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Why Public Media Matters

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Dear America,

I have a confession. Despite being a regular--bordering on fanatical--consumer of NPR and PBS, I have never actually contributed to either deserving station. Despite their modest request for just $5 per month, I politely abstain and swear that some day--when I'm not an unemployed, broke college student--I'll donate at least four times as much. (Then I take another sip of my $3.99 Starbucks coffee that I "couldn't live without".). But now, a bill in Congress threatens to cut 100% of Public Broadcasting's budget--a move that could drastically alter public media as we know and love it--and it's time that we all took a stand.

170 million Americans--ranging from the Sesame Street-addicted toddler to their Antiques Road Show-loving grandparents--tune into public media in some way, shape or form every single month. That's over 55% of the country's population. And now, members of the House of Representatives are telling us that our nation cannot afford to keep funding these treasured shows anymore. But to risk losing public broadcasting's relevant and educational voice in a sea of often otherwise mind-numbing "mainstream" stations is something we cannot afford at all (While The Bachelor does teach you how to embarrass yourself on national television, it doesn't provide the never-ending parade of Civil War documentaries that PBS does...). To step aside and let these cuts go through without a fight--subsequently telling politicians that public broadcasting and similar programs don't matter to us--is to risk not only losing PBS and NPR for good, but to put other public arts and education funding at risk.

A 2010 document by the National Endowment for the Arts showed that the U.S. puts around $0.54 per capita per year on the arts. (Compare this to France, which spends an estimated $250 per person every year.) For many, PBS and NPR serve as the most accessible and affordable entry into a world of highbrow education and art. (Heck, where else but NPR can you hear both an interview with a Nobel Prize winning Chemist and learn about the competitive square dancing circuit in the same show?) While it presently seems completely impossible to raise our funding for the arts, the government should at least promise to keep sustaining what we already have--namely this media-based doorway into orchestras, theater and art that, otherwise, many Americans could not afford to be a part of.

PBS and NPR also serve as two of the most highly respected news organizations in the country. (PBS's website reports that its news remains the most trusted in the country, with 40% of those polled trusting it a "great deal", followed by Fox News with 29%, and CNN with 27%.) In an era of unedited citizen journalism and un-proofread live Twitter feeds, it's more important than ever to support legitimate, trustworthy news sources. Those of us who tuned in to NPR's coverage of the Egyptian revolt can agree that its up-to-the-minute reporting--combined with interviews with both people in Egypt and experts around the world--was among the best there was.

We have to remember that the United States is a democracy. Our politicians are in office to speak for us, so it's crucial that we raise our collective voices against the proposed cut to Public Broadcasting. Sign the petition at 170millionamericans.org, call or write to your Representative today and donate to your favorite public broadcasting station to show your support. As Albert Einstein once famously said, "Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death." By keeping public broadcasting funded, we ensure that Americans have access to this education right in their own homes.

And, by the way, as of this morning, I am officially a sustaining member of National Public Radio.