Grants, donations to NPR support expanded reporting, app for personalized listening

By Mike Janssen

NPR has lined up $17 million in grants and individual gifts to expand two beat-reporting units and to complete development of an app designed to provide a personalized, location-based listening experience of content from NPR and local stations.

Most of the funding, about $10 million, supports development of the app, which NPR has referred to internally as Project Carbon. Slated for release by April 2014, the app will enable listeners to hear, read and watch public radio content across digital platforms, providing an experience similar to what Pandora or Spotify offer for music.

The app is designed to customize the content it delivers by using geolocation, gathering feedback and tracking when and for how long users listen. Though the app will launch initially for smartphones, NPR plans to expand its capabilities to serve “as many platforms as needed,” said Kinsey Wilson, chief content officer. That could include tablets, TVs and Internet-enabled cars. Wilson expects the app will also provide opportunities for users to donate to public radio. (Watch Wilson and NPR developers discuss the app in this video, posted on YouTube in May.)

The Knight Foundation awarded $2 million to NPR for the project and an additional $3.4 million in matching gifts to six stations that have been working with NPR on development: KPCC, Los Angeles; KQED, San Francisco; WBUR, Boston; WHYY, Philadelphia; WNYC, New York; and Minnesota Public Radio.

In addition, three NPR lay leaders will each provide major gifts of $1 million: acting NPR President Paul Haaga and his wife, Heather; former NPR Foundation Vice Chair William Poorvu and his wife, Lia; and former NPR Board Chair and Foundation trustee Howard Stevenson and his wife, Fredericka.

Foundation grants are backing expansion of two areas of news coverage. The Wallace Foundation will provide $1.5 million and the Gates Foundation $1.8 million for reporting on education. NPR will add a lead blogger, a senior editor and an associate producer to the beat, joining the current team of a lead editor and reporters Claudio Sanchez and Eric Westervelt. The expanded coverage will draw on collaboration with member stations as well.

And the Gates Foundation will give an another $3 million to support coverage of global health and economic development. NPR will hire a reporter, two blogger/editors and an editor and director of global partnership to join current reporter Jason Beaubien and social media producer Michaeleen Doucleff. The team will contribute to a new blog on the subject.

NPR will start hiring for the new positions soon and expects to launch them in the spring. The network also announced an additional $1.5 million from CPB and $750,000 from the Ford Foundation to support Code Switch, its reporting unit on race, ethnicity and culture that started this year.

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