Anatomy of an NPR Newscast

Jun 21, 2014

Putting together an NPR newscast takes at least a four person team - anchor/reporter, tape cutter, producer and editor. At PRNDI's "Newscasting NPR-Style" session, we heard from four NPR anchors and an executive producer about how they each contribute to the final product. 

NPR's executive producer, Robert Garcia, moderated the panel of anchors, including Korva Coleman, Lakshmi Singh, Jamie McIntyre and Jack Speer. Garcia showcased one anchor at a time. He played one of the anchors' best newscasts before letting the audience Q&A from them.

Garcia showcased Coleman's newscast from June 20, 2014. He pointed out the calming presence in her delivery as she told the story of Eric Cantor's defeat. 

Coleman commented on her newscast saying, "I've truly been given a great privilege…I really don't want to waste your time, so I'm going to make the most of it." She says that it's her direct writing with the model subject-verb-object that makes her casts so good. Coleman also arrives ten minutes ahead of time to re-check audio and give herself a final edit. 

Next, we heard Lakshmi Singh's newscast from the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing. Garcia stressed that the cast was a true team effort. The sound on tape "all happened about 5 to 8 minutes before the actual newscast," he explained. Garcia added it was most likely so successful because "Lakshmi brings out the best in people around her. She's demanding, in a good way." Lakshmi heard the sounds on the feed and immediately worked with her tape cutter to get the clips she wanted. Singh added, "I wrote into the sound and that's why it came together as well as it did." 

The audience also listened to a portion of one of Jamie McIntyre's first newscasts with NPR - the night Osama Bin Laden was killed. McIntyre explained that they were very careful and conservative (with a lower case 'c') about what he was going to say on air. "In our newsroom there really is an emphasis on getting it right, there's no push to have it first," he said. That's why McIntyre prefers working for NPR compared to his old gig at CNN. 

Garcia took us back to May 5, 2010, with Jack Speer's newscast on Wall Street's flash crash. Speer previously served as a business correspondent for several other stations, including NPR. He claims that beat reporter experience quickly provided him with the sources he needed to report on the crisis.  

Besides good writing, a strong team, wise editorial decisions, and a well-versed background on certain topics, Garcia said that there's still room for improvement at NPR. Moving forward, the newscasts will depend less on spots, include more two-way Q&As, and more of the story will be told in the ledes. And of course, the more sound, the better.