No Promoting Podcasts On-Air? NPR VP's Memo Generates Debate
March 21, 2016 at 3:51 AM (PT)
NPR VP/News Programming and Operations CHRISTOPHER TURPIN's memo last week telling news employees not to overtly promote podcasts or the NPR ONE app in backselling broadcast reports touched off a lively debate over whether broadcasters should be directing listeners to what some see as competition.
The memo, posted by Standards and Practices Editor MARK MEMMOTT at his NPR.ORG Ethics site blog, set forth guidelines including banning calls to action -- telling people to download a show or app or where to find them -- as well as keeping all mentions of podcasts informational rather than promotional and asserting that NPR ONE "will not be promoted on the air." While allowing for exceptions, TURPIN said, "when in doubt let these principles be your guide."
TURPIN explained to NPR's ELIZABETH JENSEN that he meant the memo as "practical guidance for people on deadline," and said that the memo was "not some grand pronouncement of NPR's overarching policy ... (but) reaffirms the same principles that we apply to everything ... We are not promotional; we are informational. That's our role as journalists."
However, the reaction from outside was mixed, with CURRENT.ORG podcast host ADAM RAGUSEA suggesting in a tweet to NIEMAN LAB's NICHOLAS QUAH that the memo, while a "logical and, I'd argue, appropriate policy," is "an emblem of why NPR is doomed long term." And JOSHUA BENTON of NIEMAN LAB added, "The public radio giant is letting its present impose a strategy tax on its future ... NPR can't promote NPR ONE -- the lauded, loved app that is basically the future of NPR -- to what is literally the group of people that would be most interested in it, NPR radio listeners. NPR is investing substantially in developing podcasts -- but it isn't allowed to tell radio listeners where to find them or how they can listen to them."
And consultant and HIVIO co-founder MARK RAMSEY contended that promoting podcasts or the app on the radio is beside the point, because "I could argue the very last people who need to know about the digital availability of NPR content are those folks enjoying it on the radio, if only because those folks are already enjoying it on the radio. We assume that the audience for this content is one fixed group, and it isn’t. Indeed, newspapers proved that by vastly expanding their audience through digital well beyond any portion they may have cannibalized. In other words, there are MORE audiences for this content out there than the ONE listening on the radio ... I could argue that NPR is not just being sensitive to the wishes of their affiliates, but they are also being smart marketers, promoting their digital content to growing audiences for that digital content, rather than shrinking audiences to that same content on much larger and more established platforms which they’re already monetizing quite nicely, thank you very much."