Final NPR newsmag clocks will take effect Nov. 17

By Mike Janssen

NPR has released the final versions of the new clocks for its newsmagazines and set a date of Nov. 17 for their implementation.

The network unveiled proposed clocks in July after more than a year of work that involved staff and representatives from member stations. The clocks are the second-by-second scheduling of what happens when during the newsmagazines, including newscasts, music beds and funding credits. They also affect when stations can insert their own local content.

NPR had initially planned to introduce the new clocks Sept. 22 but delayed their implementation after hearing concerns from stations and the Public Radio Program Directors Association. Station reps and PRPD said they worried the clocks would interfere with stations’ preparations for fund drives and coverage of midterm elections.

The network also solicited feedback from stations on the proposed clocks, but the final clocks are nearly identical to the proposed versions. A new clock for the weekend news shows, however, does include an additional segment of funding credits per hour, though the total number of credits per hour will not change. The final clocks are below (click for larger versions).

UPDATE: In announcing the date for implementing the clocks, NPR also said that it will not impose limits on stations’ ability to replace newsmagazine segments with programming from other producers. That proposal had prompted criticism from station programmers, who argued for control over programming choices, and producers, whose programs would be excluded under the rule.

In a memo to station representatives, NPR Chief Content Officer Kinsey Wilson said “many” station executives shared concerns with the network about the proposed restriction. “This is the one issue on which there appeared to be broad consensus,” Wilson wrote.

“But I want to emphasize that we introduced this idea at the outset of the process as a means of putting reasonable boundaries around the added flexibility that the new clocks provide,” Wilson added. “We remain committed to protecting the brand equity, economic viability and editorial integrity of the NPR newsmagazines, from which NPR and stations alike have benefited. And we’ll look for future forums where we can pursue the conversation of how to achieve those protections in a way that is a collective win-win for us all.”

UPDATE: The change cheered Roman Mars, host and creator of the popular 99% Invisible podcast and radio show. Mars had criticized NPR’s proposal, which could have blocked stations from carrying his program and other module-length segments within the newsmagazines.

Stations’ ability to aggregate and curate programs from various sources is “fundamental to the design and structure of public radio,” Mars said. “It just seemed unnecessarily bullyish to say that shows like mine couldn’t exist inside that framework.”

Most stations that air 99% Invisible don’t insert it into NPR’s newsmagazines, and Mars acknowledged that few stations would schedule it at those times. But shows like his “deserve a chance,” he said.

“I’m proud of NPR,” he said. “I was giving them hell for it, and I was ready to give them more hell. But I’m proud of them. It seems more in the spirit of what we do.”

PRPD also welcomed the revised policy. “Both I and PRPD feel pretty heartened,” said Arthur Cohen, PRPD president.

PRPD would still like to see adjustments to the All Things Considered clock, Cohen said, though he declined to suggest specific tweaks. But “the best thing is that we sat down and talked and actually came up with solutions that took into account both sides and didn’t just go through the motions, which is something we’ve sometimes seen in the past.”

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Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly reported that NPR’s weekend newsmagazines will feature an additional funding credit per hour under the new clocks. Though the shows will feature an additional segment of credits per hour, the total number of credits will not change.

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