It didn't rank among the headlines that showed how thousands are losing their jobs in banking or the car industry. And it pales beside the hundreds at Yahoo.com who will be out of work in a few weeks.
The 70 positions cut at NPR won't likely effect listeners' daily lives. After all, NPR will still be heard on more than 900 public radio stations around the country. The meat and potatoes of public radio will still be served. And what if a few public broadcasters lose their jobs in these times? In the grand scheme, it's a minor blip on a seismograph that is shuddering every day. All true and I expect, sentiments that are easily voiced.
However, there is one person who has been let go, and that is a huge loss to the company.
His name is Doug Mitchell. For the past ten years, Doug has single-handedly kept alive the training culture at NPR. He has run something called "Next Generation Radio." I don't know precisely how many young peoples' lives he has changed. Hundreds easily. Maybe thousands. I know Doug's people have gone on to transform public radio in America and elsewhere. Doug spent some time in Chile and made a huge difference in the radio culture there as well.
But it is in the US that Doug's legacy can be found.
What "NextGen" (as it was known) did was to find young people from various backgrounds and give them the sense of wonder about radio journalism in all its forms. Doug taught these kids about sound and story-telling and taking risks. Doug was especially keen to make sure that "NextGen" had a real mixture of people from all backgrounds. Of color, certainly, but also of geography and education too. For Doug it was important to get people into NPR who came from all around the country, from campus radio in state colleges, and not just the northeast ivies.
This next generation of radio creators would come to Washington DC for an intense few weeks as interns at NPR. Hundreds applied. Only a few dozen were chosen at a time.
And these interns weren't "just" in the news department. They were in all areas of the company - news, cultural programming, legal, engineering, corporate communications, the office of the Ombudsman, etc.
While they were doing their regular jobs at NPR, doing research, helping the staff, showing a senior correspondent how to turn on her computer, etc., Doug was teaching them about radio. How to edit sound, how to create a wiki, how to blend audio and video, how to put in on a website. But most of all, he taught them how to take risks and have an impact on peoples' lives through journalism. In so doing, he changed the interns' lives as well. When you met them heard their finished product (known as "Intern Edition"), it gave you hope that the culture of great radio journalism would survive.
Elements of "Intern Edition" were often so well done, that they ended up as pieces on the NPR news programs. You undoubtedly heard them if you listen to NPR.
Doug did what a trainer is supposed to do - encapsulate the best values of the organization and transmit them intact to a new generation. Using the metaphor of these days, he was a Moses to their Joshua.
I'm not worried about Doug. He's smart and funny and adaptable. My guess is that, even in this economy, he'll be snapped up by some smart media savvy organization. There is no shortage of far-seeing folk around the public radio community and beyond who know Doug and what he can do.
I am worried about NPR and other media organizations who are throwing their best overboard in an effort to survive.
Once we are through this horrible time, NPR will, I hope, find another way to keep what Doug did alive. In the meantime, we haven't heard the last of Doug Mitchell. Nor, I am sure, from the people whose lives he has changed and who in turn, continue to change our lives everyday. On the radio.