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New year, new stories

Illustration by Carlos Carmonamedina
Carlos Carmonamedina for NPR Public Editor

Happy New Year.

What separates signal from noise in journalism? Planning. When newsrooms identify their audience's needs and concerns, then find ways to deliver fresh narratives, they separate themselves from the packs of journalists who are all covering the same stories.

Early last year, we asked some of NPR's journalists to share their top reporting priorities for 2022 in our newsletter. We wanted to give the audience a look behind the scenes at the news planning process.

Neela Banerjee, supervising climate editor, told us one area of focus for 2022 would be covering the drought out West. NPR did just that, reporting about California growers who were fighting over access to water and Arizona's conservation strategy amid the Colorado River drought.

On the national politics front, we heard that a major focus in 2022 would be the midterms and who seemed to be preparing to run for president in 2024. NPR reported stories on voter demographics, how abortion and trans rights affected voter turnout, and more.

For this new year, once again we asked a few NPR journalists about the key topics they will focus on in 2023.Here's what they told us about reporting priorities for this year. — Emily Barske

Fernando Alfonso III, acting director of digital news:

"My reporters have very broad interests. But some of the areas of coverage that they're very passionate about are race and identity, injustices in the criminal system, particularly the prison system in the United States, and immigration issues as well. All of those are going to be topics we're going to continue to doggedly cover in 2023.

In 2022, we spent a lot of effort looking at union efforts, like Starbucks, and what we saw become a trend was unions in higher education. So that is something I'd like us to do more in 2023.

I'd like to see more internet culture coverage. So much that happens on the internet has real-world implications every day. And seeing it in real time, literally today [Dec. 16], starting with Elon Musk and Twitter, and the suspension of prominent journalists over the last 24 hours. Twitter is obviously a very big bullhorn for disseminating information. And the more NPR can insert itself meaningfully into those narratives, the better we're serving our audiences."

Meghan Collins Sullivan, senior editor on the Culture Desk and chief editor of NPR Books:

"Efforts to restrict access to certain books are growing in parts of the U.S. — targeted books are being pulled from schools and public libraries and removed from classroom curriculums. At NPR Books, we're launching a series of interviews with — and essays by — authors whose books are being challenged. It's an important issue that we're intent on covering further in the new year.

We're also seeing more and more literature from around the world being translated into English. I'm excited at the prospect of introducing our audience to more authors and books from other countries."

Neela Banerjee, supervising climate editor:

"I'd say a big priority for us in 2023 will be climate solutions. We have a new climate solutions reporter. We have a climate and corporations reporter. Across the team, we're interested in not just telling people the risks climate change poses but the ways that we can address them. Moreover, we're all inundated by news and ads from companies and governments that they are trying to deal with climate change, that they are even putting forth solutions. Our team will help the audience distinguish between which ideas are valid and which are questionable or just public relations."

Ayesha Rascoe, host of Weekend Edition Sunday and the Saturday episodes of Up First:

"The top priority for Weekend Edition will be to continue to tell the story of real people living in the world today. That's really broad, but that's pretty much what we do. We'll dive into what it takes to get by in America today. Early in the year we will have a big piece on child care and the struggles surrounding that essential service. And we will do more stories like that on other industries and other burdens that people face just trying to survive.

I'm most excited about doing more reporting on criminal justice reform and life after prison for people released under the First Step Act and other similar policies at the state and federal level."

SPOTLIGHT ON

The Public Editor spends a lot of time examining moments where NPR fell short. Yet we also learn a lot about NPR by looking at work that we find to be compelling and excellent journalism. Here we share a line or two about the pieces where NPR shines.

The connection between wellness and conspiracy

In a story that aired this week on Morning Edition , journalist Emily Guerin examined the connections between the wellness movement and conspiracy believers. Guerin is senior producer at LAist Studios, which is affiliated with KPCC in Los Angeles. She tells the story of one popular yoga teacher who became a QAnon supporter. The story is a condensed version of the first installment of the new season of the LAist Studios podcast Imperfect Paradise.

While there are plenty of yogis who don't fall down conspiracy rabbit holes, Conspirituality podcast co-host Matthew Remski tells Guerin that certain messages are common in both yoga philosophy and conspiratorial thinking: "Themes like everything is connected, nothing happens without a purpose and nothing is what it seems," she said. The story is worth checking out because it dives into a phenomenon dubbed the "wellness to QAnon pipeline," through the lens of one woman's journey. — Emily Barske

The Office of the Public Editor is a team. Editor Kayla Randall, reporters Amaris Castillo and Emily Barske, and copy editor Merrill Perlman make this newsletter possible. Illustrations are by Carlos Carmonamedina. We are still reading all of your messages on Facebook, Twitter and from our inbox. As always, keep them coming.

Kelly McBride
NPR Public Editor
Chair,
Craig Newmark Center for Ethics & Leadership at the Poynter Institute

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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