New NPR.org Pushes Multi-Platform Business Model

A shiny new NPR.org revealed itself Monday with a simpler homepage design packed with multimedia features and customizable choices.

Like most major media websites still afloat, NPR.org aims to keep radio content its core but offer up multi-platform, all-purpose news.

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The new site is a major improvement to its tightly-fonted, cramped and confusing predecessor. Now, homepage focuses on news, arts and the latest audio clips from the organization’s most popular shows.

National Public Radio CEO Vivian Schiller sat down with Newsweek to discuss the site’s re-launch and strategic steps for online media. Schiller, who was senior vice president and general manager of NYTimes.com just six months ago, has a unique perspective from the top of an industry struggling to survive.

One classic battle playing out in newsrooms and online offices across the country is the delicate balance of the traditional company and its online additions. Schiller says the relationship between the online newsroom and radio producers and reporters is symbiotic.

“In creating all this digital content, it’s not just to service NPR.org,” she said. “We’re giving them more digital content that they can pull down and use on their site.”

As a national public broadcasting institution, however, NPR is faced with a different set of challenges than private media groups in blending local public content with national news. Schiller feels local news stations are the ones suffering the most in the economic downturn, and says NPR.org is attempting to dissuade that trend.

“One of the major focuses of our digital initiative is to give stations the tools, the resources, the knowledge, and the infrastructure, so they can create a great experience in their communities,” she told Newsweek.

Local content, however, proves to be buried in national headlines and difficult to access on the new site, however. The site promotes its many blogs and includes local news in a few select places when relevant, but a strong push for promoting local content is a bit lost.

The new site may draw in new audiences, but its shift to multiplatform production indicates a core change in NPR’s business model that may be a tall order for an organization with such a strong production tradition.


USA Today vs. Washington Post vs. New York Times

Like many others, I occasionally use Compete and Alexa data to compare traffic of websites whose logs I don’t have access to.  I know these services are imperfect, but a comparison I ran today of NYTimes.com vs. USAToday.com vs. WashingtonPost.com shows just how anecdotal the data from these services is. 

Below are the results of a comparison of the three sites from Compete for the last year.  According to Compete, USA Today gets more unique visitors than the New York Times.  My gut tells me this is completely wrong.  While I’ve read my share of issues of USA Today on airplanes and at hotels, it is unfathomable to me that its website is more popular than NYTimes.com

So I went over to Alexa and did a similar comparison to dramatically different results.  The New York Times is well ahead of both the Post and USA Today in terms of Daily Reach, with USA Today actually trailing the Post by a small margin.  As you’ll see below, Alexa reports wildly different results than Compete.

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To me, the Alexa result feels rights, and a look at the Nielsen data makes me semi confident that my gut instinct is more correct than Compete.  However, the Nielsen data routinely comes under criticism itself, as does that of competing service Comscore

The fact of the matter is that the only way to track site usage with any precision is through log files, which the firms providing these numbers don’t have access to.  No one has truly figured out to track overall web usage accurately as of yet, so we should all remember to take these numbers with a huge grain of salt.  Even when the the stats you get back match your working hypothesis, as the Alexa numbers do in my USA Today vs. NYTimes vs. WashingtonPost.com comparison. 

NPR to Launch Redesigned Site on Monday

NPR will be launching a redesigned website on Monday, and they are providing a sneak preview of the homepage of the new site via a YouTube video. While the video only provides a brief glimpse of the new site, what is shown looks quite impressive. I look forward to taking a look on Monday.