Follow the NPR Backstory
Update 6/29/09: Thanks for all the coverage!

NPRbackstory is an experimental web mashup that I created to dig through the NPR archives and unearth the Public Radio backstory on currently trending topics. This "application" is currently running in Beta as a Twitter account. To use the application, you need to follow NPRbackstory in Twitter. I welcome any feedback on this idea in the comments section below.

I should note that I built this as a personal project to play with the public version of the NPR API. At the time I was not an NPR employee (I am now), so this experiment doesn't reflect the strategy of NPR or even have their official support. I'm grateful for the coverage that Harvard's Neiman Journalism Lab and others have given this project and to NPR for not pulling my API key ;-)

Follow the NPRbackstory Twitter account

My favorite public radio segments provide thought provoking backstories on current news items. It might be a Terry Gross interview from a few years back of a famous person that just passed away, or a cultural sketch of an unfamiliar country that had a coup d'├ętat this morning.

One of great things about the backstory approach is that it provides context and lends meaning to a current event. The backstory brings the listener up to date on a trendy news item without wallowing in the sensationalist details often found in mainstream news coverage.

In an attempt to bring this great idea to the web, here is a simple web application that generates an RSS feed of NPR online content. Rather than just a feed of NPR news, the NPRbackstory application tries to intelligently match fast-rising, trendy search terms to existing content on NPR.org. This goes beyond news coverage to include media from NPR blogs, interviews, NPR music, program content, podcasts, and station pieces (all thanks to the NPR API).

Below is the latest few items from the NPRbackstory Twitter feed. The keyword in parentheses is the fast-rising search term. The headline is the story, blog post, audio segment, or media from npr.org.


I'm encouraged by initial results from NPRbackstory. Here are some interesting "backstories" from the first few hours:

(ryan seacrest) Apparently, Ryan was recently bitten by a shark, resulting in a surge of web searches on his name. The backstory? A "Morning Edition" audio piece and write-up from September 2007 on Ryan entitled, "Hosting a TV show, how hard can it be?"

(jerry lee) Jerry Lee Lewis just detained for allegedly trying to take a gun on a plane. NPRbackstory returns his downloadable NPR Music "Song of the Day" from 2006.

(medical information) This web trend spiked because of a medical record leak of up to 200,000 people in Georgia. The backstory turns out to be a bit eerie: A "Morning Edition" segment on the trade-offs of online medical records from April of 2008.

The NPRbackstory "Application" was created by Keith Hopper using the NPR API, Dapper, Twitterfeed, Feedburner, and Yahoo! Pipes. If anyone is interested in the details, let me know and I can post them here. And why not follow @khopper on Twitter to see what else I might be up to?