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If Congress de-funds NPR, let’s create NGR — National Global Radio

Okay, these might not be the best of times to be at NPR — unless you are an adherent of the PT Barnum school of promotion that believes: “Any publicity is good publicity.”

Now, I have my own opinion of everything from the Juan Williams’ sacking to the secret videotaping of an unfortunately outspoken NPR fund-raiser (not a journalist, mind you … an important distinction), to Vivian Schiller’s forced resignation as CEO in the probably vain hope it will reduce the political heat on NPR right now.

But given everything that’s going on, I probably shouldn’t offer my opinion.

Even admitting you have an opinion or personal bias, let alone expressing either when committing journalism, is still considered by some as malfeasance bordering on high treason or at least a class C felony. Media critic Jay Rosen, in an open letter to NPR, said this is part of the problem here. Rosen tells NPR:

“Abandon viewlessness as the official ideology at NPR. Replace it with pluralism. Meaning: NPR acknowledges that the people who work for it have a diverse mix of views and starting points…. hold everyone at NPR to basic standards: accuracy, fairness, intellectual honesty and transparency.”

But until we adopt Rosen’s approach I feel I should declare myself free from bias (and, of similar verisimilitude, that I am also the world’s greatest lover).

Having established myself as an objective journalist, I would like to suggest an alternative course, if in its great wisdom Congress decides to remove all public funding from, uh, National Public Radio.

I suggest first changing the name to National Global Radio. NGR. Phonetically, it sounds pretty similiar!

And with much of the rest of the American media shriveling into hyperlocal navel-gazing and celebrity rehab coverage, to compete for eyeballs and web hits, NPR already has a global scope. It ain’t the BBC, but it ain’t bad. And, contrary to the overall media trend, NPR’s audience has been growing in size.

CNN, U.S. version vs international

I’m not sure how well this CNN strategy, of giving Americans their celebrity news while overseas acting more like the BBC, is working. But maybe it indicates a gap NPR, or NGR, could fill — a gap highlighted recently by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressing concern that the U.S. is losing the global “information war.”

What Clinton is upset about (besides the fact that she and the rest of the Obama gang got blindsided by Egypt) is that the American news media is losing ground to Al Jazeera — and to the BBC as well as media organizations out of China, Russia and elsewhere. The American media don’t really cover the rest of the world much anymore.

“We are missing in action,” Clinton says of the American media on the global scene.

Here’s Al Jazeera reporting on Clinton saying how much better Al Jazeera is than CNN and all the other American media organizations. They also interview media experts who say we’re doing a bad job covering the world. The video:

Now, I happen to know that there is a lot of pretty good coverage of global issues out there by some good Americans. It’s just that much of the coverage is happening at new media upstarts, on blogs created out of whole cloth by people who apparently don’t sleep much, and throughout the social media landscape.

Meanwhile, with this declining global influence and voice, the U.S. is said to be losing ground to other nations like China who are doing just the opposite — investing and expanding their presence overseas.

What’s needed is a new, more globally oriented kind of media organization specifically designed to move us beyond the old-fashioned approach of covering the news as if it ends at the border.

We need an American media organization that can build on its international presence and reputation, make the global-local connection between all the disparate threads and diverse voices out there by pulling them together into a readable news package for American communities, vetted by some good solid American journalists.

Time for National Global Radio, NGR. You could even fund it through the U.S. Agency for International Development and explicitly make it an arm of our efforts in foreign relations, winning the hearts and minds.

Oh, wait. That sounds like Voice of America.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.