Deadline pressures, not station relations, weighed heavily in bureau chief change

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An NPR decision to change staffing arrangements for its western bureau chief has drawn objections from public radio station news directors and journalists. Two chiefs now share the job from two different cities–Kate Concannon in Seattle and Alisa Joyce-Barba from San Diego. NPR plans to hire a full-time bureau chief to work from its NPR West studios in Culver City, Calif. Public radio news consultant Michael Marcotte, a longtime advocate of expanding the bureau chief system, says the change will undercut the local/national news reporting relationships that NPR President Vivian Schiller says she wants to strengthen. “The bureau chiefs are the unsung heroes, the key linkages in the network-station editorial relationship, a relationship that must be tended and nourished,” he writes. NPR news managers Steve Drummond and Philip Bruce explained the decision in a memo to stations: “A major reason is simply that this job-share no longer works. The razor-sharp deadlines of Newscast, Morning Edition and All Things Considered demand of us that we respond immediately to breaking news online and on-air. These pressures are intensified by the Western time zones and the vastness of the region. As NPR is increasingly a primary and immediate news source throughout this region, it’s clear that a part-time editing schedule with alternating days is no longer viable.” Jonathan Ahl, president of Public Radio News Directors Inc. and news director at Iowa Public Radio, told Current that the bureau chief system is the “single greatest thing” to improve editorial relationships between NPR and its member stations and it needs to continue, if not expand. “Our chiefs know what we’re working on, can get into editorial meetings and advocate for what’s coming out of the region.”