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(52,053 posts)
Tue Apr 16, 2024, 03:02 PM Apr 16

The Real Story Behind NPR's Current Problems [View all]


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NPR, the great bastion of old-school audio journalism, is a mess. But as someone who loves NPR, built my career there, and once aspired to stay forever, I say with sadness that it has been for a long time.

This might be news to those who tune out the circular firing squad of institutional media whiners. But my former NPR colleague Uri Berliner, one of the organization’s (as of now) senior editors, set off a firestorm by publishing a commentary that essentially blamed “wokeness” and Democratic partisanship for the apparent loss of confidence in the once-unimpeachable institution. (This morning, news broke that Uri has been suspended by NPR for violating a policy about “outside work,” and informed that he’d be fired for any more infractions.) The essay, published by Bari Weiss’ the Free Press, blew up certain corners of X and various Facebook feeds, and was gleefully lapped up by conservatives who’ve been fighting to defund NPR and public broadcasting for a generation.

It was a longtime fear at NPR that some scandal or mess that the network had hoped to contain within its headquarters, lovingly referred to as the “mother ship” by nippers and ex-nippers everywhere, would find its way to the outside world, where the organization’s very real, powerful enemies could exploit it. In fact, this is happening right now; Christopher Rufo, a conservative writer and fellow at the Manhattan Institute, has launched a campaign against NPR’s new CEO Katherine Maher, accusing her of liberal bias based on old tweets. Those kinds of threats reinforce an in-the-trenches camaraderie at NPR. It has also been used to quash internal criticism. I guess Uri’s piece proves that that strategy doesn’t work anymore.

Uri started at NPR in 1999. I started in 1997 in the audience research department as an administrative assistant. Because I was what we called “a back-seat baby,” someone who’d grown up being force-fed a steady diet of NPR from car radios and in the home by crunchy granola parents, I had spent the past several months before my college graduation searching the organization’s rudimentary website, desperate to find anything that I was qualified to do. A year later, I maneuvered into the news division as the editorial assistant to senior correspondent Daniel Schorr and one of the “Murrow Boys,” protégés of CBS Radio legend and Good Night, and Good Luck hero Edward R. Murrow.


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