NPR Wants 'NATO For Public Radio' in New Regional Hubs

Jun 25, 2017

At the PRNDI Conference on Friday, NPR leaders outlined a new effort to collaborate with member stations through regional hubs. They said the initiative would better synthesize local member station coverage within regions, and improve the network's ability to cover stories nationwide.

NPR's Collaborative Coverage Senior Editor Bruce Auster, who's heading the initiative, held a breakout session entitled Imagining a Collaborative Journalism Network.

"We want this to be like NATO  for public radio," he said. 

 He explained the first steps of getting the program running. Auster said it would take about three years to complete. 

Step one would be forming several regional hubs across the country. These hubs would be staffed with editors, trainers, data journalists and investigative reporters. In breaking news situations and projects that require more people, the hubs would be responsible for wrangling the tasks of member stations in the area.

"The alternative is that you [the member stations] do everything," Auster said. "And you can't do everything."

He said reporters living in a community should be on the front lines of the stories breaking there.

Vincent Duffy, Michigan Radio's News Director, said theoretically the idea is good, but seems to ignore certain inherent disparities among different newsrooms. 

"One of the challenges we'll have to face is reporter talent isn't equivalent across the system," he said. "News directors are going to have to have a frank assessment of the talent their reporters have and also be able to trust other stations reporters."

Auster said he has faith the regional hub system will produce better journalism because it will allow for editors and reporters to learn.

"Editors can deploy people based on what they're good at," he said. "And at some point, reporters need to be thrown in . . . we have to bring people up."

Phyllis Fletcher, managing editor of Northwest News Network, has a little more than faith in the idea. She manages a regional collaborative journalism service comprised of the public radio stations in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. 

"Good communication is what allows our network to work well," she said. "If one station thinks they can expand coverage, they communicate that. And if it's a breaking news situation, it's a matter of who's available and who can get there first."

Fletcher said that lack of communication creates a barrier and removing that barrier to better serve an audience is "worth working together".  

Later Friday, Michael Oreskes, NPR's Senior Vice President of News and Editorial Director, gave PRNDI's keynote address during lunch and reinforced the collaboration plans.

Michael Oreskes, NPR's Senior Vice President of News and Editorial Director, talks about how NPR and member stations can strengthen their relationship.
Credit PRNDI's Twitter

While people ate lightly seasoned baked chicken and broccolini, Oreskes fed the crowd imagery of a dystopian future where there were "news deserts" -- areas in the nation where resources for local news are few. 

"News deserts are places with unchecked government and corrupt police departments," he said. "[But] by working as a network, we can prevent that."

Oreskes said NPR doesn't have all the answers. However, he said he believes the hub system hearkens back to public media's original mission.

"The power of our journalism is in covering our communities," he said. "It's telling the story of America from everywhere in America."