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I love NPR, but the news?

I love the programming on NPR, but why is our government subsidizing what is clearly partian slanted news? What happened to the days of Walter Cronkite? I thought NPR was the place for real journalism?

Besides if I want to get news-o-tainment...I can watch Fox or CNBC or CNN.

The Continuing Absurdity of National Public Radio

NPR CEO sees no bias problem, only a business opportunity.

By James Freeman

April 25, 2024

Katherine Maher, who became CEO of National Public Radio in March, appears at a technology conference in Portugal in 2023.

The CEO of National Public Radio is making the best case yet for ending taxpayer subsidies of public broadcasting. In a remarkable interview with the Journal’s Alexandra Bruell, NPR boss Katherine Maher dismisses criticism from a longtime NPR editor about the outlet’s journalistic failures and also refuses to credit those who question Ms. Maher’s history of wearing leftist politics on her sleeve.

Ms. Bruell reports:

“All of this frankly is a bit of a distraction relative to the transformation our organization needs to undergo in order to best serve our mandate,” Maher said in an interview.

In an essay earlier this month on the news site the Free Press, NPR editor Uri Berliner said the public radio network had lost its way by letting liberal bias skew its coverage. NPR erred on big stories including the origins of Covid-19, Hunter Biden’s laptop and the Israel-Hamas conflict, he wrote. Berliner was suspended last week and subsequently resigned.

Maher said NPR should be open to criticism, but defended the news organization against the charges Berliner laid out.

“We have robust conversations across the organization, including in response to the article,” she said. “Clear and well-reasoned pieces” from reviewers, like a write-up from NPR’s public editor and Poynter executive Kelly McBride that examined coverage of Israel and Gaza, have “found that our journalism is really solid,” Maher said.

The NPR CEO cannot be serious. Ms. McBride was among those participating in the effort to diminish and denigrate accurate reporting from the New York Post about the laptop and the Biden family enrichment schemes in 2020.

News consumers may also remember Ms. McBride as a bit player in another NPR drama in 2022. The biased broadcaster was so determined to smear a conservative Supreme Court justice that NPR insisted on standing behind a story when it didn’t even know what the story was. In this case Ms. McBride really did try to blow the whistle, but NPR simply brushed aside her eminently valid criticism. Now for some odd reason she is still willing to associate herself with the irresponsible outlet.

If Ms. McBride still wants to give it a go as a sort of network ombudsman, there is no shortage of big blown stories to address. Mr. Berliner wrote in his Free Press essay about the network’s coverage of the Trump administration:

Persistent rumors that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia over the election became the catnip that drove reporting. At NPR, we hitched our wagon to Trump’s most visible antagonist, Representative Adam Schiff.

Schiff, who was the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, became NPR’s guiding hand, its ever-present muse. By my count, NPR hosts interviewed Schiff 25 times about Trump and Russia. During many of those conversations, Schiff alluded to purported evidence of collusion. The Schiff talking points became the drumbeat of NPR news reports.

But when the Mueller report found no credible evidence of collusion, NPR’s coverage was notably sparse. Russiagate quietly faded from our programming.

It is one thing to swing and miss on a major story. Unfortunately, it happens. You follow the wrong leads, you get misled by sources you trusted, you’re emotionally invested in a narrative, and bits of circumstantial evidence never add up. It’s bad to blow a big story.

What’s worse is to pretend it never happened, to move on with no mea culpas, no self-reflection. Especially when you expect high standards of transparency from public figures and institutions, but don’t practice those standards yourself. That’s what shatters trust and engenders cynicism about the media.

But according to NPR’s CEO, this cynicism-inducing programming stew just needs to be marketed better. Ms. Bruell has more from Katherine Maher:

What is needed is a more comprehensive business strategy, she said. “How do we actually go out and grow audiences, how do we use data in order to inform our decisions, how do we understand what’s working?” she said.

Part of it will be changing the tone of its broadcasts. Research shows people see the network, which includes over 240 member organizations, as “accurate and intellectual,” she said. “We want to be able to speak to folks as though they were our neighbors and speak to folks as though they were our friends.”

So NPR’s greatest weakness is that it simply cares too much about being smart and informative?

Speaking of the emerging NPR business strategy, this highlights the main reason why government support is unnecessary. Benjamin Mullin and Jeremy Peters report for the New York Times on the network’s continuing effort to transition from traditional radio broadcasting to various digital services:

An NPR spokeswoman, Isabel Lara, said in emails to The Times that the organization had confidence in many of its recent initiatives, including its podcast subscription business, its push to diversify its staff and its efforts to reach listeners digitally. Ms. Lara said three of NPR’s podcasts — “Up First,” “Fresh Air” and “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” — were in Apple’s top 10 subscriber podcasts…

Public radio podcasts, with their distinct blend of reporting and narrative, quickly won over millions of listeners and pioneered a new format. “Serial,” a gritty whodunit from the makers of the public radio show “This American Life,” became a breakout hit, leading to spinoffs and illustrating the promise of podcasting for nonprofit radio organizations.

Today, NPR is the fourth most popular podcast publisher globally, according to Podtrac, with nearly 113 million downloads in March alone. But it also faces many new competitors, including The Times, which bought “Serial” in 2020 to bolster its own growing audio business…

Decades ago, in an age of relative media scarcity, public broadcasting used to justify its existence as a way to provide free over-the-air broadcasting to areas and consumers who had few other options. Now, as if NPR’s audience isn’t already affluent enough, a strategy based on podcasting by definition is serving people who have access to myriad other news and entertainment options. This column holds no brief for the New York Times, but why should the Gray Lady have to compete with a government-backed competitor for the attention of rich liberals—and bid against it for programming?

As for the content, in contrast to NPR’s CEO, even reporters at the New York Times can recognize there’s a debate about bias at NPR:

… its story selection has on occasion left it open to criticism that its focus on race and identity has affected its news judgment. There have been stories, for instance, on how to “decolonize your bookshelf” and “thin privilege.”

Privileged is the right word for the upscale listeners that taxpayers are still forced to subsidize.

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