Free Markets, Free People


Ending NPR’s subsidy – a thousand mile trip begins with a first step

Joyce Slocum, writing in the Hill, is upset about the vote to defund NPR.

These days, I’m frequently asked, “Can public broadcasting survive without federal funding?” I understand the reason for the question — we all understand the terrible burden of our national debt — but the real question is, “What’s the cost to the nation of defunding public broadcasting?”

Eliminating federal funding would seriously damage public broadcasting and harm millions of Americans who rely on us. Period.

I’m calling BS.  By the way, Slocum is the interim CEO of NPR.

What it would mean is instead of banking on a hand out, NPR would actually have to get off it’s collective duff and find a way to raise more money.  And that’s the real problem, it doesn’t want to have to do that.  It prefers the handout.

And Slocum is also  implying that the programing NPR does isn’t sufficient enough to earn its own way. 

It will mean fewer stations, fewer programs, and less news produced — especially locally. If stations go dark, that hurts us at NPR, but it hurts local listeners more. At NPR, our mission is to reach and inform as many people as well as possible about what’s going on in the world and in their communities. A weakened, smaller public broadcasting economy will deeply damage our ability to deliver on that mission.

But if that mission is as essential as Slocum believes and it is a good as she implies, then NPR should have little difficulty raising the money to offset the subsidy it now gets from taxpayers, shouldn’t it?

First we need to get something straight – NPR receives no direct subsidy from the government.  It receives its subsidy through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  This is how NPR’s funding breaks down according to Wikipedia:

In 2009, NPR revenues totaled $164 million, with the bulk of revenues coming from programming fees, grants, contributions and sponsorships.[14] According to the 2009 financial statement, about 40% of NPR revenues come from the fees it charges member stations to receive programming. Typically, NPR member stations raise funds through on-air pledge drives, corporate underwriting, and grants from state governments, universities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In 2009, member stations derived 6% of their revenue from direct government funding, 10% of their revenue from federal funding in the form of CPB grants, and 14% of their revenue from universities.[14][15] NPR receives no direct funding from the federal government.[16] About 1.5% of NPR’s revenues come from Corporation for Public Broadcasting grants.

So what Slocum is talking about is the funding that is paid directly to member stations who receive 6% of their funding from government.  Secondly, NPR receives about 1.5% from CPB grants (about $246,000).

The entire point, of course, is defunding NPR’s client stations (where it NPR corporate gets its hands on government subsidy money) and the CPB isn’t going to kill NPR. Or shouldn’t.  It is going to mean more work for NPR.  Perhaps a few more beg-a-thons, corporate outreach and even, horror of horrors, considering taking on commercial advertising.

There are solutions for heave sake – but this constant whining “we can’t make it” or “programming will suffer” or “jobs will be lost” seems completely contrary to reality.  They can make it, programming doesn’t have to suffer, and, if they’d put together a decent marketing plan and hit the streets, there’s no reason jobs must be lost.  And that goes for local NPR stations as well.

Time to earn your keep.  The taxpayers are simply tired of subsidizing you (and many, many, many other entities out there).  And while CPB and NPR aren’t “big fish” programs, you have to remember, it’s a cumulative thing.  A billion here, 400 million there and pretty soon you’re talking big money.