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A Dissonant Note

St. Petersburg Times cultural critic Eric Deggans recently wrote a long piece about the troubles affecting the NPR show News & Notes. It's suffered a 17 percent decline in its audience from the Tavis Smiley Show, which preceded it.

The bigger issue raised by the piece is whether NPR and its stations can find new ways to draw greater black audiences. News & Notes was created with guidance from the African American Public Radio Consortium, which includes officials from NPR stations that serve black listeners.

News & Notes host Ed Gordon told Deggans, "Sometimes, I feel this show is being allowed to die on the vine." But Deggans wrote that Gordon "nevertheless resisted notions that NPR was failing to program to black people."

Officials at NPR and the African-American consortium say they have a real commitment to developing new shows that will appeal to black listeners — while being accessible to others. "Just because we didn't get it right the first time or the second time doesn't mean we won't keep trying," Ken Stern, NPR's executive vice president, told Deggans.

News & Notes was under development with WNYC-FM before Tavis Smiley quit his NPR show in 2004, but was rushed to air as a result. At the time, Smiley said NPR wasn't willing to do what was necessary to make his show a success. (He currently has a radio show syndicated by Public Radio International and a sister television program that runs on PBS stations.) But Smiley also made demands that NPR said weren't feasible — including a proposed $3 million marketing campaign for the show that would have been far more than 10 times the size of the total marketing budget for all NPR at the time.

In addition to News & Notes, NPR is developing a show around former ABC News correspondent and anchor Michel Martin. It's scheduled to make its debut in the first few months of the new year.