Is NCPR at an “inflection point”?

Scarecrow having a big think.

Scarecrow having a big think.

Here I am, a day late with The Listening Post again. The last half of  my Thursday was taken up with one of those big-think conversations that can (eventually) result in big changes. There have been a lot of meetings lately–small and large, formal and off-the-cuff, over the kitchen table and over the internet here at NCPR. There is a feeling that NCPR’s digital services have hit a plateau, that there’s things we are missing out on, and things we are putting energy into that could be done better and easier, or be done away with altogether. That’s a feeling I share.

People who were here at the station just before I was hired are saying the feeling was similar then–lots of people having lots of meetings, doing a lot of big thinking about taking the next step. That step was the creation of a web service, and all the things that have flowed from that since 2001. Taking a fresh look at everything we do is an exercise we try to do often, but it’s a little scary, and it’s not at all easy, and it takes a whole lot of meetings.

In the past, this process has resulted in what has come to be known as an “inflection point,” a term borrowed from differential calculus for “the point on a curve at which the curvature or concavity changes sign from plus to minus or from minus to plus.” [Wikipedia] (We’re hoping for a change from minus to plus.) We have more people doing more and better work in our digital spaces, and we think it’s time to–figuratively–pump up the volume.

At earlier times of “big think,” we have always turned to our audience to get a view of what we do as seen from your perspective. Given that NCPR is going to continue making a large investment of the money you give to us in providing digital services, what are the targets of opportunity? What should a media operation with a public-service mission to the communities of the North Country be doing, that we are not doing now?

We had one great suggestion last month from Mark Scarlett, saying that NCPR should take a role in matching up volunteers with the many groups that need volunteers for work and projects large and small. The alumni group of his alma mater was doing something similar.

That’s one. How about a dozen more in comments below.


12 Comments on “Is NCPR at an “inflection point”?”

  1. George Nagle says:

    Suggestions from listeners both positive and negative regarding NCPR programming could appear on the website with opportunity for others to comment.

  2. David Kemp says:

    As an active duty service member stationed overseas, I rely almost exclusively on your podcasts to stay connected. I would think there are a lot of Adirondack natives scattered across the country in the same boat. Please keep a focus on them. I would also recommend some sort of online mechanism to manage my member account, update addresses, get receipts electronically, etc.

  3. Claudia MacDonald says:

    One of my favorite NCPR/NPR programs is the Vinyl Cafe. It is the only radio show I make a mental note of a try not to miss (and if I do, I listen to it when I can (via website).
    Parsing what it is about this show that draws me in, I realize that it always seems fresh to me.
    The stories are compelling, Morley et al often makes me laugh out loud…but…for me… the best part of the show is the music. Fresh, new to my ears…Canadian…which, as close to the border as we are…still seems foreign if not exotic.
    How to translate that experience to NCPR? Do I dare say it?
    O.K., please don’t hate me but I will SCREAM if I listen to the week day morning talk show one more time. People nattering on about matters they have no knowledge about. This kind of info is best kept in the letters to the editor column of the newspaper where one can skim over them if so desired.
    There is so much I like about NCPR but I do find it needs to be freshened up a bit.
    For example, the interview with the young harpist from Crane was wonderful. She is so talented. It was interesting to hear her story and her music was fine.
    Digitally speaking, well, I have to admit I’m a bit of a ludite. I have a computer and a cell phone but that’s it. I don’t text, tweet, or participate in any of the many other available communication methods. I beleive there are many ‘older’ folks like me who are your listeners.
    So, the quest might be: who/what audience do we want to appeal to?
    No one, and certainly not the wonderful NCPR/NPR can be all things for all people.
    I’m more interested in content than digital stuff.
    That said, I find navigating the NCPR website a bit clunky.
    So, with my meanderings read, I wish you well as you venture into introspection/investigation/reflection on how to accomplish your goal(s).

  4. Lenore says:

    Please – more discussion, more international information, opposing views and scientific/medical research updates and conversations. If it’s the North County news that one wants, listen to the 8AM hour, and check out the Calendar for local events.

    Radio is the lifeline to listening while doing – multi-tasking:)


  5. WoodCook says:

    Hi Dale,

    United Way out of Franklin County is the local partner trying to do that volunteer matching thing already, with a dedicated website for all of NY State; so perhaps backing their efforts would be a good use of resources.

    Here’s my idea: I think you should expand your community calendar in a very specific way. Encourage organizations to list large, annual, or special events months and years in advance so that people looking to choose a date for an event can see who else is doing something on a specific date, helping to avoid competing events. It’s happened to us at the Local Living Venture more than once, and you make the best of it – but, for instance, the Swamp Jam in 2010 meant that we lost a huge chunk of our under-35 crowd for our first Local Living Festival, which was a crying shame for all involved. We’d have done a weekend later had we known in time.

    I’ve been talking about this for years and everyone agrees that if it were pushed and well known that this was a “service” you provide that it would help a lot. And I imagine it would take next to no effort on the stations part!

    Thanks for all your good work — and all those darn meetings too! 🙂

  6. Elaine says:

    Not too many comments here but a hint of a theme. This listener, too, wants conversation: intelligent, provocative, informative, substantive, meaningful, civil. There are endless — absolutely endless — sources where one can tap on a computer to read blogs, essays, opinion. There are not, however, nearly enough places where thoughtful and curious people can share exchange information and ideas. So, I agree with Claudia (“I’m more interested in content”) and with Lenore (“Please – more discussion, more international information, opposing views and scientific/medical research updates and conversations.”

    In my mind, you are radio people and what medium is so well suited for conversation? Why not Be That?

  7. SESZOO says:

    I listen on Radio and read and listen on the computer when I’m on , All in all I wouldn’t change much ,I find the coverage to begood on our North Country events and interests and pretty unbias slants for the most part , The discussions on everything from local to world news and events to be good with a lot of different opinions and even humor in some. The programing covers a lot of different areas for the diversity of the listeners from the gardening to the music to the public events , My own favorite is the desk top concerts and gardening topics , The new and local music scene is getting a lot better . There might be a few things to change but for the most part I’d vote on it’s not broken so there’s not too much need of fixings ….

  8. Kent Gregson says:

    This is a good question and with what you do already it’s a tough one. You’re available on more platforms than I have already. Here in the middle of the mountains you’re it for radio. So when Saturday noon comes along we switch to Pandora till news and P.H.C. Sports and opera are for other listeners. I wonder though, when evening comes during the week and there’s been talk radio all day why you prefer Cue over World Café. I like music more than I like interviewing musicians. It seems that with Cue you get snippets of a song that I’d like to hear complete. Speaking of ambition, I’d like to see NCPR do a variety show similar to Prairie Home or Vinyl Café. I’d be willing to help with that. Digitally I don’t feel like I could come up with much input compared to your own enterprise and expertise. Web cams on the towers?

  9. Glenn Pearsall says:

    You already do a great job and I applaud you for trying to get even better. Some thoughts:
    * Send out random online surveys to folks that have given you their e-mail addresses (if you are not actively trying to build this list up you need to) or – at the least – post online. Ask recipient to rate some programs 1 to 10 with comments. Clearly programming should not be limited to just popularity, but the feedback might be helpful.
    * Ask folks who have given you their e-mail addresses what programs they most like – and then e-mail them 15 minutes before the program starts so they know to turn on their radio?
    * Weekly feature a not-for-profit in the Park that is in need of more volunteers with contact information ho two get involved? (too many people just need to be asked to help out rather than coming forward on their own)
    * Too many of us do not appreciate how special you are unless they travel out of the area and happen to catch other PBS station on the air. Showcase what other stations are doing – and would it work here?

  10. It is vital to remember there are three frames in any digital initiative.

    First, there is the consumer reception channel: radio, television, computer, mobile/tablet, newsprint.

    Second, there are the technical capabilities of a digital service: video, graphic, audio, and print.

    Third, and often forgotten, is how content must be formatted for each different delivery/reception mechanism.

    I don’t want to read a 5000-word New Yorker profile on my tablet or even online. I don’t want to see world-class photo-journalism on my desktop computer or cellphone.

    Imagine a news event having multiple media manifestations: TV news byte (90 sec.), radio news story (3 min.), print headline (microsec.), print short form (3 min.), print long-form (18 min.).

    My point is that editors are not connecting consumer useability with editorial production with any sophistication yet. They cannot shed their own media bias. It will come.

    A good example is a radio station trying to develop an online new presence in print by simply transcribing audio. It doesn’t work.

    Too much to say here on this. we are all learning.

  11. Ellen Butz says:

    Love what you do. Love that you are always working to keep it fresh.

  12. Robin McClellan says:

    Because I’m old and thoughts percolate slowly, it takes me longer than the average digital age bear to pull them together. In my experience, NCPR is always at an inflection point of some kind: the inability to stand on its laurels for more than a millisecond or two has kept it the leader in rural public radio for 4 decades. You know fairly quickly what’s working and keep it and what’s not working and ditch it, so the challenge is: what’s missing and can you provide it.

    Three things come to mind. First, what was working and has been diminished for legitimate and obvious reasons is personal interaction with the station. Back in the day, there was a party at the end of the fundraiser and that was dropped when the listenership grew and resources become tighter. Now we are no longer answering phones and that personal interaction is gone, too. The comment section on news stories has not attracted a wide range of listeners and has, like comment sections everywhere, attracted more opinion than thought. Not a bad thing, but not a community builder, either.

    Second, the case of the community calendar, I think, buttresses this need for human and personal interaction. When we were all calling in our events, the calendar was THE goto place to find out what was happening in the North Country. Alas, I think that has changed with the advent of self-publishing events. I often have to go to several calendars to find an event I know is going on.

    Finally, volunteer coordination might be the idea to get back to that community interaction, but it will have to be more than an online database of volunteers and organizations in need of people, it will have to have personal interaction supported by technology. This doesn’t mean that we have to all get together over a beer to talk about it, but I think it will take something that feels like that to get people involved again. The other key is the leadership that will cause it to succeed where others have failed, something the station has been very good at providing.

    The good news is, I think, that there are lots of volunteers out there who would jump at a chance to get involved in that personal interaction. I know that the staff at the station hasn’t changed the way they do business so they have more time to sit in their comfy chairs and eat bonbons, they’ve done it so they can grow the news team and other incredible local productions. Coordinating volunteers to put together a volunteer coordination system is not a small task. But there are a number of us out here who, busy as we are, would jump at the chance to volunteer help with projects like a volunteer coordination project or interacting with people who have stopped posting their events on the community calendar.

    I think the future of NCPR’s digital presence will include a return to personal interaction, even if it’s through an electronic medium. Growing the web could restore some of the accessibility that was a hallmark of NCPR’s early days. I know you can never go back, but you can, in the words of TS Eliot, “Return home again and see it as if for the first time.”

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