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Why NPR Isn't Doing Live Coverage of Sotomayor Hearings

A listener asks why NPR isn't doing live broadcasts of the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

It was offered to NPR's 800-plus member stations -- which is how most everyone hears NPR -- but there wasn't enough interest to warrant live coverage, said Ellen Weiss, NPR's senior vice president for news.

Earlier this summer, NPR offered full gavel-to-gavel anchored coverage to the member stations. Fewer than a dozen wanted it.

"Station interest in airing live coverage of hearings has steadily decreased over the years," said Marguerite Nutter, director of NPR Station Relations. "Our member stations are now choosing to offer coverage via audio and video streams on their websites or they will broadcast hearings on their HD (but not main) channel. These options weren't available to stations five or ten years ago."

There is a live video stream of the hearings on NPR's homepage. Look in the gray box on the top left of the page.

NPR is also producing two afternoon specials on Tuesday and Wednesday which incorporate some live and pre-recorded audio from the hearings, said Weiss. These specials are available to member stations. They are basically unbranded second hours of Talk of the Nation, so if you normally have two hours of TOTN, you are likely to hear this. There are 307 stations that carry TOTN.

NPR also has been providing an evening wrap-up of the hearings hosted by Linda Wertheimer. It can be heard on many member stations or at

All NPR stories on the Sotomayor's Supreme Court confirmation are gathered here.

In a perfect world, it would be better if NPR were anchoring live coverage but that kind of coverage is expensive for NPR and the stations, not to mention that it disrupts regular programming.

"While there are a lot of our listeners who do want to hear it, there are more people who want to listen to regularly scheduled programming," said Rob Gordon, general manager of WPLN in Nashville. "There's a disruption factor that you have to take into account. When it's really important, not that this isn't, but there are moments where it's easier to justify interrupting scheduled programming. This one was on the line."

I might add that I don't find the hearings to be good radio. It's far more helpful to listen to the evening wrap-up where NPR staff and others put what was said in context and provide a broader perspective.

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categories: How journalism works

11:55 - July 15, 2009



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Alicia Shepard

Alicia Shepard

NPR Ombudsman

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