NPR’s Weekend Edition Provides An Example of a Non-Radio Story In the Multimedia Age

NPR was not at its best in depicting the visual story of an effort by a photojournalist and an artist in radio story during its January 22nd installment of the Saturday version of Weekend Edition.

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In the world of multimedia journalism of 2011,  we journalism instructors challenge our students to develop a multimedia mindset– one that helps a reporter/producer know when a story is best told in one medium versus another.

Like most web-savvy media outlets, NPR as a rule typically “tags” its stories with an invitation to go visit its Web site to SEE more information or related elements for one of its on-air stories.

But, what happens when those related elements are a requirement to understand the story?

Even with a photo or a video, some stories are tailor-made  as text stories.

As I had my Cheerios and buttered bagel this morning,  I listened with great disappointment to an NPR story on Scott Simon’s Weekend Edition that I thought miserably failed the “Is this a radio story” test.

I’ve waited a couple of hours for NPR to post the audio so I could listen again, to make sure I wasn’t passing judgment too quickly or missing the real focus of the story.

Now that the audio is online and I’ve heard it second time,  it seems I wasn’t wrong.  This just doesn’t work for radio.  It’s a good story, but for my favorite medium– TV.

It Just Doesn’t Work

The headline on the NPR’s web site says “An Unlikely Pair Pictures Havana”

How do you show pictures on radio?

You don’t.

Well-written radio copy can describe a scene and you can picture it in your mind.  But, that only goes so far.   If visuals and the gathering of those visuals are the story,  the news reporter stretches and likely exceeds the limits of our aural senses.

To fully understand Debbie Elliott’s story about Nestor Marti and Chip Cooper’s collaborative project in Old Havana, you have to visit NPR’s Photo Blog, The Picture Show.

Was this really about Getting You to the Web?

And maybe that’s what the story was about– driving traffic to NPR’s Web site.  Sorry to be cynical.

I looked forward to hearing this story because it featured one of our beloved University of Alabama alums doing a story about one of our great professors, Chip Cooper, who is a colleague and friend.

The Alabama Cuba Initiative is featured and I wanted to hear what others around the world could learn about it.

But when you write works like  he had to “ditch his trusty tripod”   or “you can see that in a striking portrait of an old man,”  these are clues that maybe this is a story you do with a video camera.

Having heard Debbie Elliott say recently during  a return to her alma mater that she is not one for being on camera,  I suspect she would not have done this story if it required video.

No matter how visual of a storyteller you are.  And, Debbie is one of the best, this was NOT the best story for radio.

When you see “shots like this” and we can’t see the shots, the story falls flat.

Elliott tells us about “Havana: Side by Side,” an exhibit that is going to be captured in a book.

Maybe when that book comes out, we’ll SEE The images in a great video story– perhaps one by Debbie Elliott for one of NPR’s TV partners?

Author: George Daniels

George L. Daniels is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama. After spending eight years in the local television newsroom working as a producer at stations in Richmond, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Atlanta, Georgia, Daniels moved from the newsroom to the classroom. He’s conducted research on diversity issues in the media workplace and change in the television newsroom as well as media convergence. Before going to work in television news, Daniels worked briefly as a freelance writer for The Richmond Free Press in his hometown of Richmond, Va.

1 thought on “NPR’s Weekend Edition Provides An Example of a Non-Radio Story In the Multimedia Age”

  1. Took me time to read all the comments, but I really enjoyed the radio online article. It proved to be Very helpful to me and I am sure to all the commenters here! It’s always nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained! I’m sure you had fun writing this article.

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