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National Public Radio has been recently getting more aggressive in promoting sponsorship packages in advertising industry trades. Indeed, NPR has positioned itself as an advertising alternative to other news outlets — positioning that hyperlocal sites such as Sacramento Press are also assuming.

How far can NPR and the local public radio affiliates go as an alternative news and advertising source? Former Knight Ridder exec Ken Doctor has an excellent take on it, inspired by last week’s “Future of News” summit held by Minnesota Public Radio. Doctor talks to MPR head Bill Kling, who notes that “Everything you’d need to start an alternative media company, we’ve got. What’s missing is the leadership.”

Kling tells Doctor he hopes to provide that leadership in his region, partly by bringing in reporters and others who have been downsized from local dailies. Doctor also notes that the dollars are there for public radio to continue the expansion at the local and national level. MPR, with 70 news staffers, recently got a $5 million individual grant to boost its news operations, to be matched over time.

Separately, NPR has announced a $3 million grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and The Knight Foundation to fund “blogger/curators” in 12 cities. Doctor notes that this is in addition to a major effort run by top NPR execs Vivian Schiller (ex New York Times) and Kinsey Wilson (ex USA Today) to “weld together” a true national network from its affiliates and other sources.

In addition, Doctor notes that CPB has announced a $5 million fund to allow for the creation of four or five regional, multi-state centers, with a handful of staffers each, to help local public radio stations do better origination, editing and sharing of stories of regional concern, both on air and online.

While news development is being meticulously planned, there is precious little information about public radio’s efforts to win more local and national ad/sponsorship dollars. Obviously, as a nonprofit institution that is supported, in part, by government dollars, it can only go after such dollars with major constraints. We’ll undoubtedly hear more about both news and sponsorship efforts from NPR’s Wilson when he speaks at ILM:09 Dec. 9-11 in L.A.

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