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Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.


Jeffrey Dvorkin

Friday, March 14, 2008

Management Changes At NPR: "Happy Days Are Here Again?"

The last posting seems to have elicited some lively discussion among those who still toil in public radio in general and at NPR in particular. A number of insiders, who asked neither to be quoted nor named wonder whether the removal of Ken Stern as NPR CEO will cause NPR to question whether it should hastily embrace online journalism or just co-habit with it for a while to see if it has any nasty tendencies not named in the pre-nup.

One person who knows NPR management observed that the Stern years lived up to their name:

"At this week's annual station meeting, one of the participants stood up and commented on how the board and NPR sr. management seemed to lack joy. I think it's time we all reconnected with that source of enthusiasm and creativity again."

Someone who is in the newsroom ranks offered this observation:

"It’s been my experience that...few listeners understand our love/hate/owner/servant links to the member stations, or why the... move away from local stations...has put so much strain on that relationship. Also – and I don’t think I’m exaggerating much here – I still get asked about what happened to Bob Edwards on an all-but-weekly basis."

One person also commented on my observation that journalism often has poor labor-management relationship as an artifact of a strong union tradition.

"Methinks your suggestion that unions influence newsroom culture may reflect experiences in a stronger union culture than the US has. All I know is that I worked for 2 dailies, both non-union, & had friends at all sorts of other papers, union & non-. Everywhere I could see, distrust of mgmt ranged from high to pervasive. Always supposed that it's about the kind of people who become... and stay... reporters: both inclined and trained to distrust authority of any kind."

Even so, the changes in senior management was greeted much employee relief and celebrations all around. After an all-staff meeting was held with the new acting CEO, Dennis Haarseger, the PA system pumped out "Happy Days Are Here Again" for ten minutes.

But the last word belongs to Jamie Diamond, a high school senior who has his own website and podcasts. Jamie offers this observation about NPR:

"I have a great love for news and media. I was raised on NPR and NBC’s Tom Brokaw. Due to these influences, one of my dreams is to host my own mainstream radio program.

"As the millennium dawned, the changing face of the media intrigued me. I created my first Web site in fourth grade, and have since taught classes on building Web sites to grade-schoolers. To this day, I closely follow CNN.com and other news sites. Through all of the new media forms like blogs, network news channels, and online forums, audio has continued to stand out to me as a pristine ground for conveying information and emotion. Technology journalist Leo Laporte has said that in television, people are talking at you, but in radio and audio, they are talking with you. The host and the listener have a far more intimate connection. The radio listener is free from the distractions of flashy visual production and eye candy, and can truly take in the content at hand. This is the medium I want to work in."


NPR must still be doing something right.

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