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.

Gender-All-PubNews

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:

Gender-All-PubRadio

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:

Gender-All-PubTV

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.

Gender-PubRad-Leaders

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:

Gender-PubRad-Ldr-Detail

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.

Gender-PubTV-Leaders

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:

Gender-PubTV-Ldr-Detail

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:

Gender-All-PubNews-Hosts

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:

Gender-PubRad-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:

Gender-PubTV-Hosts

 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.”