Say it isn’t so, NPR

The attack on NPR during the present budget scare has been symbolic, but for more reasons than one. It’s been observed that the attack is symbolic because the proposed cuts in funding are not a very significant amount of money in light of the Federal budget problems. But the other reason it is symbolic is that NPR isn’t the beacon of non-commercial information that we think of it as being, and hasn’t been for a long time. Corporate sponsorships have paid the bills more and more as the decades have gone by, and the recognition given to the sponsors between shows has become more ad-like accordingly. But today I noticed something that indicates their dependence on big business more starkly.

On Science Friday today there was an interesting segment about a large solar array being built in the Mojave desert by a company called BrightSource. It sounds like a very impressive and smart project. Enhancing the impression of the project’s smartness was Ira Flatow’s discussion of Google, Inc.’s investment of one hundred and something million dollars in the project, their largest investment ever. He wondered aloud why Google would invest so much money in a company that is not doing something related to computers, and proceeded to give a number of good sounding reasons, ending with Google’s considered expectation of “something like a 6% return on their investment.”

I went home wondering if I, too, can invest in BrightSource, and found a press release issued today, the same day as the Science Friday program, titled: “BRIGHTSOURCE ENERGY, INC. FILES REGISTRATION STATEMENT FOR PROPOSED

That is pretty good publicity work for the IPO, getting that segment on NPR.

I have read enough to know that that is how it works in the commercial news media. Something like 60% of the news we read in newspapers comes in from PR people rather than reporters, and the proportion has grown as newsrooms have cut staff. But I have assumed that NPR, being a public service, is different. Not so much.

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