Because of the nature of my various day jobs, I spend most of my day in front of a computer. Sometimes I play music while I work, but most of the day I have various NPR stations going in the background. Between my local station, WNYC, Minnesota Public Radio, and the NPR Program Stream, I can listen to soft, calming voices delivering terrible news for 8 – 9 hours straight.Of course one of the dangers of addiction to NPR is the terrible withdrawl one goes through during pledge time. You’re sitting there listening to the news and then, suddenly!, you’re in the midst of a 15 minute pledge pitch. For every 15 minutes of news there’s an equal amount of begging. Gross.
I understand why they have to do it. NPR is supposedly listener-supported radio. I say supposedly because I hear an awful lot of things that sound like ads on NPR stations. A lot of companies that are “donating” money and getting talked about for 15 – 30 seconds. Still, I know that a large chunk of public radio’s money comes from the public. And, like PBS, they need to ask for that money. I’m sure people wouldn’t donate as much without the constant “Give us money. Give us money. My guilt ray, let me show you it. GIVE US THE DAMN MONEY.”
Last spring I did donate a little to Minnesota Public Radio even though I don’t live there. I do listen to their internet feed and happen to like their DJs better than my local ones. Plus, I enjoy their original programming way more. Leonard Lopate and Brian Lehrer are just about the worst hosts in the history of the afternoon. Makes me long wistfully for the days of David Lee Roth on the radio.
This time around I am not going to give any NPR station any money. Will not give in the future, either. Not until they stop this bullshit with the not having a representative number of black folks on the air.
There are some black folks at NPR, yes. News & Notes has most of them. Every now and then Tony Cox will do something for All Things Considered. Steven Barnes will do commentary sometimes, too. But there is a suspicious lack of black people anchoring the major shows and I suspect that, if one were to check, 90% of the reporters would be not-black. If we include all PoC in the count, then NPR is probably 75% white.
You think I’m wrong? Please provide evidence to the contrary.
News & Notes is a good show, I think, and I love Farai Chideya. But N&N only came about because Tavis Smiley got tired of the fact that NPR wasn’t serious about diversification and left. They had to scramble to replace the “black show” with another black show or else they would look racist. Guess what: it didn’t work.
The problem that Tavis saw still exists: a sea of white people skewing the news to their white world view. But I’m sure the folks at NPR and the various local stations don’t see themselves as part of the problem. They’re self-congratulating white liberals that think they aren’t racist because they don’t belong to the KKK. The same kind of people who listen to NPR and think they’re getting “better” news because it doesn’t come from Fox or CNN or whatever.
What these people don’t understand is that NPR (in general) is just as flawed as those other agencies but in different ways and for different reasons. The thing they have in common is that they paint a fake picture of The Way Things Are and present it to the consumers to make them feel better about themselves, their worldview, and their culture.
By relegating any people who might poke a hole in that prettily painted picture to one show or 5 minutes of commentary every few weeks, they ensure that the listeners won’t have their world shaken. White liberals are naturally disinclined to take a hard look at themselves and how they fit into the sticky quagmire of race, but they’re happy to know that there’s that one show with black people. It makes them feel good.
NPR is going to need to do a lot of changing if they ever want my pledge dollars. I’m not talking about hiring a few extra token PoC, but some real soul-searching needs to be done. They need to encourage local stations to develop shows that reflect the diversity of the local population, not just with the anchors but in subject and tone. They need to start covering the news in a less white-identified way. And they need to cut out this crap where there’s only one show devoted to “black stuff” and maybe have a few shows devoted to PoC stuff from all over the spectrum. And, yes, some more non-white anchors would be good, too.
During pledge time, the on-air talent spends a lot of time telling me how I’m obligated to pledge if I listen every day. Yet somehow, if I pledge, they aren’t obligated to put some more black people on my radio.