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Posted on 07.27.2010

MEDIA MATTERS: Advice from World-Class Journalists and Intriguing Media Minds

Mike Kennedy is the overnight foreign editor for NPR. In the dead of night, he works with correspondents from around the globe, helping put together stories that run on Morning Edition. He spent the majority of his career as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, much of that time as a national and foreign correspondent. He was ever-so-briefly the city editor of the Nashville Tennessean before moving on to NPR in 2008. Q. You’ve served as a war correspondent for the L.A. Times, city editor for the Tennessean and now as the foreign desk night editor for NPR. What is different about radio, and what do PR folks need to be reminded of when they approach radio editors to pitch a story? A. Well, of course, it’s the sound. It’s what makes the difference between a compelling story and an average report. When we’re producing radio news we have to have the microphone right up there in the middle of the action to make our story come alive. Otherwise it falls flat; sounds wooden and has difficulty finding a home. We need sounds that tell the story or just add an element of perspective to the piece. It can be as simple as birds chirping to give a sense of tranquility or hearing taps played in the background while reporting on a funeral. It’s setting a stage for engaging the listener. Q. You’ve covered a number of wars in the Middle East since your first foreign posting in Beirut in 1981. What drives a person to want to do that? A. People like the 16 correspondents I work with at NPR are, first and foremost, great reporters. They have a sense of adventure and care a great deal about what is going on around the world. They also care about how adversity affects everyday lives and want to tell those stories. For those of us who have covered wars, perhaps there is a little bit of love of danger. Being a reporter in the field is one of the greatest jobs in the world … especially when you are with a great news organization. You get up every morning and know that this could be a day of great adventure … maybe even a day when history is made. You’ve got the front row seat and you get paid to watch. Q. What’s the best advice you would give a PR person trying to work with NPR? A. The same as with any news organization: Know what you are talking about. Be an expert and be able to educate an editor or reporter quickly about what and why something is important. Q. Some reporters don’t want to listen to PR people. Got any advice there? A. Relationships are still important. Maintain them. You never know when a young editor or reporter at the hometown paper will end up at the New York Times or some other national publication. Most important, know what you are talking about. If you are a serious person, with a good sense of what makes a compelling story, reporters will listen. If you know your subject matter chapter and verse … reporters will find it valuable to have a relationship with you, as well. Q. Mike, what is the purpose of the media? A. To report the news, explain the news, interpret the news, poke holes in the news, look for lies in the news, amuse with the news, invoke fear of discovery with the news and to spell everyone's name correctly.

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