National News Coverage

November 14, 2009

By: Laura Franzini

This post marks week 2 of a three-part series on the coverage of the WBUR program Here & Now during the month of October 2009. As last week’s post focused on Here & Now’s international news coverage during the month, this week I will discuss the program’s coverage of national news and events. Next week will be dedicated to analyzing Here & Now’s local news coverage.

One word to describe Here & Now’s national news coverage during the month of October: balanced.

Now, by “balanced,” I mean that Here & Now’s coverage is able to compete with larger news organizations by providing a variety of news stories that cater to a variety of listeners. Instead of focusing on one particular aspect of national news (big headlining events, news that directly impacts listeners, or simply unusual stories), Here & Now spreads its coverage to envelop each of these categories fairly equally. The program thereby covers a wide variety of news, which many similar news programs do not have the budget or resources to do.

In my analysis of the program’s October national reporting, I assigned each individual story to one of three categories: headline politics, advice for the people, and other. Stories in the “headline politics” category cover the day’s big-name events and happenings that many other news organizations would have likely covered as well. Stories in the “advice for the people” category tend to cover less-timely events and to serve listeners by showing how the topic can affect them and what they can do about it. Finally, stories in the “other” category generally cover the unusual, human interest-type topics.

My analysis found that there were 8 stories under the “headline politics” title, 6 stories in the “advice for the people” category, and 5 in the “other” group.

The slightly larger focus on “headline politics” makes sense as those stories are considered to be the most important national events in terms of timeliness and other newsworthy factors. In order for Here & Now to be a viable news source for listeners, the program must compete with other journalistic organizations.

One way that the program competes with other organizations, besides necessarily offering the top news stories of the day, is by giving something back to the listeners. That gift is one of advice. For example, on October 15, host Robin Young interviewed June Thomas, editor of Slate magazine about America’s lack of dental care policies, especially in the midst of national health care debates. In addition to discussing the changes dental practices have experienced over the years, the interview offered listeners advice about what they can do to ensure their own dental health.

To get an extra leg-up on larger news programs, Here & Now includes a variety of human interest (unusual) stories in its national news lineup. These stories are rarely covered by other news organizations—though they are always tied to a recent event in some way—and tend to grab listeners by their unique content, e.g. previewing a new documentary about CNN camerawoman Margaret Moth, who was wounded in Sarajevo in 1992 and was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer.

By reporting stories in a balanced way, Here & Now is able to offer listeners a service that they cannot get elsewhere. This advantage helps to build and establish an audience—one of the primary goals of any news organization. By applying this style of reporting to national news, Here & Now is able to gain listeners anywhere it is broadcast.