Responding to Washington Post Blog Post on NPR and Economist

Ezra Klein over at Washington Post wrote this article about the market share growth of NPR shown in the chart below and then tries to draw some conclusions about the growth of NPR and Economists, reported in two separate articles.

Graph courtesy Jon Peltier Reading this simplistic analysis I was struck by the irony that this was happening in a post analyzing the reasons behind the decline of American media!

First let us just talk about the way Ezra's article quotes the NPR numbers. He takes the graph from a blog post, which is taken from another blog post, which is a post about data presentation in an article published in Fast company. Ezra doesn't even bother to attribute the graph to Jon Peltier who was making an entirely different point with this graph (shown in this article)

Then, Ezra decides to compare growth of NPR with growth of Economist, which was written up in another blog doing a small bit piece on the original article published in Folio. Looking carefully at the Folio article, one realizes that this is nothing but a fluff "interview" piece touting Economist's circulation and profits- clearly a PR piece hardly to be called objective.

I have a big problem with people trying to draw general conclusions about anything put together from two different sources let alone data collected at two different time points under two entirely different experimental conditions. One cannot draw conclusions from such comparisons because of introduction of bias.

But Ezra commits another faux pas - quoting other bloggers and not the original articles. I understand why bloggers dispense with this sort of discipline, but when one is blogging for a reputed journal like Washington Post, one ought to set better standards.

Finally, I am disappointed by the overall content of the post itself. Instead of analysis, what we get is 'opinion' masquarading as 'analysis'. I have my own opinion about why NPR has sustained itself so well in these terrible times or why Economist might be more successful than let's say, the other US magazines. One word - competition or lack there of.

Let's take the example of NPR. While the subscriber read newspaper business has seen intense competition from internet, when it comes to passively imbibed news, i.e. via the channel of radio, the competition in the US is almost non-existent. There are some news radio channels mainly on AM radio, but other than that most radio channels tend to focus more on music than news.

BBC exists as an independent news radio only in England and other ex-US markets. In the US, NPR has co-opted BBC quite nicely by entering into a non-competitive partnerships of sorts, so that NPR and BBC can both offer programming to the local public radio channels. But while the internet based sources of news have dramatically increased over last year, due to miserable failure of satellite radio, on-air radio is the only medium available to captive population that listens to NPR - the car driving public.

There are 10 other reasons for success of NPR - one just has to read the original article to understand them.

As for Economist, despite the intense competition in US magazine business, news analysis is perhaps BIG reason for their success for while most US magazines offer a US centric point of view, Economist offers a "different" non-US centric point of view which is refreshingly welcome in many educated circles.

WSJ has also grown in circulation after recent change in management. But their strategy has been different. Circulation growth has come as a result of shrewd pricing strategy. I am myself an example of this. For instance, when they charged 0.75 per copy I was reading WSJ regularly as long as the paper was provided by my employer. When my employer balked, WSJ lost me. Since the change in mgmt at WSJ, they offered me a subscription for $99 for both online and print. I immediately signed up because I think it is a worthwhile investment.

Unfortunately, Ezra's blog post covers none of these issues.
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