NewsTrack: Final Thoughts on WBUR’s Web Presence

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As an audiophile and classroom commuter, my primary source of news is radio. I love listening to it and hope to become a professional adult who makes it someday. So when it came to pulling a news organization out of my online journalism professor’s hat, I was relieved. Tracking my local NPR station’s online presence came naturally but also led to a lot of discovery on me end. The website does it’s job as a space for local and national radio to manifest for listeners. However, the site could also use some modern-day sprucing. That said, here are a few, final highlights (and lowlights) from my time analyzing WBUR 90.9’s website.

Firstly, the podcasts are incredible. I say this as objectively as possible because of what they add to WBUR’s traditionally “hard news” spine. Programs like “Modern Love,” “Dear Sugar,” “Kind World” and “The Magic Pill” add emotional narrative to what the station has to offer and, along the way, teach listeners a thing or two about the harder topics of life. Modern Love particularly shows the power of the podcast as a place for publications to team up. It’s a joint production of WBUR and the New York Times. This partnership is definitely reflected in the quality of the podcast, and partnerships like this are trending in the podcasting world. Though not local, the pairing of The New Yorker and WNYC Studios for “The New Yorker Radio Hour” is another example.

Secondly, the website is due for an upgrade. Fortunately, that’s in the works. As pointed out in a previous post of mine, the digital team at WBUR is working on a high-functioned, redesigned, user-friendly website, which is expected to go live in approximately two years. Perhaps the biggest improvement will be a continued live stream between screens as well as a queuing/playlist feature. In my opinion, WBUR’s website is fine and completes the task of providing an archive of all the station’s work. However, I do believe the station deserves better for all the innovative reporting and podcasting that it does. It’s a modern news provider and one that significantly fills the broadcasting time of most NPR affiliate stations in the country. I’m excited to see it’s web presence catch up with this.

Thirdly, the featured stories atop the website are an interesting mix of timely tales and tale-as-old-as-time features. WBUR.org welcomes website visitors with a refreshing mix of stories, hard and soft, long and short, broadcasted and exclusively online. This speaks to the publication’s “true north” mission of educating listeners alongside inspiring them. This comprehensive approach may not please hard news junkies out there and may not make WBUR.org the fastest news resource around. However, I prefer this humanistic mix. It is an NPR station after all, with a tone to match.

After spending time with my favorite news source online instead of on-air, I would like to see the website’s general update. The journalism is there and brilliant. I thereby believe a new design for WBUR’s web presence is well deserved. I want to be able to make a playlist of stories, browse without audio cutting out and possibly interact with reporters more directly through some type of chat function. These ideas are just my young thoughts allowed, and maybe they aren’t even necessary for the site’s next big update. I merely want the best for this station that does so much and continues to do more.

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NewsTrack: Snaps, WBUR, and an Unanswered Friend Request…

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I use Snapchat daily. I snap at my friends. They snap back, and for the first time in my social media life I have a grip on where people are most hours of the day. Surely, the tool is useful for news services. At least, I expected that to be the case for WBUR.

However, when the time came to investigate WBUR’s presence on Snapchat, I was met with a feeling of rejection. They have a personal account. I friend requested it and waited. A week has since passed and still, no response. An open invite, social media sadness and then I understood.

Don’t get me wrong. I would love to be able to keep track of WBUR and the news it covers through this app. However, when it comes to technological transitions, the local NPR station has much larger fish to fry. It’s primarily a radio station and has gone more and more online in the last couple years. WBUR’s website now has several, easy-to-access blogs on an array of topics from art to healthcare in the Commonwealth. That website features WBUR audio as well as national NPR pieces from Washington. There are convenient live listen players on every webpage corner, and everything refreshes quickly.

Even so, the station will redesign its website over the next two years to an even more clean version that today’s. With this, I’m concluding WBUR is just focused elsewhere from social media. It’s about going from radiowaves to web pages right now.

That said, I have hope the newsroom will “friend” me back eventually.

Spotlight on “Spotlight”: ARTery Commentary Lauds Best Film

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The 2016 Academy Awards made a night for the “based on true events” sort of filmmaker, and an editor/critic for WBUR’s ARTery certainly agreed. In his commentary on the station’s arts & culture blog, Ed Seigel wholeheartedly agrees that “Spotlight,” which tracks the Boston Globe investigative team that revealed the corruption of 13 Catholic Priests in the early 2000s, deserved the night’s big award. He writes that the Academy “came to its senses” by deeming “Spotlight” as best film of 2016 because of it’s intelligent and moving way of featuring such a sensitive plot.

I find this observation pretty accurate. “Spotlight,” much like the process of investigative journalism, has a glamour-free build to it. The reporters butt their way into interviews and search diligently and not-always-successfully  for information all while wearing the uniforms of tired journalists who don’t have time for any sort of external style: Khakis, and shirts with pen pockets.

Minus the glamour of magnifying glasses and detective-style trench coats, “Spotlight” does so much for journalists everywhere and particularly young journalists. It shows the practice bare-boned, realistic, proving that the job is life-changing and important because of the stories it entails. Then and now, stones still go unturned and without the work of reporting teams such as the one tracked on this film, people can almost get away with corruption.

 

Not “Cool,” but Important: Looking into Learning Lab

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This summer, I had the pleasure of interning at an NPR affiliate station in Washington D.C. Aside from producing feature pieces at leisure, my main task was writing the local news copy that no one else had time for. Long story made short: One AP wire led to another, and I ended up covering the financial crisis of Sweet Briar College all summer.

I became interested, invested and eventually consumed in the state of this all-womens’ school, which had been threatened to shutter multiple times leading up to the summer of 2015. Reaction and protests concerned much more than just money. I was observing the the value of gendered institutions be tested and questioned, supported and argued against. Leaving D.C. this past August, I was happy to see the college still open and even happier to have a newfound appreciation for education news.

At least in the bubble of student journalists I live in, education reporting is not the most popular beat. Often associated with school boards and property taxes, I found myself skipping over school-related headlines for many years, assuming their stories would be boring and unrelated to me. Surely, my experiences are shared with many. Education news, much like going to school, is “uncool” but clearly important.

WBUR’s Learning Lab aims to emphasize this importance. The website is a completely education-focused version of their main site with a few additionally feature-y spins. Apart from in-depth coverage of Massachusetts school, my favorite part of the site a line of short audio pieces lining the top that highlight citizen opinion. The questions are simple, but the answers are insightful. Currently, the site asks “What makes a good school?”Some of the answers range from “small classes” to “committed staffs”and come with personal anecdotes to back them up.

Other effective elements of the website include a school calendar for tracking the happenings of Boston-area schools and “EdReads,” which is a section that lists any story from WBUR and WGBH that mentions education. One funny observation about both though is that the web design appears dated and a bit dorky, much like education and it’s coverage on the whole.

However, it’s the humanistic elements, not the technical tools, of Learning Lab that make it a notable resource. Well-taken photos and lengthier 4-5-minute pieces make WBUR’s education coverage accessible, nearly jargon-free and, more often than not, touching. See the recent story on Massachusetts’s suspension policies for kindergarteners to fully experience Learning Lab.

 

NEWSTRACK: WBUR does N.H. numbers with a humanistic spin

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Photo by Jim Cole/AP

 

Monitoring the New Hampshire primary, or any state’s primary for that matter, is somewhat obligatory. Members of the press flock northeast to cover a day of sitting, waiting and last-minute handshaking in hopes of finding something to report other than just the numbers. Everyone gets those. So, what makes one news organization stand out from another?

Public Radio works around this by way of feature-y presentation. Stations around the country present the same news as their local papers but do so in a way that highlights characters and paints the context with voice. Perhaps this humanistic approach is NPR’s “shtick”  because audio storytelling relies heavily on interview and ambiance, but it also could be a way of promoting the resurgence of radio altogether.

Regardless of reasoning, WBUR was no exception to the feature-statistic mix on Tuesday. The station’s website adopted an “N.H. Primary” theme for their Politicker page, which is still up and posting reactionary stories. Scrolling through, the event was covered mostly by audio and photo. Sure, much of the coverage after the polls closed was numerical, but even in those stories lie the sounds of supporters and the night’s speeches.

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Other stories concerning the GOP’s second, third and fourth place candidates were entirely rooted as features and just as worth listening to. I pulled the photo above from my favorite of this bunch: a snapshot profile of an immigrant pharmacist who treats the N.H. primary as a holiday.

Continuing to add voice to the numbers, WBUR also posted a few in-house commentaries late Tuesday night, tackling topics like what’s happening to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and where Donald Trump actually lies on the political spectrum (if at all). It’s also worth noting that these commentaries are only copy only, which adds some flavor to the media WBUR works with. It is a website to both read and listen to, as demonstrated this week with its primary coverage.

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So, going back to how sleepy voting day was before the polls closed at 8:00 p.m., what’s the value in covering human reaction alongside numbers? Judging from how comprehensive this station’s coverage was, members of WBUR would answer “a lot.”

I agree for reasons of both excitement and inclusivity. As a reader and listener, I don’t just want to hear about the numbers (which, to be realistic, popped up on my phone well before WBUR posted its first audio piece on results). I want to read about the experiences of the supporters present. After all, primaries are all about voters having their first say in any given election cycle. I found WBUR’s plethora of “average joe” interviews both entertaining and appropriate.

However, a larger reason for my support of WBUR’s feature-istic take on Tuesday is that it gave me a pretty all-inclusive look into the reasoning behind supporters who aren’t necessarily on my team. In an election with this many distinct personalities in the running, it’s easy to feel tribal to your candidate. Tuning in to the voices of my opposition definitely put this election back in a humane context. It wasn’t just refreshing for me to listen in on the opinions of others without anger, it was import too.

 

NEWSTRACK: Online, WBUR Belongs to Boston First

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Photo Courtesy of Photosforclass.org

When it comes to listening numbers, WBUR is at the top of it’s class. The station is home to five nationally syndicated shows, two of which being the ever sworn-by Here & Now and the much-rerunned Car Talk. Broadcasting around the clock, this station produces over 25 hours of original programming each week, which is well above the national average for NPR affiliates.

So, yes. Given these facts, figures and reputations, WBUR belongs Boston AND beyond. It belongs to any listener tuning into his or her nearest station, getting radio waves from Boston bumped his/her way. The news is often national rather than local, applicable rather than community-specific. However, there’s no ignoring the fact that WBUR presents itself differently on the web.

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve observed WBUR’s home page closely. It features far more local news than I here on the radio waves. The words “Mayor Marty Walsh” are almost always visible without scrolling. Boston weather is conveniently on the right. Links to donate to the station are suitably on top. As compared to the broadcast, which condenses local news into a couple-minute span at the top of each hour, WBUR’s website screams “community.”

As a local listener, this first impression pleases me. WBUR walks an interesting line between Boston and beyond, and it’s refreshing to see the station find a balance online. Aside from visible local stories, links to the station’s blogs concerning the art, health, science and events of Boston line the top for readers to zoom in on what’s going on around them. I’ve already started clicking away for my own benefit.

 

 

About the Blogger

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It’s me again, on the brink of realizing I forgot to tell you who I am.

My name is Becca DeGregorio, and I am an aspiring multimedia journalist. I currently attend Boston University and live in neighboring Allston, where I’m often busy reviewing concerts that damage my hearing accordingly. That said, I am a staff writer for Allston Pudding Music Blog and newly an intern with DigBoston. Other recent journalistic experiences include interning at WAMU 88.5 (D.C.’s NPR station) and being the assistant to an Irish correspondent at The Guardian.

Though my experience is mostly in print and online, I am extremely interested in radio. I’m a listener and a dabbling producer. Catch me on the streets of Allston fumbling with recorders and oversized headphones almost every day. Appropriately, I’ll be tracking WBUR 90.9’s website on this blog as a class assignment but also as an investigation into who I aspire to work for someday.

For me, the joy and purpose in all of this lies in the interview. I love talking to people and can’t think of a better way to spend my time. Sure, there’s the stress of deadlines, losing files, and conveying stories with clarity. I’m in the process of grappling with all three and more. However, that’s what up-keeping this blog is about. Read here to see how I’m coping in this weird space between student and semi-trusted writer.