NPR staffer puts a fork in Alaska station’s flatware fiasco

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Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media

The NPR Forks in their new home.

PBS and NPR member stations traditionally get valuable technical and professional advice from their motherships. Now, one headquarters has even provided a fistful of flatware.

The story begins May 17. Zachariah Hughes, a reporter at Alaska Public Media in Anchorage, was “punchy and hungry — a bad combination,” he admits. He’d also just been reading too much mainstream-media bashing on Twitter.

Thus:

Why so grumpy? No forks. Forks chronically go missing.

Hughes

Any clue why? I don’t have hard data on which utensils are utilized at what rates. My suspicion is that work hours include lunch, which has more fork-oriented foods. Soups are harder to transport to the office, they’re more of a dinner food — although some people do enjoy soup at lunch. Yogurt is more of breakfast food. Leftovers, salads, pasta are more fork-oriented. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, much to the detriment of my work productivity.

Are office fork shortages more acute in Alaska? I come from Connecticut. Actually there are a lot of commonalities … [Pause] I have no idea. It wouldn’t be fair to speculate.

Did you request assistance from NPR? No. There was no coordinated effort, no petition or plea on my part to mothership.

Why couldn’t this conundrum be solved on local level? Look, media organizations are busy. We’re constantly trying to keep up and adapt to a changing media environment. Getting to the thrift store for more forks is at the bottom end of our to-do list. Also, no one in charge of flatware.

Then, suddenly Wednesday:

What did you think when you received a mysterious box from NPR? I was very confused. I don’t check my mailbox more than twice a month. I have no idea how long it was sitting there. It was a small box wrapped in an envelope wrapped in another envelope. With a note. I couldn’t quite make it out at first — but then I found the forks. Then it clicked. It was totally unexpected and very funny.

Did you stand up and yell? No, I sent an email to our list letting people know in overly verbose language that our colleagues in the east had sent us a generous package. They were tickled and pleased. They thought it was amusing and delightful.

Where are the NPR Forks now? I assume they’re being used. I unceremoniously dropped them into the tray. I realized after I did that, I probably should have washed them first.

Sounds like you’re grateful. This feels like a fun extension of the NPR Training team, sharing knowledge from a very capable and well-resourced hub for public media. They’re always offering helpful advice, all the way down to cartoons of what kind of mic to use on field recordings. They find ways to help member stations with highly specific technology and journalism assistance — and they can also be good for 11 forks.

Nice mothership there. We’re thinking about a reciprocal gift of an antler, bone or pelt. Nothing from an apex predator or megafauna. Maybe mink, vole or opossum — opossum prices have been very good lately.

Anything you’re still wondering about? Yeah, where did the forks come from? Were they an acquisition or just scrounged up?

Becky Lettenberger/NPR

Goldfarb

For that we turn to Alice Goldfarb, manager for technology research at NPR Labs, who read Hughes’s first tweet. She felt compelled to box up the forks and whisk them off to the utensil-challenged station.

Where did the forks come from? You didn’t steal them from the NPR cafeteria, did you?! The provenance of the forks is not important, but the operation, while hopefully in line with what we do here at NPR, was not an NPR-funded or sourced venture.

How did it fall to you to provide forks? Some time ago, I was alerted to the dearth of forks at Alaska Public Media. I enjoy getting to know the people behind the stories I hear as a listener, and I like to stay abreast of the conversations in the system, to better be able to do my job. Twitter was how I found out about this #ForkNews as well as Alaska Public Media’s phenomenal current podcast, Midnight Oil.

Were you worried about possible staffer malnutrition, or was it more of a hygiene concern? I sent the forks to help the fantastic folks at Alaska Public Media have a more equitable flatware ratio in their kitchenette. More generally, what I get to do every day is find ways to support the work of public radio here at NPR and at the stations. Most days, that is by making maps and writing software. Sometimes it is by making sure everyone has the forks they need.

Any other comments on the fork deployment? So often, online interactions are fleeting and anonymous. I enjoy being able to let colleagues, including ones I haven’t met, know that folks are listening and add a concrete response to what was likely a momentary observation.

  • William Hayes

    This begs the question, where sporks considered as they would have addressed the fork shortage while simultaneously preventing any similar spoon crisis. Being one of those folks that enjoys soup at lunch, the potential for a spoon shortage caused me some concern.