America needs public radio more than ever
August 20th is National Radio Day. Today is a good day to remember the vital role public radio plays in providing the information we all need to fully exercise our rights in our democracy. Free, over-the-air public radio broadcast signals cover nearly 99% of the nation's population. Public radio is the most easily accessed daily news source for audiences across the country and, sometimes, the only source of local news in rural areas and regions that have become news deserts with the demise of commercial local newspapers. As we were reminded in a recent article by Margaret Sullivan, two local newspapers close every week. And let's not forget that of those that remain, many have retreated behind paywalls.
Where do you turn when you want to know what's happening in your community? Who do you trust to tell you about the quality of your water, the state of local schools, the actions of your elected officials? Local journalists are critical watchdogs, holding the powerful to account by shining a light on corruption, sweetheart deals and political machinations. They also function as a kind of a misinformation "scarecrow." There's evidence that the very existence of robust media in a community acts as a deterrent to those looking to stretch the law or distort the truth.
As local commercial newspaper and radio newsrooms have been hollowed out or shuttered entirely, public radio has stepped into the void. In more than 200 newsrooms across all 50 states, over 3,600 public radio journalists are producing more than 100,000 hours of original news and information programming for broadcasts and online each year – with audio, articles, and video that tell the stories of our time. Over the past decade, NPR stations large and small have expanded their newsrooms, deepening their service to their communities. Listeners are relying on their local public radio stations as never before.
Public radio is now the leading radio news source in most major markets. In May 2022, NPR news stations were the No. 1 news station during morning and/or evening drive times in 31 of the top 50 markets. Stations like Louisville Public Media and Colorado Public Radio have become journalism powerhouses; hubs of vital accountability and investigative reporting.
But public radio is hyperlocal too, and not just on broadcast. Member stations are reaching their audiences wherever they are with the information they need. In 2021, public radio station KOSU in Oklahoma City, Okla., replied to more than 12,000 text-message questions from Oklahomans about topics ranging from water quality to COVID-19 testing. KOSU's approach toward public service journalism is replicated by stations in communities across the United States.
Major decision making is being pushed to the states in unprecedented ways. This makes local journalism more important than ever. Without NPR and our network of independent, nonprofit, locally staffed and programmed stations, millions of people would not have access to vital information or independent voices from their communities. NPR is battling misinformation and disinformation with trustworthy, professional journalism at a time when getting it right is a matter of life and death – for our listeners and for our democracy.
NPR does not have a profit motive or shareholders to serve like commercial media, so our resources go toward public service. While listener-supported radio has long been vital to our country, its value today is greater than ever.
I am grateful to the journalists and programmers for being at their post when America most needs a trusted source of information; when lives are in the balance. I am proud of NPR's vital role in providing the critical public service reporting that keeps Americans informed, the stories that keep our citizens inspired, and the conversations that keep our communities connected. Yet we cannot do it alone, we need your support.
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