NPR CEO Schiller: ‘We Are Focusing on Building a Public Media Digital Platform’

The final keynote at mediabistro’s UGCX conference was delivered by NPR President and CEO Vivian Schiller. Schiller started off with some depressing stats and said, “We’ve never seen a time that is more chaotic” in the news business. Specifically, 11% of full-time newsroom jobs were cut in 2008, local TV news audience has fallen 12% in the last five years, and the public’s assessment of accuracy in news is at its lowest level in two decades.

“Wherever we end up, we will look back at this year, and say this is the year when everything changed,” she said, but quickly added, “there are incredible reasons to be cheerful. Out of the ashes is rising a new era of information where citizens will receive the information they need to be self governing and we will do it ways we can’t imagine.”

Schiller then laid out five “myths” in the media industry.

Myth #1: There is no audience for quality news. This is “not true” she said. “NPR is not a niche service. The audience for public radio is 32 million people a week. The median listening is five hours a week. That is 100 million hours of listening every week to quality news and information.”

Myth #2: Journalism is in crisis. Nope. The “business model of journalism is in crisis,” she said.

Myth #3: There are fewer news organizations. “In communities large and small new news organizations are springing up,” Schiller stated.

Myth #4: The Internet is the worst thing to happen to the news business. “The Internet has provided and continues to give us most exciting tools for free flow of information since printing press,” she said. “More people can be reached and more people are engaged.”

Myth #5: Social media is not a catalyst for serious journalism. She cited how NPR’s audience calculated that the “balloon” in the balloon boy scandal couldn’t have held the boy to begin with. They discounted claims the boy was in the balloon before it even landed.

Getting back to NPR’s business, Schiller said they have 17 news bureaus oversees, more than ABC, CBS and NBC. NPR brings in $300 million per year in sponsorship from various channels. “We can have even more success if we focus on local news and digital platforms,” she said.

When it comes to changing media and the challenges specifically with print, Schiller said that “the power of audio is not disrupt-able the way print is,” citing that audio can still work on the net and on mobile devices where print is automatically replaced.

In terms of future plans, “We are focusing on building a public media digital platform, to the service of all public media. It’s basically an API, but we will make it more robust,” she said.