Ed Gordon Replaced on NPR Show Less Than One Month After Speaking to Me
National Public Radio announced today it is replacing Ed Gordon, host of its black-focused News & Notes show -- less than one month after I wrote a story for the St. Petersburg Times detailing the program's declining audience and organizational problems, quoting Gordon as saying ""People say I haven't connected with audiences. ... That's probably true because the show hasn't connected with me."
NPR talked up the credentials of its new host, Farai Chideya, who has worked for a range of news outlets and has long been considered a rising star at the organization. With Farai at the helm, NPR hopes to develop an online platform for the show featuring content from the audience and new media elements (see her way-cool online journal Pop and Politics here).
It's always tough to know the effects you have as a journalist on an evolving situation. But I think my piece did expose the show's problems to a wider audience and perhaps push all involved to resolve their issues a little sooner.
Gordon, for example, is based in New York, while the show's staff was based in Los Angeles, where they had convened originally to work on the show's predecessor, The Tavis Smiley Show. In Chideya, NPR now has a host who lives in the same city and the show's staff. Novel concept.
And though people in St. Petersburg may have a tough time hearing the show, I heard from fans of the program from across the country when my story broke last month -- professing their affection for the program and their hope that NPR would find a way to fix it.
The one thing I'm sure NPR fears most is a replay of their conflict with Tavis Smiley, who abruptly left the organization in 2004 saying NPR's pace of change was too slow and they didn't want to spend enough money to promote his program to black listeners (others note that Smiley wound up developing a new show he now owns for Public Radio International; and his current show airs weekends, which allows him to do his TV show for PBS weeknights).
So far, Gordon hasn't commented to me, so NPR may luck out there. Chideya also declined to comment. Everyone seems to be hoping this transition will pass without too much bad blood getting exposed.
NPR plans on pairing the new News & Notes with a new show under development by former ABC News correspondent Michel Martin. The idea is to present a programing block for large urban markets and the African American Public Radio Consortium -- an alliance of about 22 stations, mostly based at historically black colleges, which serve predominantly black audiences.
Hanging in the balance -- the question of whether the publicly-funded NPR can truly develop shows for listeners outside its white, college-educated core target audience.