Local news content is important but public radio stations cannot build their future on it. Network programming will still be why listeners come to stations and support them.
Public radio listeners are the embodiment of "think globally, act locally." They are citizens of the world who are concerned about community. They listen to public radio because it connects them to people, ideas, and information they might otherwise miss. They listen to expand, not limit, their boundaries.
When it comes to the radio content our listeners want, geography is an extremely limiting factor. At the typical local NPR News station, around 80% of the audience listens to a network program. Network programming accounts for up to two-thirds of all listening to local public radio stations.
There's not enough happening in any city to win a public radio listener's attention 15 times per week. That’s especially true if the competition is NPR. This means that everywhere a listener can access station content, the listeners needs to access *all* of the station's content -- national and local. A public radio station needs the same brand on the web as it has over the air. That means offering a strong line-up of national programming on local web sites as well as on the radio.
Too many people in public radio are talking about a digital strategy that has listeners going to NPR when they want NPR and going to the station site when they want local. But that's not how our listeners think about the news. They seek the best button. If that button is well-programmed, they don't leave it in search of something else.
Betting the future of local stations on local news content is a losing proposition for stations. That simply sets up NPR and stations as competitors. And stations simply will not have enough news or resources to make what happens inside their geographic boundaries more interesting that what’s going on around the world.
NPR would win that battle for listening occasions and when that happens, listeners will stop finding their local stations personally important enough to support financially.