NPR Drops Minority-Based 'Tell Me More' Show, Fires 28 Employees Due to Debt Woes

May 21st, 2014 8:29 PM

Despite the fact that National Public Radio is a publicly supported network, its long-term financial struggles claimed another casualty on Tuesday: Tell Me More, a program “expressly designed to have a primary appeal for African-American listeners and other people of color” will air its last episode on Friday, August 1.

The move will leave 28 people unemployed, and program host Michel Martin admitted to having “scar tissue” before releasing a statement in which she asserted: “I hoped we could have found a way to save the show, but NPR news management has assured me that the mission that we’ve undertaken will continue in new ways, and I’m sticking around be a part of making that happen.”

Martin “will begin an ambitious roster of live events in the fall in partnership with member stations,” senior vice president for news Margaret Low Smith noted in a memo. She’ll “be part of an initiative to incorporate the kind of coverage of issues of race, identity, faith, gender and family that appear on the show.”
"These times require that we organize ourselves in different ways and that we're smarter about how we address the different platforms that we reach our audiences on," NPR executive vice president and chief content officer Kinsey Wilson indicated.

"We're trying to make the most of the resources that we have,” he asserted, “and ensure that we keep radio healthy and try to develop audience in the digital arena."

Martin also declared:

As you might imagine, I’m very disappointed with today’s news. I’m so very proud of the work we’ve all done here at Tell Me More for the past seven years.

This outstanding team has reached out to people who would never have had a place on public radio otherwise. We’ve brought new voices, new ideas and a fresh take on things, and we’ve proven that this can be done without sacrificing excellence. We’ve also had a lot of fun doing it.

In an interview with NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik after the news was announced, Martin “sounded shaken” and admitted having “scar tissue” before saying her program “had exceeded expectations in terms of the number of stations carrying it and had drawn a more diverse audience to NPR.”

NPR previously cancelled the minority-appeal talk show News and Notes with Farai Chideya as a cost-cutting move in 2008.

However, Martin said: "Clearly, it's not enough in this environment to fulfill an editorial mission. You've got to be supported across the board by every element of the organization. ... And I don't think that's always happened."

"We've done a lot to show what's possible here, and I want to keep that going," Martin said. "I can't say you need to do better at serving these audiences and then walk away from it. I don't think that's fair."

During the past several years, NPR has been running up a huge deficit, but the channel recently instituted a new budget-conscious regime requiring each new fiscal year to start with a balanced budget. Tuesday's cuts and other recent moves are reported to be saving NPR $7 million a year.

Nevertheless, Tell Me More isn't the first long-running program to be canceled. To save money, a number of programs have been ended over the past few years. In 2013, the long-standing series Talk of the Nation was axed after a run of 22 years.

And the show's demise is actually the third for programs designed to appeal to minorities. Tavis Smiley took his show to a rival public broadcaster after clashes with NPR brass over how much money the network spent to market his program, and News and Notes went off the air in 2009.

Ultimately, NPR will have nine percent fewer news-gathering people. Also, the channel has run deficits in all but one of the past six fiscal years, including the one ending Sept. 30.

"We're in a different era than we were, even five or six years ago," Wilson added. "There is in fact an opportunity to reach a larger audience across platforms ... not simply through principally a once-a-day broadcast show."

We may indeed be in another era, but NPR is still perceived as biased in favor of liberal Democrats, and that image won't go away anytime soon since Jarl Mohn, a former MTV and E! network executive, is slated to become NPR's new president and chief executive officer this summer.

Mohn is not only a staunch supporter of Southern California Public Radio, he is also a major donor to Democratic candidates and organizations.

Maybe this isn't such “a new era” after all.