Dear Mr. Miller,
Someone forwarded me an e-mail about how WHYY had blocked you from buying an underwriting message. I want you to know that I had a similar experience with that station. In 1999, their then general manager, agreed to air a portion of my annual radio broadcast about homelessness. A few days later, she renegged and denied even having made the commitment. I might add that in the nine years I’ve been doing the show, three other station have renegged, and all of them have been major NPR stations. This kind of thing has never happened to me anywhere else.
In 2002, I wrote a couple of columns about this phenomenon, and I’ve pasted-on the 2nd of them below. I hope you wil find it of interest.
By the way, in our case, we’re doing better and better with NPR stations as they realize the roof doesn’t cave in when one of them airs us. But someone promoting a book or trying to get coverage for a news story would not be able to invest the years it has taken us to get this far.
Jeremy Weir Alderson
Director, Homelessness Marathon
“The NPR Nobody Knows”
In my last column I suggested boycotting the pledge drives of those NPR stations that ignore the poor (of course, the ones doing a good job in this regard should be supported, instead). And while there are surely many factors forming the NPR ethos, I did imply that sometimes there may be an inverse correlation between the size of a station’s budget and the size of its soul — a point I’d like to expand on.
If you go to NPR’s web site and search the archive of its national broadcasts (“Morning Edition,” “Talk of the Nation,” “All Things Considered,” etc.), you’ll find that 339 stories mentioned poverty, which is more than twice as many as the 147 which mentioned “wealth.” I don’t think, though, that this is because NPR’s focus is more on the poor than the rich. Rather, I think that NPR so thoroughly sees through the eyes of wealth that it’s just a matter of not wanting to preen — Noblesse Oblige
and all that.
If poor people really ran NPR, you’d be seeing more stories on wealth than on poverty, and a lot of them would have themes like, “Wealth: How Much Should Rich People Be Allowed To Keep?” Besides, when you look at the details of NPR’s story selection, it’s easy to see the devil in them.
The issue of “Homelessness,” for example, was touched on only a total of 30 times on every NPR network show put together, going back to at least 1994. That’s the same number of stories as were done on “Martha Stewart” or “jewelry.” And we can say with a certain mathematical precision that NPR paid more attention to “aliens” (188 stories), “dogs” (212 stories) and “fish” (490 stories) than it did to “homeless people” (27 stories). Similarly, NPR featured 81 stories touching on “mansions”
and 73 on “castles,” but only 47 on “public housing” and 13 on “homeless shelters.”
Just by some kawinky-dink, four out of NPR’s five highest paid staffers are corporate marketers, according to NPR’s IRS 990 form. In 2000, these employees were: Bob Edwards, senior host, $242,411 in salary and benefits; John Gilmore, Director Corporate Marketing, $240,801; Kent Martin, National Representative Corporate Marketing, $232,734; Blake Truitt, Manager Corporate Marketing, $205,238 and Connie Mongroo, Co-Director Corporate Marketing, $191,299 (does Mongroo make less than employees with seemingly lower titles because she’s a woman?). Kevin Klose, NPR’s President and CEO, was paid a measly $228,322 in salary and benefits, but then again, he also received an additional $76,665 for his “expense account and other allowances.”
The pay scales are also very high at some of the NPR member stations, even though this isn’t a field where you have to pay through the nose to get talent. There’s a whole universe of people working at college, Christian, community, Pacifica and NPR-affiliated stations who are long on dedication and short on material rewards. The “Homelessness Marathon,” for instance, started on WEOS in Geneva, NY, an NPR affiliate where the entire operating budget, including equipment and the G.M.’s salary, was under $100,000 (though as a college licensee, it did get free studio space, heat and light, worth some additional thousands). In 1999, KUSP, the NPR station in Santa Cruz, CA, which, by the way, has done a lot for the marathon, had no employee making over $50,000, and the broadcast director of Texas Public Radio, which, by the way, has done nothing for the marathon, made $53,978.
Compare those figures with some from NPR stations on the other side of the class divide (all figures from 1999 or 2000):
Employee Title Station/Org. Salary & Benefits
Laura Walker Pres. & CEO WNYC, New York $361,119
W. Marrazzo Pres. & CEO WHYY, Philadelphia* $314,415
H. Becton, Jr. Pres. & GM WGBH, Boston* $286,087
George Miles Pres. & CEO WQED, Pittsburgh* $234,727
Mary Bitterman Pres. & CEO KQED, San Fran.* $219,062
William Kling President Minn. Pub. Radio $185,063
Maynard Orme Pres. & CEO Oregon Pub. Broad.* $177,952
(* = broadcasts television too)
You may be able to find out the top salaries at a public station near you by going to www.guidestar.org and seeing if it’s listed or by writing to the station and requesting a copy of its 990 form. What that form says makes no difference to the station’s moral obligation to serve all the public, including poor people. But stations that pay hefty salaries may be particularly vulnerable to a campaign demanding they be interested in lifestyles besides their own.
I’m concerned that, because I’ve raised this issue, there may be prejudice against the “Homelessness Marathon” at some NPR stations, and surely any group that challenges one of these imperious behemoths will have to worry about losing valuable coverage. But I am reminded of the lunch-counter sit-ins of the civil rights movement. They were protesting inside the very establishments where they hoped to eat.
NPR newsrooms are the new lunch counters. Let’s demand to be served.