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From the Interim CEO: Making space for uncomfortable, but necessary, conversations

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Every few years, there's fresh discussion about NPR's editorial integrity and whether it has a liberal bias. Over the last few weeks, the topic has been revived, but with a significant twist: The latest critique came from a longtime member of the newsroom at NPR.

Senior business editor Uri Berliner published an online essay critical of NPR’s editorial strategy. His central argument is that in its quest to become more representative of the country in its staffing and coverage, NPR has sacrificed "diversity of viewpoints" in its reporting and has leaned heavily into advocacy journalism. What followed has been a barrage of news coverage, opinion pieces and "hot takes" on social media. Most recently, The New York Times published a piece that chronicles the many challenges NPR has faced over the past four years.

So far, I have been impressed by NPR's response: They've called out inaccuracies in Berliner’s piece and defended their editorial policies and practices. While they are unapologetic about efforts to bring voices from various lived experiences into the NPR fold and onto the air — a commitment Vermont Public shares — they earnestly described this moment as an opportunity to be curious and reflective. 

NPR’s new CEO Katherine Maher published a thoughtful response that includes this passage: "It is also essential that we listen closely to the insights and experiences of our colleagues at our 248 member organizations. Their presence across America is foundational to our mission: serving and engaging audiences that are as diverse as our nation: urban and rural, liberal and conservative, rich and poor, often together in one community."

Vermont Public is a proud member station of NPR (and a proud member station of PBS too!). We know that many in our audience tune in specifically to hear programs like Morning Edition and All Things Considered. In addition to the stories that NPR brings from across a wide spectrum of society, we have also recently bolstered our radio schedule to include programs like The Middle with Jeremy Hobson, and Left, Right & Center with David Greene. These programs have a stated purpose of presenting a wide range of viewpoints.

David Greene puts it this way: "I am excited to double down on the show’s rich tradition, creating a venue for people to debate the polarizing issues, to think out loud and to escape our echo chambers. I can’t wait to learn from our guests, to encourage them to dig deeply and to understand the reasons behind their opinions."

One aspect of our purpose at Vermont Public is to create space for uncomfortable — but necessary — conversations. Challenging the status quo and "conventional wisdom" is part of our responsibility as a media organization. 

Through our local coverage, we also try to live up to our tagline, "Stories from every corner." Here’s a sampling of how that aspiration shows up in our work:

At Vermont Public, earning your trust has been hard-won. It’s taken many decades. We intend to keep that trust and know that maintaining it requires constant effort. We will continue to hold ourselves accountable to our own editorial policies and practices, receiving and responding to your feedback, and curating a mix of programs that include many viewpoints, opinions and experiences.

Grappling with challenging feedback is healthy for every organization. Conversations about these issues — and reflecting on input from the audience — will continue at NPR as they will at member stations across the country, including at Vermont Public.

Brendan Kinney is Vermont Public's interim CEO.
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