Oh, it gets worse than that! As a long-time listener of NPR, I have become absolutely disgusted with the very obvious infomercials that have become embedded in their programming content over the last few years. In fact, I just tossed-off a little screed to the Obbudsman about this very topic. Is there no safe harbor from blatant advertising? If not NPR, where?
Here's the text of the rant I sent-off just this morning ...
I did a little math re: the content of last Sunday's "Weekend Edition Sunday".
Along with the customary worthwhile journalistic segments, the show included the usual two music-related and two author interview segments. Since both music "albums" and both books were magically available for purchase on the NPR website, these segments strike me as blatant "informercials" and violate one of the very foundations of journalism - "We don't pay for content".
While this does not strictly fall under the umbrella of "paying for content", NPR is getting financial support in the form of "kickbacks" from the sale of the items being hawked by the hosts, and hence, the content of the program is being shaped by financial considerations. While NPR has a financial interest in the content being presented to your listeners, these segments are beiing couched as journalistic content in the context of an otherwise high-minded and well-respected program.
How bad is it? Out of a 90 minute show, 24 1/2 minutes were allocated to these informercials. If you count the ever-present shout-outs to the various corporate sponsors, you are pushing 30% or more of the air time being spent in schilling goods and representing the financial interests of commercial sponsors. How is this not commercial radio? How is this different than tuning into any commercial AM or FM radio station?
As I see it, 1 out of every 3 minutes of air time is equivalent to listening to the infamous "Vince" hawking Shamwows. But Vince is far more entertaining. If I've got to listen to commercials, give me Vince.
I feel sorry for the program hosts. Those folks have long histories as journalists and have worked hard to get where they are. You don't work at that level for NPR without having an extensive and impressive curriculum vitae, and yet they are reduced to being "pitchmen" for 1/3 of every show (this was not a unique show and was very similar to most of the WESAT and WESUN offerings).
As a long-time listener, I can remember when this was not the case. I remember when NPR was non-commercial radio and was truly dependent upon listener contributions. Now, I understand the financial pressure that NPR has been under for the past several years and how much anguish and the great gnashing of teeth that must have accompanied this change of format as you try to find a sustainable business model, but sinking to this level should be off the table. Now, though I am still expected to contribute to the cause financially, I also have to "pay" for access to NPR programming by having to endure the ever-present informercials in the mix.
I guess that all I can ask is that you at least label the music and author segments (as well as the frequent pitching of HBO shows, for which I'm sure there is money changing hands) as "Paid Programming" as do my local TV stations when they air informercials. And stop asking me to contribute money. If you are going to bend the rules, at least be up front about it. While the Saturday and Sunday shows are far-and-away to worst examples, this has begun to creep into both Morning Edition and All Things Considered as well. That is very disturbing.
I have stopped contributing to my local station. They don't need me anymore. They can get their money from the mother ship, now that it has gone commercial. I haven't contributed for the past few years and feel absolutely no guilt while I continue to listen. I now pay in other more painful ways.
End of rant!
I ride alone in bad company ...