Is this a trick question?

By Julianne Dalcanton | April 7, 2010 10:24 am

Bits of the blogosphere are taking note of a recent post by John Sides noting the growth of NPR compared to other news sources:

npr growth

Sides comments:

Something in their business model is working. And I have a hard time imagining that NPR listeners won’t watch televised news programming as a matter of principle.

So where is the NPR of cable news?

To me, the reason seems dead obvious. Radio is the only delivery mechanism that you can absorb while doing something else. Driving? Check. Cooking? Check. Reading email? Check. Lingering in bed after the alarm goes off? Check.

I don’t have a “principle” against watching televised news. I just don’t have time. You could have Ira Glass and Carl Kassell doing the Hustle surrounded by frolicking puppies and I still wouldn’t make the time to sit down and watch.

  • Simplicio

    PBS would be the obvious TV analog to NPR. So it seems silly to complain such a thing doesn’t exist.

    According to their website they had a primetime rating of 1.1:

    “PBS’ primetime audience is significantly larger than many of the commercial channels frequently cited as competitors, including HBO (0.9), History Channel (0.8), Discovery Channel (0.8), CNN (0.8), The Learning Channel (0.7) and Bravo (0.5).”

    Of course, its kinda cheating for a broadcast network to compare themselves to a bunch of cabal channels.

  • Moshe

    There is a whole genre of surprising claims based on the statistics of growth rate , which I tend to dismiss based on the idea that small numbers tend to have large fluctuations (much easier to show large increase/decline of some rare species than something more main stream) . I’m wondering if there is a better statistics to account for that effect.

  • Tony

    ” You could have Ira Glass and Carl Kassell doing the Hustle surrounded by frolicking puppies and I still wouldn’t make the time to sit down and watch.”

    Me neither, but it would be a youtube sensation!

  • InfamousQBert

    i would agree with the radio is easy aspect, but there’s a large segment of the population left out of the discussion as more and more niche-market stations pop up on television. those of us on the left, who used to at least try to seek out both sides in a reasonable forum, have grown sick and tired of being literally YELLED at by the talking heads. local news programs are nothing but fluff, even in “good” markets and even the more balanced news programs on television suffer from overwhelming use of nonsense to catch our attention. those in the center are similarly at a loss to find a television news station that represents them in a rational way. when you turn on NPR, you get news and current events. you get it from calm but enthsiastic voices that aren’t screaming at you about anything. it’s what drew me to the format several years ago and what keeps me there on the rare occasion that i try to branch out and try another source.

  • changcho

    “Radio is the only delivery mechanism that you can absorb while doing something else.”

    Completely agree, that makes a lot of sense (90% of the time I listen to the radio is while driving to work).

  • snobographer

    The news provided by public broadcasting, though it has its faults, is more informative than cable news. You get more information from one hour of Jim Lehrer than you can get from a whole day watching CNN. If cable news did some investigative journalism and didn’t run the same three stupid balloon boy type stories on a continual loop all week, maybe they wouldn’t be losing so many viewers.

  • Sean

    Ira Glass pretending to play drums behind OK GO:

    Gretchen Helfritch pretending to play guitar; Peter Sagal demonstrating he doesn’t really understand how the bass guitar is to be played.

  • arfnotz

    easy – no ads. The ads on both local and cable news are non-stop and grate like hell. Car dealers are the worst. That and th efact that locla news is all about stickups and car wrecks, and Cable just hammers the same crap every 2 minutes means they are completely out of my universe.

    Whats also annoying is ther omnipresence in airports – Hartsfield Atlanta being the worst. PLEASE tune them off.

  • Charon

    “Radio is the only delivery mechanism that you can absorb while doing something else.”

    That’s not true – at least it’s not true if you treat TV like radio. I quite often listen to Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann while doing other things. Yes, occasionally they show images that are integral to what they’re saying, but most of the time you can just treat it like radio.

    And because both of their TV programs are on iTunes, for free, I can play them on my laptop wherever I am, whenever I want. And there are no ads.

  • Pieter Kok

    Does this growth in NPR’s market share includes its podcasts? I can imagine that NPR blows the competition away in this respect (on account of having actually something interesting to say).

  • jlive

    Why are they comparing TV to radio in the first place? That graph is almost meaningless without including public TV ratings and private radio ratings (yes, there are private news and talk radio stations). Especially in light of your explanation, you ought to check to see whether other radio substitutes for visual media saw similar increases over the same period.

    And why did Chart Busters take a graph that gives audience in millions of users and put it in (incorrect) terms of market share?!? That’s just bizarre.

  • Dr. Morbius

    I refuse to watch local network news simply as a matter of principle. It is pure garbage populated with stories about murders, car accidents, runaway dogs etc. I watch the Newshour on PBS and have CNN going on in the background while I’m doing other stuff. CNN is a step up from local news because they don’t do pointless stories but they do have a habit of beating news stories to death like they did with the Haiti earthquake and with obsessing over celebrity news stories. The rest of the time I have NPR streaming on my computer.

  • GP

    I think you’re exactly right. I get almost all my news from listening to the radio between when the alarm goes off to when I arrive at work. There’s no way I could get the same thing from either TV or print. Except I’m Canadian so I listen to the CBC instead of NPR.

  • Sphere Coupler

    I would think that the delivery style of the “to the point, no hyperbole” would be seductive to the ever increasingly educated public.
    Works for me, NPR is actual news, not a sensationalized diversion from reality like most politicaly directed corporate conglomerate (news?).

  • Dennis

    @ Simplicio (#1):

    “cabal channels”

    Very clever!

  • TimG

    I’m an NPR listener who refuses to watch T.V. news on principle… the principle that it’s terrible. “Which common household product could be killing your children while they sleep? Find out at 11!” Show me a T.V. news program that has the same quality, in-depth reporting as I hear on NPR without all the typical T.V. sensationalism, and I’d absolutely consider watching it. The fact that I can listen to NPR on my drive to work is only a bonus.

  • Eugene

    I listen to NPR because I can’t stand all the cable news crap.

  • thelonious

    The reasons you give are nothing new: back in 98 radio was also the only thing you could do while doing something else. So that does not explain the increase. Perhaps the inaneness of cable news and newspapers is a factor in people turning to NPR.

  • John

    TV networks mastered this in the 1970s before there was cable news.

    AM TV is designed so the audience can listen without watching. They know their audience is busy getting ready for work or getting kids ready. The script is as well worn and profitable like the nutcracker or hamlet.

    profits of Good Morning America + Regis and Kelly > NPR.

    Wake up and huff the sanka.

  • tom

    I also do not watch T.V. news as a matter of principle. But just to be fair – NPR omits lots of newsworthy stories. Their only saving grace is that they treat their readers as adults rather than as children hopped up on methamphetamines.

  • John Mark Ockerbloom

    Radio seems to also have a lot more flexibility than TV news, in my experience. You don’t have to be limited to the kinds of stories that have interesting pictures, and that you can get a camera crew to. Freed from the need to make compelling visuals (or to use “video news releases” from sources that have their own interest in what story gets out), you can cover a lot more ground, with a mix of straight narration and audio from your sources.

    And yes, in the case of NPR, not having to depend on commercials helps too. You don’t have to have those pointless minutes of pseudo-informative teasers taking up time just to get people to sit through the ads.

  • idontknow

    “Radio is the only delivery mechanism that you can absorb while doing something else.”

    Wasn’t that also true in 1998? I’m not getting how that explains what the graph illustrates — the growth of NPR relative to newspapers and network TV news over a 10-year period.

  • Peter Coles

    What’s NPR? In my dictionary it would be between National Physical Laboratory and Net Present Value but there’s nothing there….

  • Andrew S

    Never trust a line graph that only has two datapoints.

  • MPS

    I agree with #11 jlive: to use term “market share” is silly. I too had to go back to the source and figure out what was going on. And in the end it’s not really clear what this means, to compare radio to TV.

  • Valdis

    @Sphere Coupler: “I would think that the delivery style of the “to the point, no hyperbole” would be seductive to the ever increasingly educated public.”

    Which would be good if there was reason to believe in the existence of an increasingly educated public. All indications are that the populace in general is becoming increasingly illiterate, innumerate, lacking in critical reasoning skills, and in general poorly informed.


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