PBS and NPR: Daily Delivery of Golden Eggs

By Original work: (Not sure) Depiction: https://www.flickr.com/photos/evelynishere/3416508799, CC BY 2.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48497263I got into an online “dialogue” last week with someone who felt PBS and NPR shouldn’t be funded with his tax dollars. Apparently he knows of no one among his friend set who watches it. He believes those who want it should fund it through donation. I guess he doesn’t see the daily delivery of golden eggs the fans of public media recognize.

First, let’s explore the value of PBS and NPR.

Both are funded, in part, through the Corporation on Public Broadcasting, a private organization set up by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968.

  • Educational benefits – PBS has long been a leader in educational broadcasting or “edutainment.” Its award-winning programming levels the playing field for young minds, not all of whom have the same opportunities. Evidence-based educational media provides early childhood learning opportunities and school-age readiness preparation, regardless of family’s income level or geography. Other learning initiatives for older students support high school graduation, offer  in-classroom digital media access and provide support materials for teachers and educators.
  • Innovative programming – The type of programming, with its focus on the Arts, history, science, health, nature, business, technology and cultural awareness found on PBS and NPR, would not traditionally be supported by most commercial stations.
  • Documentary Films – PBS provides a venue for the broad dissemination of important documentary films and long-form film series such as Ken Burns’ documentaries. Having a venue such as PBS through which to broadcast these independent films, encourages continued creation of such films covering topics that might otherwise be ignored.
  • News Programming – PBS and NPR news programming offers an alternative perspective to that of commercial newscasters.
  • Local Programming – In addition to high quality national programming, PBS Television and NPR radio stations carry a variety of local programming not available elsewhere, highlighting community, legacy and heritage.
  • Editorial Independence, journalistic integrity – While private stations are intrinsically influenced by the station’s advertisers and underwriters, NPR’s and PBS’ lack of “commercial reins” supports free speech and an independent press.  PBS uses a set of three measures to ensure that underwriters have not influenced content development.

Through its various television, radio and online programs, PBS and NPR fill a void that other stations are not filling. And the assertion that “No one is watching PBS,” is patently false. Studies reveal that 82% of all U.S. television households and 200 million people watch PBS.

So why should part of this man’s tax dollar go to support PBS and NPR?

I compare budgeting for PBS, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, to a school budget.

Each citizen pays taxes into the national budget, just as he or she pays taxes into the local school budget. When I pay taxes to a school budget, I expect the funding to be used wisely to benefit the greatest number of children, in many different ways. These children don’t all have the same wants or needs. Part of my taxes goes toward the football team and maintenance of the football field, although my daughters do not play football. Part of it goes toward the debate team, the school play, the Spanish Club, and dozens of other activities in which my daughters have no interest. At the same time, funding goes to underwrite their participation in band, volleyball and French Club. In the bigger picture, my daughters participate in only a few of those activities for which money is allocated, yet my taxes (along with everyone else’s) enrich the entire school environment by creating a bigger funding pool and more learning opportunities. I often pay additional fees toward activities my daughters are directly involved in, just as many PBS viewers and NPR listeners make additional donations to help underwrite the programming they enjoy. Could I alone pay for my children’s multi-faceted educational needs? Of course not. Could I alone pay for a series such as Downton Abbey or Victoria or a Ken Burns documentary? I wish.  Even the portion of the U.S. Budget that is doled out to PBS and NPR stations across the country underwrites only a small portion of the programming. PBS derives only 15% of its budget from government underwriting, and NPR, only 2%. Yet that funding helps provide educational and original content across great swaths of rural America that would otherwise be barren of public television or radio.

Unfortunately, tax payers seldom have sway in where their tax dollars are spent. If it were my decision, I would increase funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. As organizations that preserve heritage, provide education, and enrich the lives of many Americans across all 50 States, it’s an infinitesimal investment with an enormous return. For my money, it’s a far better investment that increases in military spending, which I do not believe makes us safer, smarter, or enriched. And I’m sure Big Bird and his fans over the ages would agree that PBS and NPR have delivered many golden eggs over the years.

If you’ve seldom tuned into these public media options, I invite you to explore the wealth of content offered by PBS and by NPR.  Then if you, like I, feel these options should be protected, I invite you to let your lawmakers know, by sending them a note.

For other insights on the PBS and NPR Return on Investment, see:


Photo: By Original work: Depiction:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/evelynishere/3416508799, CC BY 2.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48497263