Does the World Really Need NPR?

National Public Radio (NPR)
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National Public Radio (NPR)
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Old NPR building at 635 Massachusetts Avenue, NW in Washington, DC (Joe Loong, CC by 2.0)

Trump wants to cut federal funding to National Public Radio (NPR).  Is that such a bad thing?

Before you rip me a listener-supported new one, I’ll start with this.  I listen, without fail, to NPR every single day.  Sometimes for just a few minutes, other times for hours on end.

I’ve also donated more than $10,000 to public radio stations over the past decade.

But I can imagine my life without it.  Pretty easily, actually.

What am I listening to, exactly?  Here in LA, I’m regularly tuning into NPR stations like KPCC and KCRW (not to mention listener-supported stations like Classical KUSC).  I’m also subscribed to NPR podcasts (not to mention Serial podcast binging back in the day).  Most of the time, I love it.

So I’m actually the last person who should be questioning whether the world really needs National Public Radio.  But I’m starting to think it doesn’t.

NPR boasts unbiased, in-depth reporting.  And it is.  But they’re not the only ones.  If the lights at NPR went out tomorrow, there would be dozens of other options to vet through the same world circus.  Sources I trust.

Or, maybe there’s better stuff out there that I’m ignoring.  Even a die-hard liberal can’t deny the stuffy liberalism that infuses almost every second of NPR’s reporting.  The pompous accents, the ridiculous pronunciations, the topic selection, it’s all baked in.  And it’s not just a style problem.  That type of fume-breathing kept me out of the loop ahead of the biggest political shock of our era.

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NPR was blindsided.  And as a regular listener, so was I.  Now, the leader of the blinding force wants to turn off the lights on NPR.  Go figure.

But I’ve realized something else about mainstream news.  You can’t NOT read it.  The mechanisms for delivering information are so powerful, so in-your-face, I can’t NOT know what’s going on (and I’ve tried).

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But the same is now true for music.  One day, I realized that I wasn’t listening to KCRW and KUSC that much anymore.  I stopped turning on KPCC in the shower.  But I’m still listening to hours and hours of music a day.  What’s going on?

Well, it turns out that I’m listening to Spotify playlists and podcasts almost non-stop.  And half the time, the podcasts don’t have any music in them!

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But I still only have the same amount of hours a day to listen to music.  Things get squeezed.  All of which brings me to the question that popped in my mind as Donald Trump threatened to cut the cord on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s $450 million budget.

What would my life be like without National Public Radio?

The simple answer is that I’d survive.  There are dozens of overlapping alternatives.

But maybe public stations would survive without the funding.  This morning, the head of the CPB, Patricia Harrison, warned that cuts would herald “the collapse of the public media system itself and the end of this essential national service”.  But I wonder if riled-up listeners would fill in the gap, if only to keep the lights on at defiant, honest stations.

Look no further than groups like the ACLU and Public Citizen, both of whom have re-energized funding levels to combat Donald Trump.  In fact, I’m starting to think that some of these hardscrabble public stations might even do better if faced with a federal funding crisis.

And they wouldn’t have to kiss anyone’s ass in Washington.  Sounds like the start of some truly differentiated, world-changing reporting.

And something that truly can’t be replaced.

20 Responses

  1. music stowaway

    I think the opinion expressed here is fair and well considered.

    Actually I like the accents, I listen to NPR content on relay stations
    and there’s some good discussions and topics that really interest me..

    You don’t need radio transmitters anymore, the Internet has a much wider
    reach and podcasts are a great way to share spoken audio content.

    Of course the trouble with the internet there’s a billion things on it whereas
    on AM and FM it’s a very limited space and limited range – so in a sense radio may have more chance of finding listeners where as the internet can be like finding a
    needle in a haystack.. but NPR has a strong identity and following, same goes with the BBC and others.. so you’d think the audience would find their way to the web sites.

    I’m inclined to not really support the idea of Government funding of AM/FM
    broadcasting – but I think the US should open up the radio spectrum for true
    independent stations and change the adjacent channel separation distances
    on FM to allow more stations to operate and also allow non-educational and non-
    religious stations to have access to the FM band for LPFM licenses.

    Should NPR carry advertising? that would probably wreck it as then it becomes a commercial enterprise and that would change things..

  2. William

    Excellent Paul. Indeed people would get along just fine without NPR. Indeed there is a revolution happening, and we don’t need government funded news and education anymore. This is 2017 not 1957.

    As you know, something like Patreon can bring in some funding if they do it right. In this age, we suffer from abundance. Unless NPR and the like are willing to change it up, they will die a slow death anyway. Exciting times ahead I think.

    • Repubs are Satan

      We don’t need public broadcasting? Are you nuts? Have you seen the garbage on regular commercial television? The programs on PBS are far far better than the trash available on commercial television. Nova, Frontline, Nature are all programs produced by people that put quality before profits. Most other civilized nations care about the public space. Maybe you’d be better of in a place like Russia, where raw power rules, not community.

      • Repubs are Satan

        You are really acting like a jerk now. You’re just deliberately trying to start a fire, and not address a very real issue. F this ridiculous blog.

  3. Chris

    This is a shit opinion piece with very little to support your point.

    • Stuffy liberal

      Yep, I couldn’t agree more. If you act like a civilized educated human nowadays you are likely to be labeled “a stuffy liberal” or a “liberal elite”. Funny because growing up I was always told that was the American dream. To be a well educated, positive contributing member of society that participates and is financially responsible.

  4. Jschlich

    “…the end of this essential national service”.

    The most humor so far in 2017.

    The world has moved on and just like most other subsidy run operations this old service has served it’s officers and staff well while the product has suffered.

    Public input to internet communications has replaced anything that may have been “essential” about NPR in the past.

  5. Danwriter

    Interesting. I’m a devotee of NPR, as well, though I also find Mandalit del Barco’s affectatious pronounciation of her own byline annoying. On the other hand, I live to hear Ofeibea Quist-Arcton say “Dakar!” But the bigger issue is whether NPR and NPT should continue to receive public funding. As one commentor here points out, what they do get from the Feds is minimal. However, it’s perhaps less about what they get from the Feds than what public participation in media brings the country. We have a publicly funded broadcast infrastructure for the same reason we have publicly funded museums and parks. It’s a two-way street.

    • Repubs are Satan

      I love the idea that NPR is supposed to be perfect while finding commercial broadcasts can be mostly dreck and noone says anything.

      This isn’t just about NPR, it’s more about PBS which is clearly the best television on air by a country mile.

  6. Paul Resnikoff

    Just responding to the various comments, I’m wondering if it makes sense for NPR (and PBS) to get away from public funding. Why not go listener supported + advertising, 100%. Already, NPR has ads, at least every NPR update I listen to starts out with a sponsor. Actually products I want to try out (especially since they are supporting something I like).

    We’re in a different era, where fan-funded and listener-supported can be far greater. Sorry, if crazy vinyl inventions can make millions, so can NPR. Even TLC made $400,000 on Kickstarter?

    The upside is that you don’t need to kiss some Congressional committee’s (or President’s) ass every 4 years, and moderate your coverage because of it. Hey, if some smaller stations don’t survive, so be it. NPR could grow stronger in the end.


    You live in L.A. I live in the ATL. There is a vast difference. There is only one NPR but a boatload of some of the worst conservative talk radio on the airwaves. No balance whatsoever.

    Also, the bulk of NPR’S money comes from fundraising. This is like comparing a bushel full of apples to one orange. The amount of money they get from the feds is a pittance to keep quality programming on the air.

  8. John

    Makes perfect sense for NPR to get away from public funding. If NPR/PBS can’t survive in the marketplace, then they really aren’t that great pure and simple. If they’re the best on radio/TV as some people say, then they’ll have no problem surviving and thriving – Quality will turn a profit. Most people in the country don’t listen to NPR or watch PBS, so why should everyone be forced to pay for it?

    • Roll Eyes

      I am rather annoyed with the idea that the only things of value are things that rake in large profits.

      And you know also that Quality rarely wins out. The state of the media has been since the deregulating in the 1980’s and 1990’s has been in a continuous race to the bottom, sensationalism, vapid non analysis, lies and blatant partisanship to try to gain “relevance.”

  9. music stowaway

    In an age of “shock jocks” “narrow minded popular-ism” and limited thoughtful
    and reasoned opinion, NPR provides a considered and rational voice in this ever maddening world.

    I am surprised there isn’t funding coming from the extremely wealthy demographic
    as I am sure there must be some high earners who listen and think NPR is worth

  10. Roll Eyes

    This article feels like to me, like someone with a stable of luxury cars condescendingly explaining to a public transport rider than the cancellation of their bus service is just fine.

  11. Roll Eyes

    When I did a quick search, Public Radio in all it’s forms takes in about 11% of its revenue from Federal sources. So the author (and many of these comments) as assuming that Trump can shut it down.

    They will need to adapt, but 11% drop in revenue isn’t a existential crisis.

  12. Rob G

    I just wrote this letter to NPR.. as I have seen this too.
    I am a decade plus listener and financial contributor to NPR and I have always loved being a part of that community. I started listening to NPR over 13 years ago because I started realizing that other TV news stations had become partisan political platforms for either Democrats (liberals) or Republicans (conservatives). This idea of having a political view of some person shared as fact in the content and the “how” of how I received my news, was not just unappealing, but sickening to me. I cherished NPR for always sharing both views with very little to no bias. They invited guests from both mindsets and we could hear intelligent discussions, debates, and sometimes arguments about the real issues in America. The fact that I could find either no sides, and just the news, or both sides, with an objective mediator was wonderful. NPR in the last year has started to fail to do this. I hear it in local shows, but more disturbing in the national NPR shows. All I have heard for the last 2 months especially are guest after guest talking about how Donald Trump is a clown, and that is fine, but not one host of a show even tries to play the devil’s advocate. They agree and then THEY start making fun of him too with the guest ? Trump is an easy target, and I get it, but NPR in my opinion has always been the one place where I did not have worry about getting one sided views. Every guest is anti-trump, anti republican, or anti- conservative and they are not open to other views. It is sad when I have been forced to go back to the mainstream news to find balance. I would listen to NPR for an hour in my car and then have to watch an hour or Fox News to see what the republicans were saying about these ideas, when I used to be able to listen to NPR and hear BOTH SIDES !!!!! I do not want one sided news, and now I feel this is where NPR is headed too on almost all of their programing. I am not a republican or democrat, I am an american who wants to hear BOTH SIDES ! Until you start balancing out your local AND NATIONAL (because I expect the national to always be more aware of this) I am going to stop listening and contributing to the NPR cause. I never claim to contribute a lot of money (because we are not rich) but between me and my wife we’ve given over 1,000$ to various stations depending on the location we lived in and my wife giving her car (that they sold for 5,000$) . I am highly disappointed that it has come to this. I noticed it slowly at first and it becomes more n more egregious each day, and it needs to stop. Please NPR find some more guests from the other side, and more than anything keep the hosts opinions out of the show if it is just one sided anger-fest at a political figure. You are better than this.