Negative Coverage and Pledge Drives : NPR Ombudsman Today's Post includes 2 listener queries:
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Negative Coverage and Pledge Drives

Today's Post includes 2 listener queries:

Tor Pinney of Green Cove Springs, FL writes:
"I used to listen to NPR for hours every day. Now I rarely turn it on, and when I do I pointedly shut off the hourly news headlines and avoid many of the current events programs I used to enjoy. I am not alone in this growing aversion to your programming. On the contrary, I find quite a few of my acquaintances are doing the same thing, and for the same reason. That is, because we're sick and tired of bad news. It's that simple. NPR has become so overwhelmingly negative that we just can't take it anymore.

I know, I know, you're "just reporting what's happening." I don't mean you should ignore these sad facts or gloss them over, but please, please balance them with equal time for good, happy, uplifting news. Those stories are all around you if you'll just look."

Dear Tor:
You raise a valid concern and one that editors at every news organization struggle with every day. Unfortunately, there's a lot of bad economic news right now. NPR isn't covering this any differently than, say, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times or the TV networks. I presented your concerns to NPR's business editor, Les Cook, and this is what he said:

"I don't think we are going out of our way to be negative. We did a story Wednesday about a car dealer in Wisconsin who is hiring 55 people. We are interested in those stories that are counter-intuitive. But this is the worst recession in decades. The Federal Reserve just revised its forecast. They now think unemployment will hit 9 percent by the end of the year. Their previous forecast had things getting better in the second half of the year. We are just trying to keep people informed about what's going on today and how serious this economic decline really is."

Cook did point to NPR's series: On the Road in Troubled Times. NPR's David Greene is spending the first 100 days of the Obama administration driving around the country telling the stories of how Americans are dealing with tough economic times. His pieces often show how resilient Americans are. Take a listen. Right now Greene's in Florida but he welcomes ideas on where to go next.


It's that special time of the year that tends to annoy some listeners: pledge drives.

A public librarian wrote in asking why all the public broadcasting stations hold pledge drives at the same time of the year. "Is it tied to payment of fees to continue as a member station in the following fiscal year?" asked Chris Brown.

First of all, membership campaigns are an essential part of supporting a station's budget. Research shows that it is the most cost-effective way of reaching first-time and potential donors.

But no, the timing of fund drives is not directly tied to the billing cycle for NPR program fees. Back when NPR began in 1971, pledge drives were scheduled on an individual station's need to replenish income.

Eventually, national coordinated fundraising weeks were established after a survey in the 1980s discovered that most, but not all, stations held their membership drives in April and their fall drives in October.

But they all don't fundraise on the same week. Milwaukee Public Radio does a mailing in the fall and asks listeners periodically to donate online but doesn't do a fall on-air pledge drive. They just finished their on-air winter drive.

"Stations in colder regions of the country sometimes prefer to fundraise in early November — after the time change and before 'snowbirds' have gone south — when listeners have begun to think about the holidays and year-end charitable giving," said Barbara Appleby, NPR's Director, New Revenue Strategies.

It's unlikely you will hear a pledge drive during religious holidays, Election Day, the Olympics and even the World Series.