The success of the NPR system has brought greater investment in local newsrooms. In turn, the number of one-person public radio news departments has declined. This is a positive trend because adding staff adds capacity and sustainability, and greater depth, quality and consistency.
Still, the one-person newsroom remains a reality in the public radio system. And the individuals who run those shops are to be admired for tackling a tough job despite limited resources.
One-person newsrooms can and do deliver a quality product, but the relentless nature of news — and the need to match NPR quality — prompts the obvious question: How long can one person sustain consistent delivery, with reliable frequency, of in-depth journalism?
Most one-person newsrooms get help. Many get help from other station staffers. Some are heavily dependent on students. Some are heavily dependent on volunteers.
Here are some tips for the lone news director who is expected to provide a credible news service of NPR quality:
- When it comes to quality, there are no exceptions. You have no less a standard of accuracy, fairness and quality of craft than any other public radio journalist.
- Get an edit. Yes, even if you don’t have a fellow journalist to turn to, you need to find someone who will listen attentively to your local news before it goes to air. A proxy editor can at least question those things that deserve clarification, attribution, etc.
- Be resourceful and work smart. Use the speed and efficiency of computers and digital tools. Practice time management. Use a systematic approach. And employ low cost alternatives. One can do a lot with a little — and still compete with the big guys.
- Harness helpers. Look for partnerships with the local newspaper or television station or nearby sister station. Set up an internship program. Train volunteers. The use of community producers is a good example of tapping local resources to yield content with low labor expenses, just remember that someone has to train and edit them.
- Maximize your local impact. If you can deliver something daily, that’s great but realistically how much original reporting, writing and production can you do per day? A daily public affairs program may deliver more original and consistent public service than daily newscasts or daily features (because the production is live and the “reporting” is limited to research and guest booking).
- Live within your means. Your manager is right to expect you to work hard and deliver quality work as efficiently as possible, but that manager has got to recognize the limits implicit in a one-person newsroom situation. And you should too.