"NPR is a brand to die for," as a colleague of mine said. Enjoying the authority of a well-established public media vanguard with a broad and extremely loyal listenership, it has also managed to become an agile innovator that is embracing (and even pioneering) the new rules of the digital era of broadcasting. NPR's social media footprint is constantly widening, its API much acclaimed, and its recent iPhone app has already surpassed that of the New York Times and other news outlets in terms of popularity.
It is thus not surprising (but still absolutely commendable) that NPR is experimenting with further opening its brand and in fact holding a full-blown digital strategy session in the public limelight, as it did this Friday with the NPR Digital Think In in San Francisco. I was priviliged to be involved in the planning and organization of the event, on behalf of my employer, frog design, which co-hosted the event. We facilitated the workshop sessions, provided our studio facilities, and also helped NPR connect with key thought leaders from the Bay Area tech and design communities.
The Digital Think In brought together 60 thought leaders at the intersection of media and technology to explore new approaches to content creation, distribution, and funding for NPR and NPR member stations. Hosted by NPR CEO and President Vivian Schiller and Digital Media SVP and General Manager Kinsey Wilson, the Think In harnessed the collective expertise and creativity of an exceptional group of entrepreneurs, executives, and innovators. Participants included leaders at the leading edge of technology and media innovation from academia, venture capital, internet design, public media, social media, and research. Notable participants contributing to the day-long brainstorm included: Craig Newmark, Founder of craigslist; Reid Hoffman, Chairman and co-Founder of LinkedIn; Roger McNamee, Managing Director and Co-Founder of Elevation Partners; Chris Beard, Chief Innovation Officer of Mozilla; Krishna Bharat, Principal Scientist and creator of Google News; and Sue Gardner, Executive Director of Wikimedia Foundation, among many others.
Here's how NPR's Kinsey Wilson framed their mission:
"Historic changes in technology and the rapid growth in digital media have had a profoundly disruptive effect on journalism, calling into question the news media's ability to fulfill its time-honored function as civic watchdog. Hardly a week goes by that we don’t hear of yet another major news organization cutting staff, curtailing coverage or closing its doors. As traditional news organizations struggle to adapt, new, non-traditional outlets are beginning to take their place. As a not-for-profit with a distinct business model, National Public Radio has benefited from the disruption and seen its audience grow. Americans now spend more time with NPR than any other news source. But it's hardly immune from the technological challenges of the era. And it's clear that the rise of digital media will ultimately disrupt NPR's business model as well. NPR has responded by recruiting digital leaders to serve the top of the organization, embarking on an unprecedented staff training program and overhauling its digital media strategy. It is poised to take further steps to ensure it remains a vital source of news on every platform."
The Digital Think In explored five main topics that are significant to NPR's ecosystem and its future: social media and connection to the audience, the organization's national network of more than 800 stations, the potential of its open API, expansion of platforms, and its diversified revenue model. After an NPR overview and an opening session, participants broke out into small groups to develop concepts that NPR can incorporate into its organizational road map.
Closing out the day, NPR's Vivian Schiller suggested to call the next gathering "Open-mic Night," given the stand-up performances of the presenters. She said she was overwhelmed by the ideas that came out of the event and that some of them could be implemented soon. Kinsey Wilson assured everyone that their efforts will not end up tossed in a dusty drawer and forgotten. So be it!
The event was live-blogged on the Think In micro-site which also featured live video streams of the opening and closing sessions. In addition, attendees were tweeting the event throughout the day using the hashtag #nprthinkin (and there was a lively conversation going on between on-site and remote participants; also check out the NPR Facebook page for comments).
You can view pictures of the event on Flickr.