In the Loop

In the Loop: March 30, 2009 Archive

Many paths to your wallet: NPR contemplates its own fund drive

Posted at 11:22 AM on March 30, 2009 by Jeff Horwich (3 Comments)

Robert Siegel image (minus editorial embellishment) from NPR.org
siegle.gif

The folks at National Public Radio must be just glowing with love for the Washington Post this morning. Or maybe they meant for the idea to leak out in this kind of half-formed way...

According to the WashPost, times are tight enough that NPR is contemplating something it last tried 25 years ago: Holding its own on-air fundraiser to ask listeners for money. Such money would be sent directly to NPR, rather than taking its usual path through the hundreds of local and regional stations and networks (like MPR, of course) that provide the broadcast outlet for NPR content.

It hardly sounds like it's green-lighted -- more like it's being speculated about internally. Plus there's the thorny fact that NPR seems to be forbidden by its own bylaws from doing such a thing--presumably because many stations would go ballistic.

NPR execs contacted by the Post floated a compromise notion of working with stations to hold a special fund drive specifically for NPR. NPR President Vivian Schiller also told the industry paper Current last week that there are plans in-the-making for an online fundraiser for NPR an online fundraiser at NPR.org with all proceeds to benefit stations. **See update below.

I'm not sure how much joy either idea stokes in the member stations themselves; either way, it's a competing play for the dollars of the same audience (for the most part, though NPR may generate a modest organic audience online).

Of course, much of the money from station fund drives already goes to NPR in the form of payments for its shows. But more listeners every day are learning the technical tools to bypass their local stations and get NPR content when and where they want it. Plus NPR has also put serious $$ and promotional muscle into efforts like NPRMusic.org and PlanetMoney that never really touch the airwaves of your local NPR affiliate.

As you diehards might recall, new president Schiller got her job after station backlash over NPR's go-it-alone digital initiatives forced out former President Ken Stern. But at first blush, this doesn't feel like the kind of "station-sensitive" thinking the stations probably had in mind.

**UPDATE 3/31: NPR clarified below, in a comment, that the "online fundraiser" would benefit stations, not NPR directly. Boo-hiss to my hasty reading of the Current article.

But that idea of an online fundraiser, then, turns out to be kind of a red-herring in the debate about whether NPR can and should raise money for itself.

Oddly, it seems to me that online is one place NPR could certainly make a case for raising money under its own banner. An online fundraiser for stations feels like kind of an awkward fit: Raising money for stations in the very place where people go to bypass stations? What a wonderful way to remind people that they don't need to tune into their stations any more.

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