NPR and quality radio journalism

November 14, 2013

NPR has demonstrated quality, balanced and, more importantly, surprisingly provocative coverage in today’s “Morning Edition”.

Today’s topics ranged from the more obvious “6 Ideas Being Floated To ‘Fix’ Obamacare Sign-Up Woes” to the more investigative and genuinely fascinating “Afghan Farmers: Opium Is The Only Way To Make A Living”.

While I admit to not following much radio, especially American, I admire NPR’s range of topics, level of investigation, and general fairness, to put it lightly.

“6 Ideas,” despite covering the extensively covered topic of the failed Obamacare roll out, was clearly well-investigated and as balanced as the topic reasonably warranted; reporter Scott Horsley provides information and sound-bites from multiple sides on the issue, but also investigates issues with the alternative sign-up methods, demonstrating problems such as the “mail/phone/in-person” solution ultimately requiring similar online registration.

Yet I would argue that “Afghan Farmers” is most representative of NPR’s quality and style, in that it takes a relatively unknown issue and challenges the dominant understanding of it. “Afghan Farmers” starts by announcing straight data concerning Afghanistan’s record output of opium, contextualizing it with the West’s war on drugs, then introduces opium-community¬†Lashkar Gah with an obviously first-hand account by reporter Sean Carberry. The report itself concerns the importance of opium to the Afghan economy and, on a more personal level, both the acceptance and rejection of poppy-growing by farmers, some of whom are profiled.

The report also provides context as to why some farmers need to grow poppy, such as low levels of government support, and some information as to Afghanistan’s future. What is most impressive about the report is the ambition and empathy it brings to a topic most radio stations would not touch, let alone provide the generally unheard and extremely complicated argument that some farmers depend on opium to survive.

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