NPR and Science Friday - What's the Deal?

Yesterday's story in The Huffington Post highlighted the funding challenge faced by Ira Flatow, host and leader of Science Friday.

Flatow is one of public radio's leading independent producers; he hosts and produces a major weekly national program (with all the demands that entails), and he has to keep the funding flowing, too. Recently a major grant was not renewed and the show is struggling to balance its budget.

We've heard from a lot of Science Friday fans, and people who are simply concerned about the future of science coverage. The story has raised questions about the relationship between NPR and the program.

Here's how our relationship works. NPR "acquires" the right to market and distribute Science Friday to public radio stations nationwide. We pay a guaranteed license fee, plus we pass on 100% of the fees we collect from the many stations that carry the program. (In the case of Science Friday, we don't take a share of that revenue or deduct any costs). I can't provide the total, and while it's not a small sum (certainly larger than the 10% of show budget cited in the Huff Post piece), it's a long cry from enough money to produce a great show. To close the gap, producers typically secure funding from foundations, corporate sponsors, and donors large and small. Those producers based at a public radio station often get considerable direct and indirect help from their home station.

Until recently, NPR took responsibility for raising all the funds for Science Friday, even though it is entirely independent of NPR. It's the only independent program for which NPR played this role. Out of necessity, we renegotiated our agreement with Science Friday after we were faced with our own financial crisis. Starting in 2008, NPR saw a sudden and deep drop in revenues as a result of the recession, leading to two years of operating deficits from which we are just now beginning to recover.

We're proud of what Science Friday has accomplished and of our association. It serves the public's need for smart conversation about science issues and trends, a topic generally neglected by the media, and it fills an important slot in stations' weekday schedule. Science Friday is one of a small number of outstanding programs with whom we have this "acquired program" relationship – others include The Diane Rehm Show, Fresh Air with Terry Gross and Car Talk.

Our hope – and our plea really – is that those who care about Science Friday and its mission will do exactly as Ira Flatow asked in his own blog. Make a donation to the station that carries the show, and lend your support directly to Science Friday, too. Both are deserving of your help and support so they can keep on delivering on the mission we all share.

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