Voice-activated assistance devices allow NPR to stay connected to audience

By Shelley Seale


Austin, Texas, United States


Joel Sucherman, vice president of new platform partnerships for NPR, spoke at the INMA World Congress of News Media in May about what NPR is doing on mobile platforms these days.

“Right now we’re thinking an awful lot about the way people interact with voice assistance,” Sucherman said. “Almost overnight, we’ve had those old radios in your garage or your kitchen that you were just about to throw out, replaced by tens of millions of these interactive devices that, at the most basic level, are really good radios.”

This provides the entrée point for NPR to continue that “love affair,” or companionship, that public radio provides, he said. Yet in a modern way, with assistants that follow you wherever you go to integrate in customers’ cars or their pockets.

This leads NPR to think about what these devices could be really good at. “What kind of interactivity, what kinds of questions might people be asking of these devices, that we have audio answers ready and able to provide,” Sucherman said.

When it comes to the potential comeback of print, and the print versus digital debate, Sucherman said it really all boils down to great storytelling.

“If you can find ways to reach people, people will consume it,” he said. “The engagement with robot voices is not great today; but I look at that as a today problem.”

Google, Amazon, and Apple are all really thinking about how to make the interactions with those voice assistance devices much more human. As an example, Sucherman shared how Google demonstrated Duplex at its I/O Developers Conference, where the device made a phone call to book an appointment. “The person on the other end actually had no idea that it was a robot voice that they were talking to.”

For publishers providing quality text content, Sucherman thinks there is a lot of opportunity for that content to answer questions people have of these devices.

“It’s going to be a process to figure out how to write for the ear, maybe; but it’s also not that far a journey from being able to produce great text, to starting to think about great podcasts, some terrific audio storytelling that will capture people,” Sucherman said. “It becomes an equalizer at some point.”

About Shelley Seale

By continuing to browse or by clicking “ACCEPT,” you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance your site experience. To learn more about how we use cookies, please see our privacy policy.