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NPR boosts its digital journalism with a new news applications team

NPR boosts its digital journalism with a new news applications team

NPR announced yesterday that has it hired the Chicago Tribune’s Brian Boyer to direct a new team, dedicated to building news applications. NPR has produced news apps previously, such as this interactive look at the science of “Fracking” to extract gas, and this map of air-polluting facilities in the US. However, the staff who have worked on these types of projects haven’t been coordinated in a single department, and Boyer’s appointment will bring them together.

Mark Stencel, NPR’s Managing Editor for digital news, who will be in charge of Boyer and his team, tells Poynter; “what I’m hoping is that, by taking these positions and putting them together as a team, we’ll be able to do a higher level of [work] than we’ve been able to do with scattered design, database and development resources.”

The news app division will help NPR adapt to the digital age, implies NPR’s Chief Content Officer Kinsey Wilson, quoted by Poynter. “I would say radio is at the forefront of our digital strategy, but … we’re entering a world of multimedia audio, if you will, in which radio will be complemented by other storytelling forms,” he says.

It’s not too hard to see why NPR wants to expand in this area; these interactive pieces of data journalism have been a big hit for other news organisations in the past. The BBC’s app “The world at 7 billion: What’s your number?”, which allowed users to see where they fit in to the world’s booming population, was the most shared link of Facebook in 2011.

As Poynter explains, NPR’s team will consist of seven people, including Boyer, data journalist Matt Stiles, three NPR staff designers, and two programmers, who have yet to be appointed. The hiring process is something to look forward to because, as Nieman Lab points out, Boyer writes great job adverts. (Sample ad: “Do you keep a grocery list? Do you alphabetize your spices (and/or record collection)? Do you measure your baking ingredients by weight? Then you’re just the kind of freak we’re looking for.”)

Yet despite Boyer’s light-hearted tone, he stresses in an interview with Nieman Lab that he is interested in creating news apps with substance. For a long time, Boyer says, multimedia journalism was an “expensive conceit”, but Nieman Lab writes that in his view “multimedia journalism should be useful, not just pretty.”

As both Nieman Lab and Poynter describe, Boyer will also help NPR create “responsive web design” i.e. web pages that automatically adapt to the size and nature of the device that they are viewed on. Boyer has already been responsible for creating “responsive” designs for the Tribune, something which might be seen as a growing trend. As Martin Belam at the Guardian has written, this design feature has also recently been implemented in the UK by ITV and the BBC.

Poynter makes it clear that NPR’s new news app initiative can be seen as quite a big bet for the broadcaster, which is suffering from a severe dip in advertising revenue. Paul Farhi at the Washington Post wrote last week that in March NPR posted of deficit of $2.6 million, beyond what is covered by its endowment. What’s more, Farhi notes that the “strong audience growth” that NPR’s news and entertainment shows had experienced during the past 10 years has petered out. Now, perhaps, NPR is hoping that with a stronger digital offering it will be successful in reeling new audience members in.

Sources: NPR, Poynter, Nieman Lab, BBC, data journalism handbook, Chicago Tribune, Guardian, Washington Post


Hannah Vinter


2012-05-22 15:01

Shaping the Future of the News Publishing

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