When people think of NPR (National Public Radio), radio shows offering news, culture, and regional updates spring to mind.
But online, NPR (www.npr.org) operates like a major newspaper, such as The New York Times or Washington Post. As newspapers decline and face extinction in smaller cities, the NPR site serves as an alternative for updates on domestic news, global affairs, health and more.
Organized into Home, News, Arts and Life, Music, and Programs, the site isn’t just an advertisement for its programming, though many articles are linked to recent radio segments. Each topic heading delves into more specialized areas. For example, News offers updates in U.S., World, Politics, Science, and Health. Arts & Life explores Books, Movies, Pop Culture, Food, and Performing Arts. Music goes into news, videos, specific artists, and World Café. Also, there are special sections on Commentary, Analysis, Blogs, NPR Ombudsman, and Multimedia. Videos accompany many of the articles.
“The NPR website serves several roles: as a destination for people directly seeking online coverage of events, ideas, and cultures online—and also as a companion to our radio shows to support our audience who want to return to our story they heard on-air, view photos or videos, or get further details,” said Danielle Deabler, a spokesperson for NPR.
Much of NPR online content is written for the website, Deabler said. NPR has a dedicated staff of about 20 writers and bloggers, plus contributing writers. It also has a multimedia staff that produces photos and video journalism and a new “News App” team that produces mobile updates. She noted that NRP produces a mix of national and locally-produced content.
The news articles are at the core of NPR’s website. In fact, a recent lead story on where China president Xi Jinping has been hiding and why he hasn’t been attending public events, tackled the mystery. The article wasn’t linked with a radio segment but offered straight, timely news.
NPR has a wide reach. It has correspondents in 17 foreign bureaus from Beijing to Kabul, which most local dailies these days can’t afford. It is separate from and has no relationship with Public Broadcasting System (PBS).
Most articles on the site are national in scope, as its name suggests. For example, one provocative article titled “Is Putting Politics on Display Bad for Business?” by Scott Neuman explored whether small businesses that actively support a presidential candidate alienate their customers. One Somerville, Massachusetts resident found a new barber after his stylist backed one presidential candidate, proving a risk of blending politics with small business.
Other articles derive directly from NPR shows. A September 2012 article titled “Teachers’ Expectations Can Influence How Students Perform” and written by Alix Spiegel was based on a Morning Edition report, one of its most popular news shows. The article explained how research in teacher expectations started in 1964 with a Robert Rosenthal study at Harvard University.
When students in a San Francisco elementary school in that study were tested and the teachers were informed that certain students were very bright and likely to excel, teachers treated them differently, raising their expectations of them. These students had been picked randomly and weren’t necessarily brighter than the others. Nonetheless, these students received positive feedback from teachers, more time to answer, more challenging assignments and, in fact, excelled.
NPR’s cultural coverage is thoughtful and lively. A profile of singer/songwriter Aimee Mann dissects her latest CD, Charmer, and explains how she created the songs. Mann’s songs were written like character sketches, motivated by her fascination with certain people, particularly and surprisingly “narcissists.” But the NPR article goes beyond a traditional profile because it links the reader to songs from Mann’s latest CD.
On the site’s health blog, Rob Stein’s article titled “Doctors Sift Through Patients’ Genomes to Solve Medical Mysteries” highlighted how whole genome sequencing can help solve previously undiagnosed illnesses. Whole genome testing unravels a person’s entire genetic code, not only designated areas of DNA, which was previously done.
Arthur Beaudet, chair of Baylor College of Medicine’s genetics department, described this breakthrough as “changing everything. We really begin to understand at an individual patient level exactly which gene is altered.” Using genome sequence, another patient with esophageal cancer was given a treatment that normally worked for breast cancer but improved his condition.
The NPR ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos, a professor of journalism at Columbia University Journalism School, investigates how NPR reporters’ operate, their journalistic ethics, and reader complaints. For example, a discussion with readers ensued when correspondent Ari Shapiro quoted people at a Michelle Obama speech who said she wasn’t “first lady-like.” Shapiro was accused of being racist and anti-Obama, and the discussion covered how reporters select who to interview and who to avoid.
Gary M. Stern is a freelance writer based in New York City.