Attributes of Local NPR Stations: On Air Content

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.

MVM 2012 NPR On Air Means.001

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.

2012 MVM NPR Interviews.001


Most stations are heavily vested in newscasts as the vehicle for their local news.

2012 MVM NPR Newscasts.001

News Features

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.

2012 MVM NPR Features.001

Breaking News

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.

2012 MVM NPR Breaking News.001

Beat Reporting

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.

2012 MVM NPR Beats.001

News Series

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.

2012 MVM NPR Series.001

Specialty Programs

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.

2012 MVM NPR Specialty Prog.001

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.

2012 MVM NPR Calendar.001

Talk Shows

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.

2012 MVM NPR Talk Show.001

News Specials

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.

2012 MVM NPR News Specials.001


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.

2012 MVM NPR PSA.001

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.

2012 MVM NPR Town Hall.001

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.

2012 MVM NPR Live Reports.001

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.

2012 MVM NPR On Air Magazine.001


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.

2012 MVM NPR Documentaries.001


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.

2012 MVM NPR Commentary.001

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.


Attributes of Local NPR Stations: Online Content

Our 2012 survey of local public media newsrooms shows that most stations still have rather stunted commitments to local news online.

The charts in this post provide a break-out of NPR member station findings. (To see all public media results, see this summary piece.)

We begin with this overview picture of online content commitments. The chart is stacked from most prevalent to least prevalent content types (ascertained by gauging “commitment levels” to these options).

MVM 2012 NPR ONLINE Means.001

These 2012 data are similar to the findings gathered in 2010 (though not directly comparable, due to adjustments in methodology).

It should be noted that, while many stations show limited commitments to online news, the survey found a pent up dissatisfaction with online news. That data is here.

What follows is a chart by chart review of these online content types.


Radio stations specialize in providing audio, so this content type gets the greatest adherence by local public radio newsrooms. Almost two thirds of them have high or very high resource commitments to audio online.

2012 MVM NPR AUDIO.001


Text is the dominant form of communicating news online. The degree of commitment to online text by local newsrooms is tantamount to their overall degree of commitment to online local news. Half of stations are there in a big way. A quarter of stations are doing very little.

2012 MVM NPR TEXT.001


Forty percent of stations are highly committed to Facebook as a platform for local news. Another 32% have a medium level commitment.



Radio newsrooms are gradually employing their eyes, not just their ears, in their news gathering. So far, only a third have a high commitment to photography in their digital news.



Twitter is increasing its importance to local NPR station newsrooms. Commitment to the micro-blogging service is now almost as high as Facebook.


Online Comments

As we continue down the list of online content types, there’s a big drop in commitment levels here in looking at online comments. Three quarters of the NPR stations show a low or lower devotion to managing the online comments of others.



While photographic slideshows pair well with audio news stories, local NPR stations express an overall low commitment to slideshows.



The NPR Argo Project advanced the virtues of local newsroom blogging on specialized content, but the overall system is not rushing to the use of local news blogging. Only 16% of stations claim a high or very high commitment. Over 70% of stations are on the low end of the chart.



Considered one of the most shareable and promising forms of digital content, videos are also largely ignored by NPR station newsrooms. Three fourths of stations show low, very low or non-existent commitment to video.

2012 MVM NPR VIDEO.001

Other Social Media

Facebook and Twitter got high usage by local public radio stations, but other social networks… not so much.



Local news stories are greatly enhanced when we use all our digital muscles to convey information and drive interactivity. Maps are a great example of this. However, at least two-thirds of local NPR newsrooms are doing very little to take advantage of maps in their online journalism.

2012 MVM NPR MAPS.001

Data Visualization

Data visualization, like maps, help tell online stories and make complicated data simple to understand. A whopping 83% percent of local public radio newsrooms are largely bypassing data visualization content.


User Generated Content

Very few stations are endeavoring to cull content provided by the public.

2012 MVM NPR UGC.001

Crowd Sourcing

We thought this chart on crowd sourcing might have higher levels of commitment because of the Public Insight Network that many stations are using for news research. But the commitment levels are among the lowest of all online content types in the survey.

2012 MVM NPR CROWD.001

Online Polls

The least popular of online content types is the online poll. Almost 90% of station newsrooms have better things to do.

2012 MVM NPR POLLS.001

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.

Attributes of Local NPR Stations: Local News Airtime

Data from the 2012 MVM/UNR/USC survey of local NPR news stations show that almost half the stations in the system are producing an hour or less of local news per day (M-F).

The other half of the stations go much deeper into local news… with a quarter of stations producing more than 12 hours per week.

2012 MVM NPR Air Time Radio.001


NPR Stations Continue Growing Local News

A new survey by MVM Consulting shows NPR member stations around the U.S. are growing their local news staffs, increasing their local news airtime, and beefing up their local online news content.

The survey reveals high levels of actual growth last year and similar levels of predicted growth this year.

Expansion of Local NPR Newsroom Staffing

The growth begins with news staffing. More than 40% of NPR member stations grew their full-time local news staffs slightly or significantly in 2012.

2012 NPR Staff Change.001
While 50% reported no change, only 8% saw decreases in staffing.

Looking ahead to 2013, another 38% of NPR stations are optimistic they’ll be growing full-time news staffs. Only 4% expect they’ll be downsizing. The largest share, 58%, expect to maintain current levels of newsroom staffing.

2013 NPR Staff Change.001
These are healthy signs — even healthier than the growth estimates of 2010, when a similar survey found a fourth (27%) of all public radio stations grew their local news staffing, while 14% had cut back during the national recession.

Major Increases in Online Content

The survey also found an ummistakeable emphasis on advancing local news online.

Almost two-thirds of local NPR stations say they increased (slightly or significantly) their local online news content last year.

2012 NPR Online Change.001
That growth emphasis continues in projections for 2013. Seventy-one percent of stations say they expect to increase their local online news offerings this year.

2013 NPR Online Change.001

Local News Airtime on the Upswing

The survey also asked station leaders about changes in the amount of local news or public affairs on air.

While 60% reported no change in 2012, a third of stations said they expanded local news on air.

2012 NPR Air Time Change.001
And, as with staffing and online content, the trend is predicted to continue in 2013. Forty-five percent of stations say they will increase local news airtime this year.

2013 NPR Air Time Change.001

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.

Gender Inequality in Public Media Newsrooms

Looks like we have a ways to go in local public radio and television. Like the rest of the media, women are underrepresented in our newsrooms.

What prompted me to take a dive into these never-before-reported numbers was the recent study by the The Women’s Media Center, The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2013, which reported, “stubborn gender inequality in the ways that women are employed and represented in news, entertainment and technology-related media…”

Thanks to detailed reports filed by public stations… we can begin to examine the composition of local public broadcasting newsrooms.

The theory is simple: women make up 51% of the population, so their presence in media should be comparable. Where it isn’t (and it isn’t), discrimination may be in play.

While the WMC study includes a section on U.S. radio and television, it lumps public broadcasters together with commercial. Moreover, the data used is from an annual survey by Hofstra University’s Bob Papper. Frankly, the survey sample is dominated by commercial stations, so we can’t see with high certainty the state of female employment in public media.

Until now. Thanks to detailed reports filed by public stations to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, we can begin to examine the composition of local public broadcasting newsrooms. (For years, the CPB has requested staffing data from stations, but beginning in 2010, it began asking for much more granular data about station journalists.)

 Women Journalists Employed in Local Public Radio and TV

All the data here are from 2011, the most recent available.

As you can see, right off the bat, when you lump all 3000 news employees from all local stations together (and these numbers do represent over 90% of the actual local public radio and TV workforce), there’s a basic disparity.


It gets more interesting when we break out the two main sectors of public media — radio and TV.

Radio is the bigger employer of journalists, by a 2-to-1 margin. This is understandable because there are many more radio stations than TV stations. But, perhaps more importantly, local public radio provides the base of the NPR News distribution pyramid; those stations are growing their local journalism ranks.

So, how are women faring in local public radio newsrooms? Here’s the big picture:


The employment ratio between men and women is better than local public media as a whole.

Of course, that must mean that public TV is the bigger culprit in the gender disparity.

Here’s the local public TV news staffing break-out:


Whoa! This is comparable to what the Women’s Media Center found in commercial television. In fact, it’s worse. Women’s share of the commercial television news workforce is closer to 40%.

Public radio, on the other hand, is doing better than commercial radio in approaching gender balance in news. (Public radio: 46% women. Commercial radio: 33% women.)

Women in Leadership Roles in Local Public Radio and TV Newsrooms

One area where the Women’s Media Center was particularly critical of U.S. media was for the dearth of women in executive roles. In general, those percentages show even greater disparity.

Looking at the data from public radio and TV, we can count those women who hold news leadership roles (news director, executive producer, senior editor, senior producer, managing editor, etc.).

We’ll look at radio news first.


Sure enough, the disparity increases. (The “non-leader” ratio is 47 to 53, women to men.)

Here’s an even deeper look at what comprises this leadership sector in local public radio news:


You can see that women outnumber men in some of the newsroom leadership roles, but not in the all-important news director (ND) category.

Let’s look at the same charts for local public TV.


As expected, the gender gap is worse when we isolate the leadership roles. (The “nonleader” ratio in public TV news is 39 to 61, women to men.)

In the break-out below, you can also see that in public TV, unlike public radio, it’s the executive producer that serves as top news boss in most local PBS stations:


Only one category shows women holding a numerical advantage — Senior Editor — but there are only 7 in the whole country. And the advantage is only by one.

Women in On-Air News Roles in Local Public Media

Finally, there’s the question of women being seen and heard in prominent on-air positions at the local NPR or PBS station.

Again, the WMC study didn’t look at public media, but it found that talk radio hosts were overwhelmingly male. And in newspapers, male bylines outnumbered female bylines, 3-1.

Another pass of our local public media data extracts the ratio of women to men in such on-air presenter roles as host and anchor.

Here’s the male-female split for all local public media journalists combined:


Still, a pretty big disparity.

Again, we wonder if public radio with its larger workforce is doing better in gender apportionment than the smaller staffs in public TV.

First, public radio news hosts:


As one can see, public radio stations are favoring male air hosts over women hosts nearly 2-1.

Public TV does a bit better:


 Bottom Line: Gender Inequity Persists Even in Public Media

Somehow, one would expect public media newsrooms to be doing much better than their commercial counterparts. Afterall, they’re tethered to universities and non-profits with more accountability requirements than the private sector. They tend to be bastions of educated, progressive thinkers. And there’s no mistaking years of systemwide efforts at creating a more diverse, women-friendly workforce.

So, while they ARE doing better than their commercial counterparts, public media stations still have work to do if their male-female journalist balance is to mirror the larger society.

As Julie Burton, president of the Women’s Media Center, was quoted: “While media is the most powerful economic and cultural force today, it still falls far too short in its representation of women… the numbers demonstrate that the glass ceiling extends across all media platforms… we’re still not seeing equal participation. That means we are only using half our talent and usually hearing half of the story.”

Weight classes of public radio newsrooms

Capacity: Radio’s local newsrooms weigh in

Commentary by Michael V. Marcotte

PUBLIC MEDIA FUTURES As the chorus calling on public media to add more local journalists grows, let’s be mindful of the specific ways adding journalists can dramatically improve local public service.

Just by enlarging its newsroom to four, five or six journalists, a station will gain the human wherewithal to unleash a proper beat system. Beats cause reporters to become specialists. With a news staff of six, for example, a newsroom could have reporters well versed in the actors, history and nuances of a starter set of beats — education, health, business, law, environment and arts/culture.

Pubradio newsrooms cluster in six weight classes based on staffing, i.e., Welterweights such as Georgia Public Broadcasting (above).

These specialists are more likely to break original stories, to know when it’s important to follow up, and to extract meaningful news analysis from a week’s events.

Shifting to a beat system is a quantum leap in editorial power, but that’s just one of the thresholds in staffing at which a newsroom begins to realize strategic benefits.

Even adding a single journalist can bring disproportionately powerful results. More than half of all NPR member stations have three or fewer full-time journalists — in some cases because the station’s major interest is music, or it simply lacks the budget to hire more. Even so, adding one or two newsgatherers can make the difference between rip-and-read headlines and original reporting, gaining the ability to cover two important events at the same time, or having a spare set of eyes to edit reports before they’re broadcast.

Larger newsrooms achieve greater levels of actualization. Those big enough to staff a daily talk show are a case in point. The shows expand local service in a new dimension by giving people a virtual place to gather, discuss their views and have their questions answered. The shows can spotlight in-house reporters as experts. A local host can quickly propagate a large social-media base. And the shows can transform stations — making headlines via interviews, introducing more live production capacity and enabling the core competencies needed during crisis coverage.

While it’s true that some stations have talk shows sans newsrooms, having both packs the greatest wallop.

One of the difficulties inherent in compressing a newsroom into a few people is getting them to perform multiple roles effectively. Tandem jobs are very common: host/reporter, manager/producer, anchor/editor, and so on. A survey I managed for Public Radio News Directors Inc. in 2010 showed that two-thirds of full-time journalists in public media divided their jobs between a primary role and a substantially different second role. Yet, among the largest NPR station newsrooms, 95 percent of full-time staffers stick to their primary role. It appears that the advanced stages of newsroom evolution feature full-time hires doing full-time jobs.

6 weight classes, local newsroom staffing

Public media could benefit from a closer look at the inner workings of local newsrooms. There’s plenty of research on audience perceptions of local news — belaboring the point that NPR listeners don’t tolerate weak local news — but not so much research on the resources and other advantages that undergird strong local news.

To probe those factors, I undertook some analysis while working at Stanford University during a 2011 Knight Journalism Fellowship. I unpacked the results of a detailed survey of local public media newsrooms that I conducted in 2010 for PRNDI with help from consultants Steve Martin and Ken Mills. The responses of 378 local managers, program directors and news directors provided data on some 75 factors in their news staffing, spending, programming, technological innovation, partnerships, licensees and other particulars.

Not surprisingly, the findings show that staff size is a major factor in newsroom capability: Bigger equals more and better. Moreover, we see that like-sized newsrooms exhibit like levels of news proficiency at observable stages, climbing predictably toward higher performance goals.

It should be noted that size is not everything. The individuals doing the journalism — their training, skills and hustle — can make a newsroom shine out of proportion to its resources. So can the station leadership, deployment of partnerships or smart uses of new technologies.

I should also note that while we count full-time news personnel in our benchmarking below, public radio stations have one part-timer or independent contractor for every two full-timers. (And a volunteer or student for every paid professional! See sidebar.)

So, based on my research — and borrowing weight classes from the world of boxing — here’s a handy typology that describes newsroom traits found in 2010 at different staffing levels.

Featherweight: none to 1 full-time news employee

Some 60 NPR stations barely tip the scales with one or fewer full-time news person.

You might expect to find these mini-fighters only in rural communities, but that’s not the case. While half of them serve populations under 250,000 (market size 180 and higher) — such as WVPE in Elkhart, Ind. — the other half are sprinkled in markets 50–180 — such as KTEP in El Paso, Texas. And a few are based in sizable communities such as KVCR in San Bernardino, Calif., and WWNO in New Orleans. Many are oriented more to music than to news.

Election night, KBCS, Bellevue, Wash.Typical among these little bruisers are WRKF in Baton Rouge, La.; KCHO in Chico, Calif.; and WXPR in Rhinelander, Wis. The skinnier half have news budgets under $50,000 a year and produce less than three hours a week of local news content. The other half have budgets between $50,000 and $250,000 and crank out a surprising four to six hours per week of local news and public affairs.

They get most of their news cred through national offerings of NPR, PRI and American Public Media. Locally, they do a lot with a little. They use state-network feeds extensively and adapt wire copy to flesh out newscasts (if they can afford the wire service).

Picking their moments, they drop in the occasional feature. Original reporting is rare or performed on the margins — after hosting local breaks in Morning Edition or before hosting All Things Considered. These stations make greater use of volunteers and students in mission-critical roles. (KUSP in Santa Cruz, Calif., has 28 volunteers!)

The fancy footwork of the lone full-time journalist can make or break the news operation. Lately the one-man bands winning the most awards have been Lance Orozco of KCLU in Thousand Oaks, Calif. and (the just retired) Mary K. Mitchell at WUGA in Athens, Ga.

Scouting reports give gold stars for online innovation to KWBU in Waco, Texas, and WGTE in Toledo, Ohio, which report occasional use of Facebook, Twitter, maps and online audio and video. Meanwhile, in the area of news partnerships, the standouts include WHQR in Wilmington, N.C., which works well with NPR and with local TV and a newspaper.

Lightweight: 2–3 full-time news employees

This weight class is the largest contingent of NPR-member-station newsrooms: 80 of them.

Having twice or thrice the muscle mass of the Featherweights, these guys occasionally land solid blows in news coverage. Mostly, their added resources allow for the advantages of teamwork: more consistency, more range, less burnout, more institutional memory, and the all-important story editing.

Their bread and butter are the quick jabs during the local breaks of Morning Edition and All Things Considered (these stations more often than the Featherweights have news formats). Some shops try daily spot coverage, while others try polished feature production. (To do both spots and features consistently is very difficult in this fighter class.) A smattering of stations go in the direction of longer talk programming.

Geographically, this cohort is distributed widely — from rural Alaska (KCAW in Sitka) to mid-size cities (WKNO in Memphis, Tenn.) and an occasional major metro (WFUV in New York) — but the vast majority of these shops are outside the top-30 markets.

In terms of news spending, Lightweights tend to have annual news budgets between $50,000 and $250,000, though a dozen spend less and a half dozen spend more.

(The biggest portion of a news budget typically goes to salaries. Pay levels in public radio generally scale according to market and station budget. The national median salary for public radio reporters is $37,000 a year. For much more on public radio news salaries, see my website,

What do these newsrooms produce? I found three clusters of output: The largest group concentrates on newscasts and features, airing 1–3 hours of local news a week (WFYI in Indianapolis, KAWC in Yuma, Ariz.). About one-third air 4–6 hours of local news a week, indicating either a fuller slate of newscasts, longer local segments or a smattering of regularly scheduled news programs (KUAR in Little Rock, Ark.; KWSO in Warm Springs, Ore.). The remainder report airing more than seven hours per week of local news and public affairs, which, in most cases, involves a daily news program (KFSK in Petersburg, Alaska; KTOO in Juneau, Alaska; KPCW in Park City, Utah).

As in the Featherweight class, individual hires make a huge difference, even though they must excel at multiple roles — hosting and reporting, reporting and editing, producing and reporting. Thus the available hours for original reporting are fewer than appears. Choices must be made. Those that air local talk shows, for example, are devoting resources to hosting and producing — not actual reporting.

Some perennial award-winners in this weight class include WBHM in Birmingham, Ala.; KLCC in Eugene, Ore; WBGO in Newark, N.J.; and WBFO in Buffalo, N.Y. I’d also highlight KDNK in Carbondale, Ill.; KOCV in Odessa, Texas; and WCVE in Richmond, Va., for all-around effort.

Welterweight: 4–8 full-time

Some 63 NPR-member news stations make up this solid core of public radio news. They generally pack a bigger punch when it comes to original reporting because they are more likely to establish beats, routinely monitor governmental affairs and afford the extra time it takes to produce in-depth, high-quality packages. These stations are devoted to the “get an edit” philosophy but generally aren’t large enough to install full-time editors.

These are predominantly university stations in medium and large markets. The remote areas include WRVO in Oswego, N.Y., and Colorado’s Aspen Public Radio. The more populated locales include KPLU in Seattle and WUSF in Tampa, Fla. In between are places like WVXU in Cincinnati and KCUR in Kansas City, Mo. They also include some statewide services — Wyoming, Hawaii, Nebraska, South Carolina, Mississippi and Georgia.

As newsrooms beef up, these are the first we see with even a handful of news budgets greater than $1 million. The median is around half a million. A dozen operate on less than $250,000 a year.

Like Lightweights, they largely strive to supplement national news offerings, but they have the poundage to generate more spots in local news breaks, more features, more special reports, more online work and more news series — with more polish.

About a fourth of news departments in this class produce up to 30 minutes a day of local news content (Monday through Saturday) — typically concentrating on drivetime cutaways. The more-developed newsrooms in this class (about a third) average up to 60 minutes a day, meaning longer segments and/or more newscasts. And then there are a few that produce daily news programs, such as St. Louis Public Radio, KUER in Salt Lake City and WGCU in Fort Myers, Fla.

At this level of sophistication, online news is still markedly secondary to broadcast, though we more often find more consistent web news offerings, including audio, some photos and maps, and frequent use on Facebook and Twitter to engage with listeners and potential sources.

Aside from those mentioned above, some notable newsrooms in this class include WABE in Atlanta; WSHU in Fairfield, Conn.; KBSU in Boise, Idaho; Kansas Public Radio in Lawrence; WILL in Champagne, Ill.; and WNED in Buffalo, N.Y. For online advances, I’d recommend merit points for broad-area broadcasters North Country Public Radio in Canton, N.Y., and High Plains Public Radio in Garden City, Kan., with a special salute to KMXT in Kodiak, Alaska, just for being in this weight class.

Middleweight: 9–19 full-time

These 28 newsrooms are ready to go the distance and more likely to score occasional news knockouts with investigative reporting or major news projects.

Many of these stations have climbed the news ladder by dedicating themselves to all-news formats and producing daily talk shows or newsmagazines. (The rare exception that does neither: KUT in Austin, Texas.) The potent combo of a beat-oriented newsroom and a daily program delivers a one-two punch, knocking some sense into news reports and then letting people bat them around in civic conversation.

Vermont Public Radio, primary debate, 2010Most Middleweights are in metro areas, serving populations of a million or more. Their budgets run from $550,000 to above $1 million. More than one-quarter of them spend over a million.

At this level — perhaps to achieve this level — the radio and TV divisions of joint licensees find ways to mingle resources. Stations such as WXXI in Rochester, N.Y.; WOSU in Columbus, Ohio; and KUAZ in Tucson, Ariz., take different approaches.

With Middleweights’ greater staff capacity, we now encounter full-time managers, editors and online specialists — jobs considered luxuries in smaller newsrooms. In fact, half of the full-time journalists at these stations are assigned to a single task such as reporting, up from 25 percent among Welterweights.

The Northeast all-stars congregate in this group: WNPR in Hartford, Conn.; WRNI in Providence, R.I.; the Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine networks; and WAMC in Albany, N.Y. Other Middleweights of note include Capital Public Radio in Sacramento, Calif.; WFPL in Louisville, Ky.; Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor; WUWM in Milwaukee; and the Colorado, North Carolina and Iowa networks. Some growing newsrooms may bump up to the next weight class if they haven’t already: KJZZ in Phoenix, WLRN in Miami, and KERA in Dallas.

Cruiserweight: 20–29 full-time

Only nine news stations in the 2010 survey boasted staff sizes between 20 and 30 full-time journalists, all in top-20 markets with news budgets between $1 million and $5 million. They produce more than an hour of local news and public affairs daily, on average — in some cases, three hours a day.

Staff meets in new KPBS newsroomAs in Abraham Maslow’s theory about self-actualized people, these stations have moved beyond worries about their basic journalistic needs. They have beats, do the talk shows, and have an advanced layer of leadership and quality assurance. They can attend to higher levels of news performance, such as pursuing long-range or investigative news projects, or moving strongly into multiplatform news distribution.

The joint-licensee standouts include KPBS in San Diego, Oregon Public Broadcasting and WCPN in Cleveland — all managing to cross-collaborate on radio, television and online. The radio standouts include WAMU in Washington, D.C.; KUOW in Seattle; and Wisconsin Public Radio — a state network with multiple audio services.

Heavyweight: 30 or more full-time

The heaviest hitters throw knockout hooks left and right. These seven most-evolved station newsrooms employ 30 to 60 full-time news people, who are seldom required to wear many hats. Almost 95 percent of them spend at least 30 hours a week in their primary roles.

Newsroom, WHYY, PhiladelphiaThey’re in the biggest markets — WNYC in New York, KPCC in Los Angeles and WBEZ in Chicago. They include two joint licensees — KQED in San Francisco and WHYY in Philadelphia. The smallest newsroom of this lot (the Rocky Balboa?) is WBUR in Boston — certainly no pushover. The largest of the lot is a statewide network: Minnesota Public Radio in St Paul.

These are all exceptional performers in ratings, fundraising and journalism. Their news budgets exceed $2.5 million a year. All produce in excess of three hours a day of news and public affairs. These stations are known nationally — partly because they make and distribute many national programs (Fresh Air, On Point, This American Life, On the Media, The Takeaway and more).

They not only have depth in reporting and are advanced in sparking community conversations, but all are leaders in defining the future of public media. These innovation centers rapidly engage new audiences on digital platforms and experiment in partnerships.

In this corner: 1,000 new journalists!

This correlation between larger news staffs and greater public service lends hope and credence to leaders in public radio and in journalism who are calling for larger newsgathering ambitions. They argue that mission-driven journalism needs to step in where the commercial model fails. Among the voices are the Knight Commission, the FCC, CPB, Barbara Cochran, Steve Coll, Michael Schudson and Leonard Downie. And then there’s the visionary Bill Kling, founder of Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media, who has suggested the goal of adding 1,000 journalists to local public radio newsrooms.

That would be a 40 percent increase on top of the 1,500 full-time journalists working in CPB-assisted public radio and radio/TV licensees.

In sync with Kling are Tom Thomas and Terry Clifford of the Station Resource Group, who have begun mapping a strategy to drum up the $100 million a year to hire 1,000 journalists for local public radio stations, to produce more “trustworthy, original reporting on the issues and needs of our communities.”

The ambitious proposal begs some questions. Not only, where would that new money come from, but where would it best be spent?

Those are for others to answer, but as we see from this set of newsroom weight classes, big gains in local news could be achieved with wide distribution of the added journalists because of the disproportionately large service improvements that result from modest growth in smaller newsrooms.

For example, it would take far less than a thousand journalists to push all NPR-member stations in the top 50 markets up to the Cruiserweight. And in markets 50 to 360, it would take roughly 500 journalists to grow all of the stations to Middleweight.

Thomas and Clifford are careful to mesh staffing goals with a movement toward digital platforms and shared content with public TV and other like-minded partners, perhaps as part of the local civic agenda.

I’m hoping for spectacular advances in this ring. A well-trained newsroom championing the needs of a local community can change the destiny of a place. One thing’s for sure: It’s no time to throw in the towel.

Michael V. Marcotte is a veteran public media news director, a 2011 Knight Fellow, and owner of MVM Consulting in Santa Barbara, Calif. Comments, questions, tips?

A Third of Stations Hoping to Expand Local News

In a survey taken before the current debate over federal funding of public broadcasting, stations were relatively optimistic about expanding the time they devote on-air to their locally produced news and public affairs. More than a third planned to do so.

The stations were also asked if they had expanded their news time in the previous year. More than a fourth said they had.

The chart above shows that the bulk of US public radio stations maintained a consistent level of air time devoted to local news and public affairs in FY 2010. But, despite the economic downturn, more than a quarter of stations actually expanded their local news. A small segment (7%) cut back on news time in FY 2010.

The chart below shows the bulk of stations, in FY 2011, expected to maintain their 2010 levels of airtime for local news and public affairs programming. But a full third anticipated or planned to expand their local news offerings. Eight percent of respondents were not sure but only 1% expect to decrease local news.