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.