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How NPR Shattered The Old Model Of Broadcast Journalism

In 1971, NPR entered a shifting — yet limited — information landscape.
George Geesey
In 1971, NPR entered a shifting — yet limited — information landscape.

Monday, May 3, 2021, marks the 50th anniversary of NPR's first on-air original broadcast. In the last half century, NPR and Member stations have been essential, trusted sources for local events and cultural programming featuring music, local history, education and the arts. To mark this milestone, we're 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 ground under journalism has shifted.

In 1971, the three major television networks' evening news shaped the nation's perception of what was important in the world. With no social media, no internet and an abiding trust in media, NPR entered a rather restricted information landscape. All Things Considered did not try to compete directly; instead, to find its place, the program took a shot at a different style of storytelling.

According to former host Robert Siegel, when NPR and All Things Considered were conceived, it was during a time when American journalism was rapidly changing:

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 created 60 Minutes, this interesting magazine show. The New York Times, in 1970, created an op-ed page — which was considered very risky — in which you could actually read the opinions that were not those of The New York Times or its columnists. All Things Considered and NPR in the early 70s are part of that.

However, they were a very quiet part of that. At the time, NPR didn't have the resources to hire many reporters. It relied on the contributions of member stations around the country, who would furnish feature stories. If a major issue arose, it would be handled by talking to a reporter from a newspaper or finding an academic who could espouse their views on the topic.

All Things Considered and the network at large took a few decades to attract the money and talent to compete with other major media outlets. Eventually, they did. With what we now consider as the network's flagship shows, NPR came to define a thorough brand of journalism and a widely emulated broadcast sound.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.
Art Silverman has been with NPR since 1978. He came to NPR after working for six years at a daily newspaper in Claremont, New Hampshire.