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Friday, March 29, 2013

'Here & Now' Teams Up With NPR, Will Expand To 2 Hours

(Story cross-posted from WBUR) — NPR is ending Talk of the Nation after 21 years on the air, and will seek to replace it in a new strategic partnership with WBUR’s Here & Now.

Talk of the Nation, broadcast by more than 400 stations nationwide, will stop production at the end of June. NPR says host Neal Conan will “step away from the rigors of daily journalism” after 35 years at NPR and 11 years hosting the show. Science Friday, with Ira Flatow, will continue.

To replace the mid-day staple program and to boost news coverage between its flagship drive-time show Morning Edition and All Things Considered, NPR is partnering with member station WBUR to expand the Boston station’s hourlong news magazine Here & Now to two hours. It will be updated throughout the afternoon as it airs in different time zones. The expanded Here & Now debuts July 1.

Here & Now host Robin Young (WBUR)

Here & Now host Robin Young (WBUR)

NPR relies on its network of affiliated stations to subscribe to its programs and contribute new stories and other editorial content. However, this level of strategic partnership with a member station such as WBUR is unprecedented.

“This is a different kind of collaboration,” said NPR Chief Content Officer Kinsey Wilson, “and one where we’ve kind of rolled up our sleeves together and imagined what this show, which is already successful, could become when expanded to two hours.”

Here & Now, which is currently hosted by Robin Young, will add a co-host. Jeremy Hobson currently hosts the Marketplace Morning Report. WBUR plans to add a total of six people to produce the expanded show. NPR will encourage public radio stations to replace Talk of the Nation with Here & Now and also contribute editorial muscle to the expanded show.

WBUR General Manager Charles Kravetz said, “There’s going to be a lot more NPR content and bloggers and reporters and editors who are going to contribute to the program. But at the core, the great program that Here & Now is will still be there and get better and better.”

Jeremy Hobson (Marketplace Morning Report)

Jeremy Hobson (Marketplace Morning Report)

NPR executives said the unusual move to seek to replace Talk of the Nation with WBUR’s Here & Now, which is carried by not even half as many stations across the country, is partly in response to long-voiced demands by member stations calling for more robust news coverage during the workday. The number of public radio listeners sags markedly between Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

In 2003, NPR debuted a one-hour mid-day news magazine Day to Day, but canceled the show during the financial crisis four years ago. Today’s unusual alliance between NPR and one of its member stations reflects a more pragmatic approach to expanding news coverage. NPR has told staff it expects to run a deficit this year.

“Look, it’s a tough media economy right now,” said NPR’s Wilson. “And I don’t know that anybody can afford to go it alone these days. Collectively, we have much better prospects working together.”

Wilson declined to discuss the specifics of the business arrangement, saying only that it involves shared risk and shared reward. Still, NPR Senior Vice President for News Margaret Low Smith said collaboration sends a strong signal to member stations.

“This is pretty bold and exciting,” she said, “and makes a powerful statement about how we believe we can go forward together in public radio.”

WBUR has produced Here & Now since 1997 and made it a national program in 2001. It’s currently aired on 182 stations, including WBEZ Chicago, WHYY Philadelphia and KJZZ Phoenix.

Incoming co-host Hobson, 30, said he’s looking forward to joining a mid-day news magazine that differentiates itself to some extent from NPR’s existing flagship programs.

“It is a national news magazine that is based outside of the New York/D.C. news bubble,” he said. “It is not going to be consumed by the same news cycles that everybody else is following. It’s going to be a show that is going to do stories that are the most interesting and most important to the most people.”

Meghna Chakrabarti, co-host of WBUR’s Radio Boston, will serve as Here & Now’s primary backup host.

Conan expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to host Talk of the Nation for 11 years.

“I’m especially proud that we go out on top,” Conan said, “with the largest number of stations and the largest audience in the program’s history.”

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