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How NPR covered the Paris attacks

• November 19th, 2015

Photo by Russell Lewis/NPR

An NPR crew prepares a broadcast from Paris on November 18, 2015. Photo by Russell Lewis/NPR

In the days after the attacks in Paris, NPR deployed on multiple fronts, with special coverage by shows, Newscast reports, continuous updates online, and on-the-ground stories by reporters, producers and hosts in Paris.

Different types of stories emerged. Here is a sampling (and it really is just a sampling) of the coverage:

Live updates on air and online

As the attacks unfolded Friday night and early Saturday morning, NPR journalists reported the details as they developed.

Here’s how NPR news leadership described the initial hours in a note to staff:

“Over the next few hours ATC produced hours of live coverage, featuring dozens of interviews with witnesses, journalists and analysts. Along with the Newscast Unit, The Two-Way blog and the entire Digital News team, they smartly and responsibly kept our audiences up to date on the unfolding horrors throughout the evening.”

During the next few days, the Two-Way‘s reporters and editors created posts that centered around “What We Know”:

The “What We Know” pieces included both short bursts of updates:

updates-twoway

And relevant context that helped people understand the story as a whole:

victims-twoway

Listeners were updated Friday night and throughout the weekend as news continued to develop.

At 5 p.m. on Friday, this Newscast aired with early details.

And here’s just one of many examples of radio coverage — a conversation between ATC host Audie Cornish and Paris correspondent Eleanor Beardsley:

How did NPR’s coverage play out for people looking at and listening to their mobile devices? After all, most NPR.org visitors arrive on a mobile device of some kind.

The “What We Know” posts were tailored for people using mobile devices. The short updates made it easy to skim through the information and dive for more context. It’s also relevant to note that, in a situation where people want information quickly, NPR.org is one of the fastest websites in the news industry.

The team behind NPR One — the audio app that delivers a stream of news and podcasts — noticed that more people started using the app as news unfolded. Listenership spiked on Friday night and stayed up through the weekend and next week.

NPR One’s editorial team of Sara Sarasohn and Viet Le, along with NPR Digital Media Production and Morning Edition staff made sure the app was serving those users. Here’s how Sara described the effort in an email to me: “NPR One always had the freshest Newscast plus the best of the scenes and analysis from Paris, Brussels and beyond.”

Explainers

As I noted above, the Two-Way’s “What We Know” posts were multi-purpose — providing newsy updates and context. Someone who visited one of these posts could quickly get a 360-degree view of the story — the most recent events, what’s new with the investigation, what’s known about the attackers, the status of the victims and more.

There were also explainers that provided deeper background…

…about the attacks:

…about ISIS:

…about false information circulating:

There was also political analysis by NPR’s Washington Desk. Here’s one example, from in the NPR Politics Podcast:

Perspectives

The “in the moment” reporting and explainers served a specific purpose — helping people understand what’s happening, why it’s happening and potential implications.

There was another type of story — the “perspective” piece — that added something different but valuable to the mix of news. These were also stories told from the point of view of a source or NPR journalist.

For example, this was Eleanor Beardsley’s personal piece about the attacks and what it means to her as a Paris resident:

ATC host Robert Siegel’s interview with an emergency doctor in Paris:

This piece by Michel Martin:

  • Grief Knows No Native Tongue — But We Must Listen, Wherever It Speaks (November 17)

This piece by Scott Simon:

  • Nuclear Nightmares Give Way To A New Terror, Seen On Paris Streets (November 14)

In this one, Camila Domonoske curated NPR radio interviews to tell the stories of eye-witnesses:

  • ‘Suddenly I Heard People Screaming’: Eyewitness Accounts From Paris (November 15)

And this piece, by Morning Edition host David Greene, about a friendship that formed at a memorial site:

On-the-ground tweets

About a dozen NPR journalists were on-the-ground in Paris.

Eleanor Beardsley reported for radio and on Twitter:

(Tip: Follow NPR’s International correspondents with this list)

Other NPR journalists in Paris used Twitter as a way to get information out:

Social media-native storytelling

If you were following @NPR on Twitter, you would have seen self-contained tweets with useful information.

Like this one, which summed up a “What We Know” post:

This one, which provided a fact from a story:

And these, which served as mini-photo essays:

Visually

As you can tell from the above tweets, visuals played a large role in NPR’s coverage.

Kainaz Amaria and Dana Farrington told the story of the attacks through high-resolution images:

  • Photos: Friday Night’s Attacks In Paris (November 14)

And this piece illustrated how people responded to the attacks in the days that followed:

  • PHOTOS: The World Responds To The Paris Attacks (November 16)

When governors started calling for a stop to Syrian refuges settling in the United States, this graphic accompanied a story by NPR’s Arnie Seipel:

Graphic by NPR

Archives

The world’s attention was captured by the Paris attacks, ISIS’s role and the debate around Syrian refuges. People went to Twitter to discover the latest news, Google to search about it, Facebook to see what people are saying.

In the process — as often is the case with stories of this magnitude — journalism from the archives emerged.

That piece bubbled up organically, prompting NPR to republish it with a note:

Editor’s note on Nov. 17, 2015: This story was originally published in September 2014. But in the wake of the Paris attacks and the discussions surrounding it, we’re republishing it now.

For that reason, it’s wise to monitor analytics. People can send you signals about something they’re finding relevant again. (Tip: We have a guide on how to use data to inform editorial decisions: Acting on analytics: Using data to make editorial decisions)

The same happened with this NPR story — Can’t go home — from February 2015. Take a look at how people are tweeting about it.

Behind the scenes

There was another type of coverage — the kind that gave audiences a peek behind the curtain. NPR’s Russell Lewis shared this photo of reporter Lauren Frayer taping a report after the police raid in Saint-Denis.

NPR reporter Lauren Frayer. Photo by Russell Lewis/NPR

Photo by Russell Lewis/NPR

A few more behind-the-scenes images by Russell: