How NPR Broke the Old Model of Broadcast Journalism: NPR
Monday, May 3, 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of NPR’s original first broadcast. Over the past half century, NPR and member stations have been essential and trusted sources for local events and cultural programming featuring music, local history, education, and the arts. To mark this important milestone, we are reflecting on and renewing our commitment to serve an audience that reflects America and to Hear every voice.
In the 50 years that All things Considered has been on the air, the field of journalism has changed.
In 1971, the evening news from the three major television networks shaped the nation’s perception of what was important in the world. In the absence of social media, the internet, and continued reliance on the media, NPR has entered a rather small information landscape. All things Considered did not try to compete directly; instead, to find its place, the program opted for a different style of storytelling.
According to former host Robert Siegel, when NPR and All things Considered were conceived, this was at a time when American journalism was changing rapidly:
This was the period when CBS News, in 1968, [where] instead of just having a show where reporters would look at the camera and tell you what the truth was, what happened today – they made 60 minutes, this interesting magazine show. The New York Times in 1970 created an opinion page – which was considered very risky – in which you could actually read opinions that were not those of the New York Times or its columnists. All Things Considered and NPR in the early 1970s are among them.
However, they were a very quiet part of it. At the time, NPR did not have the resources to hire many journalists. It relied on contributions from member stations across the country, which would provide reporting. If a major problem arose, it would be addressed by speaking to a journalist at a newspaper or finding an academic who could espouse their point of view on the subject.
All things Considered and the network as a whole took a few decades to attract the money and talent to compete with other big media. Finally, they did. With what we now consider to be the flagship shows on the network, NPR has come to define a mark of deep journalism and widely emulated broadcast sound.