The Decay (and Coming Demise?) of National Public Radio
in the United States of America

Gary Aitken


"Investigative Journalism" and "In-depth Journalism" are things one less and less associates with National Public Radio (NPR) in the United States. Indeed, more and more, even just plain "Journalism" is a stretch to apply.

National Public Radio and its affiliated programs such as "All Things Considered" have suffered tremendous degeneration in their journalistic mission in the past several years. At one time one could tune in and expect in-depth coverage of important and newsworthy topics for the world at large as well as the United States. Sadly, that is often no longer the case. Much of the programming now centers on the banalities of life in the increasingly dumbed-down United States — movies which are all the rage; television serials aimed at our couch-potato brethren; the personal and social lives of famous actors, actresses, and music stars; the latest face-off in football or basketball; recipes for those too bogged down to search for their own. Even when covering serious topics, NPR's commentators devote valuable air-time to street interviews with average citizens with no real knowledge about the issue at hand and who have nothing insightful to add in the way of useful information. One could get the same useless opinions by opening the door and asking the first passer-by. In short, NPR's "reporting" is descending to the same lowest-common-denominator form now universal in commercial conglomerate networks. "Coverage" it is — but of what? Journalism, it is not.

Even when reasonable topics are covered, the lack of investigative effort is depressing to an aware observer. A recent piece discussing recovery of an endangered species revealed non-native species were being grown and used to feed it, with no discussion of how the issue of invasive species was being dealt with for this particular project. Invasive species introduced, intentionally and otherwise, have wrought tremendous destruction across the United States both to the natural environment and economically. An average listener will depart from listening to NPR's reporting of this effort feeling all is well. Perhaps it is, and the invasive plants are properly quarantined. But NPR did not delve into the issue and we have no assurances; history tells us it may well be otherwise.

The commentators and reporters on NPR would do well to read the book "Digital Disconnect" by Robert McChesney; and seriously consider how their own reporting, or lack thereof, is contributing to the problem rather than helping to alleviate it.

If NPR is going to survive, it needs to fulfill its intended purpose — to inform the public about issues of national and regional concern. We can get entertainment from hundreds of outlets; another source for banal talk shows we do not need.

Once upon a time at our house we used to make sure the radio was on and tuned to NPR when 5:00 p.m. rolled around. It would stay on until 8:00 p.m. and often beyond. Today the banality sets in about an hour into the evening; the radio gets switched off, and it doesn't come on again until morning. We can get far better news elsewhere.

Lest I be considered alarmist, consider this: Today, Thursday, 2016-02-11, the banality began fifteen minutes into prime news time — to talk about a movie. Not even a documentary — a fictional satire. To give them credit, it was a satire about the U.S. electoral process. Was there nothing else important happening on this day? Well, let's see. There was important economic news, a report from the federal reserve board chair, the U.S. stock market plunged even further, as did world markets. A Nobel Prize caliber breakthrough in physics was announced. NATO was entering the Syrian refugee crisis. An Iranian woman released tapes with charges of workplace sexual harassment, a relatively minor event in U.S. news, but a major one in Iran and the Muslim world at large. A months-long siege of a National Wildlife Refuge by militant extremists in the U.S. was finally brought to an end. A Mexico prison riot occurred leaving 52 dead. Reporters in Ireland were given warnings and additional protection because of threats to their personal safety as a result of their excellent journalistic work.

To be sure, some of this news was reported — an hour later, with more banality sprinkled in along the way to prolong your listening agony; apparently NPR considers real news less important than the movie fun.