Posted by: Khepera | Thursday, 26 February 2009

INTERVIEW: Farai Chideya on Cancellation of NPR’s News & Notes


This is good insight into some developments slipping along below most folks’ radar, what with the economy & other things pressing on us. Again, thanks to Eisa Ulen!! See her blog for the rest of the interview.

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1) Explain what’s happening at NPR. Why is “News & Notes,” in addition to one other show, targeted for cuts as a result of this recession? Couldn’t the powers-that-be have found another way to cut costs rather than ax the one show dedicated to African American issues and perspectives?

Farai) It’s been a few weeks since NPR announced the cancellation of News and Notes, but I think like many listeners I’m not convinced that any one of the theories about why our show was cancelled holds up. The company said the issue was economic. But while the company is running in the red, there were other shows that cost more per listener than we did. If they cut based on that basis, I don’t know that we would have been cut.

Of course, both of the LA-based shows (us and Day to Day) got the axe. That was very controversial, because America is growing faster in population in the West than the East. You also have a different role of the Latino-American and Asian-American populations in the West. Foundations and individuals poured a lot of money into building the NPR West Facility, and now there is no need for a full-fledged NPR facility. So was the decision geographic? It seems likely that there was a move to consolidate resources in the East. Was that wise? Time will tell.

The show was almost cancelled in July, during the height of the Presidential campaign. Many of us fought back against that decision, and we won. But I believe that by going head to head with management in July, we made it clear that we were willing to fight for the audience and the show… and that may have cost us politically in the calculus that followed.

With the media in freefall as a business, NPR may not be asked to publicly discuss how it made its decisions. Everyone is in full-on panic mode and a lot of the decisions that are being made today are not getting a lot of scrutiny. When you think about the political and cultural ramifications of us having the first black President, we SHOULD question what NPR lost when it cancelled News and Notes. But more importantly–especially in this environment–we should ask how we can make meaningful connections between black communities, institutions, and individuals and the creation and dissemination of news.

I was so thrilled by the incredible reaction of our audience. We had hundreds of thousands of weekly listeners during my time at News and Notes, and they mobilized to let NPR know they wanted our show, and they also wanted content that served black interests.

2) How did you find out about the cancellation of your show, and who was responsible for telling your producers and other staff?

Farai) I got a call the weekend before NPR announced the cuts telling me to brace myself. I was out of town. The employees at NPR West had had their holiday lunch that Friday and rumors were circulating, but the call I got was from someone who heard the final judgment call. I’m glad I got that information, because it allowed me to take some deep breaths and not be blindsided.

I will not go into a blow-by-blow, play-by-play, but I do think NPR made an effort to tell everyone as quickly as it could, which was honorable and important.
3) Provide a little background of your history with NPR. Take us back to the Tavis Smiley and Ed Gordon days. How did “News & Notes” evolve into the current format with you as host?

Farai) NPR created the Tavis Smiley Show as a reaction to the need for a more diverse slate of programming AND as a recognition that growing diverse programming grows the future of NPR’s audience.

When Tavis left in 2004, he publicly took NPR to task for not spending enough on marketing, and added, ‘The most difficult thing that I have had to do is fight a culture at NPR, a culture that is antithetical to the best interests of people of color.”

NPR then brought on former BET and MSNBC host Ed Gordon to helm the show. I came on as what’s called a “host/correspondent”… the backup host when Ed was gone, and the chief correspondent who covered news including traveling to the Gulf for nine days to cover the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

When Ed left in 2006, I took the seat. The show was threatened with cancellation upon his departure but we all fought to save it.

I very much wanted to host News and Notes, but the company constantly changed what it said its expectations were…. what its funding was for the show; what the format would be; whether we were being judged on broadcast numbers, online numbers, or both. In other words, it became like playing football without a goalpost.

Nonetheless, we were able to do some incredibly innovative things. You participated in the Bloggers’ Roundtable segments, which were started by our executive producer Nicole Childers. She faced the challenges of dealing with a tight budget and was able to turn a lot of the tough financial decisions into smart journalistic ones.

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Responses

  1. Thank you for pointing us to this interview. I’m heading over to Farai’s spot to read the rest of it. I’m going to include this blog post in my next ‘Blog Safari’ over on the Electronic Village…

    peace, Villager


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