Localism emphasis poses risk

Of all the complex and potentially fateful decisions faced by public radio program directors as they navigate the emergence of multiplatform distribution, one of the most significant is the drive to “go local” and produce more local programs, especially news and information. This push signals a strategic shift for public radio, with potentially enormous consequences for growth or decline. Audience 2010, one of a series of landmark research reports on programming trends published in the previous decade, reported that much of the credit for the growth of public radio listenership could be traced to a shift “away from local production toward network production, away from music-based content toward news, information and entertainment.” That shift was extraordinarily successful, representing two decades of impressive audience expansion and financial growth at a time when other parts of the radio industry struggled. Now, it appears that program decision-makers are changing course. But why would dozens of stations move off the path that worked so well and choose another approach that, viewed through the lens of audience research, would seem to be both more costly and less powerful in attracting listenership?