Several months ago, I wrote a piece here at FrumForum in which I stated that National Public Radio would be better off going without federal funding, because of the constant political headaches such funding entails. I also suggested that changes in the media world, namely the rise of digital media, raises questions about old distribution and fundraising models for NPR and argues for changes in such models. According to a recent article in Politico by Keach Hagey, it appears that NPR’s leadership is considering such possibilities. As stated in the Hagey piece:
And for that reason, NPR executives during [former NPR CEO] Schiller’s tenure explored ways they could wean themselves from taxpayer dollars and the political distractions they bring, according to sources familiar with the discussions. Schiller suggested such a need herself in a tweet praising the choice of Knell: “New @npr CEO Gary Knell is an experienced leader, a good man and a friend. Best shot to liberate pubradio from untenable reliance on fed $$” Such discussions have been going on, in one way or another, for a long time. “For years and years, people have always discussed whether there is a way that NPR could eventually be independent of government funds,” said Daniel Zwerdling, a longtime NPR reporter.
If this is true and the new leadership at NPR is preparing for a future without federal funding, I believe this is best for the future of NPR. The time and effort spent defending the small amount of funding that NPR receives from the federal government can be better spent on other matters, such as fundraising and marketing to the private sector or foundations that would support NPR without the political hassles that congressionally appropriated funds inevitably raise. We no longer live in a world in which the radio and television broadcast spectrums are the only way to reach the American public and there is a large market in the United States that already supports NPR and could pick up the slack.
NPR is an excellent news and entertainment source that only receives about two percent of its funding from the federal government. Nationally, it could live without such funding. While some local stations may suffer or even go under as a result of such loss of federal funding, perhaps that is an acceptable set of losses in order to create a new structure that has more long-term stability and freedom from political meddling. There’s an old saying that if you take the King’s shilling, you do the King’s bidding. Maybe NPR needs to give up that shilling, and if the Politico article is correct, that possibility is being seriously considered and prepared for.