While we watch helplessly as many newspapers struggle to stay afloat, it is encouraging to know that at least one serious purveyor of in-depth news is thriving: National Public Radio.
Before anyone tries to gore the station as a bastion of liberalism, consider independent market data that draws a very different and eyebrow-raising conclusion: 34 percent of NPR listeners define themselves as conservatives. That’s nearly equal to the 37 percent who say they tilt far left. The rest, or 29 percent, say they are middle of the road (us blue doggies).
An NPR insider explained there remains a strong appetite among the radio’s demographic (typically college-educated with good incomes) for substantive programming regardless of their political viewpoint. And just for fun, even if it were it to be documented that NPR is massively liberal in its content, wouldn’t this suggest conservatives are more open-minded than liberals? After all, can you imagine 34-percent of The O’Reilly Factor viewers identifying themselves as liberals?
But we’re chasing a tangent. What is fascinating about NPR is that it is running counter to the trend we’re seeing with the Incredible Shrinking Attention Span (ISAS) throughout our society. Get this: There actually are people out there who prefer five and ten-minute segments as opposed to 30-second snippets . . . People who are gravitating to calm, thoughtful voices rather than the political rants and raves that infect the AM band and the cable TV talk shows.
And while the downturn in the economy has impacted corporate underwriting, the Blue Dog is told that donations from listeners are way up, as is the overall listenership locally, statewide and nationally, which has seen a 47-percent jump in the past seven years. More than 34 million people listen to NPR each week. More people tune in to “Morning Edition” than watch NBC’s “Today Show.” And can you wrap your mind mind around the fact NPR has more bureaus (38) nationwide than CNN?
In Sacramento, Capital Public Radio’s KXJZ 90.9 FM has catapulted from the 16th ranked station in market to number two, only behind KFBK, according to Arbitron ratings comparing Fall of 2005 with the same time frame last year. Listenership has nearly doubled in that time. It is remarkable that contributions from just 10-15 percent of its listeners can sustain the enterprise.
Some media watchers toy with the idea of developing a similar non-profit funding model for the newspaper industry. Free it from the shackles of Wall Street. That may be a stretch, but certainly anything should be on the table to save print or transition it safely to digital terra firma. Should we get to that point, the Blue Dog will be first in line with a contribution. In the meantime, stay tuned in to public radio.