Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Taking the "Public" Out of National Public Radio

There are many definitions of the word “public” like in the name “National Public Radio (NPR)”. According to Houghton Mifflin there are 7 different definitions. But in the end all that matters is how people perceive it. Personally when I read NPR I equate it to a “Public Park” or a “Public Employee”. “Public Parks” are paid for by the government whether it is local, state or federal. “Public Employees” are paid by tax dollars to work for the public good in one form or another.
NPR though is a complete misnomer to me because they aren’t really public at all in the sense of the word most people understand. My research is not scientific by any stretch, but when I asked average people I have met what that NPR means to them is that it’s sponsored by the government for the good of the people. But that isn’t the deal with NPR any more. A very small percentage of their money comes from the government. And while they have been accused at different times as being too conservative or too liberal, they certainly don’t provide any service that you can’t get from for-profit radio.
In 1970 there were only around 6000 radio stations in the US and we had no cable news stations or the internet to get our information from. Today there are over 14000 radio stations in the country, we have CNN, CNN Headline News, CNBC, MSNBC and FoxNews…. just as the mainstays without considering the smaller cable stations, plus we have every website, foundation, think thank and blog site you could ever hope for on the internet to get information from. It’s time to stop pretending that these people are somehow necessary to expose people to some information that isn’t available in many other locations.
If NPR wants to stay in existence that’s great. Go for it. But there are two things that need to happen. First, all government funding needs to stop. We don’t have enough money to pay for things like NPR anymore when it’s easy to get it from other sources that are so prevalent for news and other programming. Second, when we stop government funding of NPR they need to be forced to change their name. If they aren’t public funded let’s stop confusing people by making them think they are somehow in this for the public good. Just because they are non-profit doesn’t make them any different than any for-profit station. Let’s stop pretending they are in this for the public good.

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