NPR recently announced a restructuring of its newsroom designed to more efficiently utilize resources while expanding editorial hubs that combine the digital and audio work of its reporters, editors, producers and bloggers around specific areas of focus.
Make no mistake about it, this restructuring is primarily motivated by the need to address budget deficits that have plagued NPR for the past several years. As part of the plan, NPR will eliminate or leave vacant positions that will result in a reduction of 28 jobs in its News Division. But in making these hard choices, NPR is also adapting its organizational model and implementing significant strategic shifts with the goal of remaining a leader in the dynamic and highly competitive news environment while living within its means.
One of these shifts is NPR’s continued development of cross-platform editorial hubs which recognize the way people utilize multiple “old school” and digital platforms to consume news and learn about the world. NPR is doubling down on its effort to de-emphasize the isolated work of lone beat journalists and encouraging an intentional, coordinated multiplatform approach to news gathering. As part of its restructuring, NPR announced the creation of a new News Desk to serve as the hub for breaking news – bringing together two units that already coordinate naturally, NPR’s Two Way news bloggers and newscasters. In addition, NPR is turning its Washington Desk into another multiplatform hub committed to original and enterprise reporting on politics and policy as well as creating a new radio/digital hub for Arts and Culture. These new hubs will join the recently launched Education and Global Health and Development hubs. The goal for each editorial hub is to create distinctive, high quality content for radio and digital platforms that complement and build on each other and take advantage of the unique opportunities each platform offers.
Another important shift is a burgeoning awareness of the importance of local station reporters to the coverage of national stories and issues. Gradually, NPR seems to be recognizing that it is often better and cheaper to deploy local NPR member station reporters to cover issues that have national significance. After all, local reporters almost always have a deeper understanding of complex regional issues they have been covering than national reporters who fly in with little sense of place to cover a single story. In addition, local reporters also maintain established relationships with a diverse array of news sources that aren’t necessarily the “usual suspects” of a story. Often, this enables local reporters to provide more in-depth, contextual reporting than NPR could achieve on its own at a much lower cost. The problem is that many local station reporters, especially in small markets, don’t possess the skill necessary to produce national level stories. And so, there is new focus on working with member stations to develop the skills of local reporters so that they can serve their local communities better throughout the year while being ready to cover a national story for NPR when the need arises. This is truly a win-win-win for local stations, citizens who get better ongoing local journalism, and NPR.
In announcing the restructuring, NPR Senior Vice President for News, Margaret Low Smith, wrote, “As we move forward, our guiding principles are a newsroom that unites our audio and digital storytelling capabilities; sharpens our editorial focus; allows us to create journalism of distinction across multiple platforms; and reflects the diversity of American life.” We’ll all be listening for the fruits of this effort.
Paul Westhelle, Executive Director
Jefferson Public Radio