NPR Shares Tips on How to Make an Audio Story People Want to Keep Listening To

Number-crunching with the NPR One app

The public face of the NPR One app opens listeners up to a world of news and stories from NPR and local radio stations. Behind the scenes, all those local stories amount to a lot of data points that NPR has been using over the past two years to statistically parse the relationship between listener and story, helping to provide audio-makers advice on how to do audio better in the process.

The latest experiment examined what it is about news stories that hold listeners’ attention to the end and why. To get to an answer, NPR looked at 921 stories from member stations in 7 states (Maine, Michigan, Missouri, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin) that appeared in the app, examining with particular interest those stories in which the completion rate was better than expected.

From there, as NPR One managing editor Tamar Charney and digital programming analytics manager Nick DePrey explain, they were able to come up with some general observations, as well as bolster long-established axioms.

For one, certain archetypes work better than others. Charney and DePrey highlight the most effective ones:

  • “Things are changing for us:” These stories are about something with a big impact on lots of people in your community. They make that impact clear from the start.
  • “It matters:” This kind of story may not obviously matter to listeners, but the storytelling makes the case for what is at stake right from the beginning.
  • “The real deal:” These stories break down what is going on. They’re explainers, fact checks and stories that make it clear they are going to tell you what you need to know.
  • “What the what?!:” It’s the kind of story that uncovers something unexpected or surprising. These stories overturn conventional wisdom or show someone acting contrary to how listeners would expect. It helps listeners see that their world isn’t quite how they think it is.
  • “Who we are:” These are stories about something that impacts a community’s identity. They surface an element of local pride or a particular way of life.

Outside of those particular frames, Charney and Deprey provide additional advice familiar to anyone who has ever taken a writing class: grab the audience with your opening. “NPR One data shows us that in the opening seconds, listeners make decisions about whether to skip or pay attention to a story,” they write. “They need to understand why they should care before they know what happened. The news peg might be important to us as journalists, but the data suggests our listeners are more interested in why the story matters to them.”

Check out the rest of the tips here.