Post From the Comments – Alex Howard on Public Radio

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Alex HowardThe following is a post from Alex Howard, brilliant tech writer, passionate local human, and someone I’m glad I know.

I I share Chris’s enthusiasm for public radio and for WBUR in particular. "Local Social- How WBUR Gets the Public in Public Radio" was a great post. And @EricGuerin, it was great to meet you in person.

I grew up listening to WHYY in Philadelphia and then to WMEW in Maine. WHYY was part of the rhythms of my family’s daily life during commutes, cooking meals or on weekend errands. It wasn’t until I moved to Boston, however, that NPR became much more closely woven into the fabric of my daily life. For the past decade, WBUR has consistently demonstrated over and over again just how good public radio can be at reporting on a community and telling deep, compelling stories about the what’s happening on the streets, in the cafes and around the boardroom table. (The station has won some well-deserved awards along the way.) I’m hesitant to call WBUR the best public radio station in the country but I’m certain there isn’t a better one.

Clearly, I’m a fan. As you say, Chris, they get it. Robin Lubbock and Ken George are quietly setting a new standard for social engagement through social media outreach. Just follow WBUR on Twitter to see what I mean. Keith Hopper is similarly blazing a new media trail for the Public Interactive group at NPR.

They’re all using the same social software and platforms that businesses and other organizations are leveraging on the Web now to interact with their listeners and audience. I heard Andy Carvin on Morning Edition today; his conversation with Scott Simon demonstrated exactly how well much NPR’s social media strategist ‘gets it.’

What’s exciting to me as both a long-time listener of public radio and citizen is how perfect the fit is between NPR and social technologies like blogs, podcasts, microblogging and virtual worlds. NPR has been at the forefront of podcasting, a natural evolution given their rich, deep catalog of syndicated shows. The challenge as they move more into this space is how to support the considerable expense of supporting the news coverage around the clock.

I hope that the technology for fundraising and direct electronic donations will catch up to the lightning-quick pace that advances in communication platforms have seen in recent years. Chipin widgets for blogs and microgiving campaigns using Twitter using services like Tipjoy hold some immediate promise in 2009. For instance, Web listeners streaming WBUR or other NPR news stations could immediately give a micropayment at the point of contact, replying to a tweet containing a story or clicking on a button below the “listen here” link on WBUR.org.

I’ve heard similar cases made for micropayments used for readers of the NYT, WSJ or Economist on a Kindle. It’s not a stretch to imagine an NPR application for the iPhone or G1 that has a similar “click to give” function during fundaisers. I dream about the day when I can donate and then be able to listen to programming free of the earnest pleas of the pledge drive — except, perhaps, for Ira Glass. His requests for money are always hilarious.

The WBUR tweetup on Thursday was an experience that will stick with me for some time. The conversation you led was, as you described it “all over the place.” When we talked about “business models for displaced journalists,” it was in the context of Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub, one of the best hyperlocal blogs around, who joined their ranks this past week. (My only regret from the night is that I missed Keith Hopper’s discussion. Fortunately, we can all listen to an Open Conversation on Hyperlocal News at KeithHopper.com). Questions about how newspapers, magazines and radio stations will make the transition through the massive disruption to their business models aren’t a matter of speculative fiction. As William Gibson has said,”The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.”

He’s right; it’s happening right now, here in Boston. Time to go do some dishes while I stream Morning Edition through my iPhone.

You can read more from Alex Howard at Digiphile.

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