MEDIA: How to go about pitchin’ NPR’s Morning Edition - The folks at National Public Radio’s popular news show Morning Edition cover the world, from tree carvings in Arizona to peace plans in Israel. They just might be too busy to

Ellen McDonnell, executive producer of NPR’s Morning Edition, is running for a plane and talking breathlessly on a cell phone about the needs of her show. ’If I can bring a smile,’ says the woman who has been with the show since it began, ’then I think that’s what makes us different. It’s the human touch.’

Ellen McDonnell, executive producer of NPR’s Morning Edition, is running for a plane and talking breathlessly on a cell phone about the needs of her show. ’If I can bring a smile,’ says the woman who has been with the show since it began, ’then I think that’s what makes us different. It’s the human touch.’

Ellen McDonnell, executive producer of NPR’s Morning Edition, is

running for a plane and talking breathlessly on a cell phone about the

needs of her show. ’If I can bring a smile,’ says the woman who has been

with the show since it began, ’then I think that’s what makes us

different. It’s the human touch.’



McDonnell is off criss-crossing the country for new material. She’s like

a bargain hunter at a tag sale in her quest to unearth the kind of

material you are unlikely to find anywhere else on the dial.



For the 8.6 million listeners of NPR, the unpredictable nature of the

two-hour show is part of its draw. One July program featured a look at

the first international tribunal for crimes committed against women,

historic tree carvings in Arizona and an exhibition on the art of the

horse in Chinese history.





Running the gamut of issues



If all that sounds a little offbeat, rest assured, Morning Edition is

never far from the mainstream news. The show also covers more foreign

stories than the typical radio outlet - and does so with its huge

network of overseas staff, who don’t kowtow to a US-centric perspective.

During the same July program July, reporter Nick Thorpe filed on

Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic’s plans to change the country’s

constitution while Jennifer Ludden reported from Jerusalem on Israeli

reaction to American peace plans for the region.



McDonnell has been with the show since 1979, starting out as a writer

and working nights for five years, before moving her way up to the top

slot. Now her chief responsibility is keeping the show relevant, and

’challenging the listener without being condescending,’ as she says in

her bio located on the Web at www.npr.com.



McDonnell works closely with the show’s producers and host Bob Edwards,

who has also been with the broadcast since day one. The Louisville

native won an Alfred I. duPont journalism award in 1995 for a report

titled ’The Changing of the Guard - The Republican Revolution.’



More recently Morning Edition has been running an 18-month series on

’The Changing Face of America’ in an attempt to deal with such issues as

immigration, intergenerational conflict, economic development, urban

growth, education, technology and leisure.



’We went to an elementary school in Washington and found a classroom of

fourth-graders with between 20 and 30 nationalities,’ McDonnell

explains.



The reporters got the teacher to describe on the air how that made

teaching them difficult.



The series is due to run until June 2001 and has taken the team out on

the road. Once a month, Morning Edition and reporting teams for other

NPR shows - All Things Considered and Talk of the Nation - broadcast

live from a city. In May, Morning Edition aired a segment that looked at

what it’s like to be elderly in the first hour and generational conflict

in the second hour.



The NPR editorial staff is centralized and can be used for one of any

number of news programs, though Morning Edition has its own core. Among

them is Susan Feeney, who left her print job at the Dallas Morning News

to become senior editor. Handling the stories from beat reporters are a

number of key editors, including Loren Jenkins, who oversees foreign

stories; David Sweeney, who looks after national affairs and Washington,

DC; and Ann Goodhoff, responsible for science. The key points of contact

should be their editorial assistants.



The show, programmed from Washington, DC, has 17 staff members based in

New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, with outside specialists covering

issues from pediatrics to geriatrics.



In terms of evolving the show’s remit in the new millennium, McDonnell

says she’d like to see more pieces on technology make the airwaves.

’Technology is a cultural phenomenon,’ she says, warning that Morning

Edition aims to steer clear of the ’gee whiz’ reporting common to other

media outlets.



’The reality in most people’s experience is that computers crash when

they use them,’ she says.





Doesn’t ignore mainstream



No one could accuse the show of ignoring the cultural mainstream. There

have been pieces about the popularity of CBS’ Survivor and gardening

correspondent Ketzel Levine is currently airing a series on celebrity

gardens. Among the guests were John Spencer, who plays the chief of

staff on NBC’s West Wing.



Amy Weil, a New York-based media relations associate for the American

Civil Liberties Union, is a regular listener and has worked with the

show.



Morning Edition did a story on an ACLU report about the police conduct

during the WTO violence in Seattle. ’They come at things differently,’

Weil says. ’You can talk to them about things that might not be right

for print. They are a hard news program, but they also have a wandering

eye.’



In forming a pitch, you’ll need to consider how to tell your story

without visuals and through words only, although NPR is famous for its

use of background sounds and McDonnell is adept at bringing radio

stories to life. ’When you listen to radio, you have a picture in your

mind’s eye that is always more vivid to me,’ she says.



Weil advises looking at the NPR Web site to see what topics the show has

covered before. The site carries an archive of subject matter dating

back a few years, as well as an extensive bio list of the NPR staff.

McDonnell says she is deluged with calls from PR pros and nothing irks

her more than pitches on irrelevant subjects.



While NPR has been taking a more pro-active approach to its own

promotion - hiring Ketchum to help in that effort - McDonnell herself is

skeptical about the need for PR to promote the show. Her views on

marketing may be a little old fashioned: ’Good programs are what drive

people to the show.’





CONTACT LIST



National Public Radio



Morning Edition



635 Massachusetts Avenue, NW



Washington, DC 20001-3753



Tel: (202) 414 2150



Fax: (202) 414 3329



www.npr.com



Executive producer: Ellen McDonnell



Assistant managing editor: Barbara Rehm



Senior producers: Neva Grant, Audrey Wynn



Senior foreign editor: Loren Jenkins



Senior editor: Susan Feeney



Senior editor (science): Anne Gudenkauf



Deputy senior supervising national editor: David Sweeney



Host: Bob Edwards



Newscaster: Jean Cochran



Commentator: Frank Deford (sports)



Special correspondent and substitute host: Rene Montagne.



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