‘The Pub’ #81: Scrutinizing the big NPR ratings bump

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Let us celebrate the fact that we are debating how much NPR ratings have gone up, instead of how much they’ve gone down. Yay!

That said, NPR put out a crowing press release this week, headlined “NPR Sees Large Ratings Increase,” that I think made a complicated and perhaps unknowable situation seem a lot simpler — and perhaps a little rosier — than it really is.

(Hey, press releases gonna press release; it’s not like it was masquerading as a news article.)

On this week’s episode of The Pub, I invite NPR audience development chief Israel Smith and researcher Susan Leland to really flesh out the numbers and speculate about what’s driving them.

There are many factors to consider: network-station collaborations to improve the content and promote it better; methodological changes to how Nielsen collects ratings data; and, of course, the most bonkers election in living memory.

Also, in the Opening Shot, I talk about the abortive prosecution of Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman and whether the First Amendment really does grant special rights to journalists (short answer: no).

Please subscribe to The Pub in iTunes or your favorite podcast app, and leave us a rating and a comment! That will help boost our search results and allow people to find the show more easily.

We welcome your feedback on the show: You can reach me at [email protected] or @aragusea on Twitter; my supervising producer at Current, Mike Janssen, is at [email protected]; and you can contact Current generally at [email protected] 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 [email protected] 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.

10 thoughts on “‘The Pub’ #81: Scrutinizing the big NPR ratings bump

  1. Disclaimer/ I get in a lot of trouble for [I think] focusing on the negative, so here’s some positive. FTR, I am happy that someone is asking challenging questions of leaders in an industry I am interested in and care about. In spirit, I am on Adam’s team in questioning operating ‘norms’ in pubradio. I even appreciate that Adam’s passion usurps mine twice over. Also, I don’t listen to The Pub that much anymore. /End

    Nearly every time I check back in with this podcast a guest is correcting/re-aligning/re-contextualizing some misunderstanding or assumption Adam asserts (usually happens because Adam is trying to drive a point not explore a line of inquiry). This one isn’t as bad as others, but this is why I don’t listen anymore. It’s not a show about pubmedia, it’s a show about how Adam feels about pubmedia. I often disagree with Adam’s premises so I spend the whole show shaking my head. Just one opinion because I want this show to keep getting better.

    Also, I can hear papers shuffling (and water being swallowed) in the background, drop that fader during silence if you guys aren’t recording in multitrack. Cheers!

    • “Nearly every time I check back in with this podcast a guest is correcting/re-aligning/re-contextualizing some misunderstanding or assumption Adam asserts (usually happens because Adam is trying to drive a point not explore a line of inquiry).”


  2. I’m VERY skeptical concerning Goodman’s loyalty and concern for 1st amendment. I believe she, like most progressives, wants to “overturn Citizens United!” You can’t be for free speech and a free press if you want the government to be able to dictate what is free speech, and what is the press.

    • As a practical matter, if you want government to respect/protect a right to free speech, then government is gonna have to define what speech actually is, lest it end up protecting a right to eggplants or philately or something. I think the many issues at work in a case like Citizens United are really complex, and there are legitimate arguments to be made on either side by lovers of free speech. I don’t see any need for you to call the sincerity of her intentions into question.

      • Citizens United is not complex at all. Should government be allowed to dictate speech? Apparently the progressives on the court think that government should be allowed to block speech that it doesn’t like.

        • That’s really not true. In Citizen’s United, the court found that campaign finance laws cannot restrict political expenditures from nonprofits. Among many smaller issues raised by the case, the two big-picture questions at work are: 1) Is money speech? 2) Are orgs entitled to the same constitutional rights as individual people? If you think those are simple questions, then man, I don’t know what to do for you.

          • It probably boils down to how we see the proper role of government. You obviously believe that government should be more involved in our lives.

            An example you might want to think about: Should congress be allowed to limit the budget of the New York Times? Because, I believe that is what overturning Citizens United would lead to. That is what the case was about. A private organization produced a movie critical of Hillary Clinton, and the government blocked that movie from being released.

          • I “obviously” believe that? I haven’t told you anything about what I believe.

            Your NYT analogy doesn’t work. Citizens United wasn’t about whether media organizations could call for the election or defeat of candidates 60 days before an election, but whether other organizations could buy time on media outlets to call for the election or defeat of candidates. That’s why the FEC was OK with “FAHRENHEIT 9/11” and not OK with “Hillary: The Movie.”

            If you want to know what I believe, I actually do think that this component of McCain-Feingold, while well-meaning, was a violation of the First Amendment and wrong.

            But the bigger thing that you’re missing is that there were many technical aspects of the Citizens United decision that had major ancillary effects that go way beyond the whole “Hillary: The Movie” scenario. Specifically, Citizens United in combination with the Speechnow.org decision resulted in the legalization of super PACs — and that’s what most people calling for reversal of Citizens United are actually opposed to.

          • A better question is are non-media orgs entitled to the same constitutional rights as media orgs?

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