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The Jefferson Journal is JPR's members' magazine featuring articles, columns, and reviews about living in Southern Oregon and Northern California, as well as articles from NPR. The magazine also includes program listings for JPR's network of stations.

Why There's No Yelling

On our weekly Wednesday VENTSday segment, I make a point of telling Jefferson Exchange listeners that they are welcome to call and weigh in on the topics of the day, but to vent “politely.” Once in a while, somebody misses that modifier and lets loose with some cutting remarks, occasionally directed at the opinions or tone expressed by another caller. I’m happy to say that’s a rarity.

And I’m even happier to say we deliberately keep the temperature low on the offerings of JPR News. While we do take care to make sure our listeners hear a variety of viewpoints, we also take care to make sure that the people expressing those viewpoints do not have an opportunity to tear each other apart in person. To paraphrase something Dan Rather once said, we’re in the business of providing light, not heat.

This is why some people who are regular consumers of commercial broadcast news, either TV or radio, find public radio tepid. Tepid to the point of boring. Because we don’t want the yelling that is a regular feature of the commercial operations, particularly the cable TV news networks.

Don’t get me wrong. A good dust-up is entertaining; fun to watch and hear. And while we may cheer the good guys (you decide who’s who) and relish the scoring of points and some well-chosen labels… when the dust clears, do we really know any more than we did when it started? Did the snarky airing of opinion leave us any more informed? Sadly, the answer is often no.

I once worked with a TV reporter who had a knack for picking out the most inflammatory sound bites to use in his stories. In a piece about the proposal to rename what was then “Dead Indian Road” outside Ashland, he chose an opponent saying “well, it’s not Dead ______ Road” (use your imagination). Good TV? Sure. Good for society? You decide.

Which again, is the point: you decide which argument is the more convincing, without having to wade through the pyrotechnics of a loud debate. We generally schedule guests—especially in political campaign season—one at a time. And every so often, we vary the formula, schedule opponents together, and remember quickly why we seldom do that: within the first five minutes, one speaker or another will insist the other person is lying, or not qualified to express an opinion, or in need of a lawyer to defend him/herself in court. Sheesh.

When we entertain guests from one ideology at a time, they get to reach deep within themselves to justify their beliefs and positions. And you get the time to listen—minus the pyrotechnics—and decide if this is an ideology you would ever subscribe to. I am aware that this will occasionally raise the blood pressure of a few listeners who really wish their viewpoint were being expressed at that moment. And that rise in BP is often what will lead a listener to become a caller during The Exchange, to challenge the speaker (politely).

I admit, it takes some patience for listeners to hear just one opinion now, and have to wait to hear the other side. Another story from my days in TV: during some of the early battles over gay rights in Oregon in the early 1990s, my station ran a piece featuring the pro-gay rights point of view. Even before it ended, the newsroom phone rang, and the irate caller informed me that he didn’t want “those people” teaching his kids, and he would “never watch your damn station ever again.” Click.  

I looked up at the screen showing our broadcast. The side he clearly favored was just then getting its time to speak. Live and unedited. If the caller had just waited about 30 more seconds, he would have heard his ideological brother speaking his truth, unfiltered. All that was required was a little patience.

Which is asking a lot in today’s world, I know. A society that expects people to be available by phone/text/e-mail every waking moment, a society that communicates by 140 character tweets, a society that includes a video site (vine.co) featuring movies of about six seconds… that’s a society in which time is a luxury.

So I guess we’re in the luxury goods business. We’ll give you shorter clips in our morning news segments, but Liam Moriarty’s features for Morning Edition tend to run in the four minute range. And the shortest segment on The Jefferson Exchange runs about 14 minutes. Speedy? Dramatic? No and no. But will you learn something for your time? We sincerely hope the answer is yes.

Geoffrey Riley began practicing journalism in the State of Jefferson nearly three decades ago, as a reporter and anchor for a Medford TV station. It was about the same time that he began listening to Jefferson Public Radio, and thought he might one day work there. He was right.

Geoffrey Riley is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and has hosted the Jefferson Exchange on JPR since 2009. He's been a broadcaster in the Rogue Valley for more than 35 years, working in both television and radio.