Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Thoughts on a "slow news day ". . .

Yesterday morning, NPR made it an official "slow news day" by e-mailing station reporters that the newscast needed stories; not the shows (Morning Edition, All Things Considered) but the newscasts--those five minutes of spot news we hear at the top (and, sometimes, the bottom) of most hours during the day.

The NPR newscast unit operates separately from the news shows. The newscast unit's mission is to keep us up-to-date with what's going on during the day--some of which turns out to be not that important in the general scheme of things; some of which gets covered in greater depth by the news shows. For example, when Norman Mailer died, that was reported on a newscast, but Mr. Mailer's life and career were then thoroughly examined on the next Morning Edition or All Things Considered.

The newscast unit is another example of NPR working efficiently and effectively as a network of stations. If I hear about something happening in the WMRA listening area that I think has national news interest, I can do one of two things: 1)pitch it to a desk editor for development as a feature story; or 2)call the newscast unit and ask if they would like a "spot" for the newscast. If either unit says yes, then I work directly with an NPR editor in my reporting of the story.

For example, when then-candidate Obama came to Harrisonburg last year, NPR's Don Gonyea, who was traveling with the campaign, did the feature on his visit. But Tom DuVal and I, who were there to cover the event for WMRA, hooked Don up with JMU Political Science professor Bob Roberts, who put Obama's visit in historical perspective, Virginia-ly speaking, which (according to a note I got from Don) made the national piece.

I, however, did the NPR newscast spots, which meant I hustled back to the station after the event, wrote and voiced a couple of 45-second wraps (me talking, sound from the event, me talking), and then sent them to NPR over the internet. After that I went to work putting together a feature piece for WMRA's Morning Edition.

About that "sound from the event" that shows up in a news spot. When I'm spotting news, I look for a different kind of sound (called actuality in broadcast news speak) then I do for a feature piece. In spot news, I don't have much time, so I want sound that will take you directly into the heart of what's happening, rather than sound that will allow you to inhabit a story at the more leisurely pace offered by an in-depth feature.

The point I'd like to make is that, in my opinion, NPR has developed quite a brilliant system for reporting all the news that's fit to listen to!

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