July 14, 2008
Public Radio to Cancel a Morning Experiment
By ELIZABETH JENSEN
National Public Radio officials are expected on Monday to tell the staff members of “Bryant Park Project” that their experimental weekday morning program, designed to draw a younger audience to public radio and capture listeners who had moved online, is being canceled.
The last broadcast of this New York-based program, which many listeners tuned into at npr.org rather than over the air, is expected to be on July 25. It’s an expensive failure — the first-year budget was more than $2 million — and comes at a time when NPR is facing the same financial constraints as other news media thanks to higher costs and a downturn in underwriting.
Like other news organizations, NPR has been grappling with how best to capture the online audience, and “Bryant Park Project,” which had its debut on Oct. 1, was one of its boldest attempts. The live two-hour program ranged through news and cultural topics in an informal, conversational manner and differed from more traditional NPR broadcasts, which rely heavily on prepackaged reports.
“Bryant Park Project” includes cheeky features like “Make Me Care,” which points up news reports’ real-life relevance. It also has a robust Web presence that is updated with blog posts throughout the day and also includes video.
Andi Sporkin, an NPR spokeswoman, declined on Sunday to comment on the status of “Bryant Park Project.”
The program’s host, Alison Stewart, who is on maternity leave, said in a telephone interview that she had been informed of the cancellation, which comes after the NPR board’s approval last week of a budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. “From what I understand, we are obviously in extra-tough economic times, and it is a financial and strategic decision,” she said. “I was told it had absolutely nothing to do with the quality or content of the show.”
Although the program is heard over the air on just five radio stations and available on 19 high-definition digital channels, NPR officials said publicly in recent months that “Bryant Park Project” was attracting the kind of Web audience they had hoped for. One NPR employee, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said the program had one million individual, or “unique” listeners in both April and May.
Ms. Stewart said she was surprised that the program had been canceled but said, “I also understand the economic reality.”
She added: “We worked our hearts out, and I think we succeeded in many ways.”
“Bryant Park Project” had a rocky start when one of the original co-hosts, Luke Burbank, quit just before the debut. (He ended up staying through mid-December.) Ms. Stewart went on maternity leave in April, and the news anchor, Rachel Martin, left for ABC News in May. Mike Pesca has been filling in as host.
In addition to the on-air changes, two top NPR executives who helped develop the program have left the organization. Jay Kernis, the senior vice president of programming, went to CNN, and Ken Stern, NPR’s chief executive, departed in March after the board decided not to renew his contract.
“Bryant Park Project” is one of two entrants hoping to broaden the morning public-radio lineup that has long been dominated by NPR’s “Morning Edition.” WNYC in New York and Public Radio International introduced “The Takeaway” on April 28, which is also live. The hosts are Adaora Udoji and John Hockenberry; it is produced in association with the BBC, WGBH and The New York Times.
Ms. Stewart, who is 42 and until recently was also a contributor to NBC News, said she would return from maternity leave as planned on July 21 for the show’s last week. After that, she said, she is not sure what she will do, although she said that NPR had “expressed strong interest” in having her stay.
16 luglio 2008
Radio e giovani, NPR chiude Bryant Park Project
Il New York Times interviene su un problema molto discusso di questi tempi e cioè la difficoltà di confezionare un'offerta radiofonica capace di attrarre gli ascoltatori giovani. Lo spunto è la notizia della chiusura di Bryant Park Project, un notiziario mattutino molto interattivo, su cui la National Public Radio aveva investito parecchio (un budget di un paio di milioni di dollari che per la radio pubblica negli Stati Uniti non sono pochi). Bryant Park era nato in ottobre, all'inizio dell'anno ficale di NPR, ma è verosimile che non verrà più ripreso l'anno prossimo. Peccato, dicono gli ideatori, perché i segnali erano positivi. Bryant Park è disponibile secondo il NYT su 5 stazioni terrestri e diciannove canali "high definition" (IBOC?). Troppi costi, sostengono i consulenti chiamati a discutere della chiusura del programma sul sito Web ufficiale. "If a digital show that built a loyal audience and enjoyed the backing of a large organization like NPR can't survive, [...] then what show could? The answer [...] may be a cheaper one." Un programma meno costoso oggi potrebbe tirare avanti. Traduzione: una determinata programmazione radio oggi può funzionare solo rinunciando alle onde hertziane. Grande o piccolo paradosso, fate voi, ma forse è anche il segno della straordinaria potenza di un'idea, la parola incorporea, che sarà sempre con noi, persino nell'età dei podcast. Che si tratti di radioline a transistor o sofisticate Internet radio con interfaccia Wi-Fi (dopotutto sempre di onde hertziane si tratta).
Intanto la blogsfera si mobilita per Bryant Park chiedendosi "If the BPP can’t make it, how can the rest of us?"