NPR’s latest cost-cutting has taken out a public radio icon — Robert Krulwich, who has made science fascinating in a way few others can, telling us where waves come from, which birds don’t divorce, or the proper way to hug a lion.
Oh, Krulwich will still be on the radio (on WNYC’s RadioLab), but he writes on the Krulwich Wonders blog that executives have killed his online existence.
When you work in radio (or TV), it’s hard to know what the audience is thinking. You talk; they listen. There’s a gap, a quiet, between us.
True, when I began at NPR, I’d get a steady trickle of letters, 10 a week maybe, and had a wispy notion of what was going on in your heads. Then, in the 1980s came 800-numbers. I’d get off the air, and people would just call toll-free; there’d be a twinkle of lights on the phone, I’d pick up and “continue” what you thought was our conversation (“Why didn’t you talk to so-and-so? Have you read my brother-in-law’s article? You didn’t?” … ); but now, in this digital space, it’s so different.
When I post the blog, it feels like I’ve landed at some grad school cafeteria, where people slam down their trays, chide, offer advice or sometimes just quietly reach under the table and hold my hand.
It’s wilder, much wilder, than it used to be; noisier too, but that’s good. I’ve been hammered, stroked, quizzed, but I’ve learned, been humbled or fought back. Those backs and forths are sometimes painful, but people don’t just shout, they tell me things I didn’t know, send me videos, drawings, edit stray misspellings.
All this backing and forthing has led to new friendships, introduced me to people on the bleeding edge of animation, design, storytelling. Nobody likes getting smacked, but maybe it’s worth it if you learn more than you hurt.
What I learned over the past four years is the news world has become both angrier and friendlier, both at once. And what digital NPR is becoming (what Radiolab, my other gig, has become even more) is a forum, a place to learn, to talk, yell and sometimes — the best times — to giggle. On its best days, it’s a place to reflect.
Judging by the comments, Krulwich’s fans are furious.