Public Radio Joins Forces to Cover Veterans
March 1, 2016
WUNC, KUOW, KPCC Collaborate on American Homefront
Jamie Jones and James Wallace, an Army veteran, move into an apartment in Winston-Salem, N.C. Photo by Jay Price.
As the U.S. draws down combat forces abroad, the number of military veterans has swelled along with the challenges they face. At the same time, the number of full-time journalists continues its decade-long contraction.
Recognizing a reporting void, WUNC, KUOW and KPCC — three stations in markets with a sizable military presence — began collaborating in March 2015 through American Homefront, a journalism collaboration focused on military and veterans issues funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Full-time managing editor Adam Hochberg, based at WUNC, and three public radio reporters now work together to cover military and veterans’ issues. Their stories air locally and are frequently heard on national public radio programs including NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, Marketplace, The Takeaway and PRI’s The World.
In December, listeners got an update on progress made toward President Obama’s goal of ending homelessness among veterans. The radio segment explained how local social and economic factors determined cities’ ability to reach the national goal.
The three-part series was reported from Winston-Salem, N.C., by Jay Price (WUNC Chapel Hill); from Seattle by Patricia Murphy (KUOW); and from Los Angeles by John Ismay (KPCC Southern California).
In less than a year, American Homefront has produced dozens of other stories on topics ranging from traumatic brain injuries to a Veterans Day special on generational shifts in veterans organizations. These stories resonate nationally. Murphy’s reporting from KUOW on eligibility limits to the Choice Card, which allows veterans to seek care outside the VA system, included an interview with 89-year-old World War II veteran Gloria Hoeppner, who had to spend hours traveling from her home on the San Juan Islands for medical care. After the piece garnered national attention, the VA amended the eligibility criteria to cover Hoeppner and many others.
“I don’t think we would have had any of these stories, or the insight on the life of military personnel or veterans, without the collaboration,” said David Brower, program director of WUNC, the lead station.
The benefits of the collaboration proved immediate. Hochberg, an NPR veteran, and Brower were able to attract talent and build a team around their strengths: Murphy, a longtime public radio reporter; Price, an investigative reporter for the Raleigh News & Observer; and Ismay, a former Naval officer who earned a graduate journalism degree at Columbia.
“The pipeline to NPR, Here and Now and Marketplace was really appealing to attract someone like Jay Price, who covered military issues for McClatchy Newspapers for more than a decade, because he was going into a project that had built-in national reach,” Hochberg said.
Many reports have generated online comments from across the country, including those on an analysis of an oft-quoted veteran suicide figure and the challenge that the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars face in attracting young veterans. A widow thanked Murphy for sharing her husband’s story in her report on palliative care for veterans, which aired just a few days after her husband was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Military and veterans’ issues were an under-reported beat; so, the national interest is not surprising, Brower noted. “The real sweet spot on American Homefront is a national issue told from the local perspective of a station, with comments relevant to people outside the community.”
American Homefront reports air locally on WUNC, KUOW and KPCC; are distributed to public radio stations nationwide through PRX; are offered to national public radio shows; and are posted online at americanhomefront.wunc.org.