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RADIO

Dishing out the hamburger money

With a $235-million windfall in hand, NPR gets to decide what it wants to be now that it's all grown up.

May 16, 2004|Allan M. Jalon | Special to The Times

Next week, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, a journalism monitoring organization that labels itself "progressive," will unveil what it calls a "major ... critical" study of NPR. Steve Rendall, senior analyst for FAIR, says: "The thing we're asking is, where's the public in public radio? We find that, while NPR is not a slave to sound-bite culture, and while NPR is clearly a prominent source for news, it is largely reliant on the same elite voices that dominate mainstream commercial media. Contrary to the view that NPR is a liberal media outpost, Republicans appeared in the period studied substantially more often than did Democrats."

FAIR based its study, Rendall says, on scrutiny of NPR's daily programming throughout June 2003.

In an interview, veteran "60 Minutes" correspondent Morley Safer made clear his unhappiness about the April 30 removal of "Morning Edition" anchor Bob Edwards, especially NPR executives' failure to do a better job explaining it. But he declares NPR's importance in a broadcast news environment he critiques savagely.

"I look at broadcasting now and the sad, awful success of Fox and that hectoring kind of giving voice to the fringe, people like Bill O'Reilly and Limbaugh.... That has nothing to do with liberal or conservative. This has nothing to do ... with real understanding. These are silly midway acts ... they are not a rat pack or mouse pack."

Any creature comparisons to make to NPR?

"NPR is a very good, reliable collie that occasionally bares its teeth."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

An NPR primer

Here are some basics about National Public Radio.

Content and general role

Creates programming, from its main news magazines "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" to a variety of other shows, including music ("Performance Today") and business ("The Motley Fool"). The network produces and distributes 32 programs offering news, talk, music and entertainment.

NPR staff and budget

Employs more than 700 reporters, producers, editors, and online and administrative staff, with 600 employees in Washington, D.C. It has 13 foreign bureaus and 21 domestic bureaus. Annual operating costs are roughly $110 million. The newsroom budget is about $45 million.

NPR and local stations

Serves 274 public radio licensees, which often own more than one station or broadcast signal, adding up to 778 signals. Most of the license holders are schools and school boards.

Funding and structure

Once dependent on federal funding, through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, it no longer relies on direct government subsidies. It is supported by fees paid by member stations, and by donations from corporations, foundations and individual givers. The terms of its relationship with its stations prohibit NPR from conducting on-air soliciting. Fund drives that listeners hear raise money for local public radio stations.

Responses can be e-mailed to Calendar@latimes.com.

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