On April 4, Twitter labeled the main NPR account as “state-affiliated media,” which was a term usually applied to propaganda outlets. While Twitter backed down on the term “state-affiliated” and changed it to “government-funded,” NPR is taking action at the national scale, but how does Twitter’s label affect member stations at a local level? What does a move like this mean for the industry in general?
Radio Ink spoke with the president of Los Angeles NPR member KCRW, Jennifer Ferro.
Radio Ink: We saw [NPR President] John Lansing’s statement on Twitter, but what was the general feeling among your staff when this broke?
Jennifer Ferro: Even though Twitter didn’t label [KCRW’s] account that way, we are so closely affiliated with NPR. We run NPR programming. People associate us as one and the same. Leaving Twitter wasn’t even a question here. You cannot publish content on a platform that calls you propaganda. It’s just not true and to participate in it really just damages your own credibility. I just didn’t think there was any other choice.
Radio Ink: It was unheard of for a major social media outlet to make this sweeping branding – is this the start of the next wave of digital competition or is it just timing and politics? If Jack Dorsey had said “NPR is state-affiliated media” in 2012, would it still have carried the same weight?
Jennifer Ferro: You know, I have no idea. Something changed in the minds or the policy of the people at Twitter who put those labels on. I have my own theories, but I don’t want to speculate.
Radio Ink: Either way, this move has been seen by many as a huge attack on the credibility of a major radio company and it raises the question, in 2023, who defines credibility?
Jennifer Ferro: I think that news outlets have to define their own credibility and then back it up. That’s what we always have done. Any media that wants to be perceived as being credible, needs to take certain actions and provide a certain accountability to their audience to justify being trustworthy.
In the old days, you had more direct access to the audience than we do in today’s world. In today’s world, when third-party aggregators funnel most audiences to media, this is an example of something that can go very wrong. Propaganda has to be the worst label for any news media. And in this case, it’s not just offensive, it’s totally untrue. If that’s the way that you’re going to be labeled to your audience or potential audience, as far as I’m concerned, you can’t play in that sandbox. With that label, it’s like you’re giving it credence. That’s very dangerous.
Radio Ink: So NPR and KCRW, among other stations, are off Twitter now. As you said, you can’t support the platform that labeled you. With social media such a huge part of the information system now, do you foresee this becoming a larger fight for all broadcasters?
Jennifer Ferro: That’s always a concern. I think the broadcast distinction is irrelevant, really. We’re all media. We’re trying to connect with people. Broadcast is a platform that only some of us have access to, but everyone is the same on Twitter, right? You’re a media organization or a news organization communicating information to people, and if your content and your brand are being siphoned, characterized in a way, or manipulated, then you have to take some action. And if you don’t, I think it’s at your own peril.
Radio Ink: So what is a good way to you for stations to kind of get control of their own information pipeline digitally? Radio always has OTA distribution, but if social media threatens digital distribution, what are some ways for broadcasters, radio, and media to take that pipeline back?
Jennifer Ferro: I think that having a direct connection with your audience is the best way. That’s something we are hyper-focused on, whether it’s via email or text, but just having direct communication. That is always gonna be the most real relationship. Yes, we all use third-party platforms to find an audience because that’s where the audience is. But I think working to transition people off of those platforms when they’re looking for you is going to be our strongest position.
And again, not that it’s easy, but I think every company that relies on a third party who controls the pipeline to get to their audience is in a very disadvantageous position. There were plenty of people who relied on Google to get all their traffic and then Google changed their algorithm and then they had no traffic. It’s important to us to be able to build value and get people to communicate and build relationships directly with us.