All Things Beggared

On the Newsonomic website, here, there’s news of the latest news project to consume public radio dollars. The CPB kicked in $2 million on Project Argo to kick-start things, and another $10 million or so on the so-called Local Journalism Centers (story here). That’s chicken feed compared to what’s contemplated in a new “alliance for public media,” noted here, which envisions hundreds of millions of dollars headed into a public-radio news network. And you just know this isn’t going to come from granny’s butter-and-egg money:

We’ve seen lots of motion in the public radio world over the last year. We’ve seen 12 topical sites prominently launched in major cities, under the rubric of Project Argo. We’ve seen National Public Radio building out a state-of-the-art internal wire (the NPR API), facilitating the sharing of national, global and local stories among public radio stations. We’ve seen the Corporation for Public Broadcasting fund various new initiatives, including the Local Journalism Centers, aimed at improving regional issues reporting. We’ve seen Boston’s WBUR, the Bay Area’s KQED, the Twin Cities’s and L.A.’s KPCC all launch standalone news sites over the last year, moving beyond the programming brochure look that has long characterized public radio on the web.

All that, though, may be prologue. Four leading public radio stations have meeting frequently, forming an ad hoc “alliance for public media,” and they’ve got big plans.

The largest notion: Expand regional “public media” news operations to 100 reporters and editors per market in four to six markets — and soon. That’s “public radio” grown into “public media”, meaning that these news operations would be digital-first, text-heavy and video-ready, while porting over the audio from radio. In other words, not re-purposed “radio” news, but the kind of standalone, multi-platform news operations we’re starting to see, as with TBD in Washington, D.C.

Wa-a-a-y down toward the end of the post is one discouraging word about the grand plan: “If 100 is a target number in Chicago and L.A., what’s a good number for Austin, Albany  and Albuquerque, and where will the money come from to jumpstart journalism in those midsized markets?” Well, yeah, that’s occurred to us as well. Where, pray tell? Will they junk the pricey HD channels some of them have started up — and nobody listens to — populated by canned public radio shows? Or will they cut back on more of the local talent that’s such a drag on their budgets and replace them with more canned radio?

Be that as it may, it behooves us to consider the nature of the public radio news — where it’s been and where it’s going to. An email has been circulating about internal messages at NPR concerning the upcoming rallies hosted by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert:

Just in case any of those super-sincere journalists get the notion of taking a break to enjoy the fake news…

NPR staff told to stay away from Colbert, Stewart rallies if not covering them

Memos to NPR staffers

From: [NPR chief executive] Vivian Schiller
Sent: Wednesday, October 13, 2010 8:58 AM
To: AllStaff
Subject: FW: NPR Journalists and political activity
To ALL NPR staff,
Please see Ellen Weiss’ note to her staff below (and in particular, the reference to the upcoming Jon Stewart rally). In addition to News, the other divisions that are required to abide by the NPR News Ethics policy are digital, programming/AIR, legal and communications.
However, no matter where you work at NPR you should be very mindful that you represent the organization and its news coverage in the eyes of your friends, neighbors and others. So please think twice about the message you may be sending about our objectivity before you attend a rally or post a bumper sticker or yard sign. We are all NPR.
If you have any questions or concerns, please speak to your supervisor.
From: [Senior vice president for news] Ellen Weiss
Sent: Wednesday, October 13, 2010 8:46 AM
To: News-All Staff
Subject: NPR Journalists and political activity
As we head into the final weeks of this political season, I thought it would be valuable to send out a reminder of what NPR News Ethics Policies and Social Media Guidelines are regarding political activity. These are the relevant excerpts from the full documents that can be found online.
Please review carefully and if you have any questions please talk to your direct supervisor.
Many thanks,
Political activity:
* NPR journalists may not run for office, endorse candidates or otherwise engage in politics. Since contributions to candidates are part of the public record, NPR journalists may not contribute to political campaigns, as doing so would call into question a journalist’s impartiality.
* NPR journalists may not participate in marches and rallies involving causes or issues that NPR covers, nor should they sign petitions or otherwise lend their name to such causes, or contribute money to them. This restriction applies to the upcoming John Stewart and Stephen Colbert rallies.
* You must not advocate for political or other polarizing issues online. This extends to joining online groups or using social media in any form (including your Facebook page or a personal blog) to express personal views on a political or other controversial issue that you could not write for the air or post on
* NPR journalists may not serve on government boards or commissions.
Posted at 11:20 AM on Oct. 13, 2010

For those with doubts about NPR news, a good site to peruse is Matthew Murrey’s NPR Check, who believes NPR has been slowly drifting rightward with the prevailing currents, seconded by some of these recent comments from readers.


3 Responses

  1. […] Project Argo (and its far more grandiose siblings, the Local Journalism Centers, as mentioned here in a post called “All Things […]

  2. […] all. As reported here, in a post called “The CPB: Bull in the China Shop,” and again here, in a post entitled “All Things Beggared,” and in numerous other posts, the influence […]

  3. […] the powers that be upstream in National Public Radio have decreed (see “All Things Beggared,” here). We now have basically for music a Triple-A repeater station with managed playlists — despite […]

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