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Editor’s Note: Encyclo has not been regularly updated since August 2014, so information posted here is likely to be out of date and may be no longer accurate. It’s best used as a snapshot of the media landscape at that point in time.

NPR, formerly National Public Radio, is an American radio producer and distributor that specializes in news, public affairs, and cultural programming.

NPR was launched in 1970 as a collaboration among the nation’s public-broadcasting stations. It is not a radio station itself, but instead a central news organization that produces, licenses, and distributes a variety of programs to its member stations.

NPR has about 860 member stations and 38 bureaus, including 17 foreign bureaus. In 2013, before its most recent round of staff cuts, it had 840 employees.

NPR’s flagship news programs are Morning Edition and All Things Considered, which air each weekday morning and afternoon, respectively. NPR also produces shows such as Weekend Edition and and distributes other in-depth news talk shows such as Fresh Air, On Point, and On the Media, as well as cultural programs including Car Talk, which ended its run in 2012. It also produced the public affairs call-in show Talk of the Nation through 2013, when it announced it would cancel that program after 21 years.

Despite the “public” in its name, very little of NPR’s funding comes directly from the U.S. government — just over 5 percent came from all levels of government as of the late 2000s. Nearly half of NPR’s funding comes from dues and fees from member stations, and about the same amount comes from corporate underwriting, foundations, and grants. In 2003, it was given $236 million by Joan Kroc, the wife of former McDonald’s CEO Ray Kroc. It was the largest gift any news organization has ever received. The gift funded a newsroom expansion, and most of the money went into an endowment.

NPR began as a relatively small news organization but grew significantly in scope and ambition during the 1980s and 1990s, moving from music programming into more newsgathering. It has seen tremendous growth over the past decade, with its listenership nearly doubling since 1999.

NPR has been praised for its in-depth news analysis, but it has also been criticized as boring, staid, and overly serious. Its audience is largely white, educated, and wealthy.

It has also faced criticism over a perceived liberal bias, highlighted by two controversies in 2010 and 2011. In October 2010, NPR fired news analyst Juan Williams over remarks he made about Muslims while a guest on the Fox News Channel, and in March 2011, an NPR fundraising executive was videotaped making disparaging remarks about the Tea Party, in an undercover operation orchestrated by the conservative filmmaker James O’Keefe. In both cases, NPR’s handling of the incidents drew rounds of censure from critics (including its ombudsman) as well as calls for the organization to lose its federal funding. In the wake of the latter incident, NPR CEO Vivian Schiller resigned under pressure from the organization’s board. Her successor, Gary Knell, resigned after less than two years to take a position at the National Geographic Society. He was succeeded in 2014 by former MTV and E! executive Jarl Mohn.

In 2008, NPR laid off 64 people — 7 percent of its staff — and eliminated two programs, Day to Day and News and Notes. NPR then made further cuts in 2009. The cuts were blamed largely on a drop-off in corporate underwriting. It faced an anticipated $6 million deficit in 2013 and announced a voluntary buyout program intended to cut 10% of its staff in order to balance its budget by 2015. Three months later, it announced it was receiving $17 million in grants from four foundations and three individuals to improve its reporting on education and global health and develop a new listening platform.

Digital media initiatives

In 2005, NPR began podcasting, the first mainstream news organization to do so. Its podcasts are among the most popular on the web, with 14 million monthly downloads. Its audience for podcasts is considerably younger than its radio audience.

NPR has also moved aggressively into crowdsourced and open-source media online. Over the past several years, it has created its own social network, created a wiki for covering Hurricane Gustav, released its API to allow users to create their own NPR-based applications and podcasts, and asking its readers to fact-check a debate on Twitter. It has worked with Codecademy to create a free online course in using its API. NPR has also been very active on Twitter and Facebook, earning praise particulary for senior strategist Andy Carvin’s Twitter coverage of global protests in early 2011. In 2014, it issued social media guidelines stating that retweets on Twitter should be viewed as endorsements. NPR has also worked with some of its member stations to produce locally personalized web headlines for users.

In 2008, NPR began training all of its newsroom employees in multimedia journalism through a $1.5 million grant from the Knight Foundation.

In early 2010, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting announced it would create five regional journalism centers focusing on local reporting through partnerships with PBS and NPR stations. The centers would feed content to national shows on both broadcasters through a $7.5 million grant with an additional $3 million contributed by the stations.

In fall 2010, NPR launched a $3 million initiative called the Argo Network, which initially featured 12 local news sites that focus on single issues. NPR worked with stations to share blogging best practices and streamline the web design and development. CPB and the Knight Foundation provided funding. As that funding expired at the end of 2011, NPR planned to continue the initiative and expand it beyond the 12 pilot sites. In January 2012, the Argo platform was made publicly available through open-source technology, and its linking WordPress plugin has also been made public.

NPR is also working with American Public Media, Public Radio Exchange, Public Radio International, and PBS to produce an open API that will allow public media organizations to share content with each other and with other outlets.

NPR’s mobile site launched in 2007 and quickly became one of the web’s most popular mobile news sites. NPR released an iPad app in 2010, along with an iPad-friendly version of its website. It has also created an HTML5-based Chrome app. As of April 2011, NPR’s iPad, iPhone, and Android apps had been downloaded more than five million times. The organization created a news app team in 2012. In November 2011, NPR launched Infinite Player, a web app that played a stream of stories based on the user’s preferences, similar to the Pandora music service. It also received $10 million in grants in 2013 to develop a new app-based listening platform, which was initially launched as NPR One, a personalized app that superseded Infinite Player.

NPR announced the launch of a new nonprofit news organization called NewOrleansReporter.org in 2012. The organization is run in conjunction with the University of New Orleans.

Former NPR CEO Vivian Schiller said she didn’t plan on charging for NPR content online.

Planet Money

In May 2008, This American Life (a show distributed by Public Radio International) and NPR’s All Things Considered aired “The Giant Pool of Money,” a collaborative report explaining the global financial crisis. The program quickly became by far the most-downloaded broadcast in This American Life history.

The story received significant critical praise and was named by NYU as one of the decade’s 10 greatest works of American journalism.

It was soon spun off into a regular NPR podcast and blog, both called Planet Money, dedicated to explaining economic issues in comprehensible and engaging ways.

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Primary author: Mark Coddington. Main text last updated: July 31, 2014.
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I-News, the Rocky Mountain Investigative News Network, is an investigative news organization initially founded as a private nonprofit but now part of the Denver-based public TV network Rocky Mountain PBS. The network was founded in 2009 by Laura Frank, a former reporter for the defunct Rocky Mountain News. It had five full-time staff members as of 2013….

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