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Resources to enhance and strengthen editorial operations

In a note to Content division staff, acting Chief Content Officer, SVP and Editor in Chief, Edith Chapin announced the following update:


I'm writing today to share that I have requested and received support from Katherine, the Board, and external funders for a plan that will further enhance and strengthen our editorial operations as a unified Content division.

NPR creates great journalism, and a lot of it, across more platforms than ever before. With all of our editorial staff now together under one division, we're also a larger team than ever. We need new structures that enable us to see across the entirety of our journalism and think about our overall coverage strategically. We encourage audiences to evaluate our coverage based on the full depth and breadth of our content — particularly our approach to covering complex and ongoing stories — and we need to ensure that we too are looking at our coverage as a whole.

Some of our next steps will be straightforward enhancements of existing processes, while others will introduce new workflows to better match best practices for a journalism operation of our size and reach.

We'll hold a series of Content staff meetings this week where I and other members of the Content leadership team will be able to walk through our plan for editorial enhancements and take questions. In the meantime, I want to share the key elements of this plan:

  • Standards & Practices: We will increase the size of this team to expand coverage across shifts, ensure more oversight and guidance is issued, and create more bandwidth and availability for training sessions and discussion both for NPR and Member stations.
  • We will be hiring two standards editors who will work with Tony Cavin, Managing Editor Standards and Practices. Tony will continue to report to me in my capacity as SVP and Editor in Chief.
  • Ethics Handbook: NPR's Ethics Handbook sets a gold standard. We'll take additional steps to ensure these standards are baked into our processes. A newly expanded Standards & Practices team will conduct conversations that delve into specific applications of the ethics handbook, creating more space to cover and discuss scenarios that directly relate to different teams and areas of work. To ensure awareness, understanding, and compliance with the handbook, we will also introduce an annual process for all Content division staff to review and confirm review of the NPR Ethics Handbook.
  • Editorial Planning: We will create new processes and technical solutions (particularly in Nexus, our division-wide planning tool) that improve visibility across NPR's daily, weekly, and long-term offerings. Our aim is to get the entire division fully aligned in one central planning tool to increase transparency, help avoid duplicative efforts, and ensure a well-curated coverage mix across shows, desks, and platforms. The aim is to make as many decisions on duplicative efforts and about our overall mix as early in the process as possible, freeing up time and energy.
  • The "Backstop": We will institute a process to ensure that all journalism across NPR platforms gets a final editorial review before air/publication. This will be a new group of senior-level editors who are not involved in the inception or development of a particular piece of work, working 24/7 to ensure that all coverage receives final editorial review.
  • We will be hiring 6 senior editorial positions — a Managing Editor, 2 Deputy Managing Editors, and 3 Senior Editors to staff this team across shifts. The Managing Editor overseeing the team will report to me in my capacity as SVP and Editor in Chief, with a dotted line to Collin Campbell, SVP Podcast Strategy and Franchise Development. The Backstop team will work in collaboration with the Managing Editors and DMEs who run the day.
  • Content Analysis: We will create a content strategy analysis function within the Content division to provide data and analysis of our content mix in a timely manner for editors, showrunners, and Content leadership to review and make more informed decisions. This analysis will also inform other new processes, like the monthly internal Content Review sessions and the Quarterly NPR Network Editorial Review sessions. We're going to regularly look at our content in the aggregate instead of the anecdotal.
  • We will be hiring two content strategy analysts who will report to VP of Content Business Strategy and Operations, Meg Brennan, who will provide the analyses to editorial leadership. They will partner closely with the RAD team and cross functional teams across NPR to help us make strategic decisions as directed by the CCO and leadership team.
  • Editorial Briefings: We will hold frequent (roughly six times a year) off-the-record editorial briefings with newsmakers and leaders in their fields to get insights on topics presented to the Content team leadership. NPR already holds these types of sessions on an ad-hoc basis. Formalizing this series will help make sure they continue to happen with regularity and purpose, across the content division, and across a wide range of perspectives.
  • We will also add one additional Training role to increase support across all aspects of this plan. We'll start by posting 8 of these positions and look to fill all 11 in the near term given the 24/7 schedule of our operations.

    These roles and initiatives are interconnected and work as a package. They support all members of the Content division, regardless of what platform they work on or where a story is published. They are effective, cost-effective, and doable. Our ambitious independent journalism requires them.

    Some will ask if this is a reaction to recent media discourse about NPR. Clearly we have a lot of eyes on our house right now. I am proud of our journalism and I will continue to defend our work with full force. Defending our work includes being ever-willing to take a hard look at our structures and content mix with an eye toward what we might do to further strengthen them. I swung for the fences and asked for resources I've long wished we had, and I'm pleased with the support we've received.

    This will not only benefit NPR, but also our Network. Adding a content strategy analysis function will directly support our new Quarterly Network Editorial Meetings with resourced data that can be built over time to better serve Network needs. With a larger Standards & Practices team, we will increase our coverage across shifts and provide needed bandwidth to also more regularly appear on station webinars and create public-facing materials that make our Ethics Handbook and editorial guidance more accessible and engaging for our audiences. "The Backstop" process will enhance editorial support for station content produced for NPR. All of these measures will enhance the content that Member stations pay us for and support their ability to answer audience questions about how we evaluate and curate our overall coverage mix.

    As we execute on our strategic vision for the years ahead — to deeply understand the audiences we have and those we do not yet reach so that we can attract, inform, and engage a rapidly changing America — we need processes that support acting on what we learn from audience research. We need to adapt the way we work to ensure that the journalism we create in any one part of the organization is seen in the context of all the content we create. We need to ensure that all our work meets the highest standards, and that we are thoughtful about the body of work we make together, including incorporating the audience research we have available.

    I look forward to discussing this plan with you in greater detail in the days and weeks ahead. We have three Content all-hands meetings scheduled this week to accommodate different schedules and those meetings will be entirely focused on this plan. You can also always reach me or any other members of my leadership team directly.

    As always, thank you all for the work that you do.


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    Edith Chapin
    As interim Senior Vice President for News at NPR, Edith Chapin oversees NPR's journalism and journalists around the world and across platforms. She leads an award-winning team of journalists and newsroom executives who are committed to excellence, innovation and the highest quality reporting and storytelling.