National Public Radio (NPR)'s newly designed website has gone multimedia in that it now provides a lot more text stories in addition to its traditional audio reports. This is a good example of how media companies need to develop different approaches to presenting their content online.
Even though NPR's programming in the physical world does not include print (except as sidelight products such as books), restricting itself to audio on the web would make no sense, since a much larger group of users read (or at least scan) text than listen to audio online.
Early radio web sites sometimes included cleaned-up versions of the scripts written by correspondents for their on-air reports, but these traditionally were optimized not for readers, but for listeners. There is a big difference between these two content experiences, thus scripts tend to be written phonetically, with any unusual pronunciations sounded-out, and with the names and titles of people quoted repeated each time they were brought back into the story.
Recorded sound clips, including interviews, were woven into the scripts, of course, but an entire citation of the audio was not necessarily used -- rather just the opening few words and the closing few words surrounding the space left for the clip. (The length of each sound cut in minutes:seconds was also noted.)
The home page and "news" tab of npr.org this weekend feature a variety of text news stories, AP news headlines, larger photos and other graphical elements, as well as an improved navigation scheme, and therefore feels more like a destination news site than in the past. NPR execs have been indicated that one of their main goals is to build a "mid-day" audience for their news content, outside of the drive-time programming periods when NPR stations report their highest audience peaks.
All of the website's changes will eventually make it more accessible, but only once NPR improves its load times. Over my high-speed Internet connection, these pages are loading far too slowly. Over slower connections, they probably are triggering "timed-out" messages and error screens. As is often the case with ambitious redesigns (this one reportedly took 15 months), NPR appears to have built pages that are too "heavy," so it will need to strip away some of the page elements in order to achieve acceptable load times going forward.
Until then, the redesign will depress NPR's traffic, not build it. Next up, the network says it is preparing a set of mobile applications to be released later this summer. In that context, NPR's top Twitter account, NPR Politics, has over 1.2 million followers, which is none too shabby.
Recent Bnet Media posts about NPR:
03/07/08 How NPR's CEO Was Dumped Insiders say that National Public Radio NPR's CEO Ken Stern lost his job yesterday in a shockingly abrupt fashion. My sources say that Board Chair Dennis Haarsager simply walked into Stern's office, fired him and told him that it was time for him "to leave the...
12/11/08 NPR, Newsweek Announce Layoffs It looks like few, if any, media organizations will escape whole from the current economic meltdown -- regardless of business model. For the first time in a quarter century, National Public Radio has cut a substantial portion of its workforce. The network announced that it is letting...
01/10/09 The Next Wave of Trouble for NPR: Local Layoffs When I write posts like this one, I feel no joy whatsoever. People I have worked with in the past will be losing their jobs. Their families will be newly vulnerable to forces that are sweeping through our entire economy now, much as Hurricane Katrina did, when she devastated the...
(Note: I worked for KQED-FM, an NPR affiliate, in the mid-90s.)