A collaboration of radio stations in the Western U.S. aims to bring more local and regional news coverage to areas poorly served by other news media.
Finding an analog radio station has always been a challenge in the Mountain West, partly because of sparse population and partly because of Federal Communications Commission rules that once limited how many stations a company could own. "But as the events of the past year have shown, when people need information about what’s happening in their communities, radio is one of the first places they’ll go. Kate Concannon, managing editor of the Mountain West News Bureau, a consortium of NPR stations that serve New Mexico, Nevada, Montana, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming, cites the region’s 'shared issues' as the reason why her team has found success and relevance across such a broad area," Rachel Del Valle reports for Harvard University's Nieman Lab. "She manages six reporters embedded in public radio stations, plus one roving reporter who travels the region, sometimes by bike."
During the pandemic, the bureau began making its content free to smaller, community radio stations without a news budget and with small newspapers; small affiliates that want access pay for content on a sliding scale. "We’ve continued that," Concannon told Del Valle. "We’re really trying to get the content out, we’re all about collaboration and sharing."
It's an ideal partnership for news media in the rural Mountain West. "Despite the trend toward syndication nationally, a localized approach really does play to FM radio’s strengths, both for advertisers and listeners," Del Valle reports. "By design, it’s a localized medium — signals can only travel so far. As a technology, radio matches the expectations the internet has set for modern media consumers. It’s free to use and — in most parts of the country — easy to access. You don’t even need an internet connection to consume it. You just turn on the tap and it’s there. In this way, radio is uniquely positioned to fill in local news gaps. And when shared on digital platforms, stories can go beyond individual communities and into larger regional and national conversations."