The Sounds of Summer on NPR

Listeners, eagerly following the Olympics in Athens, seem convinced that NPR may not the best place to set their dial. NPR airs up-to-the-hour results on its newscasts, but some listeners say they don't want to know who won what — at least not just yet. Listener David Owen is one who prefers to see — rather than hear — the delayed reruns on evening television.

One modest suggestion for your coverage of the Olympics; some of us purposefully do not listen to the results prior to watching evening television coverage. However, I would still like to hear the other news of the day. If you are going to give Olympic results in the hourly news summaries, could you give a few seconds warning so those of us who don't want to know the results can temporarily cut down the volume? Thanks.

'Not the News… the Lates!'

Alan Goodman called from Seattle to suggest that for the duration of the Olympics, NPR air the Olympic theme music as a prelude to reporting results, thus allowing listeners to flee from the room or dash to the radio to turn it off. It gives new meaning to the line, Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!

But after some consideration, newscast manager Greg Peppers sent out the following fiat:

NPR has decided it will report results from the Olympic games in Athens as they happen. Also, we are not required to give listeners lead in lines that tip them to the fact that we're about to report Olympics results.

This newsroom debate goes on every four years. Radio's role is less about results (although those are important too) than it is about reporting the international politics around the Olympics, athlete profiles and the inevitable drug scandals.

I have been in newsrooms where sincere attempts have been made to keep the results off the radio. In my opinion, it doesn't work. More people, I believe, want to hear the results when they happen, then watch TV at night to experience the drama again. If NPR were to withhold that information, some might justifiably wonder, what else is not being reported?

I'm with Peppers on this one, dear listeners.

Often Amidst the Amongsts

James Kerkeslager — a retired engineer — writes that he notices some creeping Britishisms in NPR reporters' phrasings:

…when I was in school, we were taught to always say among whether the spelling was among (presumably the modern English way), or amongst (presumably an archaic spelling like Chaucer's funny spelling which we were told to ignore and to pronounce sweet and showers and April the way we moderns do now).

For the last several months it seems that all NPR announcers have started to use the awkward phony-sounding British or archaic pronunciation amongst, even in pieces they clearly wrote themselves. What's up with that? Has someone made a huge decision to change American usage overnight by revising a radio network's style manual?

No one I've spoken with at NPR recalls seeing a memo from on high insisting that we now must say amongst rather than among. But a number of people have noticed that particular pronunciation has increased markedly over the summer. Time for editors to sharpen those blue pencils...

While he has my attention, Kerkeslager adds:

Similarly, we used to say, "It will happen in 10 minutes." Or "It will happen 10 minutes from now." Only very recently have I heard several different announcers on your network say, "It will happen in ten minutes from now." Arrgh! It makes my teeth grind just to type it.

This is new! It's not just young new announcers making a simple mistake cause they are nervous or unsure of themselves. It's all of you, starting to make the same redundant error at the same time.

Is something going on of which I am not aware?

Jonathan Kross says that too many NPR reporters make a common mistake in pronouncing "often:"

Would you please remind the reporters that the word "often" has a silent 'T'. It is bad enough when the interviewee does not pronounce it correctly, but inexcusable for persons who make their living speaking to the public. I expect more from NPR. Thanks.

Liberal Bias and Race?

The recent presence of Sen. John Kerry at the UNITY conference in Washington, D.C. elicited an interesting observation from an NPR colleague. UNITY is a conference of African-American and other journalists of color. My colleague was astonished to see so many journalists enthusiastically applaud the Democratic candidate. She raises some important questions for all journalists in an election year:

Why must journalists take great care to avoid being seen as politically biased in any way, but greet a particular candidate with applause and enthusiasm at a journalism conference? But if well-publicized conferences for minority journalists are seen as softball events for liberal candidates, how can any minority journalist be seen as doing impartial work in the future? How can I be seen as impartial? Would President Bush be greeted in a similar fashion? I tend to doubt it. The upshot over time could mean that any minority journalist will be perceived as a liberal, no matter what their real beliefs, and thus all their work discredited or ignored. What position could this put news managers in? Will they need to think long and hard over particular hiring decisions?

Listeners may contact me at 202-513-3245 or at ombudsman@npr.org.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

NPR Ombudsman

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