‘The Pub’ #47: WGBH’s Bob Kempf on why stations matter online

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(Photos: Bob Kempf courtesy WGBH, merch courtesy of NPR Commons)

Public media audiences have always been subjected to an alphabet soup of brands: PBS, APT, NPR, PRI, APM, WXYZ. To an extent, this marketing nightmare has been necessitated by the organizational and technological structure of terrestrial broadcasting, in which networks with one brand identity feed content to local stations with their own brand.

But in the digital age, when national networks can serve people directly online, does it make sense to invest in all these hundreds of local public media brands on the Internet? Or should the whole public media community unite behind one brand — one front door online?

“The answer is both,” Bob Kempf told me on The Pub. The former head of NPR Digital Services — a unit that exists to help local stations create their own digital products — is two months into his new job as vice president for digital services at WGBH in Boston.

“I do believe this, I think that what the local stations can bring is community,” he said. “Building the kind of connection to community that what we call the networks — NPR and PBS — can’t. They simply can’t. They’re not on the ground, they don’t know the people in the markets.”

This week on The Pub, we’ll ask what local stations are for in the digital age. Also:

  • Barbara Sopato, director of consumer products at NPR, gives me a tour of NPR’s bricks-and-mortar store in Washington and discusses the network’s merchandising strategy — in time for holiday shopping season.
  • I argue that there is a growing rift between the people who make NPR and the people who listen to NPR, as public radio’s core audience ages.

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Adam Ragusea hosts Current’s weekly podcast The Pub and is a journalist in residence and visiting assistant professor at Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism.

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