NPR’s Existential Threat



Most of my readers know how fond I am of NPR, and I frequently compliment them on the excellence of their programming.

So you may be surprised to hear that I’m more worried about NPR’s future than I have been in a long, long time.

It’s not just politics that could pose a problem.

NPR is losing, or has already lost, many of its most iconic and successful shows and hosts.

Car Talk? Those guys have been dead for a couple of years, so your local public station is just playing re-runs now.

A Prairie Home Companion and Garrison Keillor? Also done.

Most worrisome, those two great shows were created decades ago.

Can that kind of radio experimentation happen today?

And is NPR prepared to give new show ideas and hosts enough time to actually develop a loyal following?

I know NPR One is generating buzz, especially in the under 40 crowd, but can NPR exist and thrive if it’s only used that way, in bite-sized pieces, without any sense of a mass, national audience?

Serial, the hugely popular podcast created within the framework of This American Life, is the exception, not the rule. Season 2 didn’t garner nearly the listenership Season 1 did.

Is there any evidence that NPR is incubating “young” talent which is about to explode on the national scene?

To be sure, NPR has a real opportunity during the Trump presidency to shine a big spotlight on their journalism. “Real” journalism will be sought out daily by tens of millions, and traditional news networks have constraints NPR does not — yet.

Paid subscriptions to the New York Times and Washington Post increased after election day.

NPR’s subscriber base will not hesitate to open their wallets to protect the one source of information they love.

So, now more than ever in my lifetime, we need NPR.

I just worry that the young stars, the younger voices NPR’s future depends upon, are going to be very difficult to find, much less nurture.


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