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Can Audio Journalism Compete In The Age Of Apps?

How WYNC and NPR plan to compete for listeners in the age of the ubiquitous earbud.

Can Audio Journalism Compete In The Age Of Apps?
[Image: Flickr user Audiolucistore]

Jim Schachter thinks more people will tune into for high-quality audio journalism in 2014. Schachter, the VP of News at WYNC, understands that more people than ever are connected to listening devices, yet fewer people are engaged in audio storytelling, the kind you find on radio. Why? Everybody’s too busy playing Fruit Ninja.

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NPR is hoping that a recent infusion of $17 million can help it revamp its digital platform and provide high quality content independent from traditional radio broadcasts. Schachter says that will mean more work for him and his colleagues to produce news reports and talk show segments as standalone reports because formats and work flows will need to change. It’s all part of getting more stories into new types of apps, Twitter streams, and even algorithmically into playlists people are already listening to.

What might that digital app future look like? NPR is trying to figure that out, currently in the middle of an app redesign–part of which will incorporate location-based news from affiliate stations. Until the new app is out, sometime in 2014, the new Swell app might hold at least a few answers.


Swell takes bits of radio, podcasts, and other audio sources to create a constant stream of storytelling tailored to your current preferences. Fully skippable and customizable, the stream of audio that Swell produces becomes smarter and, hopefully, relies less on the user over time and more on itself to deliver your news and content.

Print journalism is also interested in audio as a means on communication. Fast Company, for one, has experimented with SpokenLayer to translate text into spoken word. It’s still early and hard to gauge whether people would rather listen to content they would otherwise read, or if pure audio journalism just needs a makeover.

Schachter points out that there are still people that want hour-long talk shows, but there’s a bigger audience that wants something different. The driveway-moment era is coming to a close, but NPR hopes it can create new types of moments and give audio journalism a comeback.

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