Well, I guess the NPR shoe I’d been warned about has dropped, with respect to the cancellation of BPP.
It was not a satisfying thud.
The comments on the BPP blog site, reacting to the memo, have begun rolling in. They are not, one would expect, positive. There’s some respectful language in there, but the overall feeling is that this formal response missed the point(s).
My own comment, submitted to NPR (and it may be up by the time you read this):
For all those saying NPR should have raised money directly for BPP, there’s a political mess you’re not aware of here.
If NPR openly attempted to raise money for any program, with large or small station carriage, the nationwide collection of stations would revolt. And please note the Board of NPR is majority-controlled by stations.
In short, it would never be attempted and would certainly be killed if it were.
There are indeed structural and cultural problems within NPR that make a project like BPP fail and put all forms of new media engagements at risk. But never forget that many of NPR’s most anti-new media anti-innovation qualities are inherited from the codependent relationship with the stations. In a sense, it’s no one’s fault, yet it’s everyone’s fault. And that’s the center of the problem.
The entire system is trapped by its own success in the radio medium — not the web. Asking it to change in fundamental ways (e.g. embracing direct funding, using the web innovatively and as a medium of first resort, building real community) is asking for a revolution in which heads would most certainly roll.
But public radio has not historically been a head-rolling collection of institutions.
If you want to change public media for the better, focus on your local station — volunteer, get on the Board, ask tough questions, demand new services, and prove to your station there’s money to be saved and made in engaging the community in new ways, especially online. And tell your station to let NPR grow and mature — even if that means audiences want direct relationships with the network rather than the station. Local stations need a reason to exist beyond rebroadcasting NPR anyway. It’s time they learned how to be local (again).
Or, failing all that, strike out on your own and create a new media entity with the soul of a public radio station but the structural DNA of a Google.
There’s a future for public media, to be sure. But only time will tell whether NPR will participate in it fully and faithfully.
Naturally, I have more thoughts, but didn’t want to post them at NPR’s site.
Overall review of the memo? Disappointing.
Haarsager’s memo language does not, as so many commenters already noted, ring true. There’s something wrong here; something out of place.
Canceling BPP doesn’t bother me per se (this kind of thing happens from time to time for many reasons, and BPP was cursed with bad luck from the start). But NPR’s handling of the cancellation has the feeling of political talking points about it, and that won’t fly in a new media era. Words like “misdirection,” “willful ignorance” and “politically convenient” come to mind very easily here, and they shouldn’t. That’s not what I want to think about NPR.
But if you think my take on the situation is harsh, head over to the Huffington Post where Daniel Halloway has his way with the story.
For me, the upshot is that NPR is fundamentally flawed due to the nature of the relationships between stations and network. There’s no long-term-successful way forward unless that flaw is corrected, either by renegotiation of the relationship or by breaking free of the relationships entirely.
While it’s not an exact analog for where newspapers were 10 years ago, it’s close enough: a medium…
- trapped by its own success
- unable to innovate into a new model, even in small ways
- finally dismantled by market forces beyond its control
I really hate this. This isn’t what I want for NPR specifically or public media broadly. Will someone please tell me I’m wrong? I don’t want to lose NPR!