NPR Ombudsman
10:50 am
Fri July 12, 2013

Listening To You And The Talk Of The Nation

Originally published on Wed September 18, 2013 3:59 pm

I feel your pain.

Hundreds of you have written to complain about the cancellation of Talk of the Nation. If there is a common thread to your comments — other than anger and disappointment at NPR — it is that you really liked that Talk of the Nation spent time to dig into subjects. A three-minute news story on Morning Edition became a 15 or 30-minute discussion with experts and with ordinary Americans phoning in from across the country.

A second thread was your affection for host Neal Conan and the manner in which he interviewed in such an intelligent, informed and dignified way.

I agree with you and will miss the show, too. Not only did I admire it for what it was, but also I respected how Conan and executive producer Sue Goodwin were always quick in responding to my queries, understanding the value of being open as a way to maintain your trust and loyalty. We all knew that there was no way to do the high-wire act of a live show each day and not make mistakes. Admitting to them is not an existential threat. It helped make them one of us.

As it was, the show made precious few mistakes anyway, a testament to the professionalism of the entire team and their hard, often times frantic work on deadline. As the clock ticked each morning, Goodwin would shoot off questions to staffers as she wrote and re-wrote the direction she wanted to take interviews. The subjects and their order were scribbled on a board and would shift with the news. The scenes could have come straight out of The Front Page.

I was working with Goodwin to create a regular ombudsman feature when the show was cancelled. She and Conan were adventurous enough to see the value of such a feature, without any of us being compromised. I continue to argue in the house for an on-air ombudsman presence. While I have total independence by contract in what I say and write, however, I cannot dictate where I appear.

Similarly, it is not for me to say whether NPR should have cancelled Talk of the Nation. The decision was a management prerogative. I deal with the content once the shows are on.

Kinsey Wilson, the Content Officer and Executive Vice President, explained management's decision this way:

One of the things that Talk of the Nation did incredibly successfully is really set the standard for call-in news talk and in many ways establish a model for the public radio system in how to develop those kinds of shows. In the 20 years that it's been around, and had a very successful run and become the No. 1 one call-in talk show on public radio, there's been a proliferation of other call-in talk shows — some of which we carry On Point with Tom Ashbrook, like Diane Rehm. [Those are] very successful in their own right [and] remain a vibrant part of what we do. This is really an opportunity for NPR to pivot a bit and to make sure we're investing in the things that are not as commonly done across the system — and that is providing solid news coverage and strong storytelling across all day parts.

Beginning last week, the replacement show that NPR has been distributing is Here & Now, which is produced by Boston's WBUR. NPR is collaborating, though exactly how is still being defined, editors say.

But I do think that the folks at WBUR should hear your voices. So, below are a selection of some of your letters in hopes that it might help guide them, if only so that they know what you, Talk of the Nation's fans, miss.


"I want to thank Neal Conan for a great body of work over the years. Listening to TOTN has been like a continuing education, an adult education, an extension of my college liberal education. It has been a priceless opportunity to gain perspective on the passing scene. I cannot imagine the replacements playing the same role in my life. Neal, you have done 'real and permanent good.'"
Kay Lynch, Kane'ohe, Hawaii

"Preparing a live radio show must be one of the most challenging of career choices. As a publisher, I know the panic as deadlines rush up on you, and the pleasure of knowing that you've done a good job, whether as a broadcast of a new issue of your publication. So among all the farewells, I want to thank the unseen staff who have made Talk of The Nation the best radio show for all these years. To each of you, thanks for making me smarter, more caring and more energized for all of these past years. To Neal, I look forward to hearing you again. PS to To NPR Management: Phhhtt! You must be clueless."
Tom Pizor, Cranford, N.J.

"Cannot begin to tell you how very disappointed I am with the new program that just replaced Talk of the Nation. The spontaneity of the topic under discussion and the wonderful On Air live comments/viewpoints from listeners all over the country/even around the world is what made Talk of the Nation such an outstanding program! Read the bios and wonderful professionalism of the two hosts for HERE AND NOW but having someone read the news aloud holds no interest for me. Long time listener to Talk of the Nation here in Denver and in St. Louis. I'm sure HERE AND NOW works in Boston but in my view it misses the mark terribly."
— Sandy Callaway, Greenwood Village, Colo.

"Neal Conan is a genius in his ability to manage the listeners and guests in a way that brings out the kernel of the stories that are so relevant and that would not and now will not be covered in any other way anywhere else. It is not 'progress' to add more time to yet another 'news' show that soon will put NPR into the undistinguished category of a CNN 24-hour news programmer. I like Robin too, but having both formats provided the variety and alternative perspectives that made, emphasis on past tense, NPR so different. We are extremely disappointed, and because there is no turning back back now, angry. I don't recall ever being 'polled' on our thoughts about keeping or dropping TOTN, but would you have even listened if we had been?"
Jonathan and Vida Lohnes, Rhododendron, Ore.

"Thanks to all the Talk of the Nation staff, especially Neal Conan. I will truly miss this show. Listeners could always count on in-depth, professionally produced interviews. Callers were treated with respect and a light hand. In an age of screaming, biased commentators, TOTN was the antidote, illustrating all the best qualities of public radio."
Mary Anne Morgenegg, Kansas City, Mo.

"I am a longtime public radio member, but I do NOT understand why the decision was made to end this program. Talk of the Nation was the only sane venue for a national conversation. It was the only spot on any media dial to hear authentic voices of drought-stricken midwest farmers and others impacted by current news and events. It contained no political bias, just thoughtful, compassionate, fair-minded and often humorous commentary. Neal Conan was masterful at orchestrating the parade of voices, moderating the tensions, but always allowing reasonable people to be heard. The NPR website is my home page, but I can find no where any explanation of why this unfortunate decision was made. TTN's replacement is another NPR program of well-produced news features about what's happening at the moment. But in this polarized country, Here and Now does not replace a daily national conversation between concerned, thoughtful Americans."
Lynda Chittenden, Mill Valley, Calif.

"I am sorry, but I think it is a complete scandal that Talk of the Nation with Neal Conan is being eliminated. The powers that be there at NPR are making a huge mistake and one that will not easily be corrected. Mr. Conan is one of the best broadcasters in the business and getting rid of him is like telling me the Beatles are no longer relevant. What is wrong with you people?!"
Jeffrey Thaw, Scottsdale, Ariz.

"Talk of the nation is a national treasure which deserves a national day of morning on its passing. Flags should be flown at half mast. Neal Conan is the best and I wish him the best in the future. I will miss this broadcast terribly."
Randy Krehbiel, Lawrence, Kan.

"Dear Neal, Thank you for all your excellent work over the years. I am so disappointed/disgusted that NPR has chosen to end Talk of the Nation. I have listened to the program for years (more years than I want to count or think about). Thank you for your in-depth reporting, accurate analysis and the care you brought to every story/issue you reported. Thank you for your professionalism and the compassion you have accorded your guests. I will miss you and the program. I am a creature of habit and Neal Conan and Talk of the Nation was my Monday - Thursday afternoon habit. I barely made it through the weeks when you went on vacation! Now what am I going to do? I dread next week. Take care."
Joyce A. Kullman, Kansas City, Mo.

"For a decade, I have been a much better informed citizen due, in no small part, to Talk of the Nation. I definitely will miss this show and its intelligent and insightful host, Neal Conan. What an unfortunate loss for NPR's audience."
Robert B. Crytser, Tahoma, Calif.


Editorial Researcher Lori Grisham contributed to this post.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.