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NPR To Drop Call-In Show 'Talk Of The Nation'


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene.


And I'm Renee Montagne. This morning we have news about our own network, word that TALK OF THE NATION, the daily call-in show broadcast by NPR for the last 21 years, will go off the air this summer. TALK OF THE NATION will be replaced by an expanded version of the news magazine HERE AND NOW. That's currently produced by member station WBUR in Boston, which will continue to produce it in partnership with NPR.

For more we turn to NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik, who joins us from our bureau in New York. Welcome, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So TALK OF THE NATION, it's been on the air for a couple of decades, many stations take it - why is it being cancelled now?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, look. I mean absolutely if you think about the fact that it has a cumulative weekly audience of about three and a half million people, it's carried on 407 stations, a signature call-in show, you know, why would you do this?

When I talked to NPR's chief content officer, Kinsey Wilson, last night, he said the network is in a review in this time of the changing media ecosystem to make sure there's an intentionality about what we do, that everything is done for a purpose and is distinctive. And he said, you know, TALK OF NATION has helped to foster a welter of shows that handle issues with a call-in format.

You know, if you think about NPR's show - it distributes THE DIANE REHM SHOW out of Washington, ON POINT out of WBUR itself, that TALK OF THE NATION is no longer quite as distinctive and they wanted a show that could bridge the gap in those hours between the end of the last run of MORNING EDITION and the first run of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED in the afternoon that could respond perhaps more quickly to developing news. They thought this format (unintelligible) the new show out of BUR might help do that.

MONTAGNE: Okay. We'll be talking about the other show, the replacement show, in a moment. But you know, tough times money-wise, we hear a lot about that in the media. It's a big problem for many organizations. How much of a role did finances play in this cancelation?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, and that was one of the very questions I raised last night with NPR's chief content officer, Kinsey Wilson. NPR currently has a deficit for this fiscal year of $7 million. And yet he said that that's not the reason they're doing this. He said this is more of an effort to insure that the network is investing both personnel and money in places that will make it distinctive and he thinks more original reporting and a greater number of stories from around the country involving member stations will do that trick. Since this is not part of the budget effort, even as he recognizes, we're in tight times.

MONTAGNE: TALK OF THE NATION's host, Neal Conan, is one of the best known names on NPR. He's been with the network from its earliest days. What is next for him?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, Neal, according to network executives, Neal has decided to leave the network at this time. Mr. Wilson said to me that he would welcome Neal Conan staying with the network. After all, here's a guy who's not only been an anchor, he's been a war correspondent, he's been an editor, an executive himself, he's played every role in such a prominent way over the decades that he's been here. But Neal has told them, apparently, that he'd like to sort of assess what he'd like to do next after the - you know, the closure of a show that has been so integral to his identity for the past dozen years.

MONTAGNE: Well, just finally, moving on to the new show, HERE AND NOW, briefly, what are we expecting to hear?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, HERE AND NOW has been produced out of WBUR and previously distributed by Public Radio International. It is heard already on 182 stations. They're expanding it. Their host, Robin Young, well regarded in public radio, is joined by a former colleague of ours, Jeremy Hobson. He was a producer here at NPR, sort of a wunderkind, and then went on to be host for MARKETPLACE MORNING REPORT. He'll be joining Robin in Boston.

They expect the show to be heavy on interviews and reported pieces involving NPR and public radio station reporters, as I understand it. It's a two hour a day show with updates for developing news as well, and it'll be offered five days a week.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik speaking to us from our bureau in New York. Thanks very much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
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