The New NPR Clocks: How are Stations Adjusting?

Feb 4, 2015

The new clocks presented challenges for most newsrooms producing local newscasts. The biggest concern was, of course, how to fit everything into a smaller news hole.

In my newsroom, we’ve nicknamed our newscast spots “news haikus."  There was a lot of copy left on the proverbial cutting room floor in the first weeks of the new clocks as reporters adjusted to writing for a smaller hole.

“It’s just too short to provide a meaty newscast,” said one host in response to PRNDI’s call for comments.

Other news managers found that the smaller hole made them tighter writers, better editors.

Another challenge with the new clock came at the bottom of the hour. It’s just awkward. Sometimes the Morning Edition hosts say, “this is NPR” but not always. My station was coming right out of the show into a newscast, but it sounded clunky, so we added a promo as a buffer. Why do a newscast there? Because that’s where our listeners expect one. As one person commented, “what listeners don’t like: not having network news at the bottom of the hour. Plenty have written to tell us they set their clock radios to wake them up at the bottom of the hour and enjoy hearing the network news update when it goes off.”

So where are stations putting their newscasts? They’re following the network at the top of the hour, at 20- past and 42-past the hour.

When it comes to features, debriefs and two-ways, a few stations say the need to fill a shorter news hole has freed up their reporters for more in-depth work. Other stations have added more newscasts and are still feeling their way in terms of feeding the newscast beast and filing in-depth features. Most of the in-depth pieces are going into the C and D blocks. Rhode Island Public Radio is putting hard news features into the B block, when there are lighter stories that can be either covered or shifted.

Most stations have found their grove with the new clock, though as one host responded, “it just doesn’t sound as smooth as the old clock.”