It's rare that people working behind the scenes in the media get much in the way of shout-outs. You know bylines, and reporters, and anchors, and columnists, but unless you follow closely it's rare that you know the names of copy editors, and producers, and desk people, and all the other various staffers who toil in relative obscurity to bring you the shows you watch and listen to or the publications you read. NPR has always been one of the rare broadcasting outlets, certainly in radio, that make it a point to pull back the curtain a little and publicly credit some of the people who contribute to bringing its shows to air. There's something wonderful about that, something undeniably intimate that not only makes listeners feel like they're an important part of the show -- one worthy of gaining access to the inner-workings of it -- but lets them know that there's an entire team working toward the goal of giving them the experience they appreciate so much. For the kind of fan base many NPR shows pursue and rely on, it makes sense to share as much as possible.
Or maybe not.
Apparently, a series of recent surveys determined that listeners find the credits you often hear at the end of NPR's magazine-style shows to be a turn-off. It's one of those things that's tough to imagine: If nothing else, mentioning the producer, EP, researchers, etc. takes maybe 20 seconds; not exactly much to get frustrated over. It makes you wonder if even the traditionally thoughtful and erudite NRP audience has fallen victim to the shortening of our nation's collective attention span that's been brought about by social media. Either way it's unfortunate, because it feels like inviting the listener into the world behind the scenes for just a brief moment, rather than being an annoyance, should be welcomed by him or her, to say nothing of showing a little gratitude to those who make the product possible.
Late last week, long-time Morning Edition producer Jim Wildman wrote a kind of eulogy for the NPR tradition.
"Thank yous are complicated. I mentioned producers, editors, engineers, and librarians — but what about the rest of NPR's massive staff? What about my colleagues in human resources? My colleagues in the mail room? How might all these names make it reasonably in to a form of on-air credits? How is it fair for me to receive periodic, on-air credit when they receive no on-air credit at all? So a decision has been reached to end all forms of on-air thank yous because research says it's a turn-off and, in the end, all forms of thank yous are never enough. And I think I'm ok with all this."
That's really reaching for a bright spot in all this: saying that at least there won't be anymore questions about who deserves on-air credit and who doesn't. But that's what it is, really -- a reach.
American Public Media, which provides quite a bit of content to NPR, says meanwhile that it will continue running credits for its shows. Hey, anything that means a few seconds less of actual content on A Prairie Home Companion.
By the way, not everyone's thrilled with NPR's move, including Marketplace host and apparent member of the Kryptonian High Council Kai Ryssdal.
He's right. Even if the audience doesn't appreciate that brief moment of communion with the people behind the curtain, the people behind the curtain deserve that brief moment of recognition. And if we're so unyielding in our demand for instant gratification and constant stimuli -- and media outlets are so beholden to that demand from the audience -- then we don't deserve a decent media product anyway.