if a big restaurant chain announced that it was hiring a chief inspector — and
filled the job with the person who’d been in charge of the company’s kitchens?
We might roll our eyes if the incoming inspector proclaimed from the outset that
the meals on the menu were delicious and nutritious.
Public Radio has hired an ombudsman — "to receive, independently
investigate and respond to queries from the public regarding editorial standards
in its programming." Jeffrey Dvorkin, the NPR vice president for news and
information since 1997, is now moving into the new position. A press release
quotes him as saying that the creation of the ombudsman post "keeps NPR at
the forefront of editorial excellence."
this context, NPR’s first ombudsman in two decades is not off to an auspicious
start. The boosterism should make us wary. But Dvorkin seems committed to
dialogue. "I’m the agent for the listener, and I’m there to help raise
issues to the editorial staff that are of concern to the public," he told
me a few days ago.
his ombudsman role as "a kind of partnership with the listener,"
Dvorkin spoke of "putting the public into National Public Radio." That
would really be quite a change.
Hockenberry, who worked as a correspondent and program host for many years at
the network, was being candid when he told Mother Jones magazine last spring:
"By the time I left NPR in 1992, it was an audience-driven, revenue-driven
entity, not unlike corporate media outlets. The programming strategy was
dominated by the ideal that we had to grow our audience in the same way that the
commercial media grows its audience."
for "the idea that NPR is more in-depth, or is saving the world,"
Hockenberry added, it’s "laughable."
certainly provides lengthy news programs. But lots of words don’t necessarily
mean depth. Especially in policy-related coverage of economics, national
politics and foreign affairs, NPR News excels at stenography for the powerful.
Most reports from Washington — and from capitals overseas — rely on the same
official sources that glut the rest of America’s media market.
ahead, the NPR ombudsman will report directly to the network’s president and
CEO, Kevin Klose. A little more than a year ago, Klose came to NPR from his job
as director of the U.S. International Broadcast Bureau, which runs such
government media projects as Voice of America and the Office of Cuba
Broadcasting. Apparently, it was a smooth transition.
days, NPR has appreciable clout, airing on 625 radio stations in the United
States. The network says its audience tripled during the 1990s and now amounts
to 15 million Americans per week. If you’re among them, maybe you have some
thoughts to share with Dvorkin (who’s reachable at [email protected]).
help get the ball rolling, here are a few questions:
does NPR News feature an hourly "Business Update" but no hourly or
daily or weekly "Labor Update"?
NPR proud of the increasingly long "underwriter credits," which
sound more and more like flat-out commercials, bracketing numerous NPR
program segments on stations across the nation?
do NPR economics reporters frequently air the views of analysts at Wall
Street firms and corporate-funded think tanks, while rarely including the
voices of economists who work for labor unions or public-interest groups?
do NPR’s national political correspondents routinely sound like note-takers
for officialdom instead of independent journalists? And why are they as
willing and able to devote endless minutes to "horseracing"
elections as reporters on any other network?
the United States engages in warfare, whether bombing Iraq or bombing
Yugoslavia, why does "NPR" seem to stand for "National
is it so unusual for progressive foes of corporate power to get more than a
few words in edgewise on NPR’s main news programs? Why is the repeated
spectrum of opinions limited to the sort of perspectives heard along
NPR’s big drive-time shows, "Morning Edition" and "All Things
Considered," the reliance on official sources is so dense that there’s
often a heavy smell of propaganda in the air. Correspondents make a habit of
echoing the assumptions that hold sway in Congress, the White House and top
mainstream media, what passes for news is apt to be more like newspeak. Too bad
NPR News is no exception.