Attributes of Local NPR Stations: Online Content

Our 2012 survey of local public media newsrooms shows that most stations still have rather stunted commitments to local news online.

The charts in this post provide a break-out of NPR member station findings. (To see all public media results, see this summary piece.)

We begin with this overview picture of online content commitments. The chart is stacked from most prevalent to least prevalent content types (ascertained by gauging “commitment levels” to these options).

MVM 2012 NPR ONLINE Means.001

These 2012 data are similar to the findings gathered in 2010 (though not directly comparable, due to adjustments in methodology).

It should be noted that, while many stations show limited commitments to online news, the survey found a pent up dissatisfaction with online news. That data is here.

What follows is a chart by chart review of these online content types.


Radio stations specialize in providing audio, so this content type gets the greatest adherence by local public radio newsrooms. Almost two thirds of them have high or very high resource commitments to audio online.

2012 MVM NPR AUDIO.001


Text is the dominant form of communicating news online. The degree of commitment to online text by local newsrooms is tantamount to their overall degree of commitment to online local news. Half of stations are there in a big way. A quarter of stations are doing very little.

2012 MVM NPR TEXT.001


Forty percent of stations are highly committed to Facebook as a platform for local news. Another 32% have a medium level commitment.



Radio newsrooms are gradually employing their eyes, not just their ears, in their news gathering. So far, only a third have a high commitment to photography in their digital news.



Twitter is increasing its importance to local NPR station newsrooms. Commitment to the micro-blogging service is now almost as high as Facebook.


Online Comments

As we continue down the list of online content types, there’s a big drop in commitment levels here in looking at online comments. Three quarters of the NPR stations show a low or lower devotion to managing the online comments of others.



While photographic slideshows pair well with audio news stories, local NPR stations express an overall low commitment to slideshows.



The NPR Argo Project advanced the virtues of local newsroom blogging on specialized content, but the overall system is not rushing to the use of local news blogging. Only 16% of stations claim a high or very high commitment. Over 70% of stations are on the low end of the chart.



Considered one of the most shareable and promising forms of digital content, videos are also largely ignored by NPR station newsrooms. Three fourths of stations show low, very low or non-existent commitment to video.

2012 MVM NPR VIDEO.001

Other Social Media

Facebook and Twitter got high usage by local public radio stations, but other social networks… not so much.



Local news stories are greatly enhanced when we use all our digital muscles to convey information and drive interactivity. Maps are a great example of this. However, at least two-thirds of local NPR newsrooms are doing very little to take advantage of maps in their online journalism.

2012 MVM NPR MAPS.001

Data Visualization

Data visualization, like maps, help tell online stories and make complicated data simple to understand. A whopping 83% percent of local public radio newsrooms are largely bypassing data visualization content.


User Generated Content

Very few stations are endeavoring to cull content provided by the public.

2012 MVM NPR UGC.001

Crowd Sourcing

We thought this chart on crowd sourcing might have higher levels of commitment because of the Public Insight Network that many stations are using for news research. But the commitment levels are among the lowest of all online content types in the survey.

2012 MVM NPR CROWD.001

Online Polls

The least popular of online content types is the online poll. Almost 90% of station newsrooms have better things to do.

2012 MVM NPR POLLS.001

About the Survey

The 2012 Survey of Stations was conducted by Michael V. Marcotte of MVM Consulting in coordination with the University of Nevada School of Journalism, where Marcotte is a visiting professor. Collaborating on the invitation only, online survey was PhD candidate Sandra Evans of The Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Southern California. 136 stations participated, 103 of them were NPR members.

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.