2015 Public Media News Salaries

In the last few months, quite a few folks around pub-media-land have asked me if there is any updated data on salaries in public media newsrooms.

I wish there was. If you know of any fresh surveys, let me know.

What I can offer is an adjusted take from our 2010 data, accounting for inflation. (The U.S. government estimates the inflation rate between 2010 and 2015 to be just under 10%. So, if you were hiring a News Director for $50K in 2010, you should now be hiring at around $55K, just to keep up with inflation.)

In the following three charts, the data is sorted by news budget size. You may recall from the 2010 survey (in which Steve Martin, Ken Mills and I questioned more than 300 station managers about their local newsroom staffing and programming), that the most significant variable in salary data was the news budget itself. This was more telling than such factors as station type (radio, TV or Joint), or licensee (community, university), or even market size.

Link to Chart 1

Link to Chart 2

Link to Chart 3

A few more notes about this data:

In the 2010 report, I used a data visualization technique to indicate the sample size for each column of data. The sample size is good to know, of course, because a sample size of 30 is a much stronger index than a sample of 2. I didn’t do that technique here, but below are tables indicating the number of stations that provided the salary data for each job title (per each chart). Remember, this isn’t the number of people in those jobs, it’s the number of stations reporting their salary for that job title.

VP of News 11
Content Director 9
News Director 18
Executive Producer 26
Public Affairs Director 6
Senior Producer 23
Managing Editor 12
Online Editor 9
Assistant News Director 5
Bureau Chief 4
Producer 33
Web Producer 12
Host/Anchor 30
Reporter 32
Photographer/Videographer 17
Correspondent 2
VP of News 4
Content Director 10
Executive Producer 16
News Director 36
Public Affairs Director 5
Senior Producer 15
Managing Editor 6
Online Editor 6
Assistant News Director 7
Bureau Chief 8
Producer 23
Web Producer 13
Host/Anchor 28
Reporter 35
Photographer/Videographer 11
Correspondent 2
VP of News 5
Content Director 6
Executive Producer 11
News Director 80
Public Affairs Director 6
Senior Producer 12
Managing Editor 3
Online Editor 4
Assistant News Director 9
Bureau Chief 2
Producer 33
Web Producer 8
Host/Anchor 40
Reporter 53
Photographer/Videographer 9
Correspondent 1

Finally, we’d all agree that much has changed in #pubmedia between 2010 and 2015, so this adjusted estimate of salaries does not provide a snapshot of what’s actually going on out there. Many stations have been investing in local news and may have changed budget categories, or increased salaries, or — as we know — have begun creating entirely new jobs to manage digital projects and audience engagement.

If anyone wants to talk about a more refined look at this data, let me know. Better yet, if anyone wants to sponsor a fresh salary survey, I’m game for that, too!

Local Public Media On Air News Time by News Budget

I just thought this data visualization was cool. It uses an area chart to compare public radio stations.

The x axis are budget categories of stations. Small budgets to the left. Large budgets to the right.

The y axis are the percentage of stations in that budget category.

The colorized data, as shown in the legend, are the “average local news hours per week.”

So what looks like a colorful cubist bird diving past jagged mountains is simply this: the lower budgeted stations do fewer hours of local news on-air, and the higher budgeted stations do more hours of local news on-air each week!


Weekly On Air News Time by Local Public Media News Budget

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, localnpr.org.)

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?  mm@mikemarcotte.com

Partnering with Others

A survey of U.S. public radio stations shows modest levels of editorial partnering with outside organizations.

A notable finding is the prominence of partnerships between local stations and local newspapers (30%).

The data also reveal the involvement of stations with non-profit news organizations (22%) such as ProPublica.

Not surprisingly, the most common news partnerships were between a station and a regional network (40%).

A quarter of public radio stations were frequently involved with a consortium of stations (26%), such as the new “Local Journalism Centers.”

Also found were partnerships with local websites (18%), local radio stations (16%) and local TV stations (14%).

The least common partnership type was that between a station and a local blogger (7%).

Why Partner Up?

Partnerships are widely seen as a low-cost method of expanding a public radio station’s service commitment by enjoining like-minded, complementary organizations to accomplish shared goals, such as

  • engaging the public
  • deepening news coverage
  • distributing coverage more widely
  • combining core competencies
  • creating cross-promotion opportunities
  • cost-sharing

How the Question Was Asked

A 2010 invitation-only survey (to CPB-qualified public broadcasters) contained the following question:

How frequently does your local news and public affairs commitment involve sharing with an outside entity you could call a “partner”?

The rating options were:

None    Infrequently    Frequently    Very Frequently

The 10 partner-types listed were:

  • A Local News Website
  • A Local Radio Station
  • A Local Newspaper
  • A Nonprofit News Org
  • A Regional Network
  • A Local Blogger
  • A Consortium of Partners
  • A Local TV Station
  • NPR Bureau Chief
  • NPR News Desk

The partnerships with NPR were reported earlier here. Below are the individual charts for the remaining eight partnership types, presented in order from most frequent to least frequent.

Partnering with Regional Networks

Regional radio networks are quite common and have been round a long time, so it is not surprising to see them as the most frequent form of partnering.

Regional networks can take many forms. Some are loose networks for story swaps. Some are hub and spoke models in which a central operator provides content out to multiple stations (e.g., The California Report). Some are variations on the news cooperative idea in which stations co-create stories for common usage (e.g., The Northwest News Network).

The chart below shows 40% of public radio stations partner with regional networks “frequently” or “very frequently.” Another 22% partner with regional networks on an “infrequent” basis.

Source: PRNDI/MVM Consulting 2010

Partnering with Local Newspapers

Almost a third of public radio newsrooms partner with a local newspaper “frequently” or “very frequently.”

The survey does not reveal the exact nature of these partnerships, but these are known to range from collaborative reporting projects, to featuring newspaper reporters on the air, to content-sharing arrangements. Newspapers, who have suffered steep losses in advertising, and thus staffing, have been pushing new forms of collaboration — which makes this form of partnering a fairly rich opportunity for both parties.

Note that when you consider another 32% of stations are partnering on an “infrequent” basis, you are left with the lowest “None” percentage of any of the partnership types (36%).

Source: PRNDI/MVM Consulting 2010

Partnering with a Consortium of News Providers

Partnerships built upon a consortium of stations may also take many forms. One of the emerging models in 2010 was the “Local Journalism Centers” sponsored by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. These “LJC’s” consist of 3 to 5 stations working in collaboration to concentrate multi-platform reporting on a specialty topic of regional interest.

The chart below shows the consortium model to be used “frequently” or “very frequently” by 26% of U.S. public radio stations.

Source: PRNDI/MVM Consulting, 2010

Partnering with a Non-Profit News Organization

Public radio stations are non-profit news organizations and thus may readily align with the mission of other non-profit news organizations — especially if those organizations are able to provide specialty coverage or investigative coverage to augment local coverage. Examples of non-profit news organizations include ProPublica, and the members of the Investigative News Network.

About one fifth of public radio stations partner with a non-profit news organization “frequently” or “very frequently.” Another fifth do so “infrequently.”

Source: PRNDI/MVM Consulting, 2010

Partnering with a Local News Website

Working with a local news website would seem to be an emerging form of partnering. An example might be the way KPBS in San Diego draws upon the coverage by Voice of San Diego (and vice-versa).

Partnering with a local news website is more common than working with a local broadcaster but less common than working with a local newspaper.

The chart below shows 18% of U.S. public radio stations have working relationships with local news websites. They aren’t “very frequent” in scope as much as they are just “frequent.”

Still, 82% of stations have infrequent or no relationship at all with news websites.

Source: PRNDI/MVM Consulting 2010

Partnering with a Local Radio Station

Working in tandem with another radio station is not very common. (FYI — The other station’s status as commercial or non-commercial was not specified.) Some 16% of public radio stations were found to partner “frequently” or “very frequently” with other radio stations.

Source: PRNDI/MVM Consulting 2010

Partnering with a Local TV Station

Only 14% of public radio stations say they strike up frequent partnerships with local TV stations. Over a fourth have infrequent relationships with local TV.

(The status of the TV station as commercial or non-commercial was not specified. It’s also possible that joint-licensee radio stations consider their joint-licensed TV station as partners in these results.)

Source: PRNDI/MVM Consulting 2010

Partnering with a Local Blogger

Local bloggers are the least common partnership type among local public radio news providers in the United States.

The “None” percentage of 72% is the highest of all the partnership types measured.

Source: PRNDI/MVM Consulting 2010

All Partnerships Compared

Below then is a final graph showing how all ten partnership options stack up among all U.S. public radio stations. The scale is based on the following values:

4=Very Frequent, 3=Frequent, 2=Infrequent, 1=None

Source: PRNDI/MVM Consulting, 2010

About the Survey

A direct-invitation survey was conducted between July 26 and August 15, 2010 by Michael Marcotte of MVM Consulting with help from Steve Martin of SFM Consulting and Ken Mills of the Ken Mills Agency. This survey was conducted as a supplement to a CPB/PRNDI census of local public broadcasting journalists. (Download a copy of the survey.) Ninty-two percent of all CPB-qualified public broadcast organizations took part in the main survey, and about 80% of those went on to complete the supplemental (or about 380 stations). The section reported here combines the radio and joint licensees, and leaves out the TV respondents.

Mapping NPR News Partners

Earlier we reported that it is generally rare for local public radio stations to be involved with NPR as a news producing partner. The exceptions tend to be the “highly resourced” newsrooms — especially when it comes to partnering with NPR Regional Bureau Chiefs on feature reports.

Many more stations found partnering opportunities with NPR when it came to filing spot news reports with the News Desk in Washington DC.

The following maps show how this phenomena is distributed geographically.

Local Station Involvement with NPR Regional Bureau Chiefs

Local Station Involvement with NPR Regional Bureau Chiefs
Local Station Involvement with NPR Regional Bureau Chiefs (Source: MVM Consulting, 2010)

Local Station Involvement with NPR News Desk in Washington

Local Station Involvement with NPR News Desk
Local Station Involvement with NPR News Desk (Source: MVM Consulting, 2010)

Partnering with NPR

Very few local public radio station newsrooms consider themselves frequent editorial partners with NPR.

New survey data reveal that more than 75% of local stations have infrequent or no involvement with NPR as a news producing partner.

Of the nearly 250 U.S. public radio stations responding, less than 6% claimed “very frequent” involvement with NPR editors.

The survey looked for — and found — a notable distinction between NPR’s two main points of contact with local station newsrooms. One point of contact is an NPR regional bureau chief.  The other is NPR’s 24-hour news desk in Washington. The distinction is that editors in Washington have established more editorial partnering with stations than have NPR bureau chiefs in the regions.

Survey data also show the fewest NPR partnerships are with low budget newsrooms. However, even among the upper-budget newsrooms, at least half report infrequent editorial partnering with NPR.

You can see a map of the distribution of stations according to their NPR editorial involvement here.

The Question of Partnering

The invitation-only survey (to CPB-qualified public broadcasters) contained the following question:

How frequently does your local news and public affairs commitment involve sharing with an outside entity you could call a “partner”?

The rating options were:

None    Infrequently    Frequently    Very Frequently

Among the 10 partner-types listed (others will be reported in a subsequent report) were:

  • NPR Bureau Chief
  • NPR News Desk

NPR Regional Bureau Chiefs as Partners

Since the late 1990’s, NPR has positioned editors around the United States to be closer to the news and the journalists in those regions. The regions are the Northeast, the South, the Midwest and the West. NPR bureau chiefs typically commission and edit the feature length reports on NPR magazines.

The chart below aggregates the responses of 244 stations on the question of their involvement with their regional NPR bureau chief. Eighty-one percent of the stations say their bureau chief partnering is infrequent or non-existent. Nineteen percent have partnership involvement frequently or very frequently.

The same results aggregated above were then sorted into the following three charts — according to the size of the local station’s self-reported news budget.

The chart below is comprised of the 68 stations with the highest budgets (from $250-thousand to $5-million). This chart shows the difference a more well-resourced newsroom makes when it comes to working with NPR. Some 44% of the stations in this budget bracket report having frequent or very frequent involvement with NPR bureau chiefs.

The middle budget bracket below, shows far fewer station reporting frequent (9%) or very frequent (2%) involvement with NPR bureau chiefs as partners.

The smallest local news budget bracket, below, shows the least partnering activity with NPR bureau chiefs.

NPR News Desk in Washington as Partner

NPR News staffs a 24-hour news desk at its headquarters in Washington, D.C. This desk is responsible for the hourly newscasts on NPR and thus relies on frequent spot news reports from both NPR staff journalists and member station journalists (who file as paid freelancers).

Not surprisingly, because of this high demand for short reports, the DC News Desk is considered a partner more frequently by local U.S. public radio newsrooms.

The chart below shows 23% of all local stations having frequent or very frequent involvement with the DC desk editors.

Again, we sort the 244 respondents into three budget categories to compare the difference news spending makes on partnership involvement.

The chart below shows a majority (52%) of stations in the large budget bracket have frequent or very frequent involvement with the NPR news desk in Washington.

Again, the partnering drops off significantly among the lower budget newsrooms. Fourteen percent of the middle bracket has frequent or very frequent partnering opportunities with the NPR news desk.

While the lowest newsroom budget bracket shows little partnering with NPR, still the numbers are higher here (due to spot news opportunities) than we saw with the bureau chiefs (who tend to seek more sophisticated features from their local partners).


The fact that stations don’t have frequent partnerships with NPR is not an indictment of either NPR or the stations, but it indicates the level of separation between the two. The factors affecting level of partnership include a) shared mission, b) commitment to making local stories national, c) availability of stories worth partnering over, and d) availability of network-ready reporters. These appear in varying levels around the system.. and generally tend toward sharing in the large metro stations. While it seems generally true that members stations should be partners with NPR — to help NPR cover the nation — many exigencies conspire to thwart that ideal.

What may be more important in terms of partnerships with local stations are those partners who help augment local reporting resources. As the next report will show, even those partnerships are in short supply.

About the Survey

A direct-invitation survey was conducted between July 26 and August 15, 2010 by Michael Marcotte of MVM Consulting with help from Steve Martin of SFM Consulting and Ken Mills of the Ken Mills Agency. This survey was conducted as a supplement to a CPB/PRNDI census of local public broadcasting journalists. (Download a copy of the survey.) Ninty-two percent of all CPB-qualified public broadcast organizations took part in the main survey, and about 80% of those went on to complete the supplemental (or about 380 stations). The section reported here combines the radio and joint licensees, and leaves out the TV respondents.