With All Due Respect Mr. Glass, I Disagree, NPR Is Not Ready For Capitalism.
Ira Glass of This American Life has gone a little crazy. He wants NPR to go Capitalist with a capital C. In an editorial on current.org he explains that while he is an NPR lifer, he sees its popularity as a reason to go after “underwriting”, to be less dependent on quarterly drives and to go the way the rest of the radio goes and be funded by advertisers. I wish he thought about this a little bit harder before he said it.
You see, the reason why NPR is different is not because of it’s core mission, every other newspaper says the same thing. The difference is that because of those drives and that member supported money, the stations must provide the content that listeners know is true, not advertisers. The advertisers that come to NPR right now know this and so they cannot ask NPR to change. What NPR has done for the past thirty years is create a reputation which lead to a community which lead to the brand. To capitalize on that brand seems like a good move, it should be capitalized, but not through the vein that has isolated other newsmakers and brought the droves of disenchanted to experience the frankness of NPR. Precisely because NPR unlike other news providers decided to stick to their model has kept them honest while others continue to create click-bait and experiment with native advertisements.
But there’s more. Taking away the membership drives will do something even worse: the drives remind journalists who they work for and who pays them. Drives remind journalists of why they work as they pitch again and again to the lazy listener, reminding that listener what NPR is, what it stands for and who works there. Those pitches remind us, the listeners, what news on NPR is and that it is what it should be and who it is made by and why. It is these pitches that created the community of paying members and active listeners. That is why I listen to them, even after I already contributed. I listen to them because I hear you talking to me Guy Raz, Michelle Gross and yes, even you Mr. Glass. To do fewer drives is to bring about a slow collapse to the public that comes to NPR, the journalists that join NPR and the quality news making that NPR does.
In fact, it is not a path to capitalism that NPR should be taking, but leading the charge back to listener supported media, as it used to be. It used to be that major sources of funds for news were the readers and listeners, it is their decision to not pay and get their news for free which has lead to the decline of news. It has lead to us missing major stories from the war in Iraq, to the 2008 housing meltdown and even the lack of preparedness and lack of communication of the people who were supposed to keep us safe on 9/11. If anything, the newsmakers need to go and make more pitches like NPR and join the Phittle’s, CoinTents and QBeats or any other platform that allows the user to contribute to the story and pay for the good that they receive.
I know that Mr. Glass thinks that past behavior predicts future behavior and while that is true for people, it is not true for organizations. Organizations (and often people) are the products of their system and Mr. Glass is proposing a radical change to the system without specific checks and balances. Yes Mr. Glass, more people should underwrite your shows giving ability to expand and weather the bad times as they will happen, and underwriting will decrease and government money will decrease, and you will have to go back to those listeners to ask for money. But will those listeners be there, big possibility is no, at least not with their checkbooks. Because like the subscribers of New York Times, once they were told that their opinions and their money aren’t important, they hear you and they leave and getting them back may take more than 30 years.
I love you Ira Glass, but you’re wrong on this one. Let NPR be NPR, and capitalism be capitalism. Because capitalism was never made for a public good, and that is what journalism is. For without a free and independent press beholden to the people and only the people, democracy doesn’t stand a chance.