to-code transition.

Screen shot of NPR logo courtesy of

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