How Erin O'Toole Manages Workflow as Morning Edition Host

Feb 25, 2014

KUNC Morning Edition host Erin O'Toole.
Credit Hector Herrera

Member station journalists gave us a look into how they balance their broadcast and digital workflows as their jobs evolve. We've heard from several member station reporters, digital editors and news directors discuss on air and online workflow as part of the NPR Knight training webinars. Now, we want to get to know how local hosts of the two flagship NPR news shows, Morning Edition and All Things Considered, balance their broadcast and digital workflows.

We caught up with Erin O'Toole, Morning Edition host at KUNC, in Greeley, Colorado. We also spoke with Brady Carlson, All Things Considered host at NHPR. 

What’s the first thing you do to help organize your day?
I wake up at 3:15am and get to the station by 4. At home, when I'm getting ready, I'm hunched over a cup of coffee and I check Twitter. It's just a little bit of my waking up ritual.

I check my email when I get to work. I try not to check my work email at home. Then, I start prepping my newscasts.  

Who informs you most on Twitter?
Early in the mornings, from my perspective, it’s the newspapers and the reporters that I follow.  

Walk me through a day.
While I'm hosting, it's a very active process because I don't have a producer. I write newscasts, pull clips from ContentDepot, manage the forward promotion schedule and tweet.
After I get off the air at 9am, I am reporting on something daily. I'll file a daily item to contribute to the newscast or I'll be looking for an interview for a Morning Edition two-way. I don't really do a lot of features. I don't get out a lot as a host, but I do a lot of Q&As that can get out in the afternoons or on Morning Edition.

Where does digital work fit in?
It's very hard to find the time because we have the newscast beast to feed. So, I try to do my best to webify something I'm already doing for the radio. When I have a newscast, I'll do that first for air and then I'll do the web post. I post about three to five web stories a week.
Below are a few web stories that I think turned out pretty well. These were examples of when I had more than a day to turn out the post (though they were all done in under four hours).
For Evacuee, A 'Scary, Exciting' Airlift From Pinewood Springs
For Some Flood Survivors, A Long Wait To Return Home
History Weighs On Colorado's 51st State Movement
Hunters Target Colorado For Boycott Over Gun Control

How do you decide what to build out?

Erin O'Toole turned this Morning Edition two-way into a web story using the photos taken by the guest.

I let the story dictate that. For example, with the flood coverage, a lot of the posts that I did were more informational. I would go and search where they had boil water orders and put a list together because it was hard to find that information in one place. At the same time, I also had the opportunity to talk to someone who had to be evacuated from their community by helicopter and I got to talk to him for air and post his incredible pictures online. I regularly work with Jim Hill, our digital media manager, to find out what would be best for the story. Not every subject drives interest. We've noticed a huge difference in what we're doing since we’ve taken a more strategic approach.

Do you have a strategy for social media throughout the day?
Yes. In the morning, while I'm on the air, I will usually tweet two stories that are coming up. If there's a good web post for one of our stories, I'll tweet the link.
If someone being interviewed is talking about a specific story, I’ll try to find the article and tweet it out. For example, when Tina Brown is on to talk about her must reads, I'll try to find the article she's talking about and tweet that out.
Then the rest of the day, I guess I'm off the clock, but I just try to do two more tweets or retweets throughout the day, just because I like it when my favorite reporters are engaged throughout the day. I like to remind people that even though I'm not on the air, I'm still working. I try to tweet at least a couple of things on the weekend, just to stay top of mind. Here are some examples of broadcast-related tweets: 

Additional background to a feature broadcast on KUNC

From that day's Morning Edition

Tina Brown's Must-Read

Are there any game-changing adjustments you've made to help balance radio and digital workflows?
Sitting down with our digital media manager, Jim Hill, made a big impact. He’ll show me an example, or some kind of guideline, on a type of blog post so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel with each post. He showed me how to take something I’ve written for the newscast and make it more compelling for the web with links to sources and better headlines. He’s absolutely changed everything with what we do.

Any tools or documents that help organize your day?
We email and our newsroom has a shared Google doc. We use WireReady. I also created a little document for myself, which is a template of checklists just so I would be thinking about my day.  

Here’s a copy of that checklist:

Morning Edition ~ Checklist

Digital Checklist

-6 am post ideas based on newscast: New health exchange signups lagging
-Online content push on air: Nathan Heffel’s Cyber Monday tax story
-7 am tweet from Morning Edition segment: New Yorker Black Friday article link

-8 am tweet: Nathan Cyber Monday sales tax – KUNC story in 8:06 newscast 

On Air Checklist

Content Depot:
-Pull promos
-Pull ME clips

-Assemble 5 and 6 am newscasts w/ AP and local copy
-Insert local features
-Compose weather forecast
-Write forward-promotions, with clips if available
-Add underwriters
-Create top-of-hour billboard promos

You can follow Erin at: 

You can follow Jim Hill at: