WHERE HAVE YOU GONE PUBLIC RADIO?
In the course of his reporting on National Public Radio [“Good, Gray NPR,” May 23], Scott Sherman contacted me to ask about my perceptions of the network, where I have worked for the past year as one of NPR’s two managing editors. During our interview, Sherman asked me whether it was true that NPR’s vice president of news, Bruce Drake, had blocked any of my journalistic initiatives. I told him–on the record and for use in his article–that, to the contrary, Drake had been 100 percent supportive of my work since I joined the staff and that I considered him a good man and a good journalist. Despite the fact that I provided Sherman with that assessment, he chose to report that NPR sources “anticipate future discord” between Drake and myself.
As a reporter, I believe it’s critically important to rely on evidence and experience provided by on-the-record sources rather than the fears and predictions of anonymous critics. If Sherman chose to emphasize the anonymous critics’ dire predictions, then as a matter of fundamental fairness he had an obligation to share with his readers my belief that Drake is a talented editor and a highly supportive colleague. I hope this letter will undo some of the damage done by Sherman’s unfair description of my relationship with Bruce Drake and the anonymous disparagement of his excellent journalistic skills.
Managing editor, National Public Radio
Scott Sherman takes NPR to task for being too timid to engage in “kick-ass journalism.” As a dismayed listener, I would be glad if the network just stopped kissing ass so assiduously. Since the churlishly abrupt dismissal of longtime host Bob Edwards, NPR’s flagship news program, Morning Edition, seems to have abandoned its critical faculties altogether. Tune in, and if you don’t hear unquestioning acceptance of Republican spin, paeans to the religious right or a simple-minded sermon disguised as commentary, just wait five minutes.
If NPR is to have relevance and remain solvent, listenership is necessary. If in fact 71 percent of the respondents are not liberal, what’s wrong with NPR news the way it is? Here in Montana, I live in a wasteland of media choices. I think the competition among noncommercial distributors is very healthy. Despite NPR’s loss of its original bite, it will take a cataclysmic event for it to sink to parity with the commercial pablum. Most of NPR’s stories are in-depth and interesting.
Here in conservative Oklahoma, I tend to feel like a lonely petunia in an onion patch. Perhaps NPR is less radical than it was, but in my neck of the woods, it’s the only source of balanced news and left-leaning editorial. The words of NPR have to be well positioned and artfully chosen to dent the rural Oklahoman consciousness. Does it do the job? All I know is that I hear bits of fact and anecdote repeated that had to have come from the station I listen to. The venom and spittal of AM talk-radio is, frankly, childish and not worth imitating. Cool reason with a dash of wit are better for the long haul. I’m glad NPR has chosen a subtle rather than a “kick-ass” approach to journalism.
NPR is vanilla. But in pointing out how “white” NPR remains, Scott Sherman refers only to Hispanics and blacks. NPR and Sherman should also think of multiracial people, of Asian-Americans, etc. We all listen to the radio, and we feel the need to hear our perspectives on public airwaves.
NGUYEN QUI DUC
I have no TV, never have. I am retired–get most of my serious info from The New York Review of Books, The Nation and the Internet. What I listen to on NPR: the weather, commuter traffic, time, To the Point and the opera, when it’s on. I am confused and amused by nostalgia for “quirky, spontaneous and risky” reporting. Does “risky” refer to telling truth to power? No fear of that on NPR these days.
Another source of disappointment in NPR: It seems to lack a copy editor. Reporters frequently misuse or mispronounce words, have banished the objective case of the relative pronoun, confuse persuade with convince, shift from singular to plural, use unreferenced pronouns, etc. A network that aspires to offer a first-rate alternative to the networks must also offer first-rate English.
BRENT M. FROBERG
North Truro, Mass.
I must take exception to the complaint about “the NPR drone.” Never mind that it is vastly preferable to the false hysteria of commercial stations. The point is, it makes an NPR station easily recognizable if you’re surfing the dial. When traveling, I’m always looking for a local NPR station (we can be grateful that NPR is almost everywhere). It takes only a few words to recognize that characteristic sound.
And while it’s true that NPR is not a left network, it is perhaps the only network that presents a liberal viewpoint and allows conservatives to offer theirs.
I thank readers for their many thoughtful letters about my article. Bill Marimow seems eager to assert that his relationship with his boss, Bruce Drake, is harmonious. Fair enough. But the central issue is this: In recent years, NPR has largely neglected investigative reporting. Top executives at the network insist that Marimow, whom I praised in my article, was hired to change that situation. There is much in Marimow’s history to suggest that he is the right man for the job. But there is little in Drake’s history to suggest that he is strongly committed to muckraking and risk-taking. Can Marimow take NPR’s news coverage beyond the realm of polite, middle-of-the-road reporting and toward something more gutsy, confrontational and memorable? Experienced NPR staffers I spoke with have serious doubts about his ability to do that, owing to inertia at the highest levels of the network. I wish Marimow luck.
DEFINITELY ABOVE AVERAGE
Thank you for Garrison Keillor’s brilliant, insightful “Confessions of a Listener” [May 23] in that particular, unique style of his that is always so artistic, creative, humorous and damning, all at the same time.
What a relief to read “Confessions of a Listener.” It’s great to be reminded that there are good things in the world even though very ugly people are screaming for our attention so much right now.
Garrison Keillor’s piece is extremely amusing, but I take issue with his statement (far too close to dogmatic): “There’s nobody so humorless as a devout atheist.” As one myself, I have known a great number, and never have I encountered a humorless one. (Didn’t I just say I found his article amusing?) How many jokes will a Christian make about the virgin birth? Or a Muslim about the Koran?
ABIGAIL ANN MARTIN
Is Garrison Keillor kidding? Unlike the children of Lake Wobegon, the adults who live in/listen to AM talkradioland are below average and have as much interest in NPR as they do in string theory. They are easily conned into voting against their better interest, and the talk-show hosts know which of their buttons to push, appealing to their fears, resentments, prejudices and cruelty. They made the difference in the last two presidential elections and will be a factor in 2006 and 2008. To make light of this boil on the body politic is reminiscent of the people who regarded Hitler as just a buffoon. I hope Keillor is kidding.
Floral Park, NY
In 1969 and ’70, I was one of those college kids in a tiny radio studio broadcasting to a captive audience in the cafeteria and student lounge of Queens College in New York City. We had a fabulous time reading news ripped from an ancient AP teletype, playing LPs, covering campus demonstrations and sit-ins and, yes, achieving the weightlessness of which Garrison Keillor speaks. After we shut down for the night, I’d drive home listening to WWVA in Wheeling, West Virginia, or stations in Toronto or other points north fading in and out. (And I never did learn to swat that pesky fly with my 15-transistor, 9-volt portable radio.)
RAY E. SKRABUT
TAKE A REST NOW!
Thank you to Lizzy Ratner for her timely article about Amy Goodman and Democracy Now! [“Amy Goodman’s ‘Empire,’” May 23] Amy is a journalistic necessity. However, I attended a speech of hers on May 13 at a church in St. Louis. She was so exhausted she could barely stand. Her eyes were deeply sunken and she moved like an 85-year-old. Amy–please get some sleep! We need you, and Democracy Now!, for the long haul!
LET’S HEAR IT FOR LPTV!
Thank you for Rick Karr’s wonderful article on low-power radio [“Prometheus Unbound,” May 23]. I hope you’ll discover low-power television. That service was launched by the FCC and Congress twenty-three years ago. There are now close to 3,000 LPTV stations in America, many of them broadcasting local independent fare.
PRICK UP YOUR EARS
There was no mention in your radio issue of KGNU in Colorado, which has expanded from Boulder to Denver on FM and AM. This is direct resistance to media monopoly and a beautiful example for other communities to follow. Community-based stations across the country are sustainable, practical experiments in democracy.
Fountain City, Wisc.
Radio is a part of my driving life. You can record Internet programming to replay in your car. Just run a cable from the computer headphone jack to the microphone or Aux connector of a cassette recorder.