Kate Concannon Named PMJA 2020 Editor of the Year
The PMJA board is excited to announce that Kate Concannon, Managing Editor of the Mountain West News Bureau, has been named Public Media Journalists Association’s 2020 Editor of the Year. The board received nearly a dozen nominations.
When we spoke to Concannon to inform her that she would be honored with this award, she was grappling with the news of the moment and trying to make coverage decisions that serve her audience while keeping her reporters safe. COVID-19 cases were rising again in the Mountain West, and protests focusing on racial injustice and police violence, including the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans, were intensifying.
“They are incredibly difficult decisions to make. The pandemic is still very real, and on top of that reporters are being targeted in the violence,” said Concannon.
She had a meeting with her reporters and decided that part of their coverage would center on voices at the center of the protests, in non-narrated pieces.
“It’s a national conversation you need to have,” said Concannon.
Two years ago, Concannon heard about a new regional journalism collaboration, funded by member stations in the Mountain West and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The collaboration would be headquartered in Idaho at Boise State Public Radio. Concannon decided to apply.
“Thankfully, I got the job. And I have to say to date, this is my favorite job in journalism.”
Concannon’s long and rich career as an editor in public media spans several decades with member stations, NPR and regional journalism collaborations. Journalism was really Concannon’s second career.
“I was a nurse and a midwife, and I did that for a number of years. At the time in England, there wasn’t a traditional journalism degree I could get,” she said.
Concannon landed in Canada where she studied journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto. There, one of her mentors was Stuart McLean, the legendary CBC broadcaster who hosted The Vinyl Café. The next several years included moving back forth between various locations in Canada and the United States. Concannon worked for the CBC and eventually landed a full-time job at member station KPBS in San Diego. In 1995, she started the station’s first daily news magazine show called These Days. It continues on the station today, as Midday Edition.
A few years later NPR launched a new bureau chief system to work with growing member station newsrooms around the country. Concannon was hired along with fellow editor Alisa Barba and the two worked together for more than a decade as co-leaders of NPR’s Western Bureau. For several years after leaving NPR, Concannon and Barba worked together as freelance editors for member stations, and Concannon filled in as managing editor of the Northwest News Network.
When Boise State Public Radio General Manager Tom Michael was looking for an editor to lead the Mountain West News Bureau, he wanted to find someone with an understanding of western and rural issues, and who could navigate the cultures of small public radio newsrooms. He recognized Concannon’s deep and varied experience and found what he believes is the perfect combination.
“Kate is the reason for the Mountain West News Bureau’s primary success,” said Michael. “She’s the reason for its organizational success, and also for its proliferation.”
Amanda Peacher is a reporter for the Mountain West Bureau based at Boise State Public Radio and has been working with Concannon since the RJC started in 2018. Peacher praised Concannon as a brilliant and ruthless (in a good way) editor. Concannon edited Peacher’s podcast Locked, which focuses on a transgender inmate.
“Kate guided me through some very difficult and nuanced story decisions,” said Peacher. “She really stands out as an editor for the way she advocates for her reporters. She puhses us to take on projects that are meaningful and challenge us to get better as storytellers.”
In her job now, Concannon gets to renew her commitment to local journalism and serve the audiences across the different regions in the collaboration. She also believes having local reporters frame national stories makes them stronger.
“I feel like I’m an advocate for those local stories and those local reporters because at the end of the day, I think we can offer a lot to the network. They need to be our local reporters, telling local stories to the rest of the country,” said Concannon.
She pointed out that nearly seventy-five percent of the stories by reporters in the RJC air nationally, according to reports she files for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Another benefit of being part of an RJC, she said, is joining forces with stations to cover larger stories and breaking news. Those practices went into high gear at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We realized there were regional stories we could own – like testing. There’s also a lot of vaccine research going on in the region – we can do that. We created an on-call schedule, because especially the smaller stations needed backup editing in the evenings and on weekends,” said Concannon.
“The editors do the work behind the scenes,” she said. “I think editors are undervalued in journalism, and they are undervalued in the public radio system.”
Concannon is excited to be honored by PMJA for her work as an editor and takes pride in being a mentor to those she works with, especially allowing reporters to take risks and be creative.
“You know, every story, we talk about dream scenarios … What do you really want for this story? One of the first things I will say to new reporters is – I can’t push you off a cliff, but I can grab you if you jump.”
Kate Concannon will be honored as PMJA 2020 Editor of the Year in a virtual ceremony on June 25.