WMRA news

Brent Finnegan -- November 30th, 2007

Yesterday, Staunton News Leader Executive Editor, David Fritz, compared Harrisonburg’s NPR station with Roanoke’s WVTF, and criticized WMRA for their lack of local news coverage:

WMRA tries, but frankly has never put any significant resources toward local news. It made a short-lived run at it a few years back, but it seemed to evaporate before it reached full boil. They do a few good stories here and there, but most of their local news slots are filled with announcers who can be off-putting as they fill time.

As a former local public broadcasting employee, I can confirm that lack of local news coverage from NPR and PBS is due to the combination of limited resources, a low budget, a high cost of news operation, and increasing competition from cable, satellite, and Internet media outlets.

I hesitate to editorialize here, but I have to say that I’d rather have high quality intermittent coverage than sub-par regular, daily coverage. To be clear, I’m not saying WVTF is sub-par. Rather, that Insight with Tom Graham could easily be confused with a nationally-distributed NPR show, and Martha Woodroof is one of the few reporters in the area that goes the extra mile for high-quality, accurate reporting.

8 Responses to “WMRA news”

  1. Karl Magenhofer says:

    WMRA may try, but the folks funding it do not. The WVTF operation is in a different league than MRA. It’s almost overkill the amount of employees VTF has for news coverage. I understand the financial support from both the college and the in-house fundraising are far superior at VTF. It seems to me that the people at WMRA (or behind it) have decided that the status quo is good enough. The problem is solely at MRA and it’s lack of the same commitment that VTF has for local programming. I may not agree with how VTF is run from a newsroom perspective, but the quality of programming cannot be questioned. Martha’s great reporting is wasted for the average radio listener because you have no idea when it will air. Who in the world operates without a regular schedule?

    “High quality intermittent…” I guess the operation is slightly funded through the government.

  2. MF says:

    I agree with Karl that it would probably be in wmra’s interest to have a scheduled program for local news rather then slip it into all things considered and morning edition. Its annoying when you know a report you want to hear will be on mra, but your not able to listen to both the morning and afternoon show all the way threw to catch it. Its equally upsetting when they have been promoting a segment on the national cast only to have it replaced with a local story.

  3. Bubby says:

    It is important to note that WVTF didn’t build a full-time news department overnight. They started with short daily local news round-ups, and they did it before the days of the internet. The early days were plenty crude. It took a long long time, and many staff change-ups.

    News director Rick Mattioni began part-time, and could also be heard DJing on the local pop radio. With time, effort and lots of hustle they built WVTF into a top-notch public radio station, that is valued and supported by a huge number of listeners, agencies, and corporate sponsors. There is no good reason why that couldn’t happen here in the Shen.

    I often wonder why WMRA / WEMC don’t partner with WVTF, maybe optioning local programming like the high quality evening Jazz show, and augmenting it with our great local roots bluegrass sounds. A sensible and moderated local call-in forums hosted by WVTF would do a world of good for the Harrisonburg/Staunton area quality of life, and community development. WVTF is a broadcast enticement to the creative types that grow communities.

    I’d say WMRA is a few years, and a development effort away from getting there.

  4. finnegan says:

    I would love to see that happen at WMRA, too.

  5. Tom DuVal says:

    WMRA/WEMC weighing in here. Finnegan is right about the resources issue. Yes, we tried a couple of years ago to ramp up local news reporting and had to scale back due to other financial obligations (most notably a forced move that was very expensive). At the same time we launched “Insight.” We do have a goal of having our local long-form reporting appear at regularly scheduled times, but quality is always the highest priority, not meeting an artificial schedule. We’d rather tell the story well than tell it “now.”

    By the way, WVTF only recently began doing more than headline newscasts and the rare, very rare, longer NPR-style story. Being regular with newscasts is easy…and also very resource-intensive. I know that Rick has long been frustrated with the need to feed the newscast beast at the expense of long-form, and it’s good that they’re finally able to get ahead.

    I would like to set the record straight about WVTF and WMRA support from listeners. WVTF’s signals reach a population more than three times that of WMRA’s. WVTF’s audience is about three times the size of WMRA’s. WVTF raises about twice as much money from listeners as WMRA. If you do the math, you’ll see that WMRA appears to be significantly better supported on a per capita basis. We just don’t have the large population base that makes less effective fundraising techniques nevertheless more lucrative by dint of sheer numbers of ears.

    As some of you will already know, I’m the WMRA/WEMC General Manager.

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