Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Good News, Bad News at NPR

Even as National Public Radio's revenues go into the tank, its audience has increased to the point of passing some TV institutions, reports the Washington Post today. The cumulative audience for the network is 23.6 million a week (Rush Limbaugh numbers), an increase of nine percent over last year.

Popular programs like "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered," both news programs (and, for my money, the best daily news in broadcast), reached record numbers of people, 20.1 million a week. NPR is based in Washington and feeds network shows to local affiliates like WVTF in Roanoke. What makes this increase all the more impressive (given that last year was a presidential election year) is that the trend goes back to 2000, when audience figures for NPR news were at 14.1 million a week.

By way of comparison, consider this from the Post: "More than half of NPR's daily audience comes from its two 'core' news shows, 'Morning Edition' and the evening 'All Things Considered.' 'Morning Edition's' average daily audience, 7.6 million, is now about 60 percent larger than the audience for 'Good Morning America' on ABC and about one-third larger than the audience for the 'Today' show on NBC."

Great news, that, but the budget is a different story. NPR is looking at an $8 million deficit in a $160 million budget and had to cut seven percent of its staffers and two shows recently ("Day to Day" and "News & Notes," the former of which aired in this market). Money from corporate underwriters and charitable foundations is down both at NPR and at many of the local stations, where cuts have also been implemented (including at WVTF, where that was the mantra in the recent fund drive). NPR says about two percent of its funding comes from the government. That tiny funding accounts for an out-of-proportion amount of criticism of the network, as well.

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