Source: New York Times
AUSTIN, Tex. — NPR might not seem like the most obvious host of a party at the sprawling South by Southwest Interactive conference. But it, like so many other old-line media companies, wants and needs what the conference, part of the South by Southwest festivals, has: youthful energy.
So NPR chose a bar hovering above Sixth Street here to kick off Generation Listen, a campaign to make public radio cool in the minds and ears of young people. The party was, like every party here, packed. But the goal was to convince 20-something listeners that NPR is something that they can belong to — and may be even worth their donations.
NPR has set up Facebook and Twitter pages for the campaign and invited people to sign up for a mailing list with the promise of special events in the future. “It’s time for us to get better at finding you where you are and what is most relevant to your lives,” declares the manifesto for Generation Listen on NPR.org, echoing what so many other media companies are thinking.
A dozen television channels had a presence at the festivals last weekend, with elaborate stunts and parties for forthcoming shows like Syfy’s “Defiance” and A&E’s “Bates Motel.” So did news organizations like The New York Times that are eager to entice new paying subscribers. Executives at The Times said last month that they were considering an “entry-level” subscription product for young people, presumably at a lower price than existing plans.
For NPR, the campaign that was celebrated at the Sunday night event here didn’t come from the top, but rather from the middle — from a manager, Danielle Deabler, who enlisted a few friends to help her.
After about two years of pitching — “I had to ‘sell’ it inside NPR,” she said — Ms. Deabler won the financial and logistical backing of the chief executive of the organization, Gary Knell, and his colleagues. Ms. Deabler calls it “a conscious movement to connect NPR with younger audiences and connect these fans to one another.”
By “younger,” she means listeners under 30, though she is happy to sign up people closer to her own age as well. (She gave her age as “Generation X.”) The age of the typical NPR listener falls somewhere between that of the network personalities Peter Sagal, 48, and Carl Kassel, 78; a 2009 study of public radio found that the median age for an NPR News listener was 52, up from 47 in 1999. The median age for a classical radio listener was 65, up from 58. For NPR’s Web site, the median age is lower. And for podcasts, it’s lower still — about 36.
NPR’s music arm has had success in recruiting fans at the festivals, known as SXSW, in the past. But in general, younger NPR listeners tend not to have as strong a sense of belonging as older listeners do. (They also don’t donate to their local radio stations as much.) Ms. Deabler’s “aha moment,” she said, was meeting a 28-year-old entrepreneur who told her: “I ride my bike every day from Brooklyn into Manhattan and listen to NPR podcasts every day. What can I do to help NPR?”
Ms. Deabler worked in media relations at NPR at the time. She had noticed that when NPR hit “rough patches” — say, the firing of the news analyst Juan Williams and failed attempts by Republicans to bar federal funding to the organization — “there was no efficient way to activate our most loyal fans.” Nor was there a way to attract new fans. “We had not spent time studying the psychology of it all,” she said.
She found a kindred spirit in Eric Kuhn, a former CNN producer who had recently become the first “social media agent” at United Talent Agency. He and his colleagues started working with NPR on a pro bono basis to, he said, “inspire a new generation of listeners.”
Generation Listen emanated from their discussions with NPR. They started the campaign quietly last November by inviting two dozen young people to “Weekend in Washington,” a private event held each year for NPR trustees, donors and supporters that typically skews much older. The first-time attendees tweeted and blogged the whole time.
The campaign organizers hope to hold events for young listeners to meet one another, reinforcing the notion that NPR fandom is a community of sorts. Ms. Deabler’s new title is director of audience engagement and new ventures — which in itself is a sign of changing attitudes within media companies.
The initial goal, she said, is to help NPR’s young audience grow. “Perhaps someday,” she added, “they will keep NPR going through pledging to their local member stations and through philanthropy.”
© New York Times