Thinking with the "Five Tiers"
In 2006, former NPR programming VP
Jay Kernis created an editorial evaluation tool called the "Four Tiers of
News Coverage." The tiers structure created a new framework to help
stations compare the types of stories their newsrooms produce with those our
listeners most value. News Directors use the tiers as a tool to better allocate
resources and staff time to strengthen the listener service of their local
Since the 'Four Tiers" system
was created, the J-MEGS training team has identified an important gap in the
framework. We describe them as "stories that explore the people, places,
and activities that create the cultural fabric of our communities." We
have inserted this "cultural resonance" category to the framework as
the new Tier 3, placing it at the mid-level of listener value.
The Tiers system ranks stories from lowest
value (TIER 1) to highest
value (TIER 5). Click on each tier for a brief description and audio
example. Our thanks to KJZZ, WGVU, Northwest Public Radio, KUOW and KPLU for
sharing their work with us!
Lowest Value: TIER 1: COMMERCIAL
it bleeds, it leads." Crime, fires, sensationalized weather, local sports
teams, plus those quirky/human interest kickers that inevitably end the TV
newscast or create a "fun" moment on the bottom of page one. This is
coverage led by the local newspaper or TV station, rather than by the curiosity
or enterprise of the NPR station newsroom.
Example: Winter Storms Bring Snow to Arizona
Tier 2: STAGED
City council meetings, school board meetings, local government and political pronouncements, news conferences. These are scheduled events, pre-scripted in many cases by communications officers and rehearsed by participants. It's pretty safe to cover this stuff-it will usually sound like news. Much of it is not very important in the long run, or very interesting. Much of it is worth a line or two of copy-maybe an actuality-but not a report or interview.
Example: Selective Smoking Ban in Michigan Workplaces
NEW! Tier 3: CULTURAL RESONANCE
Stories that explore the people, places, and activities that create the cultural fabric of our communities; profiles of local musicians, artists, writers, influential cultural thinkers or well-known local "characters" (such as the ferry boat operator who's worked the local river for 50 years). The "gold standard" for this category has been set nationally by series such as StoryCorps and Hidden Kitchens.
Example: Black Lodge Singers Earn Sixth Grammy Nomination
Tier 4: LOCAL IMPACT/NATIONAL
What is the local impact-or local
representation-of a national or international story? This kind of reporting is
more difficult, but can be more satisfying to the audience, as it connects
local communities and activities to what is happening in the rest of the nation
or the world. At its best, this kind of reporting fosters civil discourse, the
desire to learn more, and to become more involved.
Example: Getting Northwesterners to Care About AIDS In Africa
Highest Value Tier 5: LOCAL MEANING
What news event, person, trend or new idea is or is about to make a real difference in my life and my community? What truly reflects who we are and why we live here? What will have lasting impact? What trends and events are not being noticed?
Example: Mentally Ill Children Face Long Wait for Treatment
Listen to the 7-8am hour of Morning Edition across a single week.
As you listen, map where your local news falls in the tier structure.
- How much of your total local news time are you devoting
to each tier?
- Can we do less of Tiers 1 and 2 and more of Tiers 3, 4
To see and hear how public radio
listeners hear our work, check out the 2007 LNI study Localism and Morning Edition, the first study to gather real-time listener reaction to local
segments airing in Morning Edition.
Return on Investment
By focusing your local news programming on the upper tiers, you will accomplish
- Differentiate your public radio news service from
commercial news media.
- Allocate your people and resources the most effective
- Deliver a greater service to listeners, by emphasizing
quality over quantity
The creation of the tiers system was
heavily influenced by a number of studies that identify and articulate the
fundamental appeal of public radio programming.
Public Radio's Core Values
The Core Values of Local News/Information Talk Programming
Sense of Place: The Value and Values of Localism