NPR Scooping Up Mainstream Talent

by | Jan 26, 2006

Wall Street Journal: When Ted Koppel appeared on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” in 2002, he plugged National Public Radio to so much studio applause that host Jon Stewart cracked, “Somebody got themselves a tote bag.”

At the time, Mr. Koppel was simply another NPR admirer. Now, the former “Nightline” anchor is getting more than just swag — he’s got a new part-time job with NPR, joining the growing ranks of television news stars who are seeking refuge at the Washington, D.C., public broadcaster.

Michel Martin (on right)

While some of the NPR recruits, like Mr. Koppel and CBS newsmen Walter Cronkite and Daniel Schorr, have joined the organization at the end of their long broadcast TV runs, other television news talent is defecting to NPR mid-career. ABC News, for example, has almost become a farm team for NPR. Last week, NPR announced it had hired Michel Martin, an ABC News correspondent, to jump-start a new program targeting African-American listeners. Last month, it reeled in Robert Krulwich, another ABC News correspondent, to join its science squad. The new hires will be greeted by a familiar face: ABC News correspondent Michele Norris signed on to NPR in 2002.

Network news is increasingly generating prospects for NPR in part because some broadcast journalists think the networks are veering away from serious, in-depth reports. Many television journalists say they are fed up with the move toward consumer-friendly news-you-can-use and away from weightier subjects like foreign affairs and government.

“When I started at ABC News, it was a large division of a communications company,” says Ms. Martin, recalling the days before Walt Disney Co. bought the company. “Now, it’s a small division of an entertainment company, and that creates different pressures.”