Our new survey of local public media newsrooms finds a solid commitment to daily coverage, a broad effort to provide depth coverage, and rather sporadic levels of deep engagement and intensive production.
The charts below provide a break-out of NPR member station survey responses on their depth of commitment to local news broadcast elements. (To see all public media results, see this overview piece.)
Two years ago, we took a look at what local NPR stations were calling local news on their airwaves. While we modified the survey and the analysis somewhat, in general the picture looks quite similar.
Here is the stack of local news program types we asked about in the 2012 Survey of Stations (MVM/UNR/USC 2012) — ranked by their mean score. The higher the score, the more prevalent the commitment of resources to this programming type.
This hierarchy of commitments ranks about the same as it did in 2010 — though, as mentioned, the methodology changed to cover more program types and to give us a more refined look.
Here are the charts for each program type.
Interviews are such a key element of original news gathering, it’s great to see they rank highest among all NPR stations as a local news staple.
Most stations are heavily vested in newscasts as the vehicle for their local news.
The 3-5 minute feature is a fundamental unit of news in public radio, which devotes more time to issue coverage. Over half the NPR stations have a high or very high commitment to feature reporting.
Breaking news coverage ranks a lot higher than one might guess, given the emphasis on depth coverage on NPR stations. Yet, these radio stations are assuming a larger role in the daily coverage of their communities and that requires some willingness to get on top of breaking news.
Beat reporting is a sign of a depth and commitment to original journalism. This is less of a program type than it is an organizational approach to news, but it is fundamental to how news is gathered, packaged and presented. Since beats generally require larger newsrooms, there’s a divide in the data.
Another sign of healthy commitment to depth of coverage is the “news series,” where a topic is too big to be covered in one report, so it is managed in multiple installments. A quarter of stations have a high or very high commitment to series.
Local stations serve their communities well when they can tailor content to meet local needs. This category shows a rather healthy commitment to specialty programs — whether they be segments on arts, health, business, etc. Sometimes these elements are more attractive to sponsors, which may help fuel wider adoption.
On Air Calendars
These on-air calendar of events used to be a larger staple of public radio. Websites are better at delivering that kind of information. However, many small stations still provide them.
This chart is rather flat indicating that talk shows are not uniformly popular in public radio. But they rank as high or very high commitments from almost a third of stations. In general, talk shows indicate a station’s larger staffing commitment to local news and public affairs.
This chart shows a low commitment to this kind of local news programming. The news special is typically a timely, one-off, intensively produced program. News stations don’t need to resort to news specials if they are doing a good job of daily coverage, feature coverage, series coverage, beat coverage, etc.
Public Service Announcements aren’t news but they fulfill a local community service commitment, and sometimes they are handled by newsrooms. More than half of stations have little or no commitment to them.
Town Hall Meetings
In an age of social media, the town hall meeting is more anachronistic than ever. Seventy percent of NPR member stations make little or no commitment to hosting or airing them.
Live Reports or Live Remotes
Radio is a medium for immediacy, but two-thirds of local NPR stations are hardly committed to this form of news coverage.
On Air Magazines
Most stations don’t produce on-air news magazines, which tend to be labor intensive. Yet, a fourth of stations do have the resources or commitment to produce them.
The local radio news documentary has been a fading form for years. The most remarkable thing in this chart is that some 12% of stations are committed to them.
Radio commentaries give opinion leaders access to the airwaves to provide perspective on the news. This was the least popular form of local news programming found in the survey.
About the Survey
The 2012 Survey of Stations was conducted by Michael V. Marcotte of MVM Consulting in coordination with the University of Nevada School of Journalism, where Marcotte is a visiting professor. Collaborating on the invitation only, online survey was PhD candidate Sandra Evans of The Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Southern California. 136 stations participated, 103 of them were NPR members.