#87) Go home, NPR, you’re drunk

Dear National Public Radio,

I am sorry to tell you that you are drunk and I cannot serve you any more drinks tonight. Please give me the car keys. We’ll call you a cab.

We have had a long relationship together, ever since I interned for your Boston affiliate WBUR-FM as a junior in high school. Through the years you have provided me with a nice alternative to the same 10 classic rock songs, shrill talk radio hosts and endless discussions on sports shows about why the Lakers suck. It’s been hit or miss; no one’s perfect and I understand. There’s no shame in trying something new and not quite nailing it the first time; progress takes trial and error. When my friends and I watched the video of the live broadcast of “This American Life” that made its way through art house theaters a few years ago, we didn’t mind that Ira was visibly nervous; it made him seem more human than when he’s a cool, disembodied voice behind the microphone. I also understand that not all of your programing needs to be heavy; there’s only so much conflict in the Middle East that people can take. Sometimes you will over-intellectualize pop culture and that’s okay. Even body builders have ice cream once in a while. But “Please Do Not Leave A Message” – a feature on why the millennial generation does not like voice mail – is desperation. In television speak, it would be “jumping the shark.” It’s beyond pandering; it’s beyond condescension. It’s just plain sad.

Look, I get it. It’s a jungle out there. People have more and more places to get their news, commentary and music. You are trying to stay fresh and reinvent yourself; you are trying to debunk the stereotype that only bearded, pipe-smoking septuagenarians listen to NPR. There’s no shame in going after millennials; everyone else does. According to a report by Barkley US, “The sheer size and buying power of this generation means that they’re not just future consumers, they’re a vital part of the market… They’re not only your customers, they are also your employees, which makes it helpful to understand how they think and what will engage them at work.” Love them or hate them, millennials are hot; when they talk, people listen. Of course you want to reach them.

But is “Please Do Not Leave A Message” the way to do it? Do these all-important millennials really want to hear a thesis about why they don’t leave voice mails, especially since the basic premise of the bit is that they don’t have the patience to leave a voice mail? Do the people who donate want this?

Maybe I’m wrong and the only way to keep NPR afloat is to pander. Generally speaking though, pandering is at best a short term solution. You’ll never please everyone. For every Madeline Burg who admits that she enjoys the attention and finds it endearing, cute and ironic when adults try to pander to her, there’s a Tim Donovan cautioning business and politicians against embarrassing themselves. Consider the words of non-millennial Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do what you feel in your heart to be right…for you’ll be criticized anyways.”

Hey, NPR, I don’t blame you. We all have an off day. For now just get yourself home safely, remember to hydrate a little extra tomorrow and give me a call if you need to. And if I miss your call I’m absolutely fine with you leaving me a voice mail.

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