Digital inspiration for the stressed-out public radio reporter

Question: For small (or understaffed) stations, has it been worth trying to get reporters to produce stories for both radio and web/mobile platforms, or is it better to focus a reporter on one medium?

This question has one clear answer – reporters should handle both digital and radio duties.

When reporters are responsible for creating stories for both mediums, the storytelling is more unique and it gets a bigger audience online. We’ve seen this at stations of all sizes.

Working in both places doesn’t mean repurposing all the time. Reporters probably shouldn’t webify every story they report for the air. They also shouldn’t create a radio story for every story they write for the web.

We know it isn’t easy to adjust how reporters approach and produce stories. So we talked to a couple stations that are already doing it.

Grace Hood, Reporter, Colorado Public Radio

It is possible for a reporter to focus on both mediums. This is a lot easier to execute when you’re working on a soft feature when you have time vs. breaking news.

During breaking news, it’s a matter of choosing priorities. A lot of times during the day, I’ll tackle a web post first and then write material for our radio audience since our local newscasts start at 2 p.m. Sometimes I find myself switching back and forth between radio and web material. I’ll write radio spots, and while waiting for an edit, start my web post. But the key is to be flexible with your plan.

I recently covered a breaking news event and focused on radio first because I knew our state capitol reporter was web posting on the actual event. That gave me time to tackle radio newscast material. I then followed up hours after the actual event to report on reactions for and against the announcement. That became a web post.

Martha Kang, former Online Managing Editor, KPLU 

Because we deliver contextual, high-quality news on-air ( = our bread and butter), I think it only makes sense to try to translate these same stories for our online audience as well. And who better to translate the story than the reporter — the person who knows it better than anyone else?

Of course, resourcing is a huge issue for small stations, but those same stations tend to be scrappier. So once you tap into that can-do mentality (which, admittedly, will take time and a lot of energy for the change agent), this is totally doable.

I’d recommend setting small goals to help start the slow shift.

For instance, I have reporters try to pin down a headline for their online piece before they start writing it. I think this helps them focus their efforts, and also helps strategize to maximize success. (i.e. maybe zooming in on a small curious nugget of a large over-covered story to add unique value to the conversation at large).

Another big incentive to get reporters to stretch their imaginations and to embrace this digital exercise is to give them full support. What that means is if it comes to be 5 p.m. and they’re still not done with their digital obligations, I just take it over wholesale and finish it. It’s not ideal, but it’s also not a huge workload in small shop.

The point is to allow them to use their time to reimagine their stories for the online platform, instead of worrying about just banging out something quick and dirty before they have to go pick up their kids. The good news is they do get more efficient with the process over time, which means they’ll leave less and less for you to do.

There is no easy button to figure out how to change workflows or responsibilities to make this work. But by celebrating small successes, setting priorities and strategies, and with support from the more digitally savvy and leadership, thinking multiplatform in reporting and storytelling can make for stronger journalism, and ultimately, stronger newsrooms.

Teresa Gorman is a former member of the NPR Training team.