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March 23, 2012, 1:43 p.m.
Screen shot of local headlines on NPR.org home page

Location, location, location: NPR customizes the news with local content

NPR is testing how best to push its national web audience to local stations’ news.

Screen shot of local headlines on NPR.org home page

NPR is trying another experiment with geotargeted news, partnering with 13 member stations to deliver local headlines on the NPR.org home page. Location-sensing technology detects whether a user is in one of the test markets and, if so, pipes in headlines straight from a station’s website.

“From earlier tests we already know that there is some appetite among NPR.org visitors for local news. And we know that NPR.org can drive traffic to member web sites,” said Bob Kempf, the general manager of NPR’s Digital Services division, in an email.

“We know less about the differences in users’ expectations between local and national sites. Our goal is to learn more about how those expectations align and in particular if we can drive sustained engagement with member station web sites.”

The experiment will run four weeks. In seven markets, the local headlines link directly to the station’s website; in the remaining six, the user is taken to a station-branded page on NPR.org.

Joining a Facebook experiment

Last month, we told you NPR’s experiment with geotargeting on Facebook: When NPR shared links to KPLU stories on its main Facebook page — only visible to people in the Seattle area, not all 2.3 million fans — the station’s website got record traffic. More importantly, according to NPR’s Keith Hopper and Eric Athas, it drove more focused community conversations.

“For example, one KPLU story tackled a question Seattleites know well: Why don’t people in Seattle use umbrellas?” they wrote. “Residents of New York, Boston, or D.C. wouldn’t have much to contribute to a conversation around this question — or even understand why the question was being posed. But Seattle users — the only ones who saw this post on NPR’s Facebook page — had a lot to say.”

Hopper and Athas since have proposed expanding the Facebook experiment in a Knight News Challenge application seeking $340,000. They would build a “GeoGraph,” a sort of software dashboard that would let stations pitch stories for Facebook sharing, streamline NPR’s process for picking links and sharing them, and capture metrics to share the results with other stations.

“When you do a localization post, only people in that region can see it and see how it’s performing,” Hopper told me, “which is obviously a problem if you’re trying to develop learning among your participants.”

NPR can provide a richer experience by tapping its powerful network — almost 1,000 member stations, hundreds of which produce original journalism — since the network’s own reporters can’t be in every corner of the United States. It’s what stations have done for decades on the radio: providing a tailored news experience, a blend of local and national content.

And it’s another way for NPR to throw a bone to stations, many of whom produce news on a shoestring and can’t compete with NPR’s shiny digital products and national brand power.

“The localization experiment is really part of a wider effort to identify ways in which we can deepen our digital partnership with stations,” Kempf said. “Assumed in that is the goal of deepening engagement and ultimately growing audience both locally and nationally.”

POSTED     March 23, 2012, 1:43 p.m.
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