Heidi Schlumpf on NPR: What she missed

My paper issue of NCR arrived in my mail the day before Thanksgiving. But it was only today that I had time to zero in on Heidi Schlumpf's column, "NPR: Not Particularly Religious."

On many levels, I agree with Heidi. NPR is probably the best source for national and international news anywhere on any dial, radio or television. Like her, every radio I own is tuned to my local NPR station; in my case, WAMU. I imbibe "Morning Edition" with breakfast and listen to "All Things Considered" as I'm driving home from the studio in the evening.

Heidi is also correct that there is some resistance to religion coverage at NPR, and at some (not all) NPR stations. More on that later.

However, Heidi missed a major religion show heard on many NPR stations. Interfaith Voices (which I host) is an hour-long religion news magazine -- the only one, in fact, on public radio. It is currently heard on 68 stations in the United States and Canada, most of them NPR stations. This includes WAMU-FM in the large Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. Unfortunately, we are not heard in the Chicago market where Heidi lives, which is probably why she did not know of us and include us in her column.

Heidi does mention "On Being" with Krista TIppett (formerly called "Speaking of Faith"), but this is NOT the only show on NPR stations that deals with religion. (For the record, "On Being" is not a "magazine" show).

Heidi is right, however, about the trends with "On Being." The name change did indeed signal a shift in content: It is much less theological these days and much more philosophical.

But Heidi did uncover a problem that both Krista Tippett and I ran into when we launched our respective shows. (I've discussed this with Krista personally). There is some resistance to religion coverage on NPR, in spite of the excellent news reporting of Barbara Bradley Haggarty.

About 10 years ago, when we were both getting started, there was a mistaken belief that "religion show" somehow equaled "proselytizing" or "preaching." In those days, I think some NPR program directors thought that anyone with a religion show had to be a kissin' cousin of Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell. Add to this the fact that NPR gets some public funding through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and there was great caution about doing anything that might violate "separation of church and state."

But after 9/11, that attitude slowly began to change. Today, I don't run into the same resistance that I did in 2002. I'm sure there are NPR executives, station managers and program directors with an antipathy toward religion, but most recognize it as a dimension of life that must be covered. And they understand that both Krista and I -- each with a different format -- manage to cover religious topics without proselytizing.

If you want more religion coverage on your local NPR station, give your local program director there a call and tell him or her about Interfaith Voices. Ask them to go to our website and contact us.

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