Which sports stories to cover?
NPR does not have an official sports desk, nor a dedicated sports show. Instead, there is one full-time sports correspondent, a regular spot on Weekend Edition Saturday and a correspondent who appears on Weekend Edition Saturday.
Those scant resources make NPR's choices about what to cover in the vast world of sports the subject of scrutiny. Listeners often question NPR's judgment, whether it is covering the biggest sports stories of the week or looking into more obscure sports narratives.
Today we address a listener frustrated by the lack of coverage of Major League Soccer. We spoke with NPR's sports correspondents, who were sympathetic to the frustration.
Read on for the full discussion.
We also spotlight an eight-episode podcast series that looks at two cold cases of missing Florida men, both of them last seen in a deputy sheriff's car.
Also, NPR announced that its official Twitter accounts will no longer be active, after Twitter first labeled NPR as "state-affiliated media" and then amended that label to the still-inaccurate "government-funded media."
In addition to the primary NPR account, dozens of Twitter profiles represent most of the shows, podcasts and content, such as All Things Considered, Planet Money and NPR Music.
NPR CEO John Lansing said, "Actions by Twitter or other social media companies to tarnish the independence of any public media institution are exceptionally harmful and set a dangerous precedent."
Given that Twitter discourse has devolved over the last six months, it's a sound decision to stop investing time and energy in the social platform.
FROM THE INBOX
Here are a few quotes from the Public Editor's inbox that resonated with us. Letters are edited for length and clarity. You can share your questions and concerns with us through the NPR Contact page.
Not enough Major League Soccer?
Dan Hardy wrote on March 5: I love Howard Bryant, when he appears on Scott Simon's sports segments, and I generally admire Tom Goldman's sports coverage, which often has an out-of-the-box perspective on athletics. But there is one glaring exception: Scott, Howard and Tom virtually NEVER mention Major League Soccer. They do VERY occasionally mention the U.S. National teams (and of course covered the World Cup) but that is NOT a substitute for covering the 29-team MLS, which has a franchise in virtually every major market in the United States, and many smaller cities as well. Major League Soccer has a very diverse player base and a very diverse audience that NPR is ignoring. ...
NPR's full-time sports correspondent Tom Goldman described this assessment as "fair."
Goldman told us in an email that he and Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon rarely talk about Major League Soccer during Goldman's appearances on the show. And it's not because he has anything against the league.
"I'm based in Portland, OR and am very aware the Timbers are a big deal and consistently draw big crowds," he said. "But on those Saturdays, we cover the big stories of the week, and our definition of 'big' often zeroes in on sports with the broadest national appeal. And while MLS is, as the listener points out, in nearly every major U.S. market, it doesn't have as large a following as the country's other major professional sports leagues — American football, baseball, basketball, hockey."
Major League Soccer "may not make the final cut" on any given Saturday that Goldman is on the show.
"We're a very small team — so any choice we make will be difficult knowing so much will be left uncovered," he said.
Howard Bryant told us that since he began appearing as a sports correspondent for NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday with Scott Simon in 2006, "fan bases have grown exponentially beyond the traditional big North American team sports, and it is demanding of us a broader coverage."
Bryant said he personally worries about shortchanging hockey. "That fan base, especially as the Stanley Cup finals run concurrently with the NBA finals, has felt slighted by the show," he said. And he understands that soccer fans are also growing in number. "We have to be mindful now of the World Cup, both men and women's, and the growth of soccer in general."
Goldman pointed to examples of when he and other reporters covered MLS and related men's professional soccer stories for NPR.
"Last year I traveled to Sacramento to cover the story of surprise USL team Sac Republic as it tore through the U.S. Open Cup tournament, beating several top MLS teams along the way," he said. "We also focused on Major League Soccer as it wrestled with how to come back during the pandemic. When MLS came to Miami thanks to David Beckham, we reported on that."
He also provided examples of women's professional soccer coverage on NPR in recent years. Here are a few links he shared.
While Goldman emphasized that he doesn't disagree that NPR could do more MLS coverage, he urged listeners to look beyond just the Saturday morning show. And he said more coverage is coming.
"We certainly can do more and can use the nudge to take a closer look at the league, especially as soccer continues to gain traction in a country that traditionally hasn't embraced the sport as much as others," Goldman said. "And, of course, with the 2026 World Cup to be co-hosted in the U.S., Mexico and Canada, there'll definitely be more coverage of men's soccer heading into the world's biggest sporting event." — Amaris Castillo
The Public Editor spends a lot of time examining moments where NPR fell short. Yet we also learn a lot about NPR by looking at work that we find to be compelling and excellent journalism. Here we share a line or two about the pieces where NPR shines.
The Last Ride
A new podcastdistributed by the NPR Network follows the stories of Felipe Santos and Terrance Williams, two young men of color who went missing nearly two decades ago in Naples, Florida. They vanished three months apart, and each man was last seen with the same sheriff's deputy, Steven Calkins. The Last Ride comes from USA TODAY Network's Naples Daily News and The News-Press in partnership with WGCU Public Media. Building on years of work from multiple journalists, exclusive interviews and case files, host and investigative journalist Janine Zeitlin guides listeners through the details of the men's disappearances. The eight-episode series promises the most comprehensive look at these cases, scrutinizing the police response and revealing systemic issues like disparities in media coverage of missing people of color, and how reluctant law enforcement can be in suspecting a fellow deputy of wrongdoing. — Amaris Castillo
The Office of the Public Editor is a team. Editor Kayla Randall, reporters Amaris Castillo and Emily Barske, and copy editor Merrill Perlman make this newsletter possible. Illustrations are by Carlos Carmonamedina. We are still reading all of your messages on Facebook, Twitter and from our inbox. As always, keep them coming.
NPR Public Editor
Chair, Craig Newmark Center for Ethics & Leadership at the Poynter Institute
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