NABJ Gives ‘Thumbs Down’ Award to NPR and Salutes Al Jazeera for ‘Best Practices’

The association of black journalists dished out the awards at its annual convention. 

Michel Martin conducts her final Tell Me More show before a live audience at NPR’s Washington, D.C., studios Aug. 1, 2014. 
Michel Martin conducts her final Tell Me More show before a live audience at NPR’s Washington, D.C., studios Aug. 1, 2014.  NPREmily via Twitter

Al Jazeera America Praised for “Best Practices”

The National Association of Black Journalists has given NPR its “Thumbs Down” award for 2014 over its cancellation of the multicultural show “Tell Me More” and NPR’s elimination of 28 positions across its newsroom in an effort to cut costs.

The “Best Practices” award went to Al Jazeera America as a network “committed to creative, compelling, character driven storytelling which provides a depth and breadth about the news of the day, but also stories which have until then gone untold.”

The awards were announced in news releases late Saturday, a day after “Tell Me More” ended its seven-year run before a live audience at its Washington studios. The show was canceled as part of efforts to resolve a $6.1 million budget deficit.

Jarl Mohn, the new president and CEO of NPR, said on the show Monday that “I want us to be, by far, the leader in media and diversity.”

NABJ President Bob Butler said in a release, “The importance of public media to make a concerted effort to be distinctive in its storytelling methods, to offer its audiences depth by featuring untold stories, and to as an end result diversify and expand audiences was best exemplified by a show like Tell Me More and how the program sought to operate. [NPR] has as two of [its] stated goals . . . to ‘expand, diversify and engage our audiences’ and ‘grow net revenues.’

“One however cannot [supersede] the other and greater care should have been taken to preserve Tell Me More as an example of what NPR’s new core should be and as . . .a representation of a truly superb way in which public media can embrace diversity.

“NABJ is mindful of NPR’s other [initiatives] such as the Peabody award-winning ‘Race Card Project’ and [‘Code Switch.’] These programs are worthy of praise and should be supported. Still the opportunity cannot be [lost] to encourage National Public Radio to live up to the [company’s] full potential and be standard bearers and to be the company which in everything it does [shows] others in public media and media at large how to make sure journalism and media are inclusive and really do provide a service to the public. . . .”

Kinsey Wilson, NPR’s executive vice president and chief content officer, told Journal-isms in May that while economics was not the sole driver of the decision to cancel the show, “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.

NPR promised a wider role for Martin, who is to appear 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.