Why is NPR saying “live” at beginning of newscasts?

If you’re a regular listener to MPR News, you probably noticed a disturbance in the force of public radio, whose fans tend to like to have things just where they were the day before.

It involved one word: “Live”, and boy did the bosses at NPR hear about it.

“Live from Culver City,” the evening news from NPR starts.

“People should have some reasonable assurance that the newscasts are live without someone having to tell them so,” a Chippewa Falls, Wis., listener wrote to the NPR ombudsman, Elizbeth Jensen, who tackles the “why” question today.

I asked the newsroom about the new language. Christopher Turpin, vice president for news programming and operations, said the “live” introduction is “one small part of a broader strategy to try to reinforce one of terrestrial radio’s greatest virtues, which is live-ness and a sense of immediacy.”

Essentially, NPR is “making the case for why you should make an appointment with your radio,” he said, adding, “It is there when something happens.”

Astute listeners will have already heard this strategy playing out elsewhere during NPR programming, as Morning Edition and All Things Considered and their weekend counterparts have increasingly substituted live conversations for some interviews that previously would have been pre-taped and edited.

In addition, Turpin said, NPR has added more of what it calls “special coverage,” live reporting of breaking news, some of it outside of the scheduled times the newsmagazines would be on the air. The goal of the changes, he said, is for listeners to know they can tune in and find NPR when news breaks.

Last Saturday, for example, once NPR had confirmed the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Weekend All Things Considered broke from much of its planned lineup for the show and broadcast several hours of updated coverage as the story developed. (What listeners heard depended on their local stations, however; many stations kept to their regular Saturday lineup, including the American Public Media-distributed Prairie Home Companion.)

She reveals a secret about public radio: A lot of what you think is live, isn’t live. But you’ll have to figure out what of it isn’t.

For now, if they say it’s live, it’s live. Unless you listen via the NPR One app, in which case it’s not live. Clear?

“It’s not ideal,” Turpin said, but he argued that because the newscasts in the app are time-stamped, users will know when they were recorded. And, he added, “We know our audience is sophisticated enough” to understand that NPR does not have newscasters sitting around ready to deliver a live newscast whenever the user requests to hear one.

  • Al

    THANK YOU. I really, truly was wondering this.

  • Michelle

    This is so annoying. Feels like I am listening to Saturday Night Live! Give the listeners some credit for understanding news casts,

    • Tyler

      A great portion of SNL is prerecorded.

  • Rob

    Now, if there could be more live bits during pledge drives, that would be good.

  • PaulJ

    It’s odd jargon anyway. The presenter is not saying they are “alive” they are merely saying they are not “recorded” .

    • Back when I worked at a radio network in New York. All the top of the hour newscasts were actually recorded. We pre-fed them live 10 minutes before the hour, and if there was a mistake (or if news broke), then we did them live. It made for a more technically correct broadcast.

  • tboom

    The live interviews need work, it’s bad form to ask a nuanced question allowing 5-10 seconds before cutting off the answer.

    May the force be with NPR.

    • You mean during the bookend shows? (ATC and ME). I think almost none of them are live.

      • tboom

        Actually I’m mostly referring to the NPR portion of Morning Edition, my schedule and listening habits make afternoon listening spotty. It seems like interviews go along smoothly until the last question, the interview subject starts an answer and before she/he can express a complete thought the interviewer breaks in thanking the guest for the interview. Actually given the time of day, now that I think about it, these interviews are likely recorded which might indicate poor editing.

        • Jeff C.

          If I remember correctly from my week at NPR headquarters, the first version of ATC (4pm Eastern time) is live and the rebroadcasts are not unless one of the earlier stories needs to be updated or corrected. I’m not certain that they still do it that way today, but I’ll say that I’ve noticed more live (or at least recorded live, i.e. not edited after being recorded) interviews on ME and ATC. You can tell it is live because of the messy cutaway that tboom alluded to.

          • I suppose we’ll be hearing, “joining me LIVE on the phone now….”

            Gosh, it’s all just so …. TV like.

          • Jeff C.

            During Morning Edition MPR plays a 1 or 2 minute update from the BBC. The announcers used to say, “Here are some of the stories we are following right now.” Now they say, “Here are some of the stories we are following this hour” I believe. What MPR plays isn’t live. I know because they once played the same recording two days in a row. Ooops!

  • KenB

    From the linked NPR article: “The word ‘live’ was new, and listeners noticed. Some have reacted positively but not all are happy, as with any change at NPR.”

    Why is this change something that makes anybody unhappy? I noticed it, too. But it didn’t affect my emotions.