The trouble with WPRO's new web site

Talk radio station WPRO's new web site gets points for its clean, navigable feel. But for this critic, its focus seems misplaced.

The homepage presents as a well-ordered rundown of the state's news. But with its small staff, the Cumulus-owned station can't hope to present anything like a comprehensive report. As I write, featured stories include a short piece on singer-songwriter Jeffrey Osborne's appearance at a homeless shelter and an effort, in Coventry, to save a tradition that has Santa riding around town on a fire truck every holiday season. If the Providence Journal's pay wall presents an opportunity for a free, online news site, this isn't it.

Seems to me that it would make more sense to put the station's talk-radio personalities - John DePetro, Dan Yorke, Buddy Cianci, and Matt Allen - out front. 

The site already makes reasonably good use of the hosts' on-air product - there's a live, in-studio video feed and the station does a good job of uploading interviews and other segments from its shows. But for now, the site offers little else on its stars.

That could change. Patrick Austin, director of digital media for Cumulus Providence, says the station plans to use the site, going forward, to flesh out some of the topics its hosts discuss on-air. That means more photos, video, and reporting by online scribe Dee DeQuattro.

The station also hopes to make its site a place for listeners to debate some of the topics its hosts raise. The controversy over the State House "holiday tree," stoked by DePetro last year, opened WPRO's eyes to the possibilities for online discussion, Austin says.

But if it makes sense to focus on the station's stars and whatever kerfuffles they're kicking up on-air, executing on the strategy - offering a significant on-line supplement and getting listeners to chat about the day's news on the WPRO site - will be no easy task.

We'll see what the new year brings.

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