The end of NPR’s New Realities planning project is in sight, which must come as a relief to the network brass who have crisscrossed the country for months, talking with hundreds of constituents about the future of public radio.
Participants say New Realities ranks among public radio’s most ambitious and inclusive strategic planning exercises — focused, productive and well-organized.
By the end of April, NPR will have held six two-day meetings, each with 30 to 60 station leaders and other stakeholders, to consider the future of media and how NPR and public radio stations will fit into the lives of listeners. They have often ended up in close agreement about their mission, says Dana Davis Rehm, NPR’s v.p. of member and station services and a leader of the New Realities process.
Rehm ticks off some widespread perceptions: “We understand that it’s necessary for public content and the public radio experience to be available on all platforms,” she says. “We need to be able to provide people with what they need and want when and where they want it.” Staying relevant to audiences as competition intensifies is also important, Rehm says.
The talks will open to a wider audience May 1 and 2 in Washington, D.C., where a larger New Realities conference will be held, replacing two fixtures of the public radio year that had been scheduled on those dates. The NPR Authorized Representatives (A-Reps) meeting was canceled, and the Public Radio Leadership Forum may be held at a later date. Registration forms for the May conference are at deiworksite.org.
A third annual event, the stations’ formal NPR Membership Meeting, will be held as scheduled on the afternoon of May 2.
Participants declined to discuss the meetings in much detail. Forums were closed to reporters, and NPR asked participants not to discuss the forums extensively lest they skew the perceptions of others who have yet to attend.
But some participants suggest that New Realities could introduce changes in how NPR and its member stations work together. That relationship has been strained by the development of new-media platforms that present new ways of distributing NPR content but also threaten the stations and public radio’s economic base.
Rehm tells Current that New Realities discussions have helped the system take “a real step forward” by sparking inclusive discussions about new business models.
At a February meeting of the NPR Board, Chairman Tim Eby alluded to an “evolving business model” that will need “substantial investments” and said the board had created a Capital Development Task Force composed of board members and NPR Foundation trustees. Rehm said then that the “time was right” to commit to activities but offered no other details.
This week, NPR will begin sharing with the system initial findings from the talks, and at the May conference executives will summarize the New Realities meetings and discuss possible outcomes.
Inside the actors’ studio
The NPR Board and management began developing New Realities last July, when they agreed that public radio needed to initiate a “different kind of conversation” about its future, Rehm says. They enlisted Robert Paterson, a consultant based on Canada’s Prince Edward Island, to lead the process.
Senior NPR managers took part in the first New Realities meeting in October. A one-day version a month later included NPR Board and Foundation members, and an ensuing series of internal retreats for NPR staffers has involved more than 200 managers.
NPR convened meetings for the entire system in Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and, last week, in Philadelphia. The final meeting in the series will be April 30 in Washington. By then about 225 people will have participated, Rehm estimates.
Participants told Current they were divided into groups and asked to play the roles of NPR management, station leaders, listeners and competing media, forecasting how the players would relate in the future.
Patty Wente, g.m. of KWMU-FM in St. Louis and president of Public Radio in Mid America, a regional group, played the role of “Karen Klose” at the end of her New Realities forum, spoofing NPR President Kevin Klose.
Torey Malatia, president of Chicago Public Radio, also earned special recognition for his acting chops. Paterson’s blog (smartpei.typepad.com) featured this review of Malatia’s performance: “Second City, watch out.”
Web page posted April 11, 2006
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