$1.5M Knight grant to NPR will fund digital training at 70 local stations

The Knight Foundation is giving NPR $1.5 million to bolster the digital skills of local member stations and fulfill visions of a national-local collaborative news network.

The grant announced today builds upon $1.5 million Knight gave NPR in 2007 to train hundreds of its journalists in digital reporting. Over the next two years, NPR will train staff at about 70 of its 268 member stations in how to build digital audience, establish themselves as an authority, and serve people on the Web, mobile and broadcast platforms.

The goal is to build the local stations into strong, digitally savvy operations that collaborate with each other and the national headquarters in Washington, D.C., said Kinsey Wilson, NPR senior vice president and general manager of digital media. (Wilson is also a trustee of the Poynter Institute.)

Wilson envisions this national-local news network powered by three tiers of content from member stations and other NPR projects:

  • Lightweight, daily blogging of breaking news and events in a community, meant to build consistent audience.
  • Beat coverage that hammers one or two predominant local issues — immigration and health care, for example — that also resonate nationally. (See: Project Argo)
  • In-depth reporting projects that hold officials accountable and uncover important issues. (See: StateImpact)

This is strategically important for the member stations, which need to ensure a sound future in the digital era, and for NPR, which operates in part on annual programming fees from member stations. All parties also benefit from sharing news stories with each other.

“NPR is a great news organization and has become an essential part of American democracy. We want to support their embrace of the Internet,” Knight Foundation president and CEO Alberto Ibargüen said in an emailed statement. “They will solidify their lead if they continue to expand their use of digital and social media to effectively engage its listeners and users.”

The selected stations will likely begin by sending a few representatives to Washington for several days of in-depth training, followed over time by remote consultations, conference calls or webinars, Wilson said.

It’s not yet known which NPR member stations will get this training; Wilson said the 70 will be chosen based on criteria yet to be defined. Essentially, NPR is looking for stations at an intermediate stage — in need of some digital counseling but also prepared to take advantage of it.

The training effort now is about empowering the member stations to move forward digitally, not trying to persuade them to do so, Wilson said.

“Five years ago, if you were to talk to individual member stations, many of them might have raised questions as to the relevance of digital to their operations,” he said. “I think we’ve moved well beyond that. And the public radio system generally has embraced digital as a key component of its future.”

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