Tuesday, March 22, 2005

NPR's Morning Edition's Confusing Priorities

Not the best of days for the usually sturdy and reliable "Morning Edition." The program normally runs live from 5-7 a.m. ET. However, in the wake of 9/11, NPR took steps to ensure it was nimble enough to get on the air with breaking news when the network had to scramble to get on the air with fresh news when the first planes hit.
So, it was troubling this morning when the 7 a.m. rebroadcast of the 5 a.m. hour was not topped with news that had broke about 6:25 a.m., namely that the judge in the Terri Schiavo case refused to order that her feeding tube be reinserted.
Instead, Renee Montagne's open only referenced yesterday's hearing. Was she already out the door that she couldn't have retopped a story that had broken while she was still on the air? It would not have taken much to provide the update and then intro Ari Shapiro's fine report on what happened in court Monday, which was still a valid story.
The hourly newscast did have the latest information, but that show had its own shortcomings, namely the approximately 10 seconds devoted to the Minnesota school massacre, which happened fairly late in the news cycle Monday and was likely news to plenty of people upon wake up.
Instead, the better part of a minute was devoted to problems in the Congo in a report filed from Dakar, which is clean across the other side of Africa. Which is not to say that the information wasn't of interest, especially for someone like me who's long decried the decline of foreign news reporting and has admired NPR's doggedly bucking that trend with frequently excellent reportage.
Still, the Red Lake shootings were justly on every front page and and at the top of every morning news show. Fortunately, we have not yet become a nation inured to school massacres, and this one, being the worst since Columbine, more than warranted a thorough treatment that NPR took a pass on.
Even on Morning Edition, Montagne's Q&A with a laconic reporter from Minnesota Public Radio could have been fleshed out with interviews or at least soundbites from people closer to the scene. No dice.
Spare me the screeds about the blue-state elitists on the coasts who run NPR. They just don't hold water. Still, you can't help but wonder if this happened closer to a big city and not on an isolated Indian reservation that this wouldn't have gotten better play this morning. NPR's never used a remote location as an excuse for not covering a story.
So, let's chalk it up to just plain bad news judgment and hope that it's not as glaring in the future. For the millions of listeners who count on NPR for a concise yet contextual summary of what's happening, they were left with something much less than they might have expected and certainly deserved.

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