Was Tell Me More NPR’s Last Attempt to Target Blacks?

An NPR executive says that the show worked editorially, but it wasn’t financially sustainable for the organization.

Michel Martin, host of NPR’s Tell Me More
Michel Martin, host of NPR’s Tell Me More T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

NPR Favors Integration Into Other Programming

“Tell Me More,” NPR’s third try at a daily newsmagazine that targeted people of color, “was not financially sustainable in its current form,” an NPR executive told Journal-isms on Wednesday, leaving the implication that no such show could be.

NPR announced on Tuesday that, effective Aug. 1, it is ending production of the multicultural daily newsmagazine hosted by Michel Martin that began in 2007. It promised a wider role for Martin, appearing on its most popular daily news shows, “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered,” conducting live events in partnership with member stations and remaining active in the digital space.

However, Martin will no longer have the final say over her on-air content, as she does on “Tell Me More,” nor be in a regular time and place for appointment radio listening.

The move comes as the nation’s diversity is increasing and NPR, whose incoming CEO, Jarl Mohn, says the perception of the network is that it’s “old, it’s East Coast and it’s white,” is trying to reach new audiences. Simultaneously, however, listenership is fragmenting among various platforms. NPR also wants to be where the audiences are.

Told that a listener reacting to its announcement observed that NPR offered “no explanation of why TMM, and not some other show,” Kinsey Wilson, NPR’s executive vice president and chief content officer, responded to Journal-isms by email Wednesday:

“The decision was part of larger ongoing efforts to address our budget deficit and build on the strengths of the show. The economics of producing Tell Me More as a daily broadcast have been challenging: the show was tremendously successful from an editorial standpoint — addressing important issues of the day, bringing new voices to the air and reaching new audiences. But it was not financially sustainable in its current form.

“That is why we need to be more creative in our strategy, taking these issues and Michel’s voice to the news magazines and other platforms. This plan means that Michel will reach an even larger audience with an expansive portfolio on air, online and in communities across the country. These changes align with others we are making throughout the newsroom. Our aim is to build editorial hubs that combine the digital and audio skills of reporters, editors, producers and bloggers around specific areas of focus. Through this approach, we believe we can better serve our audiences, whether that means a deeply reported, sound-rich story for Morning Edition or a post for one of our increasingly successful blogs.”

Asked whether the number of stations carrying the show was increasing, an NPR spokeswoman added, “The numbers were increasing, but not at a pace that would make the show sustainable. After 7 years it was being carried by 136 stations.”

Wilson said in a telephone interview that while economics was not the sole driver of the decision, “Tell Me More” was a $2.1 million a year operation that was losing $1.5 million annually. A show such as “Fresh Air” was raising 28 percent more — via corporate contributions, programming fees from member stations and philanthropic and foundation support — than it cost.