NPR Preps Project Argo for Local News

RadioHoping to capitalize on the local presence of public radio stations and the growing importance of local news in the digital age, NPR is organizing a nationwide local news operation dubbed "Project Argo."

The project, which has $3 million in funding from the Knight Foundation and is looking for more, will coordinate in-depth journalism intended solely for the Web -- on topics of local as well as national interest -- by 12 participating public radio stations. Launching in 2010, Argo will have its own dedicated staff of reporters within NPR, under the direction of Joel Sucherman, formerly of USA Today. NPR digital head Kinsey Wilson named the project after the Greek myth "Jason and the Argonauts."

Argo builds on NPR's Local News Initiative, which launched in 2007 to improve the quantity and quality of local news reporting by public radio stations. Over the last two years, LNI laid out an overall strategy, formulated standards and style guides, conducted audience research and helped the stations produce pilot programming that aims to be more relevant and appealing -- as well as easily repurposed for digital distribution.

The research and strategic goals identified various areas of particular interest to both local and national audiences, including environmental issues in the Northeast, border issues in the Southwest, regional Latino affairs in the Northwest, and a nationwide "statehouse" topic focusing on local politics.

Building on this earlier work, Project Argo will draw on local reporting from KPBS in San Diego, KPCC in southern California, KQED and KALW in San Francisco, OPB in Oregon, KPLU in Washington, MPR in Minnesota, WXPN in Philadelphia, WNYC in New York, WBUR and WGBH in Boston and WAMU in Washington, D.C.

Project Argo also got a push from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting with the latter's "Grow the Audience" initiative, which encouraged local public radio stations to "form multiplatform reporting Local Journalism Centers around a single topic or issue that will result in an elevated quality and quantity of journalism."

As in Argo, the goal of the CPB initiative was focused on creating "community engagement opportunities" through a variety of digital media, including audio, video, text, photos, blogs, social networking, dynamic syndication, and mobile applications.

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