NPR’s Kinsey Wilson explains switch from ‘Talk of the Nation’ to ‘Here and Now’

Kinsey Wilson, executive vice president and chief content officer for NPR, clarifies some of reasons why “Talk of the Nation” is headed off the air and is being replaced with lesser-known newsmagazine “Here & Now.”

He said in a phone interview Friday afternoon that while it’s time for NPR’s programming to evolve, that’s not a slight against “Talk of the Nation,” which first began in 1991.

“They really sort of set the standard for call-in shows. They are at the top of their game. Over time, many shows have used that model and adapted it to their needs [in local markets],” said Wilson, a Poynter trustee. “There’s a lot of abundance in that category. What’s not in abundance are shows like ‘Here & Now.’ There’s a real appetite on the part of listeners, program managers and member stations to bridge the gap in our programming.”

Wilson noted that “Here & Now”‘s distribution contract with Public Radio International was up for renewal, making it a viable candidate for jumping to NPR. This kind of switch occasionally happens, but the difference is that while it is currently produced by Boston’s WBUR and distributed by PRI, it will now be a co-production with NPR.

WBUR has reported that it plans to add six staff members to help with the show. Wilson said one of those five will be a reporter who will be stationed in D.C. to coordinate coverage, which is out of the norm, since reporters for a show’s home station usually are based in those cities.

“Here we put in for a full-on collaboration,” Wilson said. “It will be [WBUR's] production, it will be their show. But we will have someone here [in NPR's Washington, D.C. offices] to be in in our newsroom. … That has historically not happened.”

He said the move is mostly to augment the network’s programming to better reflect what people are asking for.

“If you look at the larger media landscape, there’s certainly a trend of people demanding more and more of the information they want when they want it,” Wilson said, stressing the importance of context and analysis. “[But] there is a growing appetite for people to look for the kind of coverage we deliver. This is a way we can address those desires.”

What’s still not clear is if this means “Talk of the Nation” host Neal Conan has made plans to retire after 35 years at NPR and 11 as host of the call-in show.

“He’s decided to take a step back from what is a demanding position,” Wilson said, adding that Conan may decide to write a book or perhaps move back to Wyoming. “If Neal at any point wants to practice journalism in the future, our doors would be open.”

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  • Maureen Girard

    Bad idea. “Here and Now” is bouncy and entertaining, but it does not provide the thoughtful and deep experience that NPR listeners have become accustomed to with “Talk of the Nation.” There is room for both. Maybe it’s time to encourage the executives to take a step back?

  • Todd Garber

    This is another miscue on NPR’s part. Neal Conin is terrific; Robin Young, well, not so much.

  • Anne Payne

    The executive says in an interview that TOTN is at the top of its game…and therefore should dropped? nevertheless should be dropped? spitefully and destructively should be dropped? The logic is elusive! I feel pretty much the way I did when Bob Edwards was nastily fired, i.e. resentful that an organization I have supported financially and otherwise for many years feels compelled to jettison something listeners like to make room for something they don’t care about. I certainly think some programming gets stale and don’t believe in keeping anything on the air out of nostalgia, but TOTN and Neal Conan have stayed fresh.

  • Paula M Davis

    Change for the sake of change. Whatevs. If it ain’t broke…