Turmoil at NPR finally reaches the top (II)

I’ve expanded on my earlier thoughts regarding Vivian Schiller’s forced resignation from NPR in a piece for the Guardian.

11 thoughts on “Turmoil at NPR finally reaches the top (II)

  1. Brad Deltan

    Dan: lost in this discuss is that there are several non-commercial radio stations that have nothing to do with NPR, but receive annual funding from CPB.

    Anecdotally, I believe a higher ratio of these stations have budgets where the CPB funding makes up a much bigger percentage than does for NPR stations.

    These stations are unfortunately caught in the crossfire. And since most of them are smaller, community-focused stations that are also in smaller communities, they have far less clout than NPR (or its affiliates) do.

  2. Jeff Goldings

    Dan,

    I appreciated your thoughtful and provocative Guardian piece on the current political imbroglio involving NPR, PBS, Vivian Schiller’s forced resignation and the Republicans’ shameful effort to defund public radio and television.

    I agree that the preferred approach would be for NPR and PBS to stand and fight for the government funding to provide quality, thoughtful, and unbiased news and information and educational programming.

    Nevertheless, I do think NPR and PBS should consider curtailing its entertainment programming, if as it seems likely, they suffer a reduction in their government funding this year. I believe the expenditure of public funds on entertainment programming runs contrary to the primary missions of public broadcasting.

    I am disturbed by the expenditure of finite government dollars and listener contributions to broadcast such a entertainment fluff as Car Talk and imported British comedies from the BBC. Moreover, I find it distasteful that my voluntary contributions and tax dollars have helped make “the stars of public radio,” such as the Car Talk guys, millionaires through overly generous compensation and licensing deals they have negotiated with NPR.

    If the “stars of public radio and television” desire to be compensated on a par with their for-profit media entertainment colleagues, then they should be encouraged to pursue their professional careers on for-profit terrestrial radio, satellite radio, or cable and satellite television.

    Finally, I would like to see some of NPR’s and PBS’s government funding redirected to finance directly local public radio and television stations so they can enhance their local news and public affairs programming, which has markedly deteriorated over the last several years here in South Florida. In addition, many local NPR stations, such as the ones here in South Florida, have voiced displeasure at the high cost that NPR charges its local affiliates to broadcast its news and information and entertainment programming, further limiting the ability of local NPR stations to produce local news and public affairs.
    programming.

    I appreciate it’s a politically sensitive time for NPR and PBS to begin a serious review its economic financing models and programming priorities. Nevertheless, I also believe the Republicans’ obnoxious political challenge to public broadcasting offers a useful opportunity for NPR and, to a lesser extent, PBS to reform its dubious financing, licensing, and budgeting operations and its increasing reliance on entertainment programming to fill its programming schedule.

    Keep up the insightful commentary from you biggest fan in South Florida.

    Regards,

    Jeff

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @Jeff: Thank you for the kind words. I don’t know this for a fact, but I’d be very surprised if “Car Talk” didn’t bring money in to NPR.

  3. Jeff Goldings

    Dan, I believe you’re probably correct in assuming that “Car Talk” is a profit center for NPR. Unfortunately, I don’t agree with the decision of NPR to use the profits it gains from “Car Talk” (or, for that matter the excremental “Prairie Home Companion”)to subsidize its other entertainment programming such as “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” “This American Life with Ira Glass,” etc… because this type of entertainment programming goes beyond the mission of public broadcasting and can readily find other for-profit media outlets.

    NPR’s “Car Talk” and “Prairie Home Companion” profits should go into reducing the cost of local affiliates to purchase national core NPR news and information programming and to assist local NPR affiliates’ ability to create local public affairs and cultural programming.

    In Boston, you’re fortunate to have local NPR stations that do an impressive job covering local news and information. The rest of the country, including here in South Florida, is not as fortunate, partly because NPR administration in Washington, D.C. has not been sensitive to the financial constraints that its local affilitates have found themselves struggling to overcome for many years.

    Finally, if the Republicans are successful in eliminating or substantially reducing the federal subsidy for NPR, I would not be surprised to see more than a couple of the smaller and medium-size NPR affiliates across the country go silent in the next year or two.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @Jeff: Neither “Prairie Home Companion” nor “This American Life” is an NPR show. I agree with your opinion of “PHC” 100 percent. On the other hand, though I don’t listen to “TAL” all that often, I think it’s pretty good, and it does do real journalism from time to time.

  4. Jeff Goldings

    Dan: Thanks for correcting me on the production sources of “Prairie Home Companion” and “This American Life.”

    NPR, however, purchases the rights to broadcast these shows from the production companies that own “Prairie Home Companion” and This American Life.” My understanding is that NPR, in turn, charges its NPR affiliates a very high cost for the right to broadcast these entertainment shows (“TAL” is quirky, creative, but it’s a stretch to call it journalism) over the NPR network. Is that correct?

    If I am incorrect and the local NPR affiliates have complete freedom to choose to purchase the rights among the increasing amount of NPR/APR/PRI and independent programming, then shame on the struggling local NPR affiliates for spending their limited $$$ on PHC, TAL, Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, and What Do You Know?

    My beef with public broadcasting is basically that I understood the core mission of public broadcasting to provide quality, insightful, and fair news and public affairs broadcasting and cultural programming that would attract diverse communities throughout the United States.

    Public radio broadcasting has for too long aspired to be the BBC in attempting to reach an extremely wide demographic audience, when I don’t think that is feasible in today’s segmented, multi-platform media environment. Moreover, most Americans are unlikely to support a mandatory television and radio license fee, which supports all of the BBCs broadcasting ventures, that would be required to meet public radio broadcasting’s unrealistic audience goals.

    I am looking forward to your next article in the Guardian and offering my best wishes that your NU tenure review process concludes with a full professorship. Regards, Jeff

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @Jeff: I am almost certain that individual stations purchase programming from whom they choose, including NPR, PRI, APR, Pacifica (remember them?) and the BBC.

      The argument for broadcasting popular entertainment programming, it seems to me, is that you draw more listeners and bring in more contributions to pay for the news. But I’m curious … back when many public stations were all-music, would you have thought it unseemly for them to raise money, given that they weren’t broadcasting any news?

      Thank you for your kind words.

  5. Laurence Glavin

    University of Mass/Lowell’s FM station WUML (U Must Listen)broadcasts some programming from Pacifica, which still exists. It has a full-power-for-the-northeast FM in NYC, and a grandfathered (why is it never GRANDMOTHERED) super-power FM in Los Angeles, plus powerful outlets that commercial interests would LOVE to own in other markets.

  6. Jeff Goldings

    Dan: I have been a longstanding advocate for public broadcasting raising money from individuals, foundations, philanthropies, and even the C-word, corporations, as long as all contributors to public broadcasters are publicly disclosed. As long the contributor is a legitimate, legal organization or corporation, I have no problem with public broadcasting accepting such funds, as long as the contribution is publicly disclosed to viewers and listeners.

    Regarding your other question, if a local public radio station wants to broadcast classical music all day and just buy “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered” from NPR, that would be fine with me, if it can sustain itself with local listner, foundation, and corporate support in addition to the limited government support they currently enjoy. I do believe that cultural programming that elevates and ennobles the spirit and education of the nation is part of the mandate of public broadcasting.

    I think the “Car Talk” guys are hilarious, but I just don’t believe they and their ilk (Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, This American Life, etc…) fulfill the news/public affairs/cultural programming mandate of public broadcasting, particularly during these economically perilous times. Finally, I would like to see more of the government and philanthropic support for public broadcasting devolve to the local station level because I feel supporters of public broadcasting can have a greater influence in its broadcasting decisions at the local level, rather than with the corporate executives (mis)managing NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C.

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