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Sunday, 19 November 2006


Sunil Iyengar

Dear Mr. Haarsager:

Thank you for highlighting two reports recently issued by the National Endowment for the Arts: "The Arts and Civic Engagement: Involved in Arts, Involved in Life" and "Airing Questions of Access: Classical Music Radio Programming and Listening Trends." By treating them interchangeably, however, you have obscured their separate purposes, findings and implications.

"The Arts and Civic Engagement" draws from a national survey of more than 17,000 American adults to show clear and compelling correlations between levels of arts participation and civic activity in the general population.

For example, people who read literature or attend performing arts events are shown to exercise, go camping, hiking or canoeing, and play sports or attend sporting events at roughly twice the rate of non-readers and non-arts participants. Arts participants are also nearly three times as likely to volunteer than non-arts participants.

The second report, as you correctly note, is a summary of existing data on the availability of classical music as a radio format in the U.S., with commentary from NEA research staff. Given the appropriately different goals and conclusions of both reports, many of your statements hinge on a false premise.

For instance, you write: "[I]mplying causality from mere correlation...tars those who have replaced arts programming with news programming with the problem of lack of civic engagement." But "The Arts and Civic Engagement" warns at the outset against inferring cause-and-effect relationships from the data, and the headline to which you object should be read in this context--i.e. that arts participation itself is a component of a civically engaged life.

More puzzling is why you should infer that we anywhere consider arts versus news radio programming as mutually exclusive factors in building civic engagement. "The Arts and Civic Engagement" does not so much as mention news programming, and neither report necessarily disputes your hypothesis that "if someone did an identical study of news listeners, it would find that there is a strong correlation between news listening and civic engagement also."

We do not view arts participation as the sole correlative, or even a prerequisite, to civic awareness. Yet the links we tested between arts participants and civic activities--the ratio of arts participation levels to those for other forms of engagement--held constant when we analyzed this population by income or across educational or regional subgroups.

Moving to the "Airing Questions of Access: Classical Music Programming and Listening Trends" report, nowhere do we "blame news for the diminishment of classical and jazz music, and worse, for the diminishment of civic engagement in our culture."

Our other report, "The Arts and Civic Engagement," does show alarming declines in arts participation and civic engagement--as measured by our survey--but those declines are reported and discussed only for the young adult population (18-to-34-year-olds).

Neither do we "blame" news or public radio "for the diminishment of classical and jazz programming." Not only does our "Airing Questions of Access" report leave out discussion of jazz radio from its analysis, but the document limits its review of news/talk radio programming to quantitative data and to references to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting mission statement and the Public Broadcasting Act.

Regarding data on public news/talk radio, the report finds that between 1994 and 2005, public radio's classical programming hours grew by 25%, compared with 115% for news/talk. Further, in 2005 the number of public radio hours devoted to news/talk was 224,000--more than double the amount for 1994. By contrast, in 2005 public radio played 168,000 hours of classical music. In the last 15 years, moreover, at least 20% of the top-30 radio markets have lost a classical radio station to news/talk.

Your observation that public radio programming "is a reflection of what its member stations want, just as its member stations are a reflection of what their communities want" does not explain away the dilemma of rampant duplication of news programming across stations serving the same or adjacent markets.

Finally, any assumptions about widespread listener access to non-analogue radio for classical music will need further study as the technology proliferates.

Yours sincerely,

Sunil Iyengar
Director, Research & Analysis
National Endowment for the Arts

patricia heasler

Focusing on the "charity" work that interests young adults correlates interesting enough with the growth of social cause marketing. Also, I think all three universes converge when you have a philanthropic young artist who listens to classical music and gives arts lessons to homeless youth.

Craig K

I think we also need to remember as segments fragment, stations may have to decide to:
1. Go broad and capture a lot of people and/or
2. Go deep, with a niche and build a strong, smaller base

Given other options for listening to it, classical doesn't seem to fit either one. Sad? Maybe. The fault of news programing? No.

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