5 things your editorial team can learn from NPR One data

Nov 9, 2016

When I was programming a station, anytime a big news event caused a listening spike, I’d think about what I could do to keep those new listeners. This election has resulted in a big influx of new listeners to both NPR One and your terrestrial signal. Now we need to keep them.

I’ve always believed focusing on the basics is the place to start. You know, the ‘make everything you do as good as it can possibly be’ thing. The data from NPR One provides a good clue into what people respond to when they listen and how you can be your best which will keep people listening to your content on the radio, on NPR One and beyond.

Here are 5 things we’ve learned from NPR One data to help make what you do on radio and in NPR One even better

1. How stories start matters...a lot. 

Whether it is a news story or a podcast, the content that does well in NPR One starts strong. It grabs listeners with a big idea or something intriguing that they care about.


Leads that start with the news pegs or podcasts that start with introducing a guest’s credentials get more skips than pieces where the actual story starts at the first second of an introduction.

Make your story sticky by making it matter from the first words. Find out more in these two articles about a what makes a great lead to a news story or a great start to a podcast.

2. Newscasts are an important part of the public radio diet. 

Listeners value short roundups of the most important things that are going on in their world and their community.

Our data shows newscasts (local and national) are the least skipped type of content in NPR One. Listeners also ask for them when they are missing.

That said, data also shows repetition of the same story without significant added depth and context doesn’t do well. Newscasts aren’t the only thing listeners want, but they are clearly valued by our listeners.

Keep newscasts less than five minutes long; there is a steep drop off in listening after that. Here’s more information about the newscasts that do well in NPR One.

3. Listeners want features that help them make sense of things.

Newscasts tell people what is happening in their world, features unpack why those things matter.

Local stories that listeners have liked and shared the most are  most often ones that help them understand what defines their community, including the context and meaning behind the events and the way of life in their town. Listeners are demonstrating a desire for stories that help them understand meaning vs just knowing what had happened.

This article and webinar explain more about the topics and types of local feature reports that perform well both in NPR One and as web stories 

4. Everybody and their dog has a podcast, but doing one well takes skill. 

A successful podcast is one where you are on your A-game every step of the way.

Your artwork has to draw people in. The podcast's description has to function like a great headline you just have to learn more about. The start of your story has to grab ears from the first word. And then you are doing hand-to-hand combat to keep your audience listening for the entire length of your podcast.

All podcasts have their biggest audience at the beginning and lowest audience at the end. A great podcast uses storytelling techniques to keep as many listeners as possible through the show. Pro-tip: Never save your best stuff or your most important point for the end of a podcasts, because that is when your audience will be the smallest it will ever be.

More information on how to make a successful podcast according to NPR data.

5. Lots of data points combined with great editorial judgment is the secret sauce.

NPR One is holding listeners' attention because we combine data with editorial judgment.

What listeners hear in NPR One is determined by three factors: the NPR One algorithm, expert editors at NPR, and what local stories you decide to put into NPR One.

The decisions NPR One’s national editors make are informed by testing and learning what approaches work best. We watch the data to see what captures people’s hearts and minds and what doesn’t. You should too.

We’ll keep sharing what we’ve learned from looking at NPR One data. But you can do this yourself too.

Your NPR One listening data is in the Station Analytics System (SAS) . Look for trends in types of stories that get a lot of shares and are frequently marked as interesting. Compare that to the stories that aren’t skipped very often. That will help you triangulate toward the work you do that your listeners most value. Keep in mind interest in stories change with time.

We explain the process we use for analyzing stories on the July Analytics webinar. The NPR One information starts about 9 minutes in.

Let me and the rest of the friendly neighborhood NPR One team know what you’ve tried, what’s worked in your community, and what are you learning about your NPR One listeners. We’ve got a lot of data, but these listeners are your neighbors in your community. What are you hearing about why they value the work you do? It is in all of our interest to keep our newest listeners listening long after election 2016 has become a distant memory.