Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Archive for July 2017

Quiet as it’s Kept

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WeMakeNPR

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted.  I’ve been feverishly working on my book about the public radio pledge drive.  But very early this morning, something that you probably never knew could happened, didn’t happen.  And how it went down is something I find both characteristic and intimately related to that book.

NPR reporters were operating without a contract since June 30th.  They had been in negotiations for a new contract.  NPR management, like all management, wanted to reduce costs and increase its flexibility by cutting salaries, healthcare and expanding the use of non-union, possibly less qualified workers to do work being done by current staff.

Did you ever hear about this?  I’m sure not.  Just like you probably didn’t hear about the last set of contract negotiations in 2015.  That agreement extended to the start of the most recent set of talks.  The difference is this time, a federal mediator was called in because the sides couldn’t agree.  And, BIG difference, the employees had agreed to ask their union, SAG-AFTRA, to authorize a strike vote.

Who thinks this kind of thing happens at the cerebral NPR?  Nobody, because listeners never hear anything except the dulcet tones of Michelle Martin or Kelly McEvers or the soothing twang of John Burnett.   When nurses, firefighters, teachers or hotel workers strike, you hear about it for weeks in advance.  The chess moves are all the same, of course.  Late night negotiations, last minute concessions, rush, twist, restate.

But NPR is too polite for all that crap.  Too classy.  And, too concerned that if listeners knew it too has nasty family fights, there might be the tiniest chance they might rethink where their pledge dollars go.  The network is already on a political knife edge, what with attacks from the current administration and about one in five of its listeners in partial to full agreement with the President.  That’s 20% it can’t afford to alienate.  So it’s no surprise nobody knew.  Although, it has used attacks from without to generate listener support and tsunamis of cash in the past.

But, after all, its a media organization.  If it doesn’t want people to know something, nobody can turn a spigot off tighter.  If the employees had wanted to be really nasty, they could’ve waited until about October, when stations across the country were starting their Fall pledge drives and really needed the network’s gravitas to pull them across their finish lines.  I can’t imagine that piece of leverage wasn’t considered as employees and their union strategized what to do.

I support each and every voice, producer and writer, as I have always supported any set of troops.   Managers are also in their box and have their own set of marching orders.  And it must be hard, since many of them have also come up from the ranks.  Hopefully, this latest round of contract fights won’t lead to any recriminations, like firings or show cancellations.  Congratulations, #wemakeNPR.

 

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Written by Interviewer

July 16, 2017 at 22:45

Posted in Scratchpad