An Interview with CEO and President of NPR, Vivian Schiller
23/07/10 Interview conducted by JP Prigge
Q1. How have globalisation and its relationship to media, in general, affected NPRíS decentralized approach? How has this affected syndication?
It hasnít affected our decentralised approach in the sense that it has become less decentralised, but it has in the sense that, given whatís happening in media in the USA and the tremendous losses of journalists from newspapers, broadcast enterprises and elsewhere, NPR and member stations feel a great responsibility to step-up to the play and provide more original reporting in more ways; to reach more people in more ways.† Weíre all in it together to do more.
Itís sort of like syndication, but itís a deeper relationship. Syndication implies a purely financial transaction; we have a much deeper relationship with our member stations than that.
Q2. After reading about your mantra, you have three pillars upholding your radio philosophy; one of which is to bring information to all individuals. Radio, in general, is not purchased. Do you believe that XM radio, SIRIUS radio and itunes podcasts target a broad audience?
We want to make our content available. Itís not for us to tell our audience this is the way; you should only get us this way and not that way. We donít have a horse in that race. We just want to be on every platform. Weíre on SIRIUS FM, which has a small audience. Weíre on podcasting, the iphone, the Andriod, face book. We just want to make ourselves available wherever the audience/potential audience is. They will decide whether they want to listen on broadcast radio, the Internet, download a podcast or read us. The notion of trying to lecture the audience on how they should receive NPR would be foolish on our part.
Q3. As for the content, NPR separates itself from advertising, is public funding somewhat lost on those formats?
We donít get government support, its either listener or user support. Itís another way to try to bring more people to feel a connection to their local NPR member stations and contribute to them; it reinforces the relationship.
Q4. How does it tie in with public funding; whether itís corporate, organizational, or philanthropical donations?
We want to bring in donors from all over the world. Our funding streams, generally speaking to public radio, are from listener support, corporate underwriting, foundations involved in making grants, and individual philanthropists, which is very significant source of funding in the USA. These are the biggest sources, largely American right now. Weíre beginning to explore opportunities outside of the USA.
Q5. More recently, in terms of the receptivity of non-American audiences, how has NPR adjusted its output to possibly cater to a non-American audience while still promoting American values?
We donít promote American values. Weíre not a government institution; weíre an independent news organisation. We just report the news, and people, based on their own values, can make their own judgments. This differs from the Voice of America or other institutions. We have not consciously marketed ourselves to audiences outside the United States, and yet they have found us. 15-20% of people coming to npr.org come from ip addresses outside of the USA. We have come to Berlin and weíre available in many other ways in other countries. We donít have an fm radio station, like here in Berlin, but weíre available on armed forceís radio and weíre syndicated on several cable radio stations.
We are available to many places in the world.
Q6. In your speech you loosely mentioned NPRís duty to support and promote the American Democratic message abroad, couldnít that be seen as promoting American values?
What we do is provide information. In the USA, we provide information to Americans so that they can be active participants in the democratic process. Whatever their politics are, we just say hereís whatís happening, you decide. But be involved; know whatís going on in your own country, so that you can be part of the democratic process.
Q7. Involving the polarisation of media, how does it affect NPR by not promoting one particular side?
There are some people in the audience who want to hear their own ideas fed back to them. Other people, such as NPR listeners, are interested in understanding whatís going on without someone telling them what they should think and how they should think. That is for the individual listener to decide; we just want to tell them whatís going on.
Q8. What type of responsibility does NPR have seeing as they stay out of the polar element of the current news situation? What responsibility does NPR have in defining modern-day moderacy?
Itís a huge responsibility. To call it moderacy makes it sound that we take a politically moderate position. We take no position, weíre just information providers. In fact, our audience, based on survey after survey, indicate that they span the entire political spectrum; from people who self-identify as Conservative and Republicans, all the way across to those who self-identify as Democrats and Liberals.
Q9. In the early 70ís, Nixon wanted to pull the plug on the concept of NPR and public radio and just keep it to the AM stations, probably because it was more conservative radio. How is there a tie-in with the current administration and support, not necessarily for NPR, but for public radio?
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting receives federal money to support local broadcasts from public radio stations. They do get some support. That support has remained constant and hasnít changed much over recent years; from Clinton to Obama.
Q10. Where do you see the future of NPR?
I see NPR doing much more original programming, having more journalists and being available on more platforms.