During the New Year's Day broadcast of NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday, guest host Jennifer Ludden introduced a special segment this way: "As we look ahead, we're putting a twist on that time-honored tradition of making resolutions, with something we call New Year's resolutions for other people." Cute, huh?
Ludden continued, "Throughout the program we'll hear recommendations for 2011 from business, sports and entertainment experts."
For instance, Ludden asked Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank about his resolutions for President Barack Obama, the 112th Congress and even the American electorate. Later on, actress Aisha Tyler offered a few recommendations for A-List celebrities, including Lady Gaga, Angelina Jolie and Charlie Sheen.
"If Mr. Inskeep wants to do smart aleck radio, a la Howard Stern or Don Imus, he ought to save it for a podcast."Of course, it was all in good fun. Nevertheless, conspicuous in their absence were any resolutions for news workers - including the staff and management of public broadcasting.
As the saying goes, "Turnabout is fair play." In that spirit, here are a few resolutions for our friends at NPR.
Let's start with Morning Edition co-host Steve Inskeep. Mr. Inskeep needs to check his snarky attitude at the studio door. Save the irritability and wisecracks for the interns - or better yet, your own kids. If Mr. Inskeep wants to do smart aleck radio, a la Howard Stern or Don Imus, he ought to save it for a podcast. But on public radio, Mr. Inskeep needs to keep it civil and incisive.
Then there's longtime NPR personality Scott Simon. In 2010, Mr. Simon's sanctimonious reporting was off the hook. Nowhere was this more apparent than in his stories on military families and returning veterans.
No doubt Mr. Simon is earnest when it comes to the issues facing our men and women in uniform. But once in a while, why not speak with military families or returning veterans who oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? There's plenty of tragedy to go around, thanks to these endless wars. And yet, there's never a whiff of anti-war sentiment in any of Mr. Simon's "heartfelt" reporting.
For the editorial team at NPR, I have one question: Since when is it your job to act as a booster for the business community? NPR's business "news" sounds as if the Chamber of Commerce wrote it.
If NPR can't bring itself to bite the corporate hand that feeds it from time to time, the least it can do is provide ongoing, substantive coverage of American labor. A labor news segment is long overdue and would provide an important counterweight to public radio's obsession with business news.
"In 2010, Mr. Simon's sanctimonious reporting was off the hook. Nowhere was this more apparent than in his stories on military families and returning veterans."
Then there's NPR's political coverage, or as I like to call it, "business-as-usual news." Enough with the inside-baseball approach to public policy issues. How about some fundamental reporting about issues like taxes, education, immigration, health care, energy and defense spending? Reporting that challenges the conventional "wisdom" that has put this country in such dire straits.
Without putting too fine a point on it, NPR needs to get out of the business of official source stenography -- the "he said, she said" approach to political reporting -- and do some honest to goodness reporting in the public interest.
Finally, a few words to Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) who this week reintroduced legislation that would defund NPR: Keep your hands off public broadcasting!
Sure, I'm critical of NPR's performance. To my mind, public radio and television haven't realized their potential. But there's no good reason to cut federal support of these vital institutions.
If anything, we need to increase federal funding for public media and do so in a fashion that insulates public broadcasters from the machinations of political opportunists in either party.
Local Community Radio Act
Last week, President Obama signed the Local Community Radio Act (LCRA) into law. This item didn't get much traction outside of the community radio movement. Nevertheless, this is welcome news.
Thanks to bipartisan support, the LCRA made its way to the president's desk amid a flurry of activity during the 111th Congress's lame duck session. But the real victory belongs to community radio advocates, who have been struggling to make this happen for more than 10 years.
"Once in a while, why not speak with military families or returning veterans who oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?"
A press release from the Prometheus Radio Project, a longtime advocate of community broadcasting, put it plainly: "This bill marks the first major legislative success for the growing movement for a more democratic media system in the U.S."
Here in Bloomington, we're blessed to have a vibrant community radio station, WFHB. Not every town and city is quite so fortunate. With LCRA, rural communities and inner city neighborhoods alike have a unique opportunity to take to the airwaves.
According to Prometheus Radio's Vanessa Maria Graber: "Once the FCC starts accepting applications, which could happen as early as the end of this year, many groups will need support to navigate the process. ... Prometheus is dedicated to helping local groups get a slice of the airwaves to improve their communities."
How's that for a New Year's resolution?
Kevin Howley is associate professor of media studies at DePauw University. He is editor of Understanding Community Media (Sage, 2010). He writes regularly on media, culture and politics at e-chreia.