Portion of All Things Digital web page

Lively blog of Schiller hits radio hot buttons

Published in Current, June 7, 2010
By Karen Everhart

A provocative live-blog account of NPR President Vivian Schiller’s June 2 appearance at D8, the Wall Street Journal‘s All Things Digital conference ricocheted around the Internet, stirring up angry reactions among pubradio broadcasters who were already worried about NPR’s emphasis on web distribution.

Schiller sat down on stage for a Q&A with the Kara Swisher, the Journal’s technology columnist, who wanted to know why NPR is putting all of its content on the Internet and mobile devices for free, how public radio is adapting to the shifts in journalism and media technologies, and how the network plans to pay its bills in the future. Her questions got at all the hot-button issues in NPR-station relations.

As reported in the live-blog’s hasty paraphrases, Schiller’s responses sounded like deliberate provocations. But what she actually said, according to an official transcript of the session, was stunningly different:

Live-blog — Schiller: “First of all, note we don’t call ourselves National Public Radio anymore. We’re NPR.”

Transcript Schiller: “. . . We just call ourselves NPR. And there’s a fine tradition in that: BBC, CNN. And it’s not a repudiation of radio; on the contrary, . . . against the odds and surprising to many people, our audience for broadcast radio continues to grow.”

Another passage in the transcript differed significantly in tone from the blog:

Live-blog Schiller: “Radio towers are going away within 10 years, and Internet radio will take its place. This is a huge change and we should embrace it. Mobile will play a big part.”

Transcript Schiller: “The broadcast tower will be gone in . . . I don’t want to say ‘gone,’ but in the next five to 10 years — Swisher: Put cell phone things on it. Schiller: . . . well the point is, Internet radio will take its place, and there’s no reason we should be fearful of that. In fact, we should embrace it. Especially on mobile . . . mobile is the second coming of radio.”

When Swisher asked how mobile distribution changed NPR’s relationship with stations by allowing listeners to do an “end run” around local outlets, Schiller denied that this was NPR’s strategy, according to the transcript. “[T]he great promise and potential and power of public radio is the combination of the local and national,” Schiller said. “What we’re trying do is work with stations to make sure it is a rich experience on the local level where you get the full spectrum of local to regional to national to international. And to the extent that stations are very strong and very relevant locally, they will survive the loss of the monopoly of the broadcast tower.”

It was a question from the audience — by a public radio listener who identified himself as the brother of Ari Shapiro, NPR White House correspondent, that went right to the heart of station objections to NPR’s push to create and promote software applications that serve up its content on demand, according to the transcript. “I love NPR and I love to support NPR. I’m not so crazy about my local affiliate. Is there any way to be a supporter of NPR without being a supporter of your local station?”

Schiller responded: “. . . here’s the thing — the life’s blood of a local NPR member station is member support from that community. You may . . . know this from your brother—we have never and will never go directly to the audience on any platform that we have and say, . . . send us a dollar a day, $365 a year to NPR.”

If Current gets clearance, we’ll post the full transcript with this article.

Web page posted June 8, 2010
Copyright 2010 by Current LLC

EARLIER ARTICLES

A number of pubradio leaders endorse NPR's leadership in putting its news stories online, with plans to develop an online Public Media Platform that could distribute PBS content as well, though some fear it will undercut the economics of stations that help support NPR.

LINKS

Wall Street Journal's live blog of Schiller's interview at the All Things Digital conference.

Schiller preceded her presentation with a screening of a new comic video featuring an autotune simulation of Robert Siegel singing the All Things Considered theme.

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