Local News Coverage

November 25, 2009

By: Laura Franzini

This post marks week 3 of a three-part series on the coverage of the Boston-based WBUR program Here & Now during the month of October 2009. As the previous post in the series focused on Here & Now’s national news coverage during October, this week I will discuss the program’s coverage of local news and events.

In analyzing Here & Now’s local news coverage, one can see that the only thread that ties the stories together is the fact that they discuss an event that happened in Boston or they feature a local expert being interviewed about a topic.

This broadness means that stories can range a home genetic test developed by a Boston University professor to a new documentary about a local woman who died from AIDS.

Most of the time, these local stories are saved for the second half of the broadcast—especially if they also fall under the “arts” category. This scheduling means that, according to the structure of the program (as I described in a previous post), that Here & Now covers most local stories as secondary features, giving the headline spot to more widespread international and national news the feature spot.

Nashua Telegraph staff photo by Don Himsel

However, there was one exception to this pattern, when four small town New Hampshire teenagers were arrested for allegedly killing a woman and brutally injuring her daughter while they slept. On October 7, Here & Now led its news coverage with this story, which included an interview with the editor of the Nashua Telegraph, a newspaper that is published in a city nearby to where the attacks occurred.

This story was the only coverage of a local event that was presented as “breaking news.” The other local stories illustrated the newsworthy aspects of prominence, proximity, meaning, and human-interest, rather than the importance and timeliness aspects that a homicide embodies.

Because of these weightier newsworthy aspects, Here & Now made the right choice in placing the attacks in Mont Vernon, NH, as the headline story. While many of the other local stories covered the lighter side of news (such as the arts or “Halloween science”), this story was much more serious and therefore capable of grabbing an audience’s attention—exactly what a headline in any news publication or broadcast should do.

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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.

International News Coverage

November 6, 2009

By: Laura Franzini

For the next three weeks, I will be analyzing Here & Now’s news coverage for the month of October 2009. Each week will focus on a different aspect of the show’s news coverage:

  • Week of November 1: analysis of international news coverage
  • Week of November 8: analysis of national news coverage
  • Week of November 15: analysis of local news coverage

The purpose of this analysis will hopefully give readers a clearer understanding of the program’s beat and style of reporting.

During October, each day’s program almost always began with the featured international news story, indicating Here & Now’s belief in the importance of international news. Most of the show’s international coverage concerned events in the Middle East, particularly events occurring in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

As is the style of the program, in order to discuss these events, host Robin Young interviewed an expert who was either close to the action or knew a lot about the issues that led to the event.

For example, the program’s coverage of the Battle of Wanat in Afghanistan, in which 9 United States soldiers were killed, was done on a personal level—Robin interviewed retired Colonel David Brostrom, the father of one of the young soldiers killed in battle, First Lieutenant Jonathan Brostrom. Being a former military man himself, Brostrom had adequate experience and knowledge to discuss the topic, as well as a very deep investment in the situation.

However, though Here & Now deems international news to be important, throughout the month the program kept its international focus almost exclusively limited to events that concerned U.S. Foreign Affairs—events directly involving Americans and/or the American government. Instead of even mentioning the major earthquake in Indonesia on October 1, the death toll for which was up to 531 by mid-morning, Here & Now covered the results of a meeting between American and Swiss officials concerning Iran’s nuclear plans that had happened the previous day. The earthquake was also not mentioned the following day, though it made top headlines at CNN.com; the BBC’s website; and even on WBUR, the Boston NPR station that airs Here & Now.

Though perhaps omitting coverage of the earthquake is surprising, I have a theory as to how and why Here & Now chooses to cover the news that it does….

For one, Here & Now presents information through interviews. And though it stays up-to-date on its coverage of current events, it would not have been practical for the program to discuss the earthquake the day it happened, simply because of the difficulty in finding an expert to interview within a few hours of the event’s occurrence and having to reschedule the interviews already scheduled for that day’s program..

Second, Here & Now describes itself as “bringing you the news that breaks after Morning Edition, and before All Things Considered,” two other NPR news programs aired daily before and after Here & Now, respectively. This description indicates that it would cover different topics than the preceding and following programs. And since Morning Edition focuses heavily on foreign, non-U.S. news, Here & Now would consequently focus very little on this area of news.

(An annual study done by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that, in 2008, NPR’s Morning Edition focused 20% of its coverage on foreign [non-U.S.] news topics. Assuming that this trend continued into 2009, I reasoned that, if Morning Edition has already covered the previous day’s foreign news, Here & Now would be free to cover U.S.-related foreign news, which makes up only 9% of Morning Edition’s coverage.)

That is not to say that Here & Now completely leaves out all important events if they do not directly concern the United States. Several times in October, the program covered non-U.S.-related topics:

  • the bombing of the United Nations’ food complex in Pakistan (Monday, October 5)
  • the trial in Italy to determine whether Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s immunity from prosecution was constitutional (Tuesday, October 6)
  • the bombing of the Indian embassy in Afghanistan (Thursday, October 8)
  • the president of Pakistan’s statement that his government will not cease efforts to stop the Taliban (Thursday, October 15)
  • Afghan president Hamid Karzai agreeing to a runoff election (Tuesday, October 20)

However, the majority of Here & Now’s international news coverage focused on foreign news involving the U.S., indicating that its goal in covering international news is to bring information directly pertaining to America to the American people.