‘The Pub’ #49: Bill Siemering, author of NPR’s 1970 mission statement

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Charles Rice

Siemering at Mosi-oa-Tunya, Zimbabwe.

Siemering at Mosi-oa-Tunya, Zimbabwe (photo: Charles Rice)

Charles Rice

Siemering at Mosi-oa-Tunya, Zimbabwe (photo: Charles Rice)

“National Public Radio,” as Bill Siemering envisioned it in the beginning, would “not regard its audience as a ‘market’ or in terms of its disposable income, but as curious, complex individuals,” he wrote in NPR’s 1970 mission statement.

He also told stations that All Things Considered would not have a standardized clock. “The content would govern the length of the piece,” he recalls informing stations in a memo. Oops!

Siemering was NPR’s first program director, though he didn’t stay long. His mission statement now reads, in parts, like the constitution of some utopian collective farm colony. It is gloriously a product of its time.

Recently, NPR’s new top news executive, Michael Oreskes, invited Siemering back to NPR for a day visit.

“He had told me how they had found [the mission statement] and felt that it was really more relevant today than when I wrote it 45 years ago,” Siemering said on The Pub. “For me, it was the happiest day I ever had at NPR, and one of the happiest days of my life.”

This week on The Pub, we’ll consider how public radio today does or does not resemble Siemering’s optimistic, aspirational vision. Also:

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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.

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