Mission Control

Wednesdays

Mission Control is a blog sharing information about the operation of NPR Illinois.

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NPR, like other news organizations, is in a fight for the attention of audiences. That means getting aggressive about putting NPR journalism where readers (and listeners) are. Increasingly, that's on their phones. As a result, NPR has ramped up its "push" notifications, the alerts that pop up on mobile phone home screens when news breaks. (NPR also sends out email alerts, which often duplicate the push notifications.)

My last column on the burgeoning number of politician interviews on NPR's newsmagazines, many live (and then rebroadcast over subsequent hours), provoked a good deal of response.

My essential point (channeling the frustrations of many listeners) was that the interviews, which have proliferated on NPR in the last year, too often do not add to listeners' understanding of the issues being discussed.

Live interviews with newsmakers. If I had to find a thread that runs through a couple of hundred listener emails, tweets and direct communications with my office in recent months, it would be concerns that stem from the challenges of doing live interviews. Those three- to five-minute conversations (or sometimes grillings) with politicians and policy experts are now a regular staple of Morning Edition and are being heard more frequently on the weekday All Things Considered, as well.

Listeners who tuned in to All Things Considered Wednesday may have heard a strangely vague on-air story retraction that raised as many questions as it answered — especially for those who didn't hear the original story on April 3.

Here's what was said:

Is NPR's newsroom a "rabble of pagans"?

Here's bad news for fans of NPR's 13.7 Cosmos & Culture. The 7-year-old opinion blog, "set at the intersection of science and culture," which featured the work of scientist-contributors — Adam Frank, Barbara J. King, Tania Lombrozo, Marcelo Gleiser and Alva Noë — is closing down April 14. The contributors will have a chance to write final posts before then.

Last Friday, All Things Considered aired a four-minute piece that was an extended on-air correction to an on-air interview that aired two days earlier, about Gina Haspel, President Trump's nominee for director of the CIA.

In recent weeks, many listeners have noticed something new: NPR hosts urging them to tell their smart speaker to play NPR. It's a sign that NPR is now available and prominently featured as a leading news source on Amazon's Alexa, Apple's HomePod, Samsung's Bixby, Microsoft's Cortana, and Google Home. But the messages have confused some listeners and raised concerns from others about why NPR is seemingly promoting the technology, and whether it is being paid to do so.

The report of an independent two-month investigation into how NPR's management handled allegations of sexual harassment by Michael Oreskes, the former Senior Vice President of News who was forced to resign Nov.

On Dec. 10, my office (as well as the NPR newsroom directly) received emails from a retired Bellingham, Wash., resident named Paul Vanderveen, requesting corrections to an NPR story.

My office gets requests for corrections nearly every week and normally we don't write about them. Occasional mistakes are a regrettable byproduct of journalism and it's more important that errors get corrected quickly, as I've found NPR usually does. But this one stood out, and seemed worth a closer look.

It's time for our annual update on the racial, ethnic and gender diversity of the NPR newsroom.

NPR's Visuals Team, specifically the Video team, had a formidable showing at the White House News Photographers Association's "2018 Eyes of History: Multimedia Contest" over the weekend. According to the association's website, "The Eyes of History contests are held annually to select the best in visual journalism across still, video, and multimedia disciplines."

The NPR Visuals team racked up a total of 12 awards across the nine categories.

NPR's news operation is a team effort. But a newsroom can't abruptly lose its leader — as NPR did in November when Michael Oreskes resigned under pressure amid allegations of sexual harassment — and expect to bounce back quickly or easily.

Note to readers: this post uses profanity that may offend some.

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits are back in the news, so complaints about NPR's use of the word "entitlements" to describe them are back on the rise.

Take a political year that lurched exhaustingly from major story to major story. Combine that with the newsroom year-end tradition of ranking the biggest stories of the year. What you got last week in NPR's case was a game of political brackets, a take-off on the March Madness college basketball tournament matchups pitting 64 teams against each other in a knockout competition, with people at home playing along by choosing who they think will win.

As mass shootings have proliferated in this country, so has the debate over how much focus news organizations should put on the shooters versus the victims.

Whitehouse with Indivisible program logo in front.
WNYC

The, at least, octennial time of transition is upon us.  The first 100 days of a presidency may have decreased in productivity but they are still likely to see change from the previous administration (Julia Azari, A President's First 100 Days Really Do Matter, fivethirtyeight.com).  Already, the Trump administration is very active.

Newsletter article
Sangamon State University Newsletter / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

A few items in this Mission Control:

  • The first drive.  
  • Amanda Vinicky Moving to Chicago.  
  • Election 2016.  Explained.  
  • Past Due.  

Screens
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

I noticed recently that Prairie Home Companion hasn't been showing up on Sunday afternoon. I wanted to check-in -- is that a permanent schedule change?

This is from the June 28, 2016 Daily Show:

Look for the NPR Illinois appearance at :02:36.

Here at NPR Illinois, we've been concerned we might have to drop some programs due to the ongoing budget impasse.  

It feels like Illinois is lost without a map these days.  The current quiet drive is trying to navigate the fog but has been slow moving as of late.  An additional $60,000 is needed to reach goal by next Tuesday (May 31).  If we're still short of our destination then, we'll go into OVERDRIVE June 1.  

  

  I am so appreciative for the Calendar Club members and other donors who support NPR Illinois.  I hear this sentiment from staff, members, and listeners.  It's what makes public radio special.

Thanks to all who took the time to participate in the NPR Illinois Advisory Convening.  K-12 funding was the main topic the group discussed.  Listen to the unedited, raw audio to hear how it progressed.  It has been posted in two parts to make file size manageable.  View the slide show of the participants above.

Bill Wheelhouse is retiring after over 20 years at NPR Illinois. 

You've likely noticed something different on-air, recently.  Or seen it here at WUIS.ORG.  A new way of referring to WUIS... NPR Illinois.  That's the shorthand for NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS.

Illinois Issues is going digital.  Digital only.  Well, digital and broadcast.  Which means August will be the last printed magazine version of Illinois Issues.

Hobson & Young midshot with Here & Now logo
Kalman Zabarsky / Boston University Photography

Recent program cuts necessitate the movement of some programs to replace what was broadcast.  Additionally, the listener survey indicates some programs may benefit from new time slots.