NPR Aims to Link Stations in for Better News Coverage

Jun 28, 2015

Members of NPR’s Collaborative Coverage Project began their session at that PRNDI conference in Salt Lake, June 27, with a simple concept: “collaboration is tricky, but we all want this to work.”

The project, in progress for about a year, has a mission of transforming NPR and member station newsrooms into a true network. Vickie Walton James, NPR National Desk Editor, said the goal is to “move faster, dig deeper, and reflect the fabric of America.”

The Collaborative Coverage Project recommended NPR hire an editor dedicated to collaborations, which they did with Bruce Auster, another panelist at the session. Overall, the project wants to enhance national reporting with local expertise in news of the day, beat reporting, and enterprise stories. The Back at Base series, NPR’s Education Team, and a new NPR reporter travel notification system are all products of the collaboration, Walton James pointed out.

The project is continuing to work on improving and encouraging digital collaboration, enhancing contributions from member stations that respect their capacities and priorities, avoiding duplication and making sure a two-way channel of communication and benefits is achieved.

Breaking news was the focus of the Saturday panel. Specifically, what Auster called “unexpected news.” This, he said, is news that has relevance outside of a station’s listening area, but does not have planned or organized coverage with NPR, like major legislation or commemorative events might have.

Editorial units at NPR and member stations are being linked in NPR's new coverage circle.
Credit Collaborative Coverage Project / NPR

Auster explained that at NPR, editorial decisions are made in a variety of units — from the Two-Way blog to Newscast to the national shows. Bringing member stations into the circle with a central national news desk coordinating coverage will help streamline and improve relationships with those stations, he said.

The collaboration project will be launching a new system of communication later this summer with an email address stations should use to alert NPR about any and all unexpected news that could be relevant to a wide audience. A new guide sheet will also be released including a list of ways stations might contribute to coverage when news is breaking from just sharing what they know to producing pieces.

“Make sure to let NPR know if you can send a reporter out or not,” Auster said, addressing some station representatives’ concerns that communicating with NPR would create extra demand on their staffs.

John Dankosky, panelist and News Director at WNPR in Hartford, Ct., said the people behind the collaboration project realize not every station can give up a reporter to NPR when breaking news happens.

“But sending details, updates, and information to NPR can still be helpful,” he said.

After answering questions from the crowd, Dankosky summed up the presentation by reinforcing  the commitment to meaningful collaborations from which everyone can benefit.

“If we view each other as competitors, this isn’t going to work,” he said.