Planet Money: NPR’s digital stepchild?

So I wasplanet-money-200x200 late to the game regarding the giant kerfuffle between NPR reporter Adam Davidson and Congressional Oversight Panel chairperson Elizabeth Warren. If you didn’t hear it, here it is, but to make a long story short, on the May 8th production of Planet Money, Davidson and Warren sparred heatedly about the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). It didn’t get personal, but it was pretty damn close.

Some PM listeners were offended by the aggressive tack that Davidson used to question his guest. It did get a bit FOX news at times and Davidson did cross the line a couple of times into condescension (would he have been so cavalier with a male guest?) Overall, it was a rare misstep from what is normally an informative and even-keeled production.

Alicia Shepherd, the NPR ombudsman, weighed in after an investigation of the production:

Planet Money is a relatively new venture for NPR, and the network is still experimenting with the format. “Planet Money has been an extraordinarily successful, popular project, with all it does,” said Uri Berliner, deputy national editor who edits Planet Money. “If you look at the way it has built an audience that responds and is engaged, it is pretty much without precedent at NPR.”

Here at TLF we are both fans of Planet Money, as a production, and as an effective model for traditional media outlets to engage listeners via social media projects. So it dismayed me (K.) to read the following:

Planet Money’s podcast does not have the same degree of radio production or intense editing and supervision as NPR’s regular shows.

In my months of listening to Planet Money, it did not occur to me that the podcast was not subject to the same level of editorial scrutiny as any other NPR broadcast. Honestly, I never thought of PM as anything less than an NPR show, albeit a show that was not being aired on terrestrial radio. Davidson was appropriately repentant, and  even admitted that he chose to edit the interview in a way that highlighted its most confrontational moments. But it did trouble me that Davidson, for whatever reason felt like Planet Money was a good place to check his journalistic integrity at the door. Because, you know, it’s only a podcast.

The admission of NPR’s ombudsman that the organization sees the podcast as a “lesser entity” of sorts is a bit disheartening for me as a listener, because I afforded the podcast producers the same level of trust, despite its digital roots.

In general, I do think NPR handled the situation well, by making the entire interview available for listeners, but I do feel like this is a bit of a blow for Planet Money‘s journalistic reputation and for the reputation of online-only news podcasts to be respected as real journalism, rather than just being a digital playground for amateurs. I keep making the argument that it’s about the content, not the medium, but if NPR doesn’t see Planet Money as “real NPR” then why should I?

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