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The St. Louis Beacon and St. Louis Public Radio: An Update

It was just about a year ago that the St. Louis Beacon and St. Louis Public Radio jointly announced their intention to explore forming an alliance to better serve the St. Louis region through journalism.

STL Beacon

Through the past year we have been investigating how, by bringing our two organizations together, we can better serve the St. Louis region.  Through this exploration we have come to believe that high quality journalism is an important component in creating a narrative about the challenges and realizations of a region reinventing itself.  By providing deep reporting, thoughtful discussion and interesting perspectives on key questions, citizens in the region will gain a better understanding of the important issues happening in our region.

Our two organizations combined will have nearly 40 news and content staff producing audio, text, video, data, and photography across digital and broadcast platforms.  Of course this is in addition to programs and content from our public radio partners on-air and on-line.

The discussions of the merger over the past year have also triggered exciting academic and research initiatives in a three-way partnership with the University of Missouri – St. Louis’ College of Fine Arts and Communication, and the University of Missouri – Columbia’s School of Journalism.
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Through this partnership utilizing UMSL at Grand Center (the home of St. Louis Public Radio) as a base, UMSL and UMC are cooperatively investing further convergent media opportunities and research in emerging technology and interactive design, where best practices learned from the Reynolds Journalism Institute are being used to develop models for sustaining quality, multi-platform journalism in metropolitan areas.

This vision was presented earlier this month to the Board of Curators of University of Missouri System, the governing authority for St. Louis Public Radio, UMSL, and UMC. The proposal was enthusiastically received by the Curators and we have been given the go ahead to formalize an agreement between the Beacon, the University and St. Louis Public Radio that the curators can consider for approval at their next meeting in November.

As a follow-up to the Curators meeting earlier this month, Board Chair Wayne Goode and University system President Timothy Wolfe sent a letter to stakeholders of our two organizations outlining why the prospect of the merger is so exciting.

“The list of partners at both the regional and national levels for this endeavor is amazing.  We recognize that the world of media is watching this with keen interest.  We are proud of this pioneering effort in the future of media and journalism…

To learn more about this effort, you can read a report from Coats2Coats Consulting from our initial work on the merger that was funded through a grant from The Knight Foundation.  If you’re interested in learning more about the merger, please email teby@stlpublicradio.org.

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Exploring a New Model to Serve St. Louis

Response from the St. Louis community and beyond has been very positive in the aftermath of announcement that St. Louis Public Radio and the St. Louis Beacon are exploring an alliance to better serve the community through journalism.

The non-binding letter of intent signed last week expresses a shared belief that the Beacon and St. Louis Public Radio can serve St. Louisans better together than they can separately. As a result of this action the two news organizations will begin exploring options for strengthening regional news reporting by using their individual assets in combination.

It is the perfect time for us to be embarking on this expedition seeking a new model for public service journalism.  Both organizations have established reputations for delivering exceptional journalism to its audiences and, with the digital revolution transforming media, there is a historic opportunity to further establish St. Louis as a leader in journalism innovation.

We have been “test driving” some joint news reporting utilizing Rob Koenig, the Beacon’s Washington D.C. reporter, regularly sharing his observations on politics and issues with St. Louis Public Radio listeners on St. Louis on the Air, our daily local program.  In the last few months, Beyond November, a comprehensive, in-depth election-coverage project that also includes collaboration with the Nine Network of Public Media, has increased the level of collaboration between our organizations.

In the announcement, we specified that the alliance discussions will be dedicated to improving the St. Louis region by:

  • Advancing regional news reporting at a time when many news organizations around the nation are shrinking;
  • Engaging people throughout the region and sharing reporting on air, online and in person;
  • Encouraging vibrant dialogue and driving innovation with new tools in the digital age.

We also intend to continue to work in partnership with the Nine Network of Public Media and with other regional and national organizations.

While the letter of intent is non-binding, it authorizes the two organizations to share expertise with each other and develop options for a formal arrangement.  We expect to conclude exploratory discussions by the beginning of 2013.

It’s an exciting time for us to begin this journey and we’ll keep you up-to-date as we progress down the road.

Fiscal Year-End Highlights

June 30th marked the end of our 2012 fiscal year and it has been another amazing year at St. Louis Public Radio. First, here are a few quick bullet points that highlight the year:
St. Louis Public Radio mobile app

  • Started broadcasting from UMSL at Grand Center on June 18, 2012
  • Received a $1 Million pledge from Monsanto for UMSL at Grand Center
  • Estimated surplus at fiscal year-end of more than $200,000 – an operating surplus of approximately 4% of revenue
  • A 4% increase in overall revenue including a 4% increase in individual giving and 2% growth in corporate sponsorship billing
  • Unveiled new mobile app for the iPhone, iPad and Android devices that resulted in a 150% increase in listening to our three webstreams
  • St. Louis Public Radio news reporters recognized with seven awards for journalism excellence from the Missouri State Teachers Association, Missouri Broadcasters Association, and the Illinois Associated Press.
  • 2013 St. Louis Arts award recipient from the Arts & Education Council as “Champion For The Arts” and St. Louis Magazine’s “A” List for classical music programming.
  • Sponsored more than 80 community events focusing on the arts, science, education, literacy, cultural diversity, green living, civil discourse and community development. This list of events includes the two most-successful blood drives in the history of the station, a symposium on entrepreneurial business start-up and development, an international business career conference, and awards ceremonies honoring St. Louisans for their contributions to the arts and business communities.

These bullet points are highlights but the year also included on-going excellence in our news and programming areas. You regularly hear our reporters from St. Louis Public Radio on national programs like Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Marketplace. St. Louis on the Air continues to discuss the important issues facing our region and Cityscape serves as a connector to the arts in St. Louis. Our web site and social media efforts have evolved to serve a new platform for audience engagement and public service.

In May, we announced the intent to acquire WQUB-FM from Quincy University. WQUB is the public radio station service more than 120,000 people in and around Quincy, IL and serves as a northern extension of our coverage area. The costs of this acquisition should be around $100,000 with our business plan calling for operating the station in the black in three years. The most important aspect of this acquisition is that we have preserved the public radio service for this community.

Also in May we completed the second year of live Saturday evening broadcasts of the St. Louis Symphony from Powell Hall. These broadcasts have been a resounding success in audience and financial terms for the station. We begin season three in September as neighbors to the Symphony where we envision new opportunities for collaboration.

On the subject of collaboration, we end our fiscal year beginning an exciting project with the St. Louis Beacon and the Nine Network of Public Media focused on the 2012 election and government accountability. Beyond November, with funding from the Deer Creek Foundation, will be our first serious collaborative effort with our new Grand Center neighbors. We view this collaboration as a test effort for future opportunities.

We also initiated another partnership this year with Sauce Magazine that explores the food culture of St. Louis. Sound Bites is heard monthly on Cityscape and has been very well received by our listeners.

Our fundraising efforts were highlighted by significant growth (up 18%) in gifts of $1,000 or more and with the expansion of our sustaining membership program. We now have 26% (5,300) of all current donors in our sustaining membership program.

Finally, from a financial standpoint, our expected surplus this year will bring our case reserve up to approximately $1.7 million. It’s a tribute to the station’s staff that we went from no cash in reserve to where we are now in just four years.

Thanks for your great support of the station this year. Looking forward to a very exciting FY 2013!

Tim

User-centered approach yields big growth in online audience

stlpublicradio-dot-org screenshotIn the past year, audience growth on St. Louis Public Radio’s digital platforms has been tremendous. Comparing this January to last, our number of unique visitors to the site has increased by 90 percent. Additionally, the number of people listening to our online streams has more than doubled. For all of our streams combined during January 2012, we had a cumulative audience of 29,892 unique listeners. In January 2011 we had 11,855 unique listeners, a 152 percent increase.

We attribute the launch of our mobile apps to some of that increase. The apps are currently available for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, with plans for Kindle and possibly Nook. To date, across all platforms the mobile apps have received 5,287 downloads.

Social media drives traffic to the site as well, though not as often as one might think. The number of referrals from Facebook and Twitter together during January was 4,852, with individuals visiting multiple times counted for each visit.

So with 39,859 more unique visitors to our site this January compared to last, we have to attribute much of our success to our increased focus on frequent online news updates. The current website was launched in December of 2010, with a dramatic shift in strategy. The newer design puts our visitors’ needs first in that its main function is to deliver content—not content promoting the station, but our award-winning regional news coverage and programming. Since the change to the website, for the first time we saw our news stories among the top-ten most-viewed pages on the site. As a news organization with a mission to be a trusted source of information, this is right where they should be.

Our “Listen Live” page has been our most popular page probably since the earliest days of kwmu.org. There’s no doubt that the introduction of Classical KWMU-3 and the ability to listen to classical music on our site 24 hours a day, 7 days a week has attracted many more listeners, accounting for much of our year-over-year increase in traffic. The Saturday live broadcasts of the St. Louis Symphony are also popular, attracting listeners from around the globe.

In the next few weeks, we’ll be seeking feedback about the site via an online survey. Using this data, we will continue to evolve the site to meet listener needs. Please participate when you get the chance so that we may be of better service. Thanks for being a fan of www.stlpublicradio.org!

Madalyn Painter
Digital Media Manager