Mark Stencel talks about NPR and approaches to online journalism

Summary: Mark Stencel, currently the managing editor for digital news at National Public Radio, discusses how NPR expanded beyond being a radio only news outlet by utilizing multimedia and social networking sites, while highlighting the trends and tribulations in online journalism today.

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National Public Radio loves traffic, and may be the only people who do if you ask Mark Stencel. While its members stations enjoy a loyal following of rush-hour listeners, the organization had a hard time getting them to follow NPR online.

Building a Web presence was not easy. NPR is a standard bearer when it comes to audio journalism, but expanding online meant incorporating skill sets from print and video broadcast.”We had to import a print organization,” Stencel said, “(we had) to figure out how to communicate in different ways…at NPR we started with great audio.”

Stencel admits that you won’t see a lot of video on its Website, and if you do, it is typically for feature stories. “Videos are time consuming and expensive…features have a longer shelf life that justify its costs.”

Where NPR has been successful is in cultivating fans through social media. “We probably have about 1.5 million Facebook fans,” Stencel said, adding that the site acts as a parallel homepage.

The social media site Twitter has added another level of interactivity for online journalists. Andy Carvin, NPR’s senior product manager for online communities, uses Twitter to report on the wave of revolts in the Middle-East. “Andy Carvin has turned the reporting process inside out,” Stencel said, and Carvin’s Twitter followers can see, tweet by tweet, Carvin checking the veracity of his sources as he reports on events.

Stencel did not shy away from talking about NPR’s mis-reporting of the Gabby Gifford’s shooting. Although NPR had two credible sources telling them that the congresswoman was shot,  what was more important was that NPR owned their mistake, he said, and apologized for it profusely.

Despite mistakes in reporting and accusations of a liberal bias, NPR maintains a loyal following of listeners by giving them something that they can’t find with news organizations. Mark Stencel will tell you what his colleague Matt Thompson articulates as NPR’s philosophy, “Don’t just cover the events, cover the implications.”



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