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June 2, 2010 at 10:43 AM

D8: NPR boss on apps, new platforms; MSN makes a pass

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. — NPR Chief Executive Vivian Schiller shared details of how her organization is extending to new platforms.

The radio network has 34 million listeners who spend an average of six hours a week with NPR, she told Kara Swisher at the All Things Digital conference.

“It’s very important for us to be on every platform,” Schiller said.

NPR is at the forefront of media companies straddling old and new mediums, but it’s a non-profit organization dedicated to sharing its content for free. That’s in contrast to media companies that are exploring new ways to charge for digital content after their experiments with free online content failed to offset paid subscription declines.

For NPR, at least, the new digital platforms have been additive.

“Weve seen no evidence there’s been any cannibalization going on,” she said.

NPR extends content through APIs it developed primarily to support its non-profit member stations. But having the APIs built helped NPR develop its iPad application in only a few weeks. The app has been downloaded more than 300,000 times, she said.

The APIs were also tapped by a Google developer who decided to build an NPR app for the Android mobile platform during his 20 percent project time at the company.

Schiller, a former manager of the New York Times digital operation, said she’s enthusiastic about the proliferation of local, non-profit news organizations spawned by the downsizing of the traditional media industry. She’s interested in NPR partnering with those organizations.

During the question and answer session, Seattle entrepreneur Dan Shapiro said he’s a lifelong fan, but he would prefer to support the national organization over his local affiliate. Schiller said NPR does encourage philanthropic support but generally prefers listeners to support local stations.

Another person asked what role local affiliates play, with new technologies making it easier for people to go directly to NPR.

Schiller said it’s important to continue supporting local coverage.

“One of the biggest risk factors in journalism today is coverage at the state and local level,” she said. “Bad things happen when people aren’t watching. So it is critical to have local reporting coverage.”

Another Seattleite also weighed in during questions.

Scott Moore, executive producer of Microsoft’s MSN, said he’s a fan, but he’s more pessimistic about the long-term survival of the new wave of non-profit local news organizations.

Then Moore asked Schiller what she thought about NPR partnering with a for-profit venture.

“Are you trying to make an MSN deal here?” Swisher asked, and Moore just smiled.

Comments | More in | Topics: D conference, D8, Digital media

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