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This Week's Phoenix: Alt-Country and NPR

In this week's Phoenix, we've got results from our annual best music poll, with readers' picks for local and national acts. Among the local winners is alt-country act Deer Tick. But don't call them alt-country, they hate the term. I wrote a piece on the band a few months ago.

Also this week: I've got a piece on Rhode Island's upstart National Public Radio affiliate, WRNI, vying to become a major player in the local media market - and irritating some at the ProJo in the process.

The local media machinations are of interest. But this is also part of a larger story about who will fill the local news vacuum, nationwide, with the slide of metropolitan newspapers. NPR, with a strong brand and a relatively stable distribution model - people still listen to the radio when they're stuck in their cars - has a real opportunity here.

But can the network amass the resources required to make a real impact? Public funding makes up a relatively small slice of the revenue for public radio. And as Michael Schudson, a professor at Columbia's journalism school told me, there is only so much in the way of private donations to be harvested. If NPR is to solve our local news problem, more tax dollars will probably be required.

I pressed him a bit on this: there is real skepticism among the taxpaying public over public funding for the arts, after all. And many conservatives believe NPR is a lefty outfit. But Schudson insists a breakthrough is possible. It has been some time, he says, since there was a real political dust-up over federal funding for the arts. And the public is quite accommodating, he adds, when it comes to National Institutes of Health-funded projects - some of which could, ostensibly, be quite controversial.

Perhaps. I'm not convinced the political will is there, though I think more public funding for journalism is a good idea. Some journalists are sharply critical of the idea - more government money will mean bureaucrats trying to control the news, they argue. I think that argument is overblown: NPR and, especially, the BBC do not seem to shrink from critical coverage of pols. And reporters, of all people, would surely make a stink if there was an attempt at censorship; and exposure does wonders to right wrongs.

Schudson told me he once debated the point with a journalist on a public television show. The journalist warned of Big Brother making editorial decisions. Schudson turned to his interlocutor and noted that he was arguing the point on a public television show - and that no one was trying to censor the remarks.

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