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.

Public Radio Time Devoted to Local News

The survey we’ve been unpacking here for the past few weeks still has more to offer!

In this series, we reveal what we found about the amount of airtime that was devoted to local news and public affairs in an average week during 2010 on public radio stations in the United States. At the bottom of the page, we offer an educated guess on what this adds up to per year.

The chart below shows the distribution of our sample per airtime category.

It is quickly apparent that the bulk of stations (72%) are devoting between 1 to 10 hours per week on-air to local news. The largest single share is in the 1-3 hours per week category. Followed by the 4-6 hours per week group.

Another 22% of public radio stations go further, committing well in excess of 11 hours per week to local news programming.

Only 6% offer less than an hour per week of local news.

We didn’t separate weekday programming from weekends, but we can say from observation and experience that the vast majority of the local news time reported here would be during the five day work week. This means the bulk of local public radio stations are offering roughly 30 to 120 minutes of local news per day. And some heavy hitters are providing around 4 hours per day.

Local News Still A Modest Commitment by Most

The next chart shows the same data but in real numbers rather than percentages. It also separates out those stations that are radio only from those that are shared with a television station (the joint licensees).

This chart shows the predominance of stand alone radio stations in providing the bulk of local news minutes, especially in comparison to the joint licensees. However, it also shows that joint licensees (with their larger service missions of both radio and television platforms) tend to make up a larger share of those columns toward the right side of the graph — the stations devoting greater airtime to local news and public affairs.

More News Spending Yields More News Programming

To slice things a bit further, we did a cross-tab by annual news budget size. The news budgets were reported earlier but now we can see how they may relate to the amount of airtime committed to local news.

The following chart takes all the respondents and sorts them into 8 budget categories — the eight colorful columns. The smallest budgeted newsrooms are in the column on the left. The largest budgeted newsrooms are on the right. For each column, there are color coded segments that correspond to the legend — sorting the stations by average weekly airtime allotted to local news. The number inside each color segment shows the actual number of stations.

This allows you to find your station according to news budget size… and then see where you compare in terms of weekly news time.

[Editor’s note: this graph was corrected after this post was first published. The original graph did not exclude TV only stations. This one does.]

Columns are sets of public radio stations by news budget size. Each column shows relative distribution of stations by “average news time per week.”

Granted this chart got a little squished in the translation (click on it to see it more clearly). But essentially what it shows is that as the stations invest more money in news, they report greater amounts of airtime devoted to news. This can be seen easily in the color progression from left to right. The blue, orange and green segments generally diminish while the red, purple, brown, lavender and gray segments generally increase. Of course, the numbers of stations are still largely concentrated in the lesser budget columns and in the more modest airtime segments.

While this tells us nothing of the quality of the programming, the correlation between budget resources and programming time indicates a quality connection. The good news is that stations seem to be striving for quality relative to staffing and budgeting — thus you should see less quantity among those stations on the left of the graph…  and those on the left airing many hours per day raise some suspicion about their quality.

Bottom Line: Over 100,000 Hours Per Year!

Since we didn’t ask for exact numbers (we only asked stations to choose a category), we can’t say definitively how many hours of local news are produced each day in public radio. However, we can approximate. Using the midpoints of our category ranges, we multiplied that mark by the number of stations in each category. (For the 21+ category, we used 24 as the multiplier.)

For our sample, then, we arrive at just under 2000 hours per week of original local news programming on U.S. public radio. Or about 400 hours per day. That scales to roughly 100,000 hours per year based on 50-weeks of output. This seems to be a handy number and rather conservative too — considering the sample is roughly 80% of the actual public radio universe in the United States.

FYI — earlier we reported on the news programming trends showing a third of stations plan to increase their news time commitment this year.

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.

News Programming

One of the longstanding questions among public radio programmers is what kind of news should we produce?

Journalists debate trade-offs between spot news and in-depth features. Producers love what the magazine format lets them do. Many stations have launched local talk/interview programs as an economical way to achieve news impact. And so on and so forth.

It looks to us like daily news is coming on strong. Stand-alone shows are less prevalent.

A supplemental local news survey taken last summer by consultants Mike Marcotte, Steve Martin and Ken Mills (as a piggy-back study to the CPB/PRNDI Census of Journalists) asked all public radio and TV stations in America to provide some detail on what they are producing as local news and public affairs.

The charts below show the share of stations providing various news program types. The TV-only stations have been excluded, leaving a sample of 289 radio-only, or radio-TV joint licensees.

These charts are stacked in order of the most common to the least common news program types.

Daily Newscasts

It can now be said with absolute authority that a major majority (72%) of public radio stations are in the business of providing daily local news.

Daily Features

While we did not define all the program types here, the labels are part of the common parlance in local public radio news programming. In the category of “Daily Features” we might have simply said “Features” and it would have implied the same thing. These are in-depth stories that are programmed within the daily news format clock — which 49% of stations are providing.

Breaking News

This is a very interesting finding — again because the system has debated over the years about what its journalism stands for. No one has argued against depth and context, but more and more feel the responsibility to grow their ability to respond to fast-breaking events. While the majority of stations (55%) do not provide breaking news, those who do (45%) puts this category among the leading news program types at local stations.

Specialty Programs

Ranking as common is the specialty program which would be recurring coverage under an umbrella theme such as arts… or business… or health. Forty-two percent of stations provide specialty programs of some sort.

Special Reports

It would seem to be a good measure of local news sophistication that 41% of stations produce occasional news specials as a way of spotlighting an important issue or topic.

News Series

Similar to special reports, good local newsrooms put together occasional news series as a way of delving more deeply into high priority issues. Thirty-eight percent of stations do this.

Weekly Public Affairs Programs

We discover it is more common for stations to produce weekly affairs programs (38%) than daily or monthly.

Weekly Talk/Interview Programs

Here we see that 27% of U.S. public radio stations produce weekly talk/interview shows. This is slightly more common than the daily talk/interview program that we’ll see in the next chart.

Daily Talk/Interview Programs

Despite the rising popularity of this format staple, only 25% of stations are producing daily talk/interview programs.


That 25% of stations report producing documentaries is rather striking. This typically long-form production style has been on the decline for years.

Weekly News Magazines

News magazines are rather labor intensive productions and have been less prevalent over the years. Still, we see a fifth of stations are still producing them on a weekly basis.

Daily News Magazines

Again, the resource-intensive daily magazine is found on few stations these days (12%).

Monthly News Programs

We’ll just group the last three charts here under “Monthly News Programs.” The most prevalent of these are the monthly public affairs programs (9%) and the monthly talk/interview programs (9%).

Last, and certainly least, is the monthly magazine found at very few stations.

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.

Local Public Radio Online

An online news revolution is happening but you’d barely know it by the activities of many local public radio stations.

Our latest national survey data — presented exclusively here — shows the vast majority of U.S. public radio stations are still in the crawling stages of new media adoption.

“How frequently do you use online digital tools or techniques to engage communities in your local news and public affairs?”

Doing Some of the Easy Stuff

Let’s start with what local stations ARE doing in some significant measure. The green and gold areas in the pie charts represent the proportion of stations “very frequently” (green) or “frequently” (gold) using the tools or methods listed by chart.

A healthy 75% of radio stations frequently or very frequently are doing the no-brainer thing: putting their audio online.

Similarly, two-thirds of stations are routinely posting online scripts or text-based articles.

And, rather encouragingly, half the public radio stations are now regular providers of online photos.

However, when it comes to adding value through slideshows or video, the vast majority of stations  rarely or never bother.

Note the increasing presence of red (“None”) and orange (“Infrequent”) sections of the charts.

Even blogging is something of a rarity. Half of stations report never blogging and 25% say they do so infrequently.

The Social Bandwagon Effect

Facebook is a popular way of engaging local communities in online news efforts by public radio. Sixty-five percent of stations use Facebook frequently or very frequently.

Twitter is used less regularly than Facebook. On Facebook, 35% of stations of stations rarely or never post. On Twitter, almost half of stations rarely or never “tweet.”

Still a One Way Street: Mapping, Crowd-Sourcing and UGC

As journalists take advantage of online tools, they increasingly use interactive maps to give users control over geographic views of new data. They also seek new ways to “crowd source” stories by requesting participation from the public. User-Generated Content is another way that journalism is now turning to citizens to assist with information gathering.

Our poll shows these methods have limited acceptance in local public radio newsrooms. If anything, perhaps the size of the orange “infrequent” wedges are signs of potential here.

Rarities: Data Visualization, Polling and Mobile Apps

While mobile platforms have made portable radios all but obsolete, only 21% of public radio stations report deploying mobile apps to engage their communities.


Even something as simple as online polling is rarely if ever done by 90% of stations.

As the red wedges take over these charts, one can see that more sophisticated online tools for data-visualization or geo-locating data are extremely rare in local public radio.

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.

News Salaries by Market Size

Larger broadcast service areas correlate with higher salaries, but not as directly as with higher budgets. That’s because you find low budget stations in large markets, and they pay low budget salaries not large market salaries. (Go here for news salaries by news budget size.)

Here are three charts showing the top 10 annual average salaries in public radio news jobs according to the “market size” of the respondents. These market size groupings are based on the population within the broadcast service area of the responding public radio stations. There are more than 100 respondents per each market size sample, but the number of respondents per job title can be quite low depending on the rarity of the title.

Small Markets

Medium Markets

Source: PRNDI/MVM Consulting

Large Markets