In addition to a variety of Gladwellian anecdotes, the Morning Edition co-host cites a study conducted by Gfk MRI that says “most listeners consistently identify themselves as ‘middle of the road’ or ‘conservative.'”
This statement turned a lot of heads, but the facts are true.
That said, they do not tell the whole story.
Here’s why the study makes sense: Few people understand the structure of NPR (the national organisation responsible for shows like This America Life and Morning Edition) and its member stations (the physical locations that are affiliated with and receive funds from NPR but produce their own local news).
Many of NPR’s 33.7 million weekly listeners live in rural areas, which trend conservative. (These areas will be most affected by any funding cuts.)
Moreover, each area is serviced by its own member station. Depending on the audience, the news created by an individual station can lean toward either side of the political spectrum.
“The big national media companies, including excellent ones like The New York Times, cannot afford to be covering every single community. So that leaves a big, gaping hole to serve Americans’ local coverage. What we offer in the combination of NPR and the local stations is one-stop shopping for — and it’s not perfect — local, regional, national, international news. That is our big play. Some people in the past or outside NPR have said, ‘Why do you need the local coverage? Why not just have one national service?’ Answer: because our unique offering is the fact that we are local. The stations know their communities. There’s different demographics. There’s different sensibilities. So we enable them and they provide it. A lot of these are very small stations that don’t have reporting resources, don’t have Web resources, so we at NPR have to do a better job, and I think it’s part of our mission, to help them with training, with resources, with whatever they need. Now it’s costly — but that’s a whole separate issue — but I see our role as enabling all the local stations to thrive on radio and move in to other digital platforms.”
The survey makes no distinction between member stations and NPR. A self-identified conservative living in a rural area might never hear This America Life, Morning Edition, or any of the other programs syndicated nationally — he or she could listen to the station because it is the only source of local news around — but he or she would be counted as a conservative listener in the Gfk MRI study.
So yes, the majority of NPR’s listeners may be “‘middle of the road’ or ‘conservative.'” But whether they are hearing stories produced for a national audience is another matter entirely.
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