On Cutting Federal Funding for NPR

by Veronique de Rugy

As you probably know, Republicans have proposed, once again, to end federal funding for National Public Radio. Independently of whether one likes their programming, it is the right thing to do. First and foremost, there is no reason for taxpayers to subsidize radio programs through their tax dollars. As far I know, NPR (and PBS, for that matter) isn’t a matter of national security or part of any social safety net. It’s simply not the role of the federal government to support them, and taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for a business that is private in nature, whether it is balanced or biased, interesting or boring.

Also, if their federal funding goes away, NPR and PBS won’t disappear. In fact, one of the most interesting arguments I have heard for ending their funding was made by my colleague Adam Thierer over at the Technology Liberation Front. He argues that not only will public broadcasting be fine if its federal funding ends, it could turn that “into a golden opportunity by asking its well-heeled and highly-diversified base of supporters to step up to the plate and fill the gap left by the end of taxpayer subsidies.” This part is particularly interesting:

In many ways, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports NPR and PBS, has the perfect business model for the age of information abundance. Philanthropic models — which rely on support for foundational benefactors, corporate underwriters, individual donors, and even government subsidy — can help diversify the funding base at a time when traditional media business models — advertising support, subscriptions, and direct sales — are being strained.  This is why many private media operations are struggling today; they’re experiencing the ravages of gut-wrenching marketplace / technological changes and searching for new business models to sustain their operations. By contrast, CPB, NPR, and PBS are better positioned to weather this storm since they do not rely on those same commercial models.

Also, here is the demographics of NPR listeners (according to NPR):

The median age of the NPR listener is 50.

The median household income of an NPR News listener is about $86,000, compared to the national average of about $55,000.

NPR’s audience is extraordinarily well-educated.  Nearly 65% of all listeners have a bachelor’s degree, compared to only a quarter of the U.S. population.  Also, they are three times more likely than the average American to have completed graduate school.

The majority of the NPR audience (86%) identifies itself as white.

Thierer also gives a list of NPR corporate supporters. He concludes:

Read rest of the list of this impressive list of NPR corporate and foundational supporters here.  Has there ever been a more well-diversified base of support for any media operation in American history?  I think not. As Jill Lawrence points out on Politics Daily, public media’s extremely loyal — and rich – fan base are not about let NPR and PBS die.

Now, if only we could get the federal government out the business of subsidizing opera houses and museums . . .

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