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Sam Smith: Morning Sickness


By Editor Sam Smith

I ADMIT THAT I don't do my best media criticism before 7 AM while prone and subject to relapses into a unpredictable somnolent state where no one is trying ever so creatively to tell me what's important. Nonetheless, I have the strong sense that Morning Edition has lost something more than Bob Edwards. To put it in non-technical terms, the missing object appears to be the news.

What seems to have happened is that Morning Edition has been turned into a broadcast feature magazine. To test this thesis I checked out the various segments that I had been awake enough this morning to recall and came up with this list along with the length:

3:38 Discovery of an ancient Spanish ape
3:16 A movie about Sponge Bob
4:41 Pure chocolate recipes for the holiday
6:19 Museum of Modern Art's new atrium
3:03 Spin from the chief of Central Command
7:51 Iraqi contractor fraud

Some of these were actually good stories but driven into the ground. To get an idea of how long seven minutes and 51 seconds is set your kitchen timer and see how much you get done before the bell rings.

There is nothing wrong with feature journalism, but the difference between, say, the New Yorker and Vanity Fair and Nominally Public Radio is that I can read the former whenever I want. Not only can I not pick up NPR's Sponge Bob piece off of the table and take it into the bathroom with me, the network is actually waking me up to tell me about it.

Compounding the problem is the fact that my local NPR station seems to be expanding its not too interesting local news while also changing its tone. This not only cuts into Morning Edition but forces me to deal with new concepts like "Here is your forecast for the day."

It is not my forecast. My forecast for the day is that I'll try futilely to finish up everything I was meant to do earlier in the week and then take it home for the weekend. I don't need the help of any psychics at WAMU (or more probably some expert who told it I'd feel better if the station personalized the weather).

Worse, WAMU wastes ten critical minutes by turning over some of its Morning Edition airtime to the repulsive Marketplace, a program dedicated to the worst instincts of contemporary corporate America and a signal from the station that, when the chips are down, it stands with Ken Lay, Jeffrey Skilling and Michael Orvitz rather than with their employees or customers. Its one virtue is its timing: coming on at 6:50 AM it helps get me out of bed and on my way before 7.

Add it all up and you come up with 40 to 50 minutes out of an hour of critical airtime filled with stuff I don't need, don't like, or could use considerably less of. And I still don't know what the hell is going on.

But then what do you expect from a vice president of programming like Jay Kernis who helped to explain the replacement of Edwards last spring by saying "We also want to get our hosts out of the studio and into the field." A programming chief who doesn't even know that the proper place for his hosts is at home and not wandering around some field is not the sort of person to trust with your radio.

As for Edwards he not only went into the field, he went into space, joining satellite radio. I think I may join him. I'm asking for an XM radio for Christmas.



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