June 12, 2002 - Extra!! Brown Bag Lunch with Bruce Drake, VP of News and Information
Imagine . . . the VP of News and Information didn't graduate from Johns Hopkins with a degree in Journalism. This is good news for people like me, who are currently pursuing Liberal Arts degrees. Anyway, Mr. Drake mentioned that over the years, NPR has become a primary source of news for most of its audience. He said that the watershed event for this transformation was NPR's coverage of the Persian Gulf War. This major event, along with others that have followed since, has expanded NPR's audience. In the wake of 9/11, NPR's audience went up an astonishing 19% and has stayed relatively stable.
NPR had to figure out a way to integrate CNN's dynamic of on-the-spot coverage with NPR's commitment to in-depth news and quality produced pieces. The difference between NPR, TV news, and newspapers is reflected in the news organizational structure. All reporters are "attached" to a desk and each newsmagazine (ATC, ME) is a separate unit with a Senior Editor and Senior Producer. The job of the desks is to be experts in the areas that they cover and come up with story ideas. Then the shows decide which stories will be aired. The editors, reporters and producers have a more difficult job here than in print journalism. They not only have to do the research and write the pieces, they also have to get good audio (what's known as tape).
When asked about getting your first job, Mr. Drake mentioned that writing samples are very important because they're concrete evidence that you can deliver. He also commented that journalism school wasn't necessary if you want to be reporter. You just need the desire and the commitment to do it.
When asked about the relationship between NPR reporters and reporters at member stations, he said that a significant number of reports come from member stations and that we are dependent on them for local top stories because NPR doesn't have local affiliates. They are also the major candidate pools for future reporters and editors.
Finally, when asked, "What is an NPR host?" he stressed that the hosts of ME and ATC are journalists that can push the news ahead. Also, a host is someone that can stay on air in an emergency like 9/11. He invited everyone to come to an editorial meeting any day at 9:30 on the third floor.