Posts Tagged ‘NPR’
In the course of my work on my book about the public radio pledge drive, I’ve found a lot of very strong opinions for and against NPR and the work it does. But in light of the most recent presidential election, this comment, from a 2005 Metafilter post, reflects the views of many angry progressives I’ve heard:
“NPR is what the neocons hate about middle-class liberals. They’re so comfortable and self-content that they lack guts. The neocon movement has some of the vilest people alive, but all of them have guts. They have brass huevos to bust in here and tear down our constitution and start pushing our armies around. We liberals are going to knit our brows and wring our hands while they take the bank and torch our wilderness.”
And, the other side:
“Your second to last paragraph was brilliant, if misdirected. Your caricature of the complacent yet occasionally whiny liberal is dead on. NPR isn’t to blame though. Take NPR for what it is, and not what you want it to be. It’s not IndyMedia Radio. It’s not the liberal counterpart to AM agitprop. NPR, instead, stands as the closest and most respectable form of true journalism I’ve ever seen in America. It caters to rational independent thought without spoon feeding the “proper” opinion like IndyMedia or Rush Limbaugh would. Presenting a national public debate, giving each mainstream* side equal time with their strongest minds, is about as principled as journalism comes. One would assume that in issues as “nuclear testing within 50 miles of low-income housing,” that the side with the best argument would clearly win in front of millions of listeners. Why would you want to stifle that? Where else would you find that debate? Crossfire? Hannity and Colmes?
* this is where I find the weakness in the debate format: the assumption that one of two mainstream sides of an issue have it right, or worse yet, the truth is always in the middle.”
The inside/out dynamic is just as powerful of the traditional left/right one. Angry people on both sides, as evidenced with Trump voters that would’ve just as easily voted for Bernie Sanders. You have to wonder if politics is turning a corner somehow, and if the kind of emotion, expressed by this public radio supporter, is coming into the mix. What will the outcome be? More angry people yelling at each other, or both sides getting a much clear picture of where the other really stands with less “intellect” in the way?
As I continue working on my book about the public radio pledge drive, I came across a quote from Susan Stamberg’s “Every Night at Five”, published in 1982.
“We ask people what they make of the tax cut, the threat of radioactivity, Watergate.” “Their reactions are barometers of the political climate. Lyndon Johnson is supposed to have said that when Walter Cronkite criticized his Vietnam War policy, he knew he’d lost ‘Middle America’. During Watergate, when a Nixon voter in Manhattan, Kansas, told us he’d lost faith in the president, we knew Richard Nixon was suffering heavy losses.”
I found this the day after reading Kyle Pope’s critique in the Columbia Journalism Review on how the media missed the in/out debate by paying too close attention to the left/right debate. That, after hearing Scott Simon commenting on criticism of the media in wake of the election. And that, after discovering an interview PRI’s Andrea Seabrook did with Current magazine back in August where she articulated the same thing; the “what unites us is much more than what divides us” argument, and how many people are angry about the same things. For example, in Portland, Oregon, KBOO news director Lisa Loving said she was pitched a story of Wall Street Occupy protestors reaching out to Malheur Occupy protestors.
Ms. Stamberg’s quote reminds me that the media goes through cycles of lucidity. With the election of our president-elect, it seems it has, again, emerged from a period of darkness. And while it parries criticism, it will double down on a new way to explore something that it once learned, forgot and has apparently found again.
As I read throught the pile of books written about public broadcasting, I saw a picture on pg. 11 of “This is NPR: The First 40 Years” that fascinated me. It is a 1980, black and white photo of Ellen McDonald, Michael Richards and Nina Totenberg. But the phone number on the TV near the upper left corner of the photo is what drew my eye. The number is 1-800-257-1257. For some reason, I got stuck on wanting to know the history of that phone number.
1 – In July 1983, the Louisville Kentucky Courier Journal ran a classified ad for a subscription to Barron’s Magazine that featured that number (https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/110689641/)
2 – In 1991, the number was listed as a contact number in Starlog Magazine, December issue #173 in association with a Space Calendar sold by the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (https://archive.org/stream/starlog_magazine-173/173_djvu.txt)
3 – In 1992, it appreared in the Lifestyles section of the Adirondack Mountain Sun Newspaper, December 24, 1992 in a rant over corporatism on Christmans Eve and the number in TV commercials (http://nyshistoricnewspapers.org/lccn/sn93063680/1992-12-24/ed-1/seq-14/ocr/)
4 – cjb.net, a free reverse phone number search engine with a Canadian address (96 Mowat Avenue, Toronto) that WHOIS Icann says has been in existence since 1998, associates the number with a 23rd Street address in Ragland, Alabama (http://www.cjb.net/800/257.html)
5 – Teletech Communications, Inc., that WHOIS Icann says has been in existence since 1999, associates the number with a fax line belonging to the telecommunications service provider, the Gary Larsen organization in Conifer, Colorado (http://teletech.8m.com/)
6 – I visited toll free directory assistance (www.tollfreeda.com), the toll free directory (www.inter800.com) and toll free numbers.com before posting and could find no listing or use of the number. But Toll Free Numbers dot com says the number has been in use since 1999 to an AT&T customer.
7 – Cityfreq.com, another phone number search engine with the same Canadian address that WHOIS Icann says has been in existence since December 2000, says it was the phone number for Lakiesha Sicard (http://www.cityfreq.com/phone/800257.html) I found nothing that associated the name with the address of #4.
8 – The now-defunct Infomercial Index website, which had copyright notice dates at the bottom of its webpage from 1996 to 2002, listed the number to call for a collection of Zamfir’s Songs of Romance (http://www.magickeys.com/infomercials/nffull.html)
9 – In 2003, the Astral Pulse message board asked if anyone had heard of a condition known as synesthesia and a commenter recalled late night commercials with the number in different colors (http://www.astralpulse.com/forums/welcome_to_metaphysics/anyone_heard_of_synesthesia-t3199.0.html). According to Wikipedia, in this form of the condition, known as grapheme-color synesthesia or color-graphemic synesthesia, letters or numbers are perceived as inherently colored.
10 – In 2010, a blogger for the site “Liner Notes” mentioned how he remembered seeing a Canadian commercial for Zamfir, King of the Panflute (http://hitparadelinernotes.blogspot.com/search?q=1257)
11 – In April 2013, a post on the RetroJunk message board mentions the number connected with commercials run on CNN in the 80s (http://www.retrojunk.com/community/post/index/51323)
9 – Facebook shows a conversation of lovers of WTBS Night Tracks (an competitor to VH1), between 2013 and 2015 about the ad which appeared in 2004. The commenter on a mobile phone remembers seeing the number (https://m.facebook.com/groups/NightTracks/?view=group). This comment shows up in the Google search of the number but does not appear in the post itself.
12 – Between November 2015 and May 2016, numerous complaintants received scam calls on everything from social social security, online dating, payday loans, credit cards and general harassment from the number (https://2000i.net/8002571257.who.called)
13 – In May 2016, a commenter on USPhoneScams.com said it was the number used by a phone scammer that was pretending to represent the IRS (https://usaphonescams.com/800-257-1257.tel)
That number, in a strange way, is now a part of NPR’s history. I wanted to know what that history has been since 1980. From Barron’s Magazine subscriptions to phone scams, how far it has fallen in fortunes. The number hasn’t fared nearly as well at National Public Radio.
I’ve been looking at websites of public radio stations. And the variations among them reminds me of the whole idea of meeting the needs of your customer and of a quiet corporate fight taking place even as I type these words.
Supermarket chain A buys supermarket chain B. Both chains run a pharmacy. Chain B’s technology and its system for managing customers and medications is superior to chain A’s system. But although Chain A is absorbing chain B’s technology, chain A is forcing chain B to adopt its management system. Chain B is resisting because it knows its system serves its customers better than chain A’s.
The correlary to public radio is this. Back in the 90s, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters was promoting an effort called “The Healthy Stations Project”. Among the ideas was that stations should adopt a similar feel in terms of sound and look because that would help stations project an image of professionalism. And that, in turn, would increase listener support, i.e. more successful pledge drives.
As a former federal employee, I am very familiar with concept of corporate branding. Every agency went through such a branding process in the mid to late 2000s. But as the huge public radio survey, “Audience 98” showed, the messages about what audiences wanted vs what seemed best for stations were confusing.
On one hand, the data seemed to show that local programming, much of it created by volunteers with little training or in small stations with low budgets, was driving some of the audience away. Quality, in stations with trained staff and better equipment, was what the audience wanted, or so the NFCB thought. In 2008, community radio station KRCL in Salt Lake City fired many of its volunteer staff and replaced them with professional hosts.
But on the other, many stations rejected the idea of diluting a local identity they had spent years growing from nothing and were quite proud of. Their audiences were very protective of the look and sound of their local stations and didn’t care if they didn’t have the “polish”. KBOO in Portland, for example, has a reputation as one of the fiercest defenders of it’s identity, whether from outside or from within.
There was a backlash, and the Healthy Stations Project died.
As I go through these websites, and see the variation in their look and feel, three things stand out;
1. Many stations do share a “corporate” look.
2. Many stations don’t
3. All of the websites I’m looking at are for NPR member stations
I’m curious to know if you know whether stations that haven’t adopted one of the half-dozen or so prevailing templates are struggling to keep their own identity as NPR member stations, or if NPR is letting them be?
Public radio listeners can be an insular bunch. In some ways, they are opposite to American citizens in general and a contradiction to one of public radio’s main selling points.
American citizens, in general, are interested in what happens in other states even though they themselves live in one state. Public radio listeners, by contrast, like to think of themselves as citizens of the world, but have little to no idea what is happening elsewhere in the public radio universe. In part, it’s the fault of the public radio stations themselves. They have, each and every one of them, set themselves up like little Levittowns.
Every listener need is met. Every street has a grocery store, a hardware store, a restaurant. There’s no reason for anyone to leave their own block and that’s the way station’s like it. If you never feel the need to go anywhere else, then all your time, attention and money stays here.
But that means public radio listeners never hear of the turmoil elsewhere between stations that are fighting over audience, or the white knuckled panic with which affiliates and networks eye each other over the effect of podcasts on funding, or state cutbacks to public radio support and the struggles stations are having over when and for how long to have fund drives that are both, effective and don’t drive listeners away.
Stations have succeeded too well at making things comfy. And that is where some of the responsibility needs to shifts to listeners.
They could afford to be more engaged with the state of public radio, not just their local station, because of domino effects. In these times of tight budgets when state A decides to cut or end support to its public radio station, states B, C and D, looking across the border, start wondering where else besides public radio they could put their money. And while station A in Nebraska misses a fund drive goal, and its board sells its frequency – making it disappear, listeners in Connecticut are blissfully absorbed in the soft tones of Garrison Keillor.
Public radio listeners pride themselves on being advocates for every cause NPR, PRI or APM reporters haul out before them. But they also need to pay attention to the medium as well as the message because without the medium, there is no message. Contributing to your local station is fine. Volunteering for your local station is great. But your public radio community is a lot bigger than your neighbors your public radio station serves. It is part of a hemispheric network of wheels and cogs. All of them, together, make this amazing thing called public radio. If any of them start to grind, or strip, the whole thing could come to a smoking stop.
I know it might seem unlikely.
But unlikely things are happening everyday.
“When elephants fight, the grass suffers.” – African Proverb
In the course of working on my book about the public radio pledge drive, I stumbled upon a conversation between two leaders in the public radio realm. Adam Davidson, who has been a content producer for NPR and APM with a particular interest in economics, and John Sutton, a long time radio researcher and fundraising consultant who has been following audience behaviour for decades.
Mr. Sutton responded to a conversation Mr. Davidson posted about the future of audio content and how public radio in general is facing an existential threat from new, long-form journalism from podcasts like “Serial”. Mr. Sutton responded that people don’t use podcasts the way they use radio as it currently exists and even with the technological changes that have rocked public radio, their effect in the long term will be smoothed out. As time went on, their conversation got a lot livelier and their critiques of each other’s point of view, much more, … um … pointed.
Fortunately, what I’m working on isn’t specifically about program production, audience behaviour or technological innovation as it affects public radio. There are people are much smarter about those things than I will ever be. But it reveals the problem with experts. What is the public to do when standing between two people who have the credentials to clearly and cogently defend opposite points of view?
Pubcasters do everything they can to keep the public happy and in a giving mood and that means drawing as little attention as possible to such conversations. But in the deep underbelly of public radio, they ultimately direct bigger conversations. Like, for example, those over the success of Jarl Mohn, NPR’s new CEO who wants to bring more high value donors into NPR. It’s a strategy that drew justifiable skepticism from the host of OPB’s daily flagship radio news program in 2014.
Maybe the extra cash will help public radio rely less on pledge drives, give producers more freedom to produce higher quality programming and help it avoid future bloodbaths like the one that rocked the network in 2014. ICYMI, NPR made deep cuts in staff and programming in a cost saving move.
In their August 2015 conversation, both men do agree on one thing – the key to public radio’s success is producing programs the audience will listen to and pay for. Their discussion, found here, is probably only one of many such fights between such elephants deep within the public radio milieu.
It’s worth noting that back in the early 70s, when President Nixon was looking for ways to curtail federal funds to public broadcasting, he received advice from his then council for public broadcasting, future Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. According to Andrew Giarolo, a doctoral candidate at Seton Hall in 2013 and author of, “Resolving the Debate on Public Funding for National Public Radio”, Mr. Scalia “crafted a policy by which local stations would drive programming choices.”
This was important at the time because there was a division within Congress between those who thought NPR should be a national network vs. those who thought federal funding should focus on stations developing a local-only programming policy. Both camps knew that the size of the voice affected the spread of the message. And since public radio had by then gained the reputation of being an “Eastern liberal institution”, conservatives in the White House, Congress and the courts wanted to make sure federal money wasn’t supporting it too strongly.
Programming is key because programming is expensive and needs to be paid for. Local stations didn’t have the budgets to create the kind of investigative reports that infuriated the Nixon adminstration, but networks and dedicated production facilities did. So attacking CPB funds was a key strategy by the right.
Although Scalia helped prepare legislation for submission to Congress that contained ideas for local stations to drive programming rather than NPR, it went nowhere. But, years later, NPR would itself create a system of diversified funding sources that included local stations, that would protect funding for programming and save it from budget attacks in the future.