National Public Radio enjoys a brand new and quite costly state-of-the-art facility just north of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. The new facility "includes a cafe with chefs, a gym with a trainer, a staffed wellness center, plug-ins for electric cars and other perks" and that begs the question, "Does an organization that well-heeled still need taxpayer money?"
That's what Washington, D.C. newsradio station executive Jim Farley asked in a letter to the editor in today's Washington Post. The WTOP vice president of news and programming wrote in to the Post to complain that (emphasis mine):
NPR says it needed the new headquarters because it ran out of room in its old building. That’s because it is growing. It is a vibrant enterprise that can afford to do without taxpayer largesse. How much better for NPR’s independence as a news organization if it refused the King’s shilling. The construct that the organization has two piles of money, one to buy its dream home and another with federal dollars that fund operations, is so twisted it would get a small-business owner in big trouble with the IRS.
To be fair, Farley (pictured at right; photo via his WTOP profile), the vice president of news and programming at WTOP, is motivated in part out of competitive considerations, and he admits as much in his closing paragraph:
At a time when newspapers and other news organizations are practicing austerity, and all federal agencies are pinching pennies because of sequestration, it is fair to question the support our competitor, NPR, gets from the federal government.
But the legitimacy of the argument remains: NPR is receiving federal taxpayer money. True, tax dollars are roughly five percent of the public radio network's finances. But even that fact only underscores the moral imperative for NPR to take a haircut in federal funding, does it not?
NPR is not designed to run on a profit basis like WTOP and other commercial competitors. But public radio need not be federally-funded radio to be, well, public and non-commercial. Indeed, many secular public stations and a great number of private religious stations exists primarily if not exclusively through the generosity of everyday listeners and grants from wealthy donors or philanthropic foundations. Additionally, states and local governments where public radio stations are located are always free to prop up public radio with state and local tax dollars.
There is no shortage of non-federal funding for public radio, and Farley is completely in the right to pose some fair questions about federal funding for NPR. Kudos to the Washington Post for publishing them.