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NPR CEO Vivian Schiller: ‘Local is the Big Play’

vschiller.jpgThe interview we did a few weeks back with NPR president and CEO Vivian Schiller is now up on mediabistro.com. This past January Schiller left her position at the NYTimes.com, where she’d led the team responsible for the Times‘ much-admired Web overhaul, to take on what she describes as her dream job at NPR.

Schiller arrives at NPR at an interesting moment — it’s no secret newspapers are struggling to stay afloat and amidst the dramatic decline in local and international newspaper reporting, NPR, along with its 860 member stations and 38 international bureaus, is well-positioned to step in and fill in the gap.

Schiller spoke at some length about NPR’s local strength, its plans to capitalize on that, and what her long term plans are for the organization.


Says Schiller: “To me, local is the big play, because local commercial radio has abandoned the local market. Local newspapers are withering or sometimes dying. The big national media companies, including excellent ones like The New York Times, cannot afford to be covering every single community. So that leaves a big, gaping hole to serve Americans’ local coverage. What we offer in the combination of NPR and the local stations is one-stop shopping for — and it’s not perfect — local, regional, national, international news. That is our big play. Some people in the past or outside NPR have said, ‘Why do you need the local coverage? Why not just have one national service?’ Answer: because our unique offering is the fact that we are local. The stations know their communities. There’s different demographics. There’s different sensibilities. So we enable them and they provide it. A lot of these are very small stations that don’t have reporting resources, don’t have Web resources, so we at NPR have to do a better job, and I think it’s part of our mission, to help them with training, with resources, with whatever they need. Now it’s costly — but that’s a whole separate issue — but I see our role as enabling all the local stations to thrive on radio and move in to other digital platforms.”

Schiller also had this to say about her long-term goals for NPR:

“How do we translate those qualities people love about NPR to other mediums? I don’t know the answer to that, but I know we need to do it. Not so much with video but online, mobile, whatever people want, podcasts — you name it — so that you have that same sense of the NPR experience wherever you are. As far as NPR.org — sure, I want the traffic to increase, but to me the ultimate goal is not just bringing people to this walled garden that is NPR.org. The idea is to create this network. And then once that is set up, I want to count traffic for the whole thing, and aggregate that into one number. And you know what, once we do that, we’re going to be right in there with the top five.”

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