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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

NPR's Fresh Air Defers Buzzy Interview



Michael Hirschorn recently described our present media situation as "our rapidly metastasizing digital culture." Such is the speed of the present age. Eyeballs, in such a culture, are the coin of the realm. And the lowest common denominator -- sex, death, scandal -- often attracts the largest amount of eyeballs; that, in turn, attracts the advertisers and la gloire.

That is why it came as something of a pleasant surprise that the host of NPR's "Fresh Air" Terry Gross from WHYY in Philadelphia took a pass on a supremely buzzy interview with David Simon and Eric Overmyer of HBO's Treme on the cusp of the death of co-writer and producer David Miller on the set of a brain aneurysm on the morning the interview was to be aired. Any other media organization worth its salt would have aired the interview along with Facebook updates, Twitter blasts and lots of radio promos throughout the day as well as emails of viral audio clips to well-situated sites. But that is not the way of listener-supported NPR's "Fresh Air," which, we cannot fail to note, has a solid gold reputation among television writers.

On March 31st, the day of the interview NPR's FreshAir tweeted: "We are changing our show today, following the news that Treme writer David Mills passed away last night ... Details to come." And then, later, "Our show today will about the Sabbath -- the history, comforts, and annoyances with the weekly day of rest." Fresh Air ultimately aired author Judith Shulevitz on the subject of Making Room For The Sabbath.

The HBO Treme interview did not air the day after or the day after that decision. In fact, the interview aired one full week later (yesterday). Terry said on air that she didn't want to air it on the evening of David Mills' death because "it didn't feel right." What a strange idea. Doesn't she want eyeballs (or in the case of NPR -- eardrums?) Still, it was a pitch-perfect decision that rings odd in these almost amoral times. Imagine if more purveyors of information in "our rapidly metastasizing digital culture" allowed for some moral reflection when confronted with something so buzzy?

Then we might have more shows as well put together, as interesting and -- dare I say it? -- moral as NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

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