Why the BBC?

In the coverage of the killing of Osama bin Laden yesterday (and again today), MPR News is making liberal use of the resources of the BBC. That bothered (a little bit, anyway) a listener who wrote to the network today to wonder why.

“I am curious why it’s not being reported by NPR reporters, even if that means simply waiting for their regular news shows,” the listener wrote. “Thanks for satisfying my curiosity. (Not that I don’t appreciate the global perspective, but today especially I guess I want to hear *us* talking and explaining first before I hear from others.)”

It’s a great question and, frankly, we welcome the opportunity to explain some of the discussions that take place at the highest levels of the newsroom during breaking news.

Steve Nelson, MPR’s program director provided the play-by-play in his response:

Thanks for the note. Yesterday newsroom leaders spent a lot of time considering options for coverage of this story. Our immediate decision was to put on as much coverage about the death of Osama bin Laden as we could. We tried to choose the best available option for our audience at any given time, much like a web site throughout a day or a newspaper when selecting stories for page one the next day.

We were connected to internal NPR and BBC alerts all day so we knew what to expect and how to compare the two. In addition we were monitoring various wire services and CNN.

Here is some of our thinking through the day.

Morning Edition 6a-9a – Since the story was so important, we dropped all of our local stories that were planned for the day, and stayed with NPR almost exclusively.

9a-noon – Midmorning and Midday covered the story with a range of guests and calls from our audience.

Noon – We had a choice to air NPR programming — basically, Talk of the Nation — or the BBC’s World Have Your Say, a global call-in show. We went with NPR, largely because their first guest in the hour was Colin Powell, a perspective we hadn’t heard.

1p – We cut away from the NPR newscast at the top of the hour to go to a briefing from John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism. He had a lot of good, new information and the details proved compelling. We stayed with that briefing for around 40 minutes before returning to NPR’s coverage.

(Bob notes: More about that here. That was a brilliant decision.)

2p – We aired the BBC Newshour instead of NPR. We wanted a harder news treatment and magazine style format of Newshour, rather than a “talk” format from NPR. We also wanted the BBC’s global perspective. This was the first BBC coverage we had on our air Monday.

3p-6:30p – All Things Considered became available from NPR and we aired it, but this time mixing in MPR News stories relevant to Bin Laden’s death.

6:30p — We aired a lengthy BBC report — The Hunt for Osama Bin Laden — instead of Marketplace. Marketplace was offering seven minutes about Osama bin Laden, which we aired at 6:20.

7p – The World, at its regular time, was almost all about Osama bin Laden.

8p – We pre-empted Fresh Air with a special wrap up hour from NPR.

9p and 10p – We aired BBC. The Story was produced mostly last week, so it was out of date. We thought the BBC’s coverage at 10 would be stronger than As It Happens. Plus, the BBC was live, and As it Happens is taped earlier in the evening.

Hope that helps. Thanks for the feedback and feel free to contact me with any other thoughts you have.

  • momkat

    I was impressed that in less than 12 hours, Kerri Miller had a handful of experts on the subject. She must have some Rolodex.

  • Bob Collins

    She has three excellent producers who spend their days digging up guests.