The NPR Ombudsman is up to his ears in mail, all complaining about the imminent booting of Bob Edwards from Morning Edition:
The e-mails about Bob Edwards and his imminent departure from Morning Edition on April 30 remain the most e-mailed complaint I have ever received.
At last count — more than 8,000 e-mails to my mailbox. NPR is trying to respond to upwards of 27,000. Almost all plead with NPR to reconsider this decision.
A few listeners admit that they would still listen to a post-Bob Morning Edition and say they trust NPR to make the right choice. Most do not.
Interestingly, some listeners note that under other circumstances, they wouldn’t mind the change. But they say that these times are so uncertain that removing Bob is just one more thing to raise their personal anxiety level. With so much to deal with — terrorism, war in Iraq, the economy and the coming election — Bob’s departure takes on a unique cultural significance that seems to exacerbate rather than reassure.
One of the letters cited brought up an interesting point that I had been thinking of myself lately: Wal-Mart. NPR has recently been touting Wal-Mart as an underwriter, and it was interesting because at the non-profit I work for, we’d been discussion potential policies for dealing with underwriters, with the understanding that Wal-Mart would definitely be on the NO list.
We think the change by management of Bob’s involvement with Morning Edition and the ads we heard for Wal-Mart last week on NPR were a low moment in the over 20 years we have listened and paid for NPR. While I doubt we will consider stopping payments or listening to NPR we may also never feel the same re: NPR management and what we thought were core values at NPR. We realize that you have many more people than ourselves to satisfy, but it’s hard not to think the majority of NPR listeners wouldn’t feel the same as we do re: last week’s decisions. How many letters will it take for NPR management to decide they have made a poor choice in regards to Bob Edwards, and have the fortitude to admit and reverse their error?
Another letter says:
There has actually been surprisingly little mention of Bob Edwards’ departure on NPR. It has been… endured but not marked. I first encountered the news in my local paper, and I log 4-5 hours of NPR/day. Don’t tell me you lack pride in this decision?
And the Ombudsman responds, correctly I think:
Bob Edwards’ departure was front-page news on a lot of newspapers. Editorials were written and letters-to-the editor were published. Only NPR’s On The Media has reported this story. The story has gone noticeably unreported on NPR’s newsmagazines. The closest NPR has come are the messages from NPR management on the NPR Web site. This is in my opinion, an important story and a mistake for NPR not to report it.
Some inside NPR say we should not report on ourselves. The assumption is that any report would be seen as special pleading and would be inherently biased. I think this is wrong-headed because it invariably leads one to ask, “What other stories does NPR think it cannot or should not do?”
NPR, like other media organizations occasionally IS the news. The BBC was capable of some tough reporting on itself through the Hutton Inquiry. ABC has not done as good a job as it should have in reporting the financial problems with its parent company, Disney.
Which is the model worth emulating — BBC or ABC?
In a response to his critics, NPR’s senior V.P. for programming explains the Morning Edition change to come:
Twenty-five years ago, Morning Edition was created with a single, in-studio host. That model is no longer sufficient to bring the weight of credible, in-depth reporting that we are demanding of ourselves. In the last year, we have experimented with a different model: two hosts (one in DC and one in Los Angeles) for the show, both capable of providing unique reporting from the field, and of working in tandem to carry the show forward during even the most pressing news events. We believe this is the right model for Morning Edition in the years to come.
This sounds, in my opinion, like an awful change. I don’t want the Today Show, the multiple anchor format. What makes Morning Edition so attractive is the simplicity of one voice — Bob Edwards — waking me up and gently informing me of what’s happened in the world. I can’t stand the thought of a crowd of people there in the morning.