Inside a media environment in which digital presence increasingly dictates success and nationwide cuts to radio broadcast programs are the norm, NPR has routinely been a symbol of success for organizations reaching to attract newer, more diverse audiences. One of their newest programs, Generation Listen, is a perfect embodiment of why NPR has kept itself so attractive to younger consumers.
The project, which started in 2013, uses its digital presence to try and create in-person experiences for media consumers. It aims to connect the decades-old media company to a broader, younger audience.
Generation Listen is an online project with heavy web design and social media elements, but at its heart is actually a mission to move beyond the screen: to encourage people to meet face-to-face and listen as a community.
According to its founder, Danielle Deabler, Generation Listen came into being as NPR recognized radio budgets were being cut, its audience needed to be diversified, and the media landscape was changing how people consume news.
“We will work to ensure a legacy of NPR listeners,” Deabler said. “Brought together by our affection for public radio and inspiration to make a positive impact.”
Deciding to take on the project of creating this new generation of listeners, Deabler said a small group of individuals from NPR and other media companies such as Upworthy and Love Social –what would eventually become the board—began to work on designing the project.
One of these first members was Audrey Buchanan, 28, a creative producer.
Buchanan said that for the first few years the project consisted mostly of that small group incubating ideas. Some specialized in architecting human-to-human experiences, others in digital community building, and others in business development and data analysis involved in measuring the evolution of a project.
“We started with a lot of freedom to throw spaghetti at the wall and dream together,” Buchanan said.
After gaining the proper funding –something Deabler said was the hardest hurdle to cross—some of these dreams started to become a reality. Set on creating the new digital product, the board reached out to Crush & Lovely, an independent creative studio.
According to Matt Blanchard, 36, CEO and co-founder of Crush & Lovely, the creative process between them and NPR was enhanced by their shared ethos of creating technologies that improve human experience.
Together with the brain trust at Generation Listen, Blanchard said a small team of a project manager, a designer, back-end and front-end engineers, and a strategist met for “discovery sessions,” an intensive all-day process of trying to translate the vision of the creators into the website format.
Together, the two organizations worked to develop not only the single-page-scroll site that went online last year, but also developed downloadable packages that encourage those who visit the site to hold their own listening parties for the most important and engaging stories NPR has to offer. After years of fundraising and planning, the product was finally online and ready to go.
Inside the kit, a user can find a diverse selection of stories on that kit’s topic, along with a playlist curated by NPR’s music department and advice on how to host your own listening party: bring pillows, charge your listening device, take photos, etc.
This listening party facet of Generation Listen is not only Blanchard’s favorite feature; it also makes the project unique in its call for community outside of the Internet.
“Technology is great, it connects people in different ways,” Blanchard said. “But there’s always something great about getting people together in the same physical space.”
The creators behind Generation Listen hope that if people get together, they can engage more seriously with the in-depth stories produced by NPR.
While constantly expanding more and more into the web as a medium, Buchanan said Generation Listen allows NPR to continue and enforce the value of its radio stories in the digital age.
Through social media, web design, and countless other processes of online interaction, the team at Generation Listen still aim to unite people in the real world. This is not only essential to NPR’s legacy, Buchanan said, but also to the legacy of physical community involvement with news and media.
“Nothing can replace that legacy,” Buchanan said. “No GIF, no video, no flash. The world needs NPR in it. I truly believe that.”