It’s All Journalism: NPR One Makes Audio Storytelling Personal

It’s All Journalism is a weekly conversation about the changing state of the media and the future of journalism.

Dan Newman and Tejas Mistry are part of the team behind NPR One, public radio’s digital app that curates stories for you personally.

Newman and Mistry see NPR One as the future of audio storytelling, where what people want is delivered directly to them, without much prompting from the user. Given the challenges in the news industry, NPR needs to be prepared for what comes next in digital media and to make the experience more personal.

“We want to make sure we have the future forward-looking technology built,” Newman said.

Through NPR One, listeners can get a mix of shorter content — like the news stories play on Morning Edition or All Things Considered every day — and longer pieces public radio produces. For example, a podcast like Serial may stream for someone through NPR One in between more traditional NPR content.

“In NPR One, we want to learn what your favorite radio shows are and your favorite podcasts are and bring you something new,” Mistry said.

Surprisingly, NPR One is attracting users who don’t typically listen to NPR, according to Newman. Those people get to the app through personal referrals typically. NPR is hoping these new listeners will eventually become traditional members who donate to their local stations.

NPR One tries to incorporate people’s mood and pace — are you walking to work or hanging out in your house while listening? — in what content they receive. The app tries to measure mood by what content listeners are skipping or indicate they really like at the time.

“We find that news is more popular in the morning. … And we find that storytelling and podcasts are more popular in the afternoon,” Mistry said.

Users tell NPR One’s team that the aspect of the app that they like best is the “skip” button. If you are listening to a traditional public radio broadcast, you don’t have the option to skip, but the app allows you to do that.

The “skip” button also provides NPR with lots of new data about how audiences respond to particular stories. Specifically, the NPR staff has learned a lot about how listeners respond to introductions to stories through the “skip” data collected.

NPR One has a number of “homegrown tools” that show what material is resonating with listeners. For example, the app has become much less news-oriented — more podcasts have been incorporated — over the last year.