Public Broadcasting in the New Digital Environment: the Case of the National Public Radio


National Public Radio (NPR), one of the several U.S. public service media institutions established after the enactment of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, has been a relatively small yet vital part of the American media landscape for the last half of century, complementing the programming of commercial networks with missionary cultural, educational, and public affairs broadcasts (in what is known as the monastic model of public broadcasting). The principal aim of this paper is to determine to what degree National Public Radio fulfills its ideals of “excellence” and “diversity” in the new technological conditions (taking into consideration the rapid development of the Internet and the emergence of digital audio broadcasters) and political circumstances of the present day (with the continued federal funding for public broadcasting a major source of controversy in Washington).

While the National Public Radio acknowledges the new challenges, undertaking initiatives such as the introduction of the NPR One app (launched in 2014) in order to stay relevant in the new digital environment, the question of the prolonged viability of the network still remains. The radio itself is sometimes seen as an increasingly obsolete medium, unable to effectively compete with the modern, more flashy technologies, and although its burial may well be premature (as it was the case several times in the past already), there is no denying that a major redefinition of many aspects of the functioning of contemporary audio broadcasters might be required for their long-term survival.

This proposal is based on an extensive query conducted by its author in the spring of 2019 in several public broadcasting institutions of Upstate New York (including WAMC Albany, WAER Syracuse, and WRVO Oswego) as a part of semester-long research and teaching mobility, made possible by a Joseph Furgal Fund grant, with the use of both quantitative and qualitative research methods, primarily intensive interviews and content analysis. The project is a continuation of the author’s previous research on the American public television network (PBS).