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2020
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From broadcast to bespoke

“While this move to ‘bespoke’ gives journalism organizations powerful ways to delight listeners and readers, it means we have to find new ways to create shared understandings and a common set of facts.”

A decade ago, I discovered the word “bespoke” at a meeting in London with the BBC. Until then, that word for “custom-made” wasn’t part of my vocabulary; now it routinely shows up in my presentations and slides. Newsrooms have morphed from a single print edition that was delivered all across town to personalized homepages and even bot-assembled customized articles. And now radio is at the moment where our past as broadcasters is giving way to our future as providers of bespoke listening experiences.

For decades, public radio has broadcast one thing to many people out over the airwaves at the same moment in time. Slowly but surely, that’s been changing. Podcasts allow us to reach subsets of our audience with the topic or talent they are most interested in hearing — whenever they want to listen, freeing listeners from our broadcast clocks.

But the podcast revolution was just the beginning of the transition. Smart speakers and other emerging technologies are ushering in a world where traditional broadcasters are creating audio experiences that are tailor-made for the person listening.

The BBC offers an interactive newscast that can expand and contract to let listeners dive deep into details under each audio headline. This approach means each listener gets a newscast customized to the depth they desire, depending on their level of interest in each story.

NPR, where I work, is using the NPR One systems to create personalized flows of audio content on apps and smart speakers. The content a listener hears is customized and localized depending on when that listener listens, where they live, what they’ve heard before, and how they’ve interacted with our content in the past. Broadcasters across Europe are also working on similar initiatives to create listening experiences that are more handcrafted for the modern listener on the platforms of today.

Pandora and Spotify have taken a competitive bite out of music radio by creating more personalized experiences based on listeners’ tastes in music. Now, Google with its News Assistant and Spotify with Your Daily Drive are looking to nibble into our news and talk formats by applying similar concepts to the spoken word.

While this move to “bespoke” gives journalism organizations powerful ways to delight listeners and readers, it means we have to find new ways to create shared understandings and a common set of facts. It’s one thing for people to adorn themselves with the luxury of a bespoke suit. It is another if our basic understanding of the world is stratified by personalization into information haves with their bespoke news and have-nots with their mass market news. Hopefully, this will be the year we hold ourselves accountable for creating the audience-centered news experiences our listeners and readers want — while still providing all of American society the knowledge and understanding that is needed for our democracy to function.

Tamar Charney is the managing editor of NPR One.

A decade ago, I discovered the word “bespoke” at a meeting in London with the BBC. Until then, that word for “custom-made” wasn’t part of my vocabulary; now it routinely shows up in my presentations and slides. Newsrooms have morphed from a single print edition that was delivered all across town to personalized homepages and even bot-assembled customized articles. And now radio is at the moment where our past as broadcasters is giving way to our future as providers of bespoke listening experiences.

For decades, public radio has broadcast one thing to many people out over the airwaves at the same moment in time. Slowly but surely, that’s been changing. Podcasts allow us to reach subsets of our audience with the topic or talent they are most interested in hearing — whenever they want to listen, freeing listeners from our broadcast clocks.

But the podcast revolution was just the beginning of the transition. Smart speakers and other emerging technologies are ushering in a world where traditional broadcasters are creating audio experiences that are tailor-made for the person listening.

The BBC offers an interactive newscast that can expand and contract to let listeners dive deep into details under each audio headline. This approach means each listener gets a newscast customized to the depth they desire, depending on their level of interest in each story.

NPR, where I work, is using the NPR One systems to create personalized flows of audio content on apps and smart speakers. The content a listener hears is customized and localized depending on when that listener listens, where they live, what they’ve heard before, and how they’ve interacted with our content in the past. Broadcasters across Europe are also working on similar initiatives to create listening experiences that are more handcrafted for the modern listener on the platforms of today.

Pandora and Spotify have taken a competitive bite out of music radio by creating more personalized experiences based on listeners’ tastes in music. Now, Google with its News Assistant and Spotify with Your Daily Drive are looking to nibble into our news and talk formats by applying similar concepts to the spoken word.

While this move to “bespoke” gives journalism organizations powerful ways to delight listeners and readers, it means we have to find new ways to create shared understandings and a common set of facts. It’s one thing for people to adorn themselves with the luxury of a bespoke suit. It is another if our basic understanding of the world is stratified by personalization into information haves with their bespoke news and have-nots with their mass market news. Hopefully, this will be the year we hold ourselves accountable for creating the audience-centered news experiences our listeners and readers want — while still providing all of American society the knowledge and understanding that is needed for our democracy to function.

Tamar Charney is the managing editor of NPR One.

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