Follow us on Twitter for more great Slate stories! Follow @slate COVER STORY READ THIS FIRST. APRIL 10 2016 8:00 PM The Fight for the Future of NPR A slow-moving bureaucracy. An antiquated business model. A horde of upstart competitors. Can National Public Radio survive? By Leon Neyfakh O Animations by Lisa Larson-Walker. Images via Flickr CC. ne day in May 2015, Eric Nuzum stood before a gathering of inﬂuential NPR trustees and board members, and showed them a photograph of a young woman with shoulder-length brown hair. “This is Lara,” Nuzum’s slide read. “Lara is the future of NPR.” Overwhelmed and exhausted? Join Slate Plus as we try to make sense of each day’s insanity.
Leon Neyfakh is aSlatestaff writer.“NPR’s mission must be to serve that woman the way we served her parents,” Nuzumremembers saying. “Nothing else matters.”AdvertisementAt the time, Nuzum was NPR’s head of programming. The presentation, which hedelivered at a meeting of the NPR Foundation, was meant to drive home his most closelyheld belief about public radio: that young people have different habits, expectations, andaesthetic inclinations than the millions of loyal listeners NPR has been serving since itsbirth in 1971. “Lara” was a stand-in for an audience that NPR was failing to attract—according toone analysis, the median age of NPR’s radio audience has steadily climbedfrom roughly 45 years old two decades ago to 54 last year—and one it would need toreach in order to guarantee its survival.What Nuzum didn’t say during his presentation was that, one day earlier, he had decidedto end his decade-long career at NPR and sign a contract with the Amazon-ownedaudiobook company Audible. Nuzum’s job there would be to develop a slate of originalprogramming that would give Audible a stake in the tantalizing new market for audiostorytelling. Although the NPR Foundation people didn’t know it yet, the man who waswarning them about needing to win over Lara had just been stolen away by a corporateaudio giant.Today, Nuzum belongs to a club you could call the NPR apostates—onetime servants ofpublic radio who parted ways with the organization and entered the private sector amidfrustrations over how NPR and its member stations were approaching the future of theindustry. In addition to Nuzum—whose Audible project launched in beta last week—other prominent members include Alex Blumberg, who founded the podcasting startupGimlet Media, and Adam Davidson, who is an investor in Gimlet and an adviser to a newdigital audio unit at theNew York Times.LEON NEYFAKH
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