Monday, October 16, 2006

Dear NPR...

At Morning Edition, one of my most thought-provoking jobs is reading and answering e-mails from listeners. I read up to 50 per day and respond to about 20 of them, signing each of my responses "Morning Edition"-- although it occasionally freaks me out that I have become a collective entity to my electronic recipients. I also become the listener’s advocate, directing notes to producers and editors if a particular story has generated a large response.

Many e-mails ask for more information about this or that, and my responses provide book names, story links and other facts. Often, listeners request information that I can't provide, because the "NPR" content they are interested in was actually produced at their NPR member station or by other radio networks. It's a common point of confusion among listeners, who think they are hearing a continuous, undifferentiated stream of "NPR" programs.

Then there are the many listeners who just want someone at Morning Edition to read their opinions . Those opinions can sometimes stretch on for pages.

Many of these emails are positive, directing a virtual pat on the back to reporters, hosts, or the shows in general. But others are outraged about our coverage, our omissions, our biases, or just the general state of the world. At the end of some there’s a familiar sign off : " Shame on you, NPR. Shame on you for becoming one of them." The "them" might be the Left, the Right and the Mainstream Media, depending on the listener's perspective.

Occasionally I feel a reflexive shrinking from the harsh criticism. Although I’m an intern, I’ve assumed some responsibility for this show and in some way, I’m being shamed as well. I'm also slightly outraged, thinking of the extremely smart and dedicated people that surround me each day. They put in hours on each of these stories only to have listeners disparage their work. "Who," I want to yell, " will do more for you?"

Being "fair and balanced" (a phrase I’ve heard several times here without any apparent sense of irony) means that you won’t please everyone - and if you do, you’re probably not creating great journalism. Once I've collected myself, the next moment of my emotional chronology is my pride in the outrage we’ve inspired. I marvel that there are people who really listen and take the time to write back three page rants with ten detailed questions - and who expect an answer from NPR. For many listeners (at least the ones that take the time to write) , NPR is a media that responds to the public. As listeners, they have a right to demand revision and change.

-Joanna Stein, Morning Edition

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