Closing the NPR API Gap

At Publish2, we’re working with some of the largest, most innovative and forward-looking public media organizations.  We’re helping them dramatically extend their reach and grow their membership through partnerships with newspapers and other local media. We’re helping them transform their newsroom workflow, with an emphasis on digital, without making huge investments in upgrading or replacing legacy systems.  Overall, we’re helping public media stations better achieve their mission while increasing revenue and reducing costs.

Through our work with these leaders in public media, we’ve been introduced to public media stations across the spectrum who are interested in how Publish2’s platform technology can help them survive and thrive in the digital age.

In these conversations with public media, we are often asked about Publish2’s capabilities in the context of NPR’s Digital Services. This is not at all surprising.  All NPR member stations are *required* to pay for NPR’s Digital Services through a mandatory fee.  If the needs of members stations were being fully met by Digital Services, we would likely not have any public media customers.  And we would not be seeing so much demand among public media for what Publish2 can help them achieve.  Why buy a service or license a technology if you’re already paying for one, albeit forcibly, that achieves your objectives?

So for the benefit of the public media community, we thought it would be help to explain how Publish2 can help stations achieve what NPR Digital Services cannot.

Anti-Competitive Digital Services

In a normal competitive context, we might position Publish2 as a powerful alternative to NPR’s Digital Services. But the mandatory Digital Services fee does not give NPR member stations the luxury of choosing the best-in-class technology, despite that clearly being to their benefit at a time of such dramatic technology-driven transformation in media. It’s clear to most media companies that their future depends on digital. What advantage is there in mortgaging away all control over the core technology platform that will carry you into the future?

In the face of anti-competitive practices and locked-in technology budgets, almost all of our work with public media has been funded by third-party grants. Think about that.  The largest public stations, who pay the most for NPR Digital Services, are forced to go outside the NPR system, to independent grant makers, in order to fund the technology innovation that is the key to their future.

To be clear, this isn’t about NPR (we love NPR and are avid listeners).  It’s about NPR Digital Services, which is a separate group based in Boston, far from NPR headquarters in DC, with “new people” who are not from the “old NPR” (to quote a key distinction made by a public media station digital team leader).  And this post is a public response to a great deal of anti-competitive activity that we’ve encountered behind the scenes, which we thought was the most appropriate way to respond because, after all, it is PUBLIC media.

That all being said, the simplest way to explain why we’ve seen so much demand among public media stations for our technology is that Publish2 effectively closes the NPR API Gap.

The API Gap

The “API gap”, as we like to call it, is not unique to NPR.  It’s based on the broad failure of APIs in the news industry, a problem that Publish2 was specifically designed to solve. The API gap exists because of a series of terribly flawed assumptions about newsrooms:

  1. There is always a developer available to create entirely customized applications for an API.
  2. That developer has time available for this custom development.
  3. The newsroom can afford the FTE cost of having that developer spend time setting up and maintaining a custom application for an API.
  4. The newsroom’s analogue editorial system (broadcast/print) and web CMS are sufficiently sophisticated and capable to that they can be integrated with the API, even given the time and attention of a capable developer.

In the vast majority of newsrooms, whether they be broadcast, newspapers, or even online media, none of the above is true.

The NPR API, like all APIs, assumes that all of the above is true for all members stations, and that it’s true for any news organizations that want to partner with member stations.

Make Life Easy for Newsrooms

Publish2’s solution to the API gap is to assume that there’s only one viable path to integrating with newsroom editorial systems and web CMS — work with what those systems can do out of the box, without any support from a developer or any customization.  This means supporting a huge range of delivery formats, some highly customized, some highly antiquated.  Publish2 supports any custom XML format, we support all of AP’s formats (including ANPA, the old satellite feed format), and we support FTP, to bridge the gap between the web and analogue editorial systems.  We support any and every system, from new and shiny to old and busted, that exist within newsrooms.

Publish2’s innovation is that we meet the newsroom’s requirements, instead of forcing them to meet our requirements, which is what an API demands. Life is hard enough for newsrooms. Our goal is to make it easier.

Publish2 closes the NPR API gap by working with the existing content import and export capabilities of member station CMSs.  We also make integration entirely turnkey for member station partners, such as newspapers in their region.

Use ANY Web CMS

NPR has recognized problem of their API gap. That gave birth to Core Publisher, NPR Digital Service’s web CMS offering for member stations. The unique feature of Core Publisher is that it is integrated with the NPR API, making it easier for member stations to use NPR content on their web sites. It also makes it easier for NPR to get member station content into the NPR API.

This is a reasonable approach, assuming that the member station doesn’t already have a web CMS that works well for them.  Or that they aren’t interested in choosing a web CMS based on competitive vendor review, as most news organizations do.  Or that they aren’t interested in customizing their CMS to meet their unique needs.

Publish2 offers member stations a different way to close the basic NPR API gap. With Publish2, member stations can use literally any web CMS, because Publish2 can integrate with any CMS, and our system is fully integrated with the NPR API.  So we can send and receive any NPR content, directly to and from any CMS, as required by member stations.

Build Local Networks

But Publish2 also goes beyond providing an alternative solution to the fundamental problem of how member stations can work with the NPR API.  Publish2 isn’t limited to public media content.  Our system handles content from wire services, like AP, and we can handle content from regional partners, increasingly a key focus for public media. Publish2 can enable stations to seamlessly share content and collaborate with newspapers and online local media.

This is critical, because increasingly public media stations see their future in local.  If consumers can access national content, like NPR’s, from anywhere in digital, e.g. npr.org, then public media stations need to focus on local as their core franchise.  (If you see a parallel between NPR’s relationship with local member stations and AP’s relationship with local newspapers, yes, you’re onto something).

Empowering local news networks is Publish2’s core franchise. That’s why we’re working with several of the Local Journalism Initiatives funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Publish2 also handles, for example, all content distribution for the Center for Investigative Reporting’s California Watch and Bay Citizen, to the largest news organizations in California.

But wait, there’s more…

Integrate Digital and Broadcast

Publish2’s platform technology isn’t just for digital, i.e. we’re not just a “digital service.” We can support broadcast as well, by integrating with any broadcast editorial system, such as iNEWS or ENPS, delivering NPR or any other content directly into wire queues, as many stations receive content from AP.  With Publish2, broadcast can build their own wire service, combining NPR, AP, local and regional partners, other national sources like ProPublica, literally any content.

And Publish2 can also go beyond empowering member stations with external content.  We can enable stations to integrate their web and broadcast systems, towards the increasingly important goal of integrating broadcast and digital workflows and operations.  Stories published first on the web can flow directly into the broadcast editorial system to be edited into scripts, like an internal wire service. Audio segments published first on the website can be transcoded and delivered as broadcast-ready files directly to the broadcast system.

Platform for the Entire News Industry

The key to Publish2 as a platform for public media stations is that it isn’t just a “public media platform” (haven’t heard that moniker in a while).  It’s a platform and network for the entire news industry.  NPR Digital Services is investing millions of dollars of member station fees to build a platform that Publish2 has had for years.  Some public media stations may think that’s the most efficient way to spend their money.  But we respectfully disagree with re-inventing the wheel.  And we know that many public media stations share that view.

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