Why NPR cutbacks hurt all of us

When National Public Radio cuts staff, as it did Wednesday in announcing that it is cutting 7% of its work force, it's bad for everyone. Or at least everyone seeking to know what's going on in the world around them.

Media aren't exempt from the recession, and newspapers across the country have been cutting staff for a few years as advertising and circulation have fallen. The losses are problems they're slowly learning to deal with, except for the bankrupt Tribune Co. or nonprofits such as the Christian Science Monitor which stopped its print publication to go entirely on the Internet.

But when organizations such as NPR and others that rely on donations start making cuts in their news gathering, then we're all worse off for it. NPR and other organizations that survive on grants, donations and corporate sponsors, such as PBS, do much of the heavy lifting in journalism that newspapers have unfortunately left behind as they've made more cuts to survive.

NPR is one of the few American news organizations with correspondents in Iraq and Afghanistan. Cutting 64 jobs, not filling 21 vacant positions, and killing two weekday programs doesn't mean the end for NPR, and hopefully the cuts won't continue.

"This American Life" is my favorite NPR program and does some of the best kind of journalism that newspapers and others too often forget to do -- storytelling. And it's some of the most interesting, real and informative storytelling you'll find anywhere. Except for donating a car to PBS, it's the one news program that I've donated to, and feel confident that it's money well spent.

While NPR has grown in part from more listeners and an endowment of the late Joan Kroc, its $23 million budget shortfall was driven in large part by the erosion of corporate underwriting, its interim president and CEO, Dennis Haarager, told NPR. Budget planners had projected receiving $47 million from corporate spots and online ads. Those projections have been dropped to $32 million in revenues for the current fiscal year.

Taking corporate money in boom times may have led to NPR feeling a little too comfortable and anxious to expand when it should have been putting some away for a rainy day, or at least not relying on large companies to keep it going. For newspapers, for example, it would be interesting to see how they'd survive if Macy's or another large advertiser, dropped them and went online somewhere else. Death would come quick.

Storytelling, and the journalism that NPR does, will always be around. But relying on advertising, or the nonprofit equivalent of corporate sponsorship, isn't the best way to get there. I'm involved in two nonprofit news Internet sites in the San Francisco Bay Area -- a noncommercial Web site and another that uses "crowdfunding" to pay for investigative journalism. Such places,and donation-driven organizations like NPR, might be the best way to get comprehensive news in the future.

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job hunt at www.talesofanunemployeddad.blogspot.com

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