Some blogs on the news industry recently scooped up an NPR internal memo that said NPR was canceling all newspaper subscriptions. While not true, the memo engendered some lively commentary:
"As a long-time financial supporter of public radio who also happens to be a veteran print media journalist, I find your actions disgusting," emailed Margie Bauman. "You expect listeners - including those who earn a living as print media journalists - to send money to keep you afloat, but you want the results of all our hard work free of charge."
"NPR has a fine reporting tradition of its own, but there is no denying how much it relies on print journalism, as well," wrote Amber Paddock. "NPR, of all organizations, ought to know what this nation and its democracy would become without strong newspapers. Guess what my response will be during the next pledge drive?"
The bottom line, however, is that NPR is not stopping all newspaper subscriptions. It is unfortunate that a top manager's internal e-mail went public. But then in the age of the Internet, it is to be expected and all of us need to be constantly reminded that 'the mic is always on.' Anything said, written or broadcast is now up for grabs.
The e-mail that became public and prompted complaints came from Ellen McDonnell, who is in charge of morning programming. That e-mail began: "As of April 1 NPR is canceling all newspaper subscriptions." What she told me was she wanted to let those who work on Morning Edition make the case for keeping subscriptions.
NPR currently spends about $100,000 on newspaper subscriptions. But one can walk around the building and often see neglected stacks of papers, unopened.
The network is facing a budget shortfall and needs to cut $8 million, in addition to a major cutback made late last year. Paring down subscriptions won't cover that, but it will make a difference.
"We need to cut expenses and solicited ideas from staff that might mitigate additional staff reductions," Ellen Weiss, NPR's vice president for news, said in an email. "We asked for unit leaders to identify where the subscription was essential to the job. We cut our expenses on subscriptions by about 90 percent — including some online subscriptions to publications such as the Wall Street Journal."
Now the company expects to spend about $7,000 on newspaper subscriptions, said deputy managing editor David Sweeney.
For the record, NPR will still get 7 subscriptions to the New York Times, 2 for the Washington Post and 7 for the Wall Street Journal plus 5 online accounts, said Sweeney.
"If we are paying out more than $100,000 on subscriptions, that's the cost of one position," said Sweeney. "It's a relatively easy reduction."
The cuts don't affect specialty journals and Congressional Quarterly. The foreign desk will get Le Monde, the International Herald Tribune and the Financial Times, and overseas bureaus will get local newspapers.
"It's not a blanket no newspapers are coming into the building," said Sweeney. "It's more being prudent about how many we are bringing in."