The Long Lonesome Highway: Is Texas Really Near Nevada? : NPR Ombudsman A listener raises big issues in a small question – how well are different regions covered, and understood, by NPR and the national news media?
NPR logo The Long Lonesome Highway: Is Texas Really Near Nevada?

The Long Lonesome Highway: Is Texas Really Near Nevada?

A view of the southwest, from Nevada looking toward Texas. timlewisnm/Flickr hide caption

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Kimberly Truitt of Georgetown, TX, lives roughly 1,000 miles from the Nevada border. But she heard on Morning Edition Wednesday that her state was "nearby" Nevada, even though she'd have to drive through Arizona and New Mexico to get there.

That rankled Truitt's Lone Star pride. And her complaint speaks to a broader question we're exploring in the ombudsman's office – does NPR's coverage favor particular states, especially on the East Coast?

Pruitt urged, "Please consult a map and remember that the southwest is a large and diverse region of the country, not to be lumped together into one convenient neighborhood. NPR produces smart programming for smart people and we know our geography!"

Related complaints were made concerning NPR's coverage of Hurricane Irene, in which many listeners said NPR gave the storm too much coverage because it happened on the East Coast.

But in this case, Washington desk correspondent Ari Shapiro, who is in Nevada as part of a week-long assignment to do campaign coverage, brings a surprising geographical perspective of his own. He gave this response:

The slippery thing about a word like "nearby" is that its meaning is always relative. Nevada is certainly closer to Texas than it is to any of the other Republican candidates' and potential candidates' home states, with the exception of Utah. (For the record, those would be Minnesota, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Georgia, plus Alaska and New Jersey if you throw Palin and Christie into the mix.)

More broadly, as someone who grew up in Oregon, I can appreciate listeners' concern that media coverage is driven by an East Coast perspective. I think NPR is better than most in that we have a substantial staff in Los Angeles at NPR West, and our domestic bureaus across the country outnumber those of most American news organizations. (Forgive me, I don't have the exact stats at my fingertips.)

But in my week of reporting from Nevada, it's become clear to me that people here feel they're getting short shrift from the media. After all, this is the third state to vote in the 2012 primary-caucus season. Unemployment and home foreclosures are the highest in the country.

Why aren't reporters spending more time here? Perhaps because candidates aren't spending much time here. As far as I can tell, Mitt Romney and Herman Cain are the only two to have visited the state this year.

But I wouldn't necessarily rule out East Coast centrism by the news media either. From Washington or New York, it's a lot quicker to hop a flight to New Hampshire, Iowa, or South Carolina than it is to get to Nevada. I give NPR tremendous credit for taking the time and money to put me on the ground here for almost a full week of political reporting. And I'm not the first NPR reporter to come here for political stories. Ina Jaffe did a great piece in July laying the campaign map for candidates visiting Nevada.

Sometimes proximity can be the key to understanding, and my hope is that when I leave here on Friday I'll have a better sense of the state to inform my campaign coverage in the year ahead.

Shapiro may not have the exact statistics, but we're compiling those now. Look for our report soon.

Then there is a whole other geographic perspective. Saturday, Weekend Edition reported that a dying star in the Pinwheel Galaxy is visible by binoculars this week from 21 million light years away, a rare occurrence. What's a 20-hour car trip?

You may have more relevant observations about NPR's regional perspective to help us in our study.

Andrew Maddocks contributed to this post.