Nieman Foundation at Harvard
Come talk ad blockers with Nieman Lab and a set of experts in New York
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
March 23, 2012, 1:43 p.m.
Screen shot of local headlines on 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 home page

NPR is trying another experiment with geotargeted news, partnering with 13 member stations to deliver local headlines on the 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 visitors for local news. And we know that 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

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.
Show comments  
Show tags
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Come talk ad blockers with Nieman Lab and a set of experts in New York
We’re having our first event in New York City with industry leaders: Wednesday, December 2 at 6 p.m.
Jeff Bezos says The Washington Post’s goal is to become the “new paper of record”
“We’re doing it now with more resources and we have a lot of patience for that job.”
Hot Pod: Revisiting the question: Why doesn’t audio go viral?
The UX innovation we need. Plus: public radio executive pay, a boom in custom branded podcasts, and the aging of NPR’s audience.
What to read next
Instant Articles get shared more than old-fashioned links, plus more details from Facebook’s news push
“That’s what we can do, as a platform: be really responsive to what publishers want out of us.” Also coming up: A major move into international markets.
616How one blog helped spark The New York Times’ digital evolution
“I certainly had editors tell me that I shouldn’t be wasting my time on Bird Week. But that was the best part of City Room…We were like unsupervised children.”
572News outlets left and right (and up, down, and center) are embracing virtual reality technology
Among those experimenting is The Wall Street Journal, which plans to open source its 360-degree mobile video and VR technology and hopes to turn VR into more of a mainstay of its storytelling.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Fuego is our heat-seeking Twitter bot, tracking the links the future-of-journalism crowd is talking about most on Twitter.
Here are a few of the top links Fuego’s currently watching.   Get the full Fuego ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Financial Times
Center for Public Integrity
E.W. Scripps
Chi-Town Daily News
The Daily Beast
Tucson Citizen