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New NPR.org Pushes Multi-Platform Business Model

A shiny new NPR.org revealed itself Monday with a simpler homepage design packed with multimedia features and customizable choices.

Like most major media websites still afloat, NPR.org aims to keep radio content its core but offer up multi-platform, all-purpose news.

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The new site is a major improvement to its tightly-fonted, cramped and confusing predecessor. Now, homepage focuses on news, arts and the latest audio clips from the organization’s most popular shows.

National Public Radio CEO Vivian Schiller sat down with Newsweek to discuss the site’s re-launch and strategic steps for online media. Schiller, who was senior vice president and general manager of NYTimes.com just six months ago, has a unique perspective from the top of an industry struggling to survive.

One classic battle playing out in newsrooms and online offices across the country is the delicate balance of the traditional company and its online additions. Schiller says the relationship between the online newsroom and radio producers and reporters is symbiotic.

“In creating all this digital content, it’s not just to service NPR.org,” she said. “We’re giving them more digital content that they can pull down and use on their site.”

As a national public broadcasting institution, however, NPR is faced with a different set of challenges than private media groups in blending local public content with national news. Schiller feels local news stations are the ones suffering the most in the economic downturn, and says NPR.org is attempting to dissuade that trend.

“One of the major focuses of our digital initiative is to give stations the tools, the resources, the knowledge, and the infrastructure, so they can create a great experience in their communities,” she told Newsweek.

Local content, however, proves to be buried in national headlines and difficult to access on the new site, however. The site promotes its many blogs and includes local news in a few select places when relevant, but a strong push for promoting local content is a bit lost.

The new site may draw in new audiences, but its shift to multiplatform production indicates a core change in NPR’s business model that may be a tall order for an organization with such a strong production tradition.