Convention coverage sparks comments from listeners, public TV stations

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Audio quality and editorial choices made in covering the Republican National Convention prompted complaints to the NPR ombudsman and gripes among public television executives this week.

NPR and PBS NewsHour collaborated to cover the RNC, which aired live Monday through Thursday from Cleveland, and are also working together at next week’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

“NPR’s radio audience was not well-served by the broadcasts of the first two nights of the Republican National Convention,” wrote ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen, who said she received “dozens of messages” from listeners. “Most fundamentally for a radio audience, listeners simply could not hear the hosts, analysts and commentators over the din of the crowd,” she wrote.

Listeners also criticized “which podium speeches the team chose to cover and which ones they cut away from,” Jensen noted. One listener cited a speech by Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, which was not aired.

Meanwhile, public TV leaders were grumbling among themselves about the poor audio quality and choice of speeches. Their displeasure prompted a response from Rick Schneider, e.v.p. and c.o.o. of WETA, home to NewsHour.

In an email Tuesday, obtained by Current, Schneider said in part: “On the audio issue, we are working to make improvements. Please note that many media outlets are experiencing some issues and we are working to deal with the sound levels in the hall.”

Regarding editorial decisions, Schneider wrote, “The PBS NewsHour, like other news organizations, works to strike a balance at every convention. We know that some viewers tune in to hear the speakers while others value the perspectives that our reporters and analysts provide. We will continue to find this balance over the next two weeks.”

He added that WETA station relations has language available for station replies to viewer inquiries.

Stations contacted by Current mentioned receiving a smattering of complaints. David Lowe, president and g.m. of KVIE in Sacramento, Calif., said complaints included “reporters being too close to the stage” and “too much (or too little) commentary.”

Lowe was sympathetic to the program team.

“I certainly don’t envy any producer trying to create a live production where they’re not in total control of the venue, where they can be positioned, and the other elements that matter to make the highest-quality broadcast,” he said.

It’s tough, he added, “to try and make everyone happy.”

Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this post inferred that Lowe was commenting on discussions on the GM Chat. His comments referred to conversations among colleagues, not those on the private online forum.