Before leaving NPR News, program executive Jay Kernis offered “The Four Tiers of News Coverage” — a simple hierarchy for defining news values when making local assignments.
Tier One: COMMERCIAL
“If it bleeds, it leads.” Crime, fires, sensationalized weather, local sports teams, plus those quirky/human interest kickers that inevitably end the TV newscast or create a “fun” moment on the bottom of page one. This is coverage that is led by the local newspaper or TV station, rather than by the curiosity or will of the local member station newsroom.
Tier Two: STAGED
City council meetings, school board meetings, local government and political pronouncements, news conferences. These are scheduled events, pre-scripted in many cases by communications officers and rehearsed by participants. It’s pretty safe to cover this stuff — it will usually sound like news. Much of it is not very important in the long run, or very interesting. Much of it is worth a line or two of copy — maybe an actuality — but not a report or interview.
Tier Three: LOCAL IMPACT/NATIONAL
What is the local impact — or local representation — of a national or international story? This kind of reporting is more difficult, but can be more satisfying to the audience, as it connects local communities and activities to what is happening in the rest of the nation or the world. At its best, this kind of reporting fosters civil discourse, the desire to learn more, and to become more involved.
Tier Four: LOCAL MEANING
What news event, person, trend or new idea is or is about to make a real difference in my life and my community? What truly reflects who we are and why we live here? What will have lasting impact? What trends and events are not being noticed?
APPLYING THE FOUR TIER SYSTEM
This system challenges us to consider these questions:
- Which tiers are we spending most of our time on?
- Can we do less of Tiers One and Two… and more of Three and Four?
Focusing your local news programming on Tier Three and Four will accomplish three important goals.
- It will clearly differentiate your public radio service from the commercial news media available to our listeners
- It will point the way to the most effective allocation of personnel and resources, and allow us to lead coverage rather than follow others.
- It will emphasize quality over quantity in your local news programming and deliver greater service to listeners.
The Four Tier Challenge
So how does your station’s coverage stack up? Here’s a good way to find out:
Audit your station by listening to the 7-8 a.m. hour of Morning Edition across a single week. As you listen, map where each element of your coverage falls in the tier structure.
How much time are you devoting to each tier?