Local Public Radio Online

An online news revolution is happening but you’d barely know it by the activities of many local public radio stations.

Our latest national survey data — presented exclusively here — shows the vast majority of U.S. public radio stations are still in the crawling stages of new media adoption.

“How frequently do you use online digital tools or techniques to engage communities in your local news and public affairs?”

Doing Some of the Easy Stuff

Let’s start with what local stations ARE doing in some significant measure. The green and gold areas in the pie charts represent the proportion of stations “very frequently” (green) or “frequently” (gold) using the tools or methods listed by chart.

A healthy 75% of radio stations frequently or very frequently are doing the no-brainer thing: putting their audio online.

Similarly, two-thirds of stations are routinely posting online scripts or text-based articles.

And, rather encouragingly, half the public radio stations are now regular providers of online photos.

However, when it comes to adding value through slideshows or video, the vast majority of stations  rarely or never bother.

Note the increasing presence of red (“None”) and orange (“Infrequent”) sections of the charts.

Even blogging is something of a rarity. Half of stations report never blogging and 25% say they do so infrequently.

The Social Bandwagon Effect

Facebook is a popular way of engaging local communities in online news efforts by public radio. Sixty-five percent of stations use Facebook frequently or very frequently.

Twitter is used less regularly than Facebook. On Facebook, 35% of stations of stations rarely or never post. On Twitter, almost half of stations rarely or never “tweet.”

Still a One Way Street: Mapping, Crowd-Sourcing and UGC

As journalists take advantage of online tools, they increasingly use interactive maps to give users control over geographic views of new data. They also seek new ways to “crowd source” stories by requesting participation from the public. User-Generated Content is another way that journalism is now turning to citizens to assist with information gathering.

Our poll shows these methods have limited acceptance in local public radio newsrooms. If anything, perhaps the size of the orange “infrequent” wedges are signs of potential here.

Rarities: Data Visualization, Polling and Mobile Apps

While mobile platforms have made portable radios all but obsolete, only 21% of public radio stations report deploying mobile apps to engage their communities.


Even something as simple as online polling is rarely if ever done by 90% of stations.

As the red wedges take over these charts, one can see that more sophisticated online tools for data-visualization or geo-locating data are extremely rare in local public radio.

About the Survey

A direct-invitation survey was conducted between July 26 and August 15, 2010 by Michael Marcotte of MVM Consulting with help from Steve Martin of SFM Consulting and Ken Mills of the Ken Mills Agency. This survey was conducted as a supplement to a CPB/PRNDI census of local public broadcasting journalists. (Download a copy of the survey.) Ninty-two percent of all CPB-qualified public broadcast organizations took part in the main survey, and about 80% of those went on to complete the supplemental (or about 380 stations). The section reported here combines the radio and joint licensees, and leaves out the TV respondents.

A Fourth of Local Stations Report Growing News Staffs

Here is data that has not been reported anywhere before. It comes from a 2010 system wide survey I did as a supplement to the CPB/PRNDI Census of Journalists*.

Source: PRNDI/MVM Consulting, August 2010

The chart shows that despite the weak economy 58% of stations maintained their news staffing levels during FY 2010 while 27% of stations actually grew their news staffs during that time.

The following chart reports the results of a second survey question, looking ahead to FY 2011. It shows 61% of stations planning to maintain their current newsroom size, while a healthy 26% of stations plan to increase their news and public affairs staffing.

Anticipated 2011 Radio News Staff Changes
Source: PRNDI/MVM Consulting, 2010

There has been strong emphasis lately on growing local station services as a response to changing patterns of public media consumption. For example, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is funding nine “Local Journalism Centers” involving more than 40 stations — which would account for roughly half the growth reflected here in 2010 (and some of the optimism for 2011).

For more theory and recommendations on the trend toward local growth, see Rethinking Public Media: More Local, More Inclusive, More Interactive by Barbara Cochran for the Knight Commission and Aspen Institute.

Helping on my research team was Steve Martin and Ken Mills.

*The CPB/PRNDI Census of Journalists in local newsrooms was conducted in July-August 2010 and filed as a complete report in September 2010. CPB has yet to release the results because it wants to add to the headcount the number of national/network journalists. The data presented here are not part of the census report.