Host/Reporters: How to Make the Most of Your Reporting Time

Job titles in public radio are full of slashes.

Talk Show Host/Assistant News Director.
Even … News Director/Reporter/Producer/Talk Show Host!

But the most common is probably the Host/Reporter combination.  These folks usually have a daily air shift, hosting local news, weather, and continuity breaks in Morning Edition or All Things Considered … and they’re expected to spend the other half of their days reporting.

Here’s the elephant in the room that many of us in management and editorial roles at public stations don’t like to admit:  THAT’S REALLY HARD!

It’s especially hard when, by “reporting,” we mean the stuff public radio is known for – long-form stories that give context to the events and issues of the day.

The thing is, we know it’s hard, but we don’t really know what else to do with you guys.  Doing an air shift isn’t a full-time job by itself, but we’re not quite sure how to use your remaining time, which is usually about three or four hours a day.  We often say we want you to produce features, but in practice, of course, it’s very difficult to get callbacks, schedule interviews, record in the field, etc, when you either have to be back in the office in the afternoon or you’ve been at the office since 4am.

From what I’ve seen, one of three things usually happens to these positions.

1. The Host/Reporter produces mostly spots.
2. The Host/Reporter produces features, but they’re very infrequent and unpredictable.
3. The Host/Reporter produces regular spots and features but has to work 12-hour days to make that happen and ends up burning out.

Enter … the two-way.  Some stations use their hosts much like the national programs do – as interviewers.  When I was News Director at WMFE in Orlando, my Morning Edition Host David Pitman and I worked together to make two-ways a major component of the “Reporter” portion of his job, and he was great at them!   It serves several purposes:

1. It allows the host to produce long-form stories with context, without the time-intensive production that has to go into a feature.
2. It allows even small newsrooms to provide more long-form content, often about timely news stories that they might not have the time or staff to cover if they were only considering producing multi-voice packages.
3. It gives the host more of a role in his or her own show.  In addition to newscasts, weather, and continuity, now s/he is also doing a couple of interviews a week, bolstering his or her identity as a journalist on the show.

Here’s one other idea that works well for a lot of newsrooms – a regular two-way segment with a commentator, analyst, expert, etc.  If you find the right person – which can certainly be a challenge – this can increase your efficiency even more, since you can pre-schedule tapings for your weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly segment.  It’s also a great opportunity for podcasting!  Topics that lend themselves well to this kind of treatment include business, science, and arts and culture.

At WMFE in Orlando, we had a weekly segment with a local economist that continues to this day, produced by Morning Edition Host Tom Parkinson, and another with a local restaurant critic produced by ATC host Nicole Creston.   In my current shop at Colorado Public Radio, our Morning Edition host Mike Lamp is working on starting a regular segment of his own – I’ll keep you updated on our progress!

Host/Reporters: How to Make the Most of Your Reporting Time

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