‘The Pub’ #29: Michael Oreskes, NPR’s new head of news, on station collaboration, host changes and liberal bias

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(NPR sign photo: Ted Eytan via Wikimedia Commons: Oreskes photo: Chuck Zoeller/AP)

(NPR sign photo: Ted Eytan via Wikimedia Commons; Oreskes photo: Chuck Zoeller/AP)

Michael Oreskes, NPR’s new head of news, likes to say that if you add up all of the American public radio, TV and network journalists, they make up one of the nation’s largest news organizations. Or at least they would if they could act like one news organization.

Oreskes is coming from the Associated Press, a company that knows a thing or two about coordinating widely dispersed journalists and news organizations. He wants NPR and its member stations to collaborate more seamlessly, both to break more and better news, but also to better reflect the entirety of the country.

“There is a tendency in newsrooms — and I don’t think the NPR newsroom is different in any way from this, I don’t think it’s more so or less so — but there is a tendency […] to have a certain coastal viewpoint of things,” Oreskes told me on The Pub.

“And I actually think public radio is in a better position than most to combat that, because we do have so many stations in places where there are people, you know, who understand the different points of view.”

In this week’s episode, Oreskes and I discuss his plans for closer station collaboration (including the touchy subject of whether NPR should keep paying freelance fees to station-based journalists for their national contributions), the recent reorganization at All Things Considered, and the persistent accusations (from me, among others) that NPR leans left.

Also on the show:

  • Lindsay Patterson, host of The Tumble Podcast, asks, “Where is the YouTube for Podcasts?” I argue that public media should make the YouTube for podcasts, while she argues that YouTube should make the Youtube for podcasts.
  • Based on your feedback, we count down the top 10 words or phrases that journalists and broadcasters should stop saying — not because they’re offensive, but because they’re dumb.

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We welcome your feedback on the show: You can reach me at adam@current.org or @aragusea on Twitter; my supervising producer at Current, Mike Janssen, is at mike@current.org; and you can contact Current generally at news@current.org or @currentpubmedia on Twitter.

If you’d like to offer a comment to be used in the program, please send on-mic tape (recorded in a studio, with a kit, a smartphone, anything) to adam@current.org either as an attachment or through Google Drive. Please keep it short!

Adam Ragusea hosts Current’s weekly podcast The Pub and is a journalist in residence and visiting assistant professor at Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism.

  • Aaron Read

    Hi Adam. I have not had a chance to listen to the podcast yet (I know, I know) but I thought just the topic of “left-wing bias” in NPR provides an interesting counterpoint to this story:

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/07/31/how-fox-news-made-my-dad-crazy.html

    I think this is an oft-overlooked aspect of the allegations of bias in NPR. It’s not just the content of Fox News that’s wildly skewed, it’s also the PRESENTATION and STYLE that are designed specifically to maximize the emotional impact. Whereas the presentation and style of NPR is, well, pretty objective. One could argue that’s why NPR is “losing” the “battle” against Fox News and similar outlets (under the concept of that as long as those propaganda machines exist, we are all – by definition – losing the battle against them) is because it doesn’t have a wing that takes its news and presents it in a propaganda-ist style to provide an emotional counterpunch. Not necessarily the SAME style that FNC uses, but a propaganda-ist style nonetheless. I imagine it would be much like if The Daily Show actually did news instead of pure satire and comedy.

    Of course, I reserve any judgment or analysis as to whether that would be a good thing, much less a necessary thing, for NPR. That’s a much larger discussion…

    • Adam Ragusea

      I think you make a very good point Aaron (as usual). Though, I think NPR-style journalism is more emotional (or emotionally manipulative, depending on your perspective) than we might think. Whenever we spend time developing a “character,” we go down the road of creating a good guy / bad guy narrative that is designed to provoke an emotional response. A story I did for NPR awhile back that got picked up and criticized in the conservative blogosphere for doing just this, and I think some of the criticism was valid. http://newsbusters.org/blogs/matthew-balan/2014/07/09/npr-boosts-plight-catholic-school-teacher-fired-same-sex-marriage

      • Aaron Read

        Hmmm. I hadn’t really considered that, but it’s a good point. Nevertheless, instinctively I know there’s still a big difference and yet I’m not sure where that difference lies. Perhaps it is that with any one given NPR story, the emotional manipulation is limited to that particular story…whereas with Fox News, et al, the emotional manipulation is also part of a coordinated campaign across all the stories, in service of a larger narrative?

  • Adam,

    I’m glad to see you tackle the legacy technological hurdles to growing digital audience in your interview on creating a YouTube for podcasting. Having worked at YouTube, I disagree with your guests position which confuses relative ad share for absolute revenue shared with creators. Why we don’t want a YouTube for Podcasting:

    1. You need massive scale to make a living: Of the billions of uploads, only the top channels make money, and only at scale. To make the median US income ~$55k you need I estimate you need ~40M views of your channel (assumes avg $7 CPM, 20% of videos are advertised against). Gangnam Style had 2B views and made $2M, about 1/10th of a penny per view. If only The Pub could be as popular as Psy…

    2. You have no say: YouTubes controls the market (55% of online video in 2014) and dictates the terms with small creators, while large media companies negotiate custom deals.

    3. Low ad rates: The ad rates are significantly lower ($7 CPM) than podcasting ($20 CPM). Then on YouTube you split the revenue with the platform.

    4. Arbiter of Fair Use: YouTube’s Content ID system largely prevents any form of repurposing musical or video content for journalistic purposes.

    I would like to hear more on how public radio could help keep this ecosystem from consolidating, while providing strong open source tools. For example, I really wish I had the listener analytics available to NPR. Surely Apple will come around and build some of these tools into iTunes. But given their efforts in the past, I don’t foresee them as a partner to digital radio.

    Charlie