Things You Hear on NPR: Unselfconscious Free Advertising for Corporations and Democrats?

July 14, 2014

Last week morning NPR reported this story, apparently unironically.  Excerpts:

IKEA recently announced that starting next year, the lowest paid workers in its U.S. stores will make a bit more. . . .

NPR asked an IKEA executive,

Was it a PR move? No, he said.

Oh, OK.

Were the workers unhappy? No, he said the company does surveys every year and the employees seem pretty happy. Olsen told me the company did it because it was the right thing to do. He mentioned the IKEA vision, better everyday life for the many people, but he also made this economic argument.

OLSEN: We felt that it was right thing to do and we also see that will benefit us in the long run. By taking better care of our co-workers, they will take better care of our customers, which will take better care of IKEA and you know, see it as a win, win, win opportunity.

At no point did the NPR story give any numbers on how many dollars an hour IKEA employees made before, or what their new “minimum wage” would be.

The new minimum wage at IKEA will vary from store to store.

That’s not a “minimum wage”; it’s what we call a “raise”.

It made that move voluntarily. David Kestenbaum of our Planet Money team, wondered why.

Gee, I don’t know—maybe because by doing so, the corporation could get free advertising on national radio, put their name in front of millions of customers, and read out their own statement about how great they are, without even having to give up any information (such as actual numbers on the thing ostensibly being investigated and reported)?

Interestingly, in addition to making available the sound recording and full (if inaccurate—“Obama once” for “Obama wants”!) transcript, NPR also offers a shorter, edited article version, in which there is finally at least a number—IKEA will supposedly “raise the average minimum wage for its retail workers to $10.76 an hour”—but no explanation of what an “average minimum” means, and still none of the other (if you will) minimally necessary numbers, such as what the employees were making before.  The edited version also removes the observation that there’s no such thing as a “free lunch”, although in fairness it does retain the observation that “In order to raise wages, the money has to come from somewhere, and there are only so many places it can come from.”

NPR has been running a lot of minimum-wage stories lately, perhaps to support President Obama and the Democrats in their recent push (e.g., here) to raise the federal minimum wage and/or use the issue against Republicans politically.  If you’re running minimum-wage stories all the time anyway, maybe it seems natural to cover IKEA’s decision as news.  If, on the other hand, the goal isn’t to promote Democrats and corporations, it’s not clear to me how these end up being the stories covered.  Maybe NPR could investigate that mystery next?

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2 Responses to “Things You Hear on NPR: Unselfconscious Free Advertising for Corporations and Democrats?”


  1. It’s still radio my friend, a listening medium. You have to view it in the context of proper use of the medium. Like TV, it’s about telling a story, not about numbers. However, it took me all of 10 seconds to Google a print article with all those numbers you were wondering about:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/26/business/ikea-plans-to-increase-minimum-hourly-pay.html?_r=0


    • I agree with you that this New York Times story, while only about twice as long as the NPR article, is vastly more informative. NPR seems to agree with you that an article lends itself better to numbers than radio does, and to agree with me that the numbers are relevant to this story—both evidenced by the fact that NPR added a number in its article version—but, as you point out, NPR couldn’t be bothered to do 10 seconds’ worth of research to provide more than the one number.


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