April 29, 2010

An open letter to NPR on Facebook

Time and time again, true radio people show they have a passion and dedication that is unmeasurable...

Ralph Cooper, a former employee with National Public Radio, who worked on the Tavis Smiley show, writes a letter on the state of NPR and how much more it can do to serve its listeners.

Source: Ralph Cooper Facebook Notes and Redding News Review

Dear NPR,
(*I worked for NPR for around 7-10 years give or take in terms of full disclosure as they say in the biz)

This is an open letter to you my former employer, former source of inspiration, and a place where I learned to be a stronger black man. I started out in research where even I was amazed to find out that it was my generation that you were going to have to depend on next. Even more shocked to find out that many of your, “traditionally black” stations carried none of your news programming and felt underserved. I decided that as long as I was there I was going to do something about it. I was blessed to move out of research into news, to work with one of the most prestigious news programs in the country in the business, “Morning Edition”.

While there I got a serious insight into why some communities could feel underrepresented or even ignored. A journalistic term called “compassion overload”, which basically means “we don’t wanna hear about it anymore.” Now this doesn’t just apply to black people but to many other minorities, which I thought was crazy seeing as how internally NPR was one of the most diverse places I had ever seen. More importantly however was the distance that news had from culture that was happening even outside of its own doors. It surprised me how ignorant to popular culture many of the hosts were even when popular culture referred to many great hosts of NPR as sources of inspiration as well as information. The only saving grace of it all seemed to be the award winning cultural desk. Sharon Ball, Tom Cole, Felix Contreras, Neda Ulaby, and John Murph are just a few of the names that come to mind behind putting me on to music and other things I wouldn’t have ever known.

Sadly when I moved out to LA to assist in producing “The Tavis Smiley Show “ the cultural desk was shutdown. And to me this also signaled the end of the NPR that I and many of my generation grew up with. If you lived abroad shows like “Anthem” , "Jazz Profiles", and a grip of other programs were your link back to culture in America. In fact many of my generation first heard hip-hop, acid jazz, and soul music on NPR affiliated stations. And at this point is where I wanna stay.

NPR I am begging you to make shows that celebrate the culture of our great country. And either make them streamable or give us a reason to listen to the radio’s in our cars/houses/apartments again! I do look at your webpages and some of the stuff is pretty good. But I find that im not going to NPR anymore for good music being done right or even Jazz profiles of artists I enjoy. And yea maybe I am critical because I used to be a proud employee, then a disgruntled employee, and finally a mature man who can recognize his mistakes in losing a profession he would still do for free (and is still very much in love with).

However I can guarantee you through it all I have been honest and a lot of times right. If you need examples of where to look, hop across the pond and check out the BBC. They kick butt and take names for a living. The BBC 1xtra is a great place to start. They cover the black music scene with all the fervor and tenacity of Lebron James going to the hoop. And the kicker is they cover YOUR backyard better than you! There I said it. “Tell Me More” cannot be the only barometer for black people’s opinions for whats going on. “Latino USA”, deserves more than a podcast. “News and Notes” was awesome but they barely had the support to keep the brilliance in reporting going they were doing, before yall dropped them. And just like when I was there the edict was “If another show covers it we wont” this still seems to be the same deal. Look no one needs to explain to you that a segment on Morning or ATC carries way more weight than being anywhere else. And by the way your audience is dying. I know its way more complicated than one guys opinion and I know that even though you’re a corporation them member stations pull the strings. And if the members don’t ask for it you don’t see a reason to make it. I think you stand on the verge of a serious cultural revolution happening right before your eyes and you’re gonna miss it. I know that you still have a fairly young staff at the Massachusetts Avenue Headquarters, and I know that you are still afraid to take risks.

I believe the quote is “With great risk comes great reward,” and all im saying is “Hey NPR get some!”. Use your young folks and get tapped in! Why don’t you have a show covering all that’s happening in Hip-Hop that has people twittering and facebooking what they think in real time? Why don’t you have an interactive country music show live from 4a? Where is the NPR show (not podcast!) by Mario Armstrong that covers all things tech with more time then a segment here or there? How about a show that just covers dance music that comes on late at night even after your replay tons of classical music that’s more dead than disco? And don’t get me wrong classical definitely has a place but late night belongs to the young, even when many of you were young. I still love you, sometimes begrudgingly, but it’s still love. I just wanna see you grow and not die…we still need you.

R. Cooper

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