NPR’s revised Ethics Handbook leaves unanswered questions

The wait is over for NPR’s revised Ethics Handbook. The organization has been working on changes since last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests reignited the long-smoldering debate over journalistic impartiality. The revisions have been eagerly awaited, not only by NPR staff, but also by local public media organizations, many of which have adopted NPR’s ethics guidelines as their own.

The new version of the Handbook provides welcome clarity on who is and is not covered under its guidelines — a question many of my member station clients have wrestled with in regards to their own ethics policies. In other areas, however, including the revised section on Impartiality, NPR’s new guidelines introduce a degree of ambiguity and contradiction that have the potential to significantly muddy public media’s ethical waters.

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NPR’s revised Ethics Handbook leaves unanswered questions

Podcasts vs Local News: An Either-Or Proposition?

Two local reporters from a small organization launch successful podcasts, garnering national attention and bolstering fundraising. Sounds fabulous, right? Except for this: Those two reporters make up about half their organization’s full time reporting staff.

The organization looked around one day and realized it had almost no reporting capacity left. 

For more than five years, I’ve been warning public media stations about the dangers of starting podcasts without properly resourcing them, robbing their already understaffed newsrooms in the process. The trend has continued nonetheless, and it’s not likely to abate, given last month’s announcement that NPR is partnering with Apple and Spotify to offer paid podcast subscriptions. 

The model could benefit local member stations too, though I’d be shocked if the revenue were enough to allow most station podcasts to be self-sustaining. Whether or not the potential money is worth chasing, though, more and more stations believe the potential audiences are. So I’d be shocked if stations didn’t continue to raid their newsrooms to feed their podcast ambitions. 

The proliferation of station-produced podcasts may well be an inevitability. Local news coverage may well be the casualty. And in some cases, that might actually be ok. 

Continue reading “Podcasts vs Local News: An Either-Or Proposition?”
Podcasts vs Local News: An Either-Or Proposition?

COVID-19 exposes limitations of local pubmedia journalism

COVID-19 has been a slow-moving disaster since the beginning. There was no terrorist bomb or mass shooting or natural disaster. The virus was a creeping, insidious mole slowly burrowing into our consciousness and then into our lives and our news agendas. And unlike any crisis in recent history, it will be with us for a long time to come.

Whether we like to admit it or not, there are “scripts” for most types of breaking news. There’s a big event followed by a period of special coverage that’s intense but relatively short – usually a couple of days to a couple of weeks. Then, there’s an off-ramp of aftermath coverage when newsroom operations and schedules can get back to normal. 

To the extent newsrooms have prepared for breaking news at all, they’ve prepared for that kind of breaking news.

COVID-19 is not that kind of breaking news.

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COVID-19 exposes limitations of local pubmedia journalism

PMJA Will Not Renew Contract for News Manager Training After Successful Six-Year Run

Workshop’s Co-Creators Reflect on Past, Present, and Future of the Training

Judith & Mike 2014 PRNDI Training
PRNDI News Manager Training co-creators Judith Smelser and Mike Marcotte pause for a photo before the start of the inaugural workshop in 2014 at NPR Headquarters in Washington, DC. Credit: Megan Verlee

By Judith Smelser & Mike Marcotte

This summer in Washington, D.C., the PRNDI News Manager Training & Certification program graduated its sixth jam-packed class. Two months later, the organization, now called PMJA, informed us that it would not renew our contract to lead the workshop. Terry Gildea, who last year became the organization’s first full-time Executive Director, cited cost considerations as the reason for the decision. 

We’ve poured a great deal of time, effort, and dedication into the workshop since we created it in 2014, so of course it was a sad day for us. But we humbly believe it was also a sad day for the public media leaders who now may not get to experience it.

“This has been the most helpful event in three years of attending PRNDI, and the most diverse,” said WKAR News Director Reginald Hardwick after completing the 2019 workshop at NPR Headquarters in June.

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PMJA Will Not Renew Contract for News Manager Training After Successful Six-Year Run

How much are local and regional pubmedia journalists paid? Here are a few answers

Recently, I went looking for reliable data on local and regional public media journalists’ salaries and came up frustratingly short. Here’s what I found:

  • The CPB salary survey is no longer readily available.
  • My friend and colleague Mike Marcotte was commissioned to do an extensive salary survey in 2010, which he updated in 2015 based on the inflation rate, but even those numbers are out of date now.
  • RTNDA’s annual local newsroom salary survey groups public and commercial stations together. The most recent report says noncommercial salaries are almost 50% higher, so the median and average numbers aren’t too helpful for public media employers.

There’s no doubt it’s time for a new system-wide comprehensive salary study, but in the meantime, I decided to do a little research of my own.

I created an informal survey and shared it through my mailing list and Twitter feed, as well as on several public media Facebook pages. Between February 19 and March 7 of this year, 121 people from over 70 public media stations and collaboratives took the survey. While not scientific, its results provide a snapshot of the situation on the ground.

Continue reading “How much are local and regional pubmedia journalists paid? Here are a few answers”

How much are local and regional pubmedia journalists paid? Here are a few answers

Crisis Coverage: Making (not Finding) the Time to Plan

I just got back from a two-hour hurricane supply run, as we Floridians watch Hurricane Irma’s slow march towards our state.

In this brief lull between Harvey and Irma, I’m reminded of the many clients and trainees over the years whom I’ve encouraged to make a plan for covering disasters and other breaking news. I can think of only one or maybe two that have actually done it.

Of all the barriers to crisis coverage planning, the one I hear most often is, “Where do I find the time?”

You won’t find the time. You have to make it.

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Crisis Coverage: Making (not Finding) the Time to Plan

Firewall Shmirewall: Three warnings from the WUTC case

For the second time in as many months, I find myself writing about the firing of a public media journalist over matters related to journalistic integrity.

Last month, it was Marketplace reporter Lewis Wallace. This time it’s Jacqui Helbert, fired from WUTC in Chattanooga after state lawmakers complained to the station’s license holder, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, about one of her stories.

The lawmakers said Helbert hadn’t properly identified herself as a journalist in meetings they’d held with high school students about a proposed transgender bathroom bill. They said they were unaware the meetings were being recorded for broadcast, although multiple accounts suggest Helbert was wearing press credentials and carrying conspicuous recording gear.

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Firewall Shmirewall: Three warnings from the WUTC case

New Overtime Rules Inspire Necessary Newsroom Soul-Searching

New overtime rules that go into effect next month are forcing newsrooms to do some much-needed soul-searching.

(I can speak with authority only about my own field, but I know these conversations are going on in many organizations, particularly nonprofits, which also pay relatively low salaries to passionate people who usually aren’t in it for the money.)

There’s been a lot of consternation about this change, from news managers and employees alike. There’s no doubt implementation will be painful at first, but if the next administration doesn’t reverse the new rules, I think they could begin to correct our society’s longstanding and extremely detrimental work-life IMbalance.

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New Overtime Rules Inspire Necessary Newsroom Soul-Searching

Now What?! 3 Tips for Fighting Post-Election Newsroom Lethargy

You’ve made it through one of the most grueling election cycles in recent history! What are you gonna do now?!

You’re relieved it’s over – we all are – but you may feel a bit disoriented too.

After all, you’ve just finished a huge project that’s occupied a great deal of your time, energy, and focus over the past year. No doubt there’s plenty of follow-up coverage to do, but the big push is over. You’re tired, a little burned out, and not quite sure what to do next, right?

If so, here are some tips for fighting those post-election doldrums:

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Now What?! 3 Tips for Fighting Post-Election Newsroom Lethargy

Make Journalism … Journalism … Again.

Amid the post-election media hand wringing this week, a post from PRX’s John Barth stood out. He urged journalists to tackle their blind spots when it comes to Middle America – “fly-over country,” as it’s been known; the place that swung the election, as it’s now known. John, who lives in St. Louis, urged journalists to spend more time in the small towns of the Midwest … with this caveat:

Don’t go there to do STORIES. Go there first to listen. Listen for the big stuff and small stuff. Then you’ll see how rural America has been gutted spiritually as have major urban areas. You need to earn their trust back to hear what might, might become stories. Listen.

John put his finger on a potentially existential problem for journalism:

Most journalists don’t have TIME to simply listen.

Continue reading “Make Journalism … Journalism … Again.”

Make Journalism … Journalism … Again.