NPR CEO Responds To The 'BPP' Crowd : The Bryant Park Project Dennis Haarsager explains why NPR canceled the show.
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NPR CEO Responds To The 'BPP' Crowd

NPR's interim CEO, Dennis Haarsager, sent this post for our blog. He writes:

Thanks to everyone who has voiced support for the Bryant Park Project on this blog and elsewhere. We have read almost all of these letters and postings (I've personally read about a third of the blog comments). I have asked the BPP staff to permit me to use this space to respond to many of your questions and concerns, and offer more insight into our decision and where we are headed.

First, let me wholeheartedly agree with your high praise for the BPP staff. They are a team of smart, creative journalists who have delivered compelling programming every day. I want to specifically mention Alison Stewart, one of the finest hosts in broadcasting today; executive producer Sharon Hoffman; and senior supervising producer Matt Martinez. They are some of the most talented people I have ever encountered in broadcasting and they have done a great job of presenting news in a different way and in building loyalty among all of you in a short period of time. They have my gratitude and the respect of this entire organization.

It's ironic that as one of public broadcasting's earliest and most persistent proponents of digital media, and someone now deeply involved in shaping NPR's digital future, I find myself on this side of the decision to end this great project. One of the joys — and frustrations — of launching new concepts in digital media is the tiny base of experience upon which we make decisions. As you might know, BPP was created as a two-hour program primarily for satellite radio and the Web, with additional audience coming from a few radio stations.

BPP was designed to help us explore the complex, undefined digital media environment and, we hoped, to establish new ways of providing content on unfamiliar platforms. We've/I've learned — or relearned — a lot in this process. For non-commercial media such as NPR, sustaining a new program of this financial magnitude requires attracting users from each of the platforms we can access. Ultimately, we recognized that wasn't happening with BPP. Radio carriage didn't materialize to any degree: right now, BPP airs on only five analog radio stations and 19 HD Radio digital channels. Web/podcasting usage was also hampered — here's the relearning part — since we were offering an "appointment program" in a medium that doesn't excel in that kind of usage. Web radio is growing very rapidly (much faster than FM did), but it's almost all to music and, increasingly, to attention-tracking music (e.g., Pandora). While there might be a viable audience for a day/time specific program on the Web at some point in the future, it is not on the horizon.

A number of you have expressed concern that with this cancellation, NPR has forsaken its commitment to reaching younger audiences. That isn't true. We're doing it at and on many of our major news magazines, on the radio, online and via podcasting. While our reach crosses several demographics, younger audiences are well-represented.

Many offered to contribute directly to BPP. It's unclear (that's the word people use when they don't know the answer) that this would work. At the average donation level to public radio stations, it would take more than 25,000 people to cover BPP's costs. Public radio programs with much larger audiences that are doing direct fundraising are, I'm told, bringing in much smaller amounts. We are exploring new ways to pay for public media programming, but this one won't be solved in time to be applied to BPP.

Finally, some of you have raised the possibility of continuing BPP solely as a website. This suggestion is a good place for future consideration but, for a variety of reasons, not something we're able to undertake today with our existing resources. I am encouraging NPR news and digital media colleagues to think about how we can do good journalism at the caliber of what BPP delivered via the Web using techniques beyond just throwing up another portal-type site and expecting people to come to it. Our new Open API release is a great tool for that. The realities of how people use the Web, how Web audiences grow through search and technologies for tracking attention and tailoring content delivery to match how people spend their attention all need to be considered. Portals still have a place, just as their close cousins radio transmitters do, but we can no longer put all our eggs in any of those baskets.

NPR will, I hope, be a leader in a new generation of news delivery over multiple platforms, including ones we've never conceived. But we can't make those second-generation investments if we continue first-generation efforts that aren't consistent with what we know about how media usage is maturing.