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Why Government Funding Hurts PBS and NPR

It props up local stations that have become an obstacle to online distribution.

If the federal government were to cut off funding for public broadcasting, the programs that so many of us cherish not only wouldn't disappear, they would have a better chance of surviving long into the future.

In 1967, President Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act, establishing a system of government subsidies that hasn't changed that much in fifty years. The lion-share of federal money was allocated—not to pay directly for programming—but to go to independent public television and radio stations that were established in every corner of a vast nation. Their main purpose has always been to distribute national content to their local communities. About 70 percent of government funding went directly the local stations in 1967. Fifty years later, that formula hasn't changed much.

When the Public Broadcasting Act became law, maintaining a network of regional stations was the only way to insure that every American household had access to public television and radio content. Today, this decentralized system isn't necessary because it's possible to stream or download NPR or PBS content from anywhere in the world. As audiences moves online, the regional stations supported by the federal government are becoming unnecessary.

It's not just that these stations have become a waste of taxpayer money—they also present an obstacle to online distribution. The advent of podcasting, for example, was a singular opportunity for NPR to capitalize big on a new way of distributing its rich content. Today, NPR publishes several of the top podcasts, but in a concession to the stations, it forbids show hosts from promoting podcasts on the radio or from even mentioning NPR's popular smartphone app. Station opposition is also the reason that podcast listeners can't download episodes of NPR's two top programs, Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

Recently, some of public radio's most talented show hosts and producers have gone to work for private podcasting ventures. One reason to leave, says former-NPR reporter Adam Davidson, is that podcasters "have a creative freedom that NPR's institutional frictions simply can't allow."

The fact is that without federal subsidies, the programs themselves could thrive. About 40 percent of funding for public television comes from private contributions (individuals, foundations, and businesses). For public radio, it's about 60 percent.

Without the massive overhead cost of 1,400 local public radio and television stations, that revenue would more than cover the cost of producing the programs and then distributing them for free online. And yet fans of PBS and NPR might ultimately be even better served if they were to privatize and charge a monthly subscription fee—moving in the same direction as the rest of the media. (In this scenario, the PBS stations that produce national content, such as WNET and WGBH, would become production companies.)

Either way, ending federal funding not only won't destroy the only thing that's worth saving about public broadcasting. It could very well be its salvation.

(Disclosure: I was a producer at WNET, the PBS flagship station in New York City, from 2002 to 2009.)

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Produced by Jim Epstein; production assistance from Ian Keyser.

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  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Being government sponsored is a badge of honor amongst those who watch PBS. I fear that this alone will be a massive friction against meaningful change.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I would say that most of the adults that are in the NPR and PBS biz voted for Hillary.

    Have you noticed that Trump does not really care about what those people think? If Trump can only convince the tools in Congress to wipe the public broadcasting budget from the map.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    No one should care what those people think.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    +1! +2! +3! Ha ha ha!

  • loveconstitution1789||

    "1" Ah
    "2" Ah Ah
    "3" Ah Ah Ah

    That and Electric Company's "conjunction junction what's you function"

  • Vaelyn||

    That was Schoohouse Rock, not The Electric Company.

  • ||

    Mr Morton is the subject of the sentence and what the predicate says, he does.

  • ||

    Someone forgot to tell Reason, so deeply embedded in our psyche, subsidies are the price for civilization.

  • ||

    Whenever someone ever dares to suggest the CBC be privatized they usually are faced with the usual drivel of 'but who will serve Canadians from coast to coast! Whither Canadiana!'

  • Brian.bs||

    Ah yes, the good old Communist Broadcasting Corporation. I keep reminding my left wing loonie friends that I'm tired of paying for their "entertainment".

  • ||

    If you take Trudumb at his word that there "There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada...Canada is the first post-national state."
    Well then what's the point of a CBC? What's the point of a publically funded broadcaster that "espouses Canada's "identity"?""

  • Fist of Etiquette||

  • The Last American Hero||

    Yes, and like James Bond, it's not your dad's Sesame Street either.

  • Rhywun||

    I refuse to listen to a "podcast" until they call it something less stupid.

  • ricketson||

    They just call in NPR1 now.

  • Vaelyn||

    I saw a pod land once and now I feel completely emotionless and ready to serve the hive complex.

  • Rational Exuberance||

    There's nothing to be afraid of.
    They were right.
    It's painless.
    It's good.
    Come.
    Sleep.

  • American Memer||

    Nah.

  • Uncle Jay||

    RE: Why Government Funding Hurts PBS and NPR
    It props up local stations that have become an obstacle to online distribution.

    Nothing could further from the truth.
    How else can our beloved ruling elitist turds indoctrinate us properly into socialism if the unwashed masses do not give their ill-gotten gains to the governmental information bureaus like PBS and NPR? Our ruling elites are much wiser than all of us put together and having them extort money from all us little people for the purpose of re-education into proper socialist doctrine is one of the many benefits of living in a socialist slave society. PBS and NPR have been true to their socialist masters by implementing the prudent ways of collectivism, authoritarianism and big government ideas and practices into their programming so the lowly plebian class can eventually re-think their antiquated and ridiculous ideas of capitalism, personal freedom, financial independence, etc once and for all. Indeed, we should contribute more of our hard earned money to the Ministry of Truth who runs and directs PBS and NPR so the Glorious People's Revolution will become a reality much sooner.

  • Winthrop Reddy||

    Yes, PBS is just so crazy socialist. Even though the Koch brothers are heavy funders of PBS programming, and PBS had William F. Buckley on-air for decades, and Tucker Carlson had his own PBS public affairs show. YEP. HUGE socialists, lol...

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Yes, they are huge socialists, 'lol'.

  • Rational Exuberance||

    Buckley has been dead for a decade. And PBS used to be better, simply because it was more important and attracted a better caliber of people. These days, why would anybody with any brains want to go work for PBS?

  • Rockabilly||

    The muppets are prog freeloaders? Say it ain't so!!!

  • woodNfish||

    NPR and PBS need to be defunded and cut out off from the government tit along with the NEA and Planned Parenthood. They are nothing more than leftwing propaganda outlets and they offer nothing that you can't get on cable or satellite.

  • ricketson||

    Except news.
    For free.

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    It wasn't free, you just didn't notice your money being taken and given to them.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    And it is not news. NPR produces lefty opinion pieces.

    Even when they try and do news, it lefty as hell. They cannot be objective, if they tried and NPR is supposed to be non-partisan news because.... public funding.

  • Winthrop Reddy||

    Hahaha, please find me ONE example of "lefty"politics. You mean when they report the "truth"? lol!!!

  • XenoZooValentine||

    Yeah, the "truth" according to a bunch of progressive ideologues who think lying for justice is awesome. When is the last time they did something that *wasn't* blatant lefty propaganda? It would make a shorter list. And commercial news and talk radio is "free" too, I still don't have to pay them to listen to it. But it often talks about truths that make government goons sad, which is why they keep trying to shut it down.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Hey friend, when you include shit like 'hahaha' and 'lol' in all your comments, you come off as an idiot, and a snarky moron.

    Hint: Those are not good things.

  • Winthrop Reddy||

    HAHAHAHAHA yeah, great point. The guy that says "hahaha" and "lol" is, in your words, "an idiot...and a snarky moron". BUT the person that calls another person "an idiot...and a snarky moron" is okay. Wow. Great mental gymnastics, Mary Lou Retton!

  • Cade||

    Do you actually listen to NPR? It is the most dry, fact based news available. On the actual news portions of the shows as opposed to interviews, they are literally reading factual statements. Where does this notion that NPR is lefty come from?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    This is one of the less subtle NPR lefty pieces.
    NPR story
    According to lefty narrative Trump's presidency is predicated on no planning, no good direction and the left has 5 questions to raise.
    "...(Trump had known about that for almost two weeks and failed to inform Pence.)...." the left has to link Trump to trouble
    "There was also a myriad of smaller controversies, like the repeated and false insistence by Trump that millions of people voted illegally for his opponent, and the fights he keeps picking with foreign leaders, intelligence agencies and department stores. " Trump is not acting Presidential according to the left because of these things
    "Still, Trump is losing some support. Gallup and Pew — two respected polls — have him around 40 percent approval or below. " See...even his supporters are leaving him

  • loveconstitution1789||

    (contd) "3. Is this what Republicans on Capitol Hill wanted? No." See...even Republicans in Congress do not want to do what Trump wants to do
    "Trump says everything is running just fine, but Republicans on Capitol Hill say they have no idea who's in charge. " No quote from any Congressmen saying that but it must be true.
    "5. Can this ship be stabilized?
    Other administrations started chaotically, though probably not as dizzyingly as this one.
    Bill Clinton had a famously rocky start but went on to pass NAFTA and welfare reform — and with the country at peace and prosperous, he won re-election.
    Trump has inherited a good economy that's improving by the day. If he can avoid a crisis like Ebola or Hurricane Katrina and get a seasoned hand or two in the White House, he might be able to move past this rough patch." According to the lefty NPR Trump's Presidency is an unstabilized ship (Think sinking if you are left enough), Bill Clinton was a great President (never mentioned one of two Presidents who had Congress vote for impeachment), Trump inherited a good economy from Obama (nice Obama plug even though much of the USA still has 15%+ real unemployment and still in the Great Recession) and Hurricane Katrina were W. Bush's rough patches and Ebola was Obama's.

    This is why critical readers and listeners see NPR spouting leftists nonsense- because they are reinforcing lefty narratives at public expense.

  • RodgerMitchell||

    Are you saying a majority of the people get their radio via podcast? Or is it really a minority who also are smart enough not to use their devices while driving?

  • TheJohnnyAppleseedOfCrack||

    Why Government Funding Hurts PBS and NPR

    So are you saying that we should support gov't funding of NPR & PBS?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I honestly think one of the biggest reasons for TDS is that the leftists know their gravy train is over on many projects to indoctrinate and control people, like public schools and the EPA.

  • crufus||

    Government funding gives the government a powerful tool for managing the content of NPR and PBS to make sure they don't say anything too displeasing to their masters in Congress. If they truly want to serve the public, they should go off on their own.

  • Winthrop Reddy||

    OR...crazy thought....how about we just fund them like every other first-world country, let them report what they want, and not interfere? Holy sh*t! What a crazy concept!

  • DJF||

    """"how about we just fund them like every other first-world country,"""

    You misspelled this

    how about we just fund them like every other first world country, we take money from the taxpayers and dump debt on future taxpayers

  • Akira||

    How about we move past this idea that we MUST do something just because "every other first-world country does it"?

    "Waaah, Mommy, all the other cool kids are doing it!"

  • XenoZooValentine||

    Yeah, this is the worst argument and I hear it all too often.

    A lot of other countries do a lot of dumb things, doesn't mean we should join them.

  • Winthrop Reddy||

    Yeah, horrible argument! "Wahhhh, wahhhh, I don't like having an independent TV and/or radio station". Holy sh@t, please listen to the words coming out of your mouth! People might think you're kray-kray!

  • American Memer||

    >independent

    >taxpayer-funded

    pick one

  • Akira||

    Addendum: If a communist revolution swept most of the world and they set up gulags, American leftists would be saying, "every other first-world country has facilities where wayward citizens can be re-educated and made into cooperative members of their communities; why can't we do that in the US?"

  • XenoZooValentine||

    We already have that, it's called college.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Winthrop, we shouldn't do that because it creates a lot of dumbfucks.

  • Akira||

    "OR...crazy thought....how about we just fund them like every other first-world country, let them report what they want, and not interfere? Holy sh*t! What a crazy concept!"

    Here's the craziest concept ever: why not get the government out of the broadcasting business and just let people's market preferences determine what kind of programming will be on the air?

  • Winthrop Reddy||

    Here's something that will absolutely blow your mind: do you know that the GOVERNMENT owns every signal in America? NBC, ABC, CBS...YOU own it! The government leases every channel to those broadcasters for free. So to advocate for the "government out of the broadcasting business" means SHUTTING DOWN THE BROADCASTING BUSINESS, lol!!!! People say that the congress can only "regulate", but that's not what has happened in court...

  • crufus||

    The chances that the US Congress will give out money to NPR and PBS without getting something in return is absurd on the face of it.

  • Rational Exuberance||

    how about we just fund them like every other first-world country

    I don't want the US to deteriorate into the sorry state of "every other first-world countries".

  • Personal Liberty||

    I grew up watching LPB because my dad was too cheap or smart to buy cable. Let's just say you can pry the subsidized LPB from my cold dead hands.

  • Winthrop Reddy||

    A truly moronic conclusion by any logical criteria. Facts:
    1. Cutting finding for PBS will disproportionately affect places in Republican states eg. the poorest, rural areas will be hardest hit
    2. Studies have consistently shown that Kids who watch PBS or Public Television test better and have less behavioral problems than kids who don't watch tv or those that watch cable TV
    3. PBS has "liberal" bias: has been debunked numerous times. People forget Tucker Carlson, William F. Buckley and countless other conservatives have been on PBS. Many shows are actually funded by the Koch brothers
    4. Government shouldn't fund it argument: We would be only 1st world country without a public television system. The budget for PBS is .016 of the federal budget but the ROI of PBS is consistently high and a true success story of the US Government. US Federal budget spends just as much on Military bands as it does for PBS, should we cut all military bands, too?
    5. Finally, argument it isn't Constitutional:Ummm, yes it is, Lyndon B. Johnson signed Corporation for Public Broadcasting act in 1968. Perhaps people need refresher on how government and the Constitution work?

  • DJF||

    Yes lets cut military bands and PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and lower the debt by charging admission to piss on LBJ's grave .

  • Akira||

    "Finally, argument it isn't Constitutional:Ummm, yes it is, Lyndon B. Johnson signed Corporation for Public Broadcasting act in 1968. Perhaps people need refresher on how government and the Constitution work?"

    Some dickweed president signing a law does not suddenly make things constitutional.

  • Winthrop Reddy||

    HAHAHAHA ohmygod, do you know what makes something "constitutional"??? Holy crap, do you think it's ONLY the founding fathers, and that's it? Wow, do you even Constitutional Law, bro?

  • XenoZooValentine||

    This is the best batshit troll ever.

    1. "Hardest hit" by what exactly? Not having a few children's TV shows to use as a babysitter? Assuming that would even change, assuming that none of these people have other TV shows to watch, or that they don't watch it on other platforms, assuming they and their kids don't prefer online entertainment or books or games these days, etc.

    2. "Studies have consistently shown" that people who make this argument with no evidence are masturbating.

    3. "has been debunked numerous times" by another phantom study I guess. I can't remember the last time I saw something on these channels (other than kid's programming) that wasn't obviously slanted in some way. I thought not having advertising was supposed to stop that? It's almost like most bias has nothing to do with money.

    4. "We spent money on other stuff" is not an argument either. If *this* spending is wasteful, it needs to go.

    5. Yes, by all means go take that refresher course. It will presumably remind you that just because the President signs something into law does not make that law Constitutional. Maybe you got your civics lessons from PBS?

    Anyway, thanks for playing. You lost. You don't even get a lousy copy of our home game. You're a complete loser.

  • Winthrop Reddy||

    HAHAHAHAHAHA unlike ad hominem, which you do VERY well, btw, I (unfortunately for you) rely on things like "data" and "facts"

    1.This one is WAY too easy. PBS Learning Media.
    2. HAHAHA Facts are hard! I like Facebook! (https://www.wested.org/research)
    3. SOOOOO you have no examples of this mythical "slant". Again, very good fallacious attack: "Yeah, they're biased! Do I have an example?? Ummm...no....but....they're biased!! And you just confirmed it!!" HAHAHAHAHA
    4. Newsflash: When you propose a cut to something in a budget that has a heavy ROI with no justification, you will get questioned by the electorate! Umm, you do realize that's how the government works, right? Or as Neil Degrasse Tyson put it, "Cutting PBS support (0.012% of budget) to help balance the Federal budget is like deleting text files to make room on your 500Gig hard drive." It is purely political and not this pure effort you laughingly think it is.
    5. Yes, by all means go take that refresher course. It will presumably remind you that just because the President signs something into law does not make that law Constitutional. Maybe you got your civics lessons from PBS?
    Ummm, ohmygod, the argument was that something is "Constitutional". Maybe YOU need to watch more PBS???? HAHAHAHAHA oh snap! There IS a show that explains it lol!!! http://www.pbs.org/tpt/constit.....agal/home/

  • XenoZooValentine||

    The Internet needs to collectively stop sucking Neil deGrasse Tyson's dick.

    http://thebestpageintheunivers.....not_a_nerd

  • Rational Exuberance||

    Cutting finding for PBS will disproportionately affect places in Republican states eg. the poorest, rural areas will be hardest hit

    Sounds like a benefit to me.

    Studies have consistently shown that Kids who watch PBS or Public Television test better and have less behavioral problems than kids who don't watch tv or those that watch cable TV

    True: wealthy, privileged kids tend to watch PBS and have fewer behavioral problems.

    People forget Tucker Carlson, William F. Buckley and countless other conservatives have been on PBS.

    Tucker Carlson isn't on PBS anymore, and William F. Buckley has been dead for ten years. Can't you count higher than two?

    In any case, that was then, this is now. PBS simply serves no purpose at all anymore in the modern world; it was created because broadcasting was expensive.

    We would be only 1st world country without a public television system.

    First true thing you've said: we should be. Public television had some justification half a century ago; today, it's a pointless waste of money, lacks quality, and is at risk of becoming a pure propaganda tool.

  • Fairbanks||

    This article misses the point of PBS and NPR. They aren't in existence to provide programs that we cherish. They exist to provide programs that the ruling elite cherish, but aren't financially viable without government largesse.

  • Winthrop Reddy||

    Complete and utter rubbish. CPB programming is FAR more proportionally targeted towards poor, lol...

  • XenoZooValentine||

    The ruling elite cherishes agitprop targeted toward the poor, gotta keep 'em chasing smoke and mirrors...

  • Africanis||

    So your saying there will be no more Super Grover?

  • ||

    And we conveniently ignore that the CIA and FBI have infiltrated the major media centres both nationally and even internationally.

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