Behind the scenes of top performing NPR One local newscasts

May 12, 2016

Newscasts overall perform really well in NPR One. But, here are a few things we’ve learned recently about how you can make the most of your local newscast in NPR One.

3 Things Top-Performing Newscasts Have In Common

1.       They are shorter than 5 minutes long. There is a sharp drop in performance once newscasts get over 5 minutes in length.

2.       Top-performing newscasts sound like they were meant to be in NPR One. Some of these top performers were actually produced for NPR One, but others are actually repurposed from broadcast.
3.       Hosting counts. There are lots of styles and flavors of announcing that work, but “hostiness,” personality, and comfort on the mic matter.

Bonus: Make sure you have a newscast in NPR One between 7-9am.

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Some of the things that help your newscasts do well in NPR One are straightforward by the numbers. First, keep your newscast shorter than 5 minutes. Make sure you have a newscast in NPR One between 7 and 9am. But other things top-ranked newscasts have in common are much more subjective and can be achieved in a variety of ways. Newscasts do best when they  sound like they belong in NPR One and weren’t just edited out of a broadcast. Also, good announcing makes a difference. But there’s no exact recipe for either of those things.

To give you some ideas, I caught up with several stations that have top-performing newscasts to find out how they are thinking about newscasts in NPR One.
 

Matt McCleskey, WAMU

WAMU

WAMU Morning Edition host Matt McCleskey is one of two anchors at WAMU that creates custom newscasts for NPR One. McCleskey records a newscast for NPR One each morning in the 6am hour during the B2 or C2 segments so that it can be posted to NPR One by 7am. He says it takes about 15 minutes to do and “it is pretty easy and fast to get it done.”

Listen to WAMU's Newscast

 

KPLU also records custom newscasts for NPR One and digital platforms. Justin Steyer, the station’s Director of Digital Media, says “We originally tried to automate the recording of the top of the hour newscasts. The problem we ran into was that these not only contained dated material (such as traffic, and weather), automating clean ins and outs was problematic. By creating custom newscasts for digital, the hosts are also able to tailor the content to not include stories we are pushing to the NPR One platform individually.”

Listen to KPLU's Newscast

KPLU’s All Things Considered host Ed Ronco records a newscast before ATC and one right afterwards. He echoes WAMU’s McCleskey in saying it takes about 15 minutes to do. “I plan for five minutes to pick the stories, five minutes to record the cast (ideally, live to tape without pickups), another five to clean up any goofs and upload,” he says. “The hardest adjustment, honestly, has been in forming a new habit.”

Not all of the top-performing newscasts are custom recorded for NPR One. At KUOW, they repurpose broadcast newscasts. Managing Producer Todd Mundt says “We created an automated process to record the first 9 minutes of each hour and an additional task for the newscaster. At 10 past the hour, he or she can access an audio file which includes the local cast. She then manually edits the local cast, gives it the proper name, saves it and puts it in the proper folder for upload to NPR.” While the newscasters at KUOW aren’t recording an extra newcast, they are taking care not to have “extraneous elements” in the newscasts that would sound out of place in NPR One such as “It’s Morning Edition,” time checks, or dated traffic.

At WAMU the length of the newscast varies from day to day.  Since McCleskey is freed from the constraints of the network clock, he uses that flexibility to expand or contract the newscast in order to best to serve WAMU’s NPR One listeners, not hit a time post.

“I think of it as something in and of itself. I treat it like a top of hour newscast coming out of NPR and I try to emulate that sound to create a natural sound. The idea was to have it sound welcoming and not totally out of the blue. It is crafted each day to be its own thing. It is not an afterthought.”

He says he tries “ to imagine the overall listener experience. That is how I think about it. Make it newsy. Lead with something strong. Include the weather, keep it current and think about where people are in their day.” This is one of the essences of good hosting – to really think and connect with your listeners. McCleskey is clearly thinking about the individuals who are hearing him when he records his NPR One newscasts.
 

Kirsten Kendrick, KPLU

KPLU

KPLU’s Morning Edition host Kristen Kendrick says her biggest suggestion for stations looking to improve their NPR One casts is “to make sure you aren't using any reporter pieces that have already been fed to the NPR One system themselves so they don't come up in the feed right after you've used them in your cast. Also, be flexible in updating your casts with new information on stories. You always want to have the latest news on your NPR One cast.”

If you’ve ever hosted Morning Edition you know it is is a fast-paced shift with a lot going on, but McCleskey says in spite of the added work of producing an NPR One exclusive newscast “it is exciting to think about an all digital collaboration between the network and the stations. It is a great way to be looking at the future of our business.” McCleskey says one of the unexpected benefits of putting the NPR One newscast together is that it  “gives me another opportunity to go through the leads and helps me think about that differently” which helps make his broadcast newscasts even better too.

Give some of these ideas from WAMU, KPLU, and KUOW a try. Let me know what advice is helping your station. And share what you are doing to make your newscasts work on NPR One. Meanwhile we’ll keep watching the numbers and see what else we can learn about how to make local newscasts shine.