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TheStreet Open House

#DigitalSkeptic: NPR Opens Pandora's Box on News Strategy

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- All things considered, NPR has opened a veritable Pandora's box factory with its new "Pandora of News" strategy.

In case you hadn't been listening, back on July 9, National Public Radio's then CEO, Gary E. Knell, began some serious media outreach. According to interviews at The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, as part of a $201 million capital rebuilding plan, America's national public broadcaster would embark on a bold new Digital Age initiative.

According to this former head of the Sesame Workshop -- seriously, Knell really did tell Big Bird what to do -- it would no longer be enough for NPR to reach 27 million people a week serving a mix of Car Talk, Fresh Air and other programs via over-the-air radio, Web and mobile simulcasts.

Oh, no. Now it would seek to rip a page from private-sector streaming media services such as Pandora (P) and Spotify and use the latest in wonder tools to render up news and information feeds unique to each listener.

"What we're trying to work on is a Pandora for news," Knell told Melissa Korn at the Journal, "to allow listeners to customize a playlist, available through the cloud, live."

Considering I've watched many a good man and woman -- not to mention hundreds of billions of dollars -- go south chasing the exact same idea in music, publishing and financial services, I figured I better confirm with NPR what this "Pandora of News" actually is.

And so began a four-month odyssey to get NPR to comment officially on what were -- and how it expected to pay for -- those new Digital Age services. And to be fair, everybody tried. I had dozen conversations and emails with various NPR officials. But, trust me, not one single moment of any of those made enough sense to be quoted here.

And it turned out, in one of the marvels of full disclosure, it didn't matter.

We're talking about public radio here -- its records are, well, public. If investors ever wanted to hear how grim the challenge is of running a streaming media service a la Pandora or Spotify, all they need do is click on into NPR's Consolidated Statement of Activities and Supplementary Information Year Ended 2012, and something called a Form 990 -- which amounts to its tax return.

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