Left Alone? Absent Strong Leadership, KUOW Slips out of Balance


In an April piece for the Free Press, National Public Radio business editor Uri Berliner accused the network of becoming too woke and too progressive. Berliner, who since left the network, claimed NPR has been bleeding listeners as a result.

He’s not wrong about that audience drop. There has reportedly been a 30 percent decline since 2020. A slump in listening is also happening at NPR member stations, including KUOW in Seattle, where I worked for nearly two decades before leaving in March to focus full time on some podcasting projects. The station recently announced that eight of my former colleagues will be getting the ax due to budget shortfalls. Layoffs are also going on at NPR and other member stations across the country. 

When I first started at KUOW nearly two decades ago, the audience was growing, and the story selection skewed liberal. We spent hours and hours on topics like “sustainable gardening” or “stress among the resident orcas.” But the news on KUOW, an editorially independent station that carries NPR, BBC, and other programming, was for the most part balanced. That was a big change from my only prior radio experience as a freelancer for Pacifica Network News, where every story sided unapologetically with progressive left activists.

In contrast, NPR often featured moderate and conservative voices, including some who applauded the U.S. war in Iraq. As a result, we got letters from lefty listeners calling it, “National Pentagon Radio.” We laughed because KUOW also regularly featured critics like Noam Chomsky chastising the American war machine. “All Things Considered,” NPR’s popular flagship drive time program, was a name that also summed up what we tried to do on the air.

For that reason, Republicans in the Puget Sound region often told me KUOW was their trusted source of news and information, even if they didn’t think they were playing on the same team. This was also true nationally. But over the past decade or so, conservatives, as well as increasing numbers of moderates and liberals, have reportedly been tuning out.  

As KUOW’s former politics reporter, I heard complaints during my time there from listeners across the political spectrum who didn’t like the changes they were hearing. They varied but often boiled down to the same basic gripe: “Some mainstream viewpoints are no longer getting a fair shake.”

That’s why I was a little surprised by the initial defensive response to Berliner’s argument by NPR leadership and luminaries. “Morning Edition” host Steve Inskeep and others rejected his thesis about progressive bias, accusing Berliner of treasonous behavior – an understandable reaction given the over-the-top right-wing “defund NPR” dogpile Berliner’s piece provoked. 

I also agree with Berliner’s critics that the specific examples he cites of bias are questionable, and also that there are factual errors and failure to solicit comments from NPR brass. 

But even Inskeep hinted there is a serious conversation to be had about “viewpoint diversity” at NPR, and I agree. 

To my ear, a trend towards more one-sided coverage started about a decade ago. Locally, at KUOW this coincided with a growing concern internally about what critics on social media sites, especially Twitter, were saying about our coverage. It also coincided with the arrival of a new generation of aspiring journalists who were more likely to question the value of balance.

Back when I first started at KUOW, we assumed the audience wanted to know what was happening from multiple perspectives, as opposed to just one. After I started covering politics full time, I stopped voting in local races to shield myself from rooting for one candidate over another. 

I’m not claiming any of us were ever “objective” Vulcans like Mr. Spock. That’s not possible. Nor that people never spoke about their feelings or personal views at work.   

A couple years after I started, I remember pitching a news story about abortion, and someone objected, “Ugh, no, then we’d have to talk to those fucking right-to-lifers.” I remember because it was such an over-the-top, hilariously biased reaction.

But I also remember it because of the host’s assumption that we would have to talk to the “right-to-lifers,” like it or not. This demonstrated a deep professional commitment to cover all sides of a story. 

Things started to change away from that commitment around a decade ago, around the same time we saw growing influence and attention to social media. In a 2015 meeting someone suggested we cover the nascent “Shout Your Abortion” movement, whose goal was to destigmatize abortion. “Great idea but how do we balance it out?” came the obvious question. Of course, we had to talk to the “fucking right to lifers,” or maybe an analyst who would criticize the politics as self-defeating.  

But the question of balance was met with blank stares followed by some version of, “Why would we need to do that?” It felt like a larger turning point, as the winds started to blow more strongly in favor of more partisan coverage. 

The opposition to the pursuit of “objectivity,” which had been waged in academia for decades, was becoming a big force in newsrooms all over the country. But unlike in academia, where the best conversations in fields like history or the sciences had been nuanced and complicated, working journalists were being schooled mainly by critics on Twitter who griped when we “platformed” voices they didn’t like. 

KUOW listened to those voices and responded, sort of. In our coverage of topics such as homelessness, for example, stories featured activist voices critical of encampment sweeps without including anything from nearby businesses or residents, or any mention of their concerns about public safety – as if those widely held views were somehow off limits. Some interviewers started to ask questions by saying exactly what they thought on any given topic, like their commercial radio counterparts, rather than just asking the tough questions.  

It felt at times like we were becoming unhinged from our journalistic standards in bits and pieces, without any strong leadership pointing to where we were headed next. 

To be clear, it was never official station policy to start taking sides. NPR and our local station’s ethics guidelines continue to use words like “fairness,” and mean it. Plenty of news stuff on public radio is produced under the assumption that that was still their job. 

But some reporters and producers at KUOW, often younger, started to create programming that almost always sounded one-sided. This happened, largely, because there was very little oversight. That’s how public radio operated in Seattle. It had never been a top-down organization.

Then, Trump’s election poured gasoline on the fire that had already been started. Some journalists all over the country started to argue that the only way to communicate the truth about Trump was to quit engaging in what they saw as “both sidesing” and start offering “moral clarity,” as if just informing people about what the former president was actually doing wasn’t enough.  

The 2020 racial reckoning and the introduction of frequent DEI training represented another turning point. The moment was long overdue in pushing for more diverse staff and programming. That point can’t be stressed enough, especially in an extremely white city like Seattle with a long history of institutional racism that included practices like redlining.    

But some decisions made at that time were a major departure in the practice of journalism, like the email from KUOW leadership announcing staff could now participate in protests. Some of the more activist messaging by corporate DEI trainers may also have emboldened those who were eager to push their own personal political agendas on the public airwaves. 

We heard more than once, for example, that the pursuit of objectivity perpetuates white supremacy. There’s truth in that statement, but some may have read it as an invitation to pursue one-sidedness, instead. 

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with one-sided advocacy journalism. Other media outlets like The Nation and Pacifica or Real Change do great work. The question is whether there’s still room for news outlets like NPR to try and include all relevant points of view. I think there is and that it’s especially important in the current media landscape, which is littered with misinformation.  

The good news here in Seattle is that KUOW never officially abandoned the pursuit of fairness and balance. The local coverage I’m hearing in 2024 is, in many cases, as balanced as it’s ever been. KUOW’s Week in Review, for example, regularly features voices from across the political spectrum. 

Before I left this spring, in news editorial meetings I heard a renewed attention from the top to the importance of fairness in our coverage, and less of a concern about “platforming” views that progressive listeners might find odious. I reached out to KUOW’s news department to let them know I was writing this piece and offering an opportunity to comment, but they declined. 

I can’t speak to the specifics at NPR, however, which creates the majority of programming KUOW listeners hear on the air. The overly defensive public response NPR first offered to Berliner’s piece was troubling, even if it was understandable. 

That said, there are signs NPR leadership is starting to make some changes and scrutinizing the “content mix.” They’re calling it the “Backstop.” The plan is for senior editors to review everything NPR puts online and on the air. 

Whether adding that extra editorial layer works to bring back listeners who may have tuned out – or just slows the process of reporting breaking news – remains to be seen. 

David Hyde
David Hyde
David Hyde is a Seattle journalist and former politics reporter for KUOW.


  1. Thanks, David. Your perspective, as a long-time staffer, helps those of us who listen and want a balanced but informative view.

  2. Well done David!
    I can’t tell you how many supporters of We Heart Seattle have pitched to cover “our lens” on homelessness, addiction and public safety that we are so knee deep in. We have 13,000 hours of fieldwork led by volunteers picking more than 1M lbs of trash, 34,000 needles, found and called in 12 dead bodies, housed hundreds of people using our private donations and total crickets from KUOW. The trend of media outlets like KUOW only covering one side keeps pushing left more left and right more right and uncheck, leaving the middle unrepresented. The undivided don’t vote either because there is no place to get credible unbiased reporting. Andrea,
    Founder of We Heart Seattle, a Grassroots non-partisan movement for a more beautiful and safe Seattle for all to enjoy.

  3. I used to listed to KUOW but gradually became disillusioned. It was NPR coverage of the Waukesha Christmas parade massacre in 2021 that made me decide to stop listening. The attacker was black and intentionally targeted whites with his car, killing several and injuring many. NPR avoided the race issue and incorrectly called it a holiday parade. The way NPR handled all of the issues involved – race and racism, violent crime, and even religion was not appropriate or balanced. For NPR to be federally funded and so blatantly opinionated is just wrong.

  4. I may decide to listen to KUOW again and watch PBS News now and again. I became an intermittent follower of both when I tired of the ‘two sides’ approach to every issue or even a ‘one side’ approach. Most issues are more complex than that. I also think that most listeners and/or viewers can adjust to and cope with nuance. I’m not sure what ‘balanced’ means, likely that it depends on each person. Hearing or reading only what we like or choose to agree with is a fool’s errand and will not serve us well. The same thing goes for reporters, whom I hope have been better trained. Time will tell.

  5. I was thinking this piece reflected the spirit we need to rebuild the middle in this country until I got to this paragraph: “That point can’t be stressed enough, especially in an extremely white city like Seattle with a long history of institutional racism that included practices like redlining.”

    Until you can’t write “extremely white city” without seeing what a racist and poisonous worldview it brings we still have a way to go.

    The issue is not

  6. Thanks David! Finally….!!!! I appreciate the message of both/all sides of issues.

    -from a F&@%ingR-T-L er. Yea, we are out here
    and I used to support Public Broadcasting. I’d like to again someday…

  7. “But some reporters and producers at KUOW, often younger, started to cremate programming that almost always sounded one-sided. …Then, Trump’s election poured gasoline on the fire that had already been started.” Ha ha, that’ll teach those carelessly cremating kids to play with fire!

    “We heard more than once, for example, that the pursuit of objectivity perpetuates white supremacy. There’s truth in that statement, but some may have read it as an invitation to pursue one-sidedness, instead.”

    Is there truth to that statement? I can’t tell, because who knows what “objectivity” is? This article is interesting but carefully inconclusive, because to arrive at some compelling case for an objective news policy you’d have to answer that question.

    The news policy thing that has struck me in recent years is around the 2020 election claims. They’re lies, and so described in news articles. I call that objective. If you think it isn’t, would it make a difference, who’s making the claims? Would it make a difference who’s believing them? To me, “balance” here is not much better than voting to make pi a round number.

    But that’s a matter that is subject to validation in a more or less tangible way. When it comes to typical culture war material, I’m at a loss to make anything of “objectivity.” I bet truly objective views on abortion would be objectionable to nearly everyone.

  8. Too often, we have “reporters” who take themselves to be opinion leaders. We have moved from sharing reporting to pontificating. This may have started on cable news and it has mushroomed.

  9. Disclosure: I recently joined the board of KUOW. The KUOW board is walled off from and has no input into editorial/news content decisions (rightly so). I’m speaking here on behalf of myself as a local journalist, and not on behalf of KUOW in any way.

    There are a couple of issues I really struggle with both as a local journalist and a consumer of local and national news. First, the rise of “advocacy journalism,” which has been around far longer than purportedly “objective” journalism, but benefits from being confused with media that attempts to be more objective so it often makes little to no effort to distinguish itself.

    Second, walking the tightrope between being “objective” (or perceived as such) and calling out blatant lies and distortions. If one party is spreading false information and a journalist calls them out on it, are they still being objective? When does fact-checking slip into opinion? Do journalists have to give an equal number of column-inches to critiquing the other side’s argument, even if they aren’t spouting obvious lies? (as distinct from spending equal time investigating/validating each side’s story)

    That, I believe, is largely why many journalists resort to “both sides” approaches: if critique is seen as bias, then to be “fair” one can only present quotes from both sides without asking any hard questions about either’s position.

    I will add that, as David said, social media is a major factor here. You can’t be a local reporter (or national reporter) without also being present on social media, but it is absolutely brutal, abusive, and ultimately toxic. You can’t avoid thinking about what the reception will be on social media when you’re writing a story, and it obviously affects your reporting. Social media has also created comfort zones for people to surround themselves with other people who share their worldview, to the point where even if people say that they want “fair” and “objective” coverage, given a choice many of them will still opt for news coverage that aligns with their own pre-existing perspective on issues. Not everyone, but many. So unfortunately the reward system for news media skews towards more biased coverage today, not less. We can say that we want fair and objective news reporting, but actions speak louder than words.

  10. Public radio, both locally and nationally, is caught in the jaws of a philosophical rift between classic Liberalism and contemporary Progressivism. The former values attempts to live up to universal values, such as fairness, truth, and objectivity. The latter features postmodern skepticism about universal values and sees the world through an identitarian, intersectional lens, and values commitment to social justice above all. It’s hard to run a newsroom with “some of each,” especially when the work-from-home phenomenon caused by the pandemic has permanently reduced, by a lot, the carbound commuter audience which was so valuable to public radio. Adam Gopnik’s 2019 book “A Thousand Small Sanities; The Moral Adventure of Liberalism” is good on this subject, as is Yasha Mount’s 2023 book “The Identity Trap.”

  11. I take David’s point that most of the slippage from traditional journalistic norms at KUOW over the last decade has happened not as a conscious decision but organically over time, in fits and starts, as broader trends within cultural progressivism and the rise of social media groupthink reshaped the station’s approaches to covering the news. That seems plausible enough. Twitter killed the public radio star.

    That said, I’m absolutely gobsmacked by David’s revelation that, in 2020, KUOW’s leadership gave its staffers explicit permission to participate in protests they might end up covering. I mean, wow, WTF? Because by any traditional journalistic norms that is a spectacular violation of first principles, and really quite telling. To my mind, it very directly raises the questions about the culpability of KUOW leadership in this erosion of journalistic norms.

    • I’ve said this so many times I’m tired of it, but I’ll say it again: While it’s true all journalists have opinions, boldly expressing them is a bad way to win the trust of the wide variety of people who have information you need. If your opinions are so strongly stated that certain people won’t bother talking to you, your journalism will be that much less informed.

  12. Very good start on waking up, David Hyde.

    But I think you have a way to go:
    “We heard more than once, for example, that the pursuit of objectivity perpetuates white supremacy. There’s truth in that statement…”

    I’d like to hear your view that “the pursuit of objectivity perpetuates white supremacy.“

    • In the postmodern identarian worldview, there is no true objectivity- there is only power and the powerful always assert their worldview over the powerless/marginalized. It follows that if Whites are the majority and more dominant/powerful, then their culture/values as expressed in ideas/norms like “objectivity”, “punctuality” and “individualism” are all part of “white supremacy.” Liberalism as a philosophy is “White Supremacy” in this analysis and part of the “structural racism” that has replaced individual prejudice in every analysis of social disparities.

      So there is “truth” in in the statement quoted but only if you agree with the postmodern identarian worldview that, like a virus jumping from animal to humans, leapt from obscure academic departments into the mainstream in the last decade with the help of social media and graduates taking this viral philosophy into journalism, education, etc.

      Another commenter recommended Yascha Mounk’s recent book for a plain language explanation of all of this – it’s a worthwhile read.

  13. The quantity and quality of comments already posted tell you everything you need to know about the interest there is in this topic. Despite some of the criticisms, I think you made a very good stab at it, David. I personally enjoyed what Tom Corddry had to say, and am reminded of a A. H. Rosenthal, who “Kept the Paper Straight” at the N.Y. Times for so many years. His style of leadership, and intent, is sorely missed in journalism today.

  14. Name names or it didn’t happen. This producer said this, that reporter did that. This isn’t journalism or an opinion piece, it’s a hit piece aimed straight at a right wing audience. The piece doesn’t acknowledge the fact that right wing “news” sites and A.M. radio stations dominate the landscape and offer skewed misinformation and disinformation that attract their audience by telling them not the truth, but what they want to hear. Then complaining when this alternative reality isn’t broadcast as a “balanced” point of view on NPR. Also, without recognizing the increase in competition from podcasts, streaming, satellite, and all other alternatives that are available taking away numbers from all traditional over the air stations, this is a one sided incomplete analysis of the overall landscape that all radio stations are dealing with.

  15. I left because I was tired of listening to the same formulaic sound effects during each piece. I didn’t mind the message but the production just got on my nerves after 30 years of the same old thing. Maybe it’s trivial but I don’t listen anymore.


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