The Heyification of NPR


Je t’adore NPR, though I am not your NPR  junky.  I didn’t mourn – rend my clothes or keen or wear black for months – as some friends did when Bob Edwards lost his job. I don’t listen to all your shows though The Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and of course news on the hour is tuned in anytime I’m driving. I loved the Diane Rehm show. The two hours flew by, as she hosted smart, expert, engaging, respectful thought leaders – including herself – taking on a wide range of topics. Listening to the dialogue gave me a sense of the landscape of perspectives, the pros and cons of difficult issues, and always a good bit of information to digest.

(IA, which replaced the Diane Rehm show, is also topnotch but is too snappy for me. Joshua Johnson leads tight, bright, enlightening, rapid-paced discussion. One day, perhaps, he will relax into the show and then I can relax too as I follow along).

And then there was always Car Talk, with MIT grads, “Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers”.  I know nothing about cars, but loved listening to this show and these two funny mechanics every Saturday, and even its reruns.

The calm, intellectual deliberation, and sharp questioning of a Robert Siegel interview was so welcome in the midst the news frenzy found in so many other news outlets that I’d often re-listen to the same darn interview segment, heck often the whole show, just an hour later.  Robert has now moved on from NPR too. Et tu Robert?

Once a year or so, I go to your NPR site to see what someone I am listening to looks like.  I’m often gobsmacked. Flabbergasted.  The person I now see looks completely different than who I had imagined.  It’s a good thing.  NPR voices are unique.  Scott Simon’s voice is distinctive as is Korva Coleman’s as is Wade Goodwyn (reporting from Dallas, he reminds me of farm reports you’d hear growing up in Kansas) as is Nina Totenberg (engagingly explaining U.S. Supreme Court hearings in detail for goodness’ sake) and on and on.  (Boise State Public Radio, my local station, also carries favorite public radio voices like Kai Ryssdal on Marketplace or Ira Flatow on Science Friday.)

Each voice going out to the entire country still sounds like it is coming to me personally, from a person I find interesting and credible and trustworthy. From your NPR microphone directly to my car.

Which, finally, brings me to the point of this whole essay.  I don’t like – it’s more a quibble than a dislike – what appears to me as the slow “heyification” of NPR.  These days, a host like Ari Shapiro will welcome a contributor with a “Hey Tam!” to which Tamara Keith responds “Hey Ari”. It seems put-upon, like something your marketing consultants told your on-air talent to use to draw the younger demographic.  (Since I’m older, this “hey-ing” doesn’t click with me, or clack either.)  This banter doesn’t have the gravitas and, well, the je ne c’est pas, of the NPR experience I like so much, which comes sans hype, sans ad hominem attack, sans fluff, sans spin, sans red meat drama for bases left or right, sans vacuous celebrity gossip. Just substantive, sometimes provocative, always respectful, news and in-depth information. NPR is more likely to do a retrospective of someone’s work after they died and can’t benefit from a book or movie plug, or feature an out-of-the-way artist, than try to pump ratings by bringing on the latest action hero or first-hit wonder.  Unless there is an unusually interesting or important story to tell about that actor or author – then you’ll see a celebrity-type on NPR.

So I don’t like the “heyification” of NPR as it sprouts in little interactions here and there.  It’s not my cup of tea, but I will put up with it if it means that younger people will listen – and now participate through other NPR media like NPR One, blogs, and podcasts – to one of the best news organizations, along with others of similar quality like the New York Times and The New Yorker, that can be found anywhere.

If it takes “Hey Stevie (Innskeep)” to get people to turn their dials to NPR I won’t complain loudly.

I mean, well hey, who am I to argue?

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