Embracing The Future

Sep 2, 2014

NPR's strategic plan lays out both the big picture vision as well as the priorities that detail how to achieve that vision.

Public radio in the U.S. is an unusual amalgamation of locally owned stations and well known national networks. Together, these stations and networks partner each day to create and broadcast programs that touch the lives of nearly 35 million weekly listeners. Listeners tend to think about public radio as “NPR” but the reality is that NPR is only one piece of the public radio puzzle. That said, the success of public radio as a dynamic American institution is inextricably connected to the vision and organizational acuity of NPR, which is governed by a combination of station leaders and members of the public.

Earlier this year, NPR adopted a new strategic plan, parts of which I thought I’d share with you. The plan lays out both a big picture, aspirational vision for what NPR seeks to accomplish and strategic priorities that detail how to achieve that vision. Here’s a summary of NPR’s new strategic plan:

NPR Strategic Aspiration: We will be the model for high quality journalism in the 21st century, strengthening the cultural, civic and social fabric of our democracy. We will build on our heritage as reporters and storytellers, on our intimate relationship with audiences, and on our capacity for innovation in order to create a space where audiences congregate, connect and contribute to a shared understanding of the wider world. We strive to feed the mind and satisfy the soul.

NPR Strategic Priorities: To realize our strategic aspiration, we have established four strategic priorities. They are of equal weight and priority.

1. Create exceptional content. We must enhance core news programs and distinctive topic coverage. NPR’s investment in journalism over the past 40 years has fueled the growth in its audience and led it to become a preeminent source of news and cultural programming. NPR intends to build on this strong heritage — offering context, sparking conversation, and satisfying listeners’ curiosity.

2. Expand, diversify and engage our audiences. Audience service is at the heart of public radio’s purpose and its business. To be relevant and fulfill its mission, public radio must create news and entertainment content that serves the needs of the broad American public and innovate on new platforms. To be sustainable, public radio must generate revenues directly and indirectly from that audience. For NPR to remain vital and vibrant in the future, it must therefore maintain its core audience, expand its reach, diversify its audience and engage its users.

3. Collaborate. We must play a lead role in strengthening the non-commercial public radio network through collaboration, strategic partnerships, service and sound management... A strong network cannot exist without a strong station community. NPR is committed to working in partnership to ensure that member stations continue to provide relevant service to their communities...

4. Grow net revenues. We must increase revenues and effectively manage costs in order to ensure a sustainable financial business model for NPR and public radio. For the system to remain vital and viable, it must identify ways to increase net revenues, both at NPR and at all local stations... Entrepreneurial approachess... combined with strong cost management practices, must be embraced.

I think NPR has it right, which hasn’t always been the case. In order to continue to earn our place in the hearts and minds of our listeners, both stations and NPR must work together in real and meaningful ways. Local stations must also continue to find ways to pool our collective financial, intellectual and creative resources for the benefit of our audiences while building a stronger capacity to step forward to address the unique challenges and opportunities of the local communities we serve.

Paul Westhelle, Executive Director
Jefferson Public Radio