Several days ago I mentioned that I had recently been on two public-radio talk shows, "Radio Times" on WHYY in Philadelphia and "RadioWest" on KUER in Salt Lake City. At the end of the item I mentioned that it was worth reflecting on "how different the modern American news ecology would be without NPR." A reader who works in public radio but not for NPR writes to say:
"I think it is worth mentioning that both of these programs aren't on NPR but rather member stations. I know it may seem like a fine distinction, but by lumping together all public stations that carry NPR content and calling them NPR, you're essentially blurring the lines between the autonomous stations and the largest of the many content providers. This may seem harmless, but as someone who is in favor of diversity of programming in public radio, I am concerned that NPR's strong armed branding efforts and lack of general (public / consumer) knowledge about how public radio content is distributed are making it harder for independent content providers to make it work.
"At [a DC-based public radio operation], I've observed how this economic depression has forced local stations to reevaluate how they spend their dollars. Often, the stations opt to spend their money on flashy national programming (Car Talk, Morning Edition, etc) and end up cutting back on local programming--whether it be in newsroom or on local shows, like the ones you appeared on.
"I agree that the American media landscape would be vastly different and worse if there were no local stations or NPR. My concern is that as NPR grows into a full-fledged multimedia corporation, they won't leave much room regional and independent perspectives. This would be a huge loss, because it is the content and narrative differences between stations that make public radio in America great."
So I guess to refine the point: it's worth imagining how different the news ecology would be without public radio in all its forms, including NPR. My wife and I give money to the local public radio stations in the various places we've lived, since they provide so much information, context, and culture we wouldn't get otherwise.
For the record: I enjoy appearing on public radio talk shows nearly anytime I can, and I have been doing regular news-analysis for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered since coming back from China.