- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Before there were blogs, there was “This I Believe.”

The 1950s radio series gave Americans from all walks of life a chance to go on the air and read essays they wrote about their personal beliefs. Contributors included former presidents, housewives, executives, cab drivers and scientists.

Edward R. Murrow helped develop and hosted the daily program, which became something of a phenomenon in Cold War America. It reached millions of listeners, spawned a newspaper column and became a best-seller when a collection of the essays were published as a book.

Now it’s back.

National Public Radio revived “This I Believe” last month as a three-minute segment that airs Mondays on “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”

Jay Allison hosts and helps produce the new series. Like the original incarnation, it sprinkles essays from people in the public eye — former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell recently contributed a piece — among the works of average joes.

Just don’t think of the segments as over-the-air versions of blogs, the online journals that have transformed legions of pajama-clad Internet users into amateur pundits.

“There’s a big difference between somebody sitting down and going on about something at length [on the Internet] and somebody sitting down and carefully encapsulating their beliefs in a 500-word essay,” said Dan Gediman, executive producer of the new “This I Believe.”

NPR has received about 2,000 essays from listeners since the segments began airing April 4. Mr. Gediman and his staff are now combing through those pieces, determining which authors will be invited to come on the air.

This isn’t fluff.

Mr. Powell’s largely feel-good essay examined his heritage as the son of Jamaican immigrants, but it included a sly critique of the notion that the nation’s borders should be closed because of September 11, 2001.

“A good stay in our country is the best public diplomacy tool that we have. … Our attitude has to be, ‘We are glad you were here.’ We must be careful, but we must not be afraid,” he wrote.

Frederic Reamer, a Rhode Island parole board member, contributed this week’s essay, which recalled the conflict he felt when he was asked to consider the case of an inmate who disfigured his wife’s face and then expressed remorse for it.

“Every time I walk into those hearing rooms, I retest my belief in justice. I do my best to balance my concern for public safety and my faith that some offenders truly have the ability to redeem themselves,” Mr. Reamer wrote.

The new “This I Believe” fits in with NPR’s goal of featuring diverse voices, said Jay Kernis, the nonprofit broadcaster’s senior vice president for programming.

“Let’s face it, most of the people who get on the air are public officials, authors, celebrities. This is a great equalizer,” he said.

Et cetera

This can’t be good for the fragile egos who work in TV news: The local National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences chapter announced its 2004 Emmy nominees Monday, and — despite 16 entries — not a single person was nominated as best anchor.

• Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send e-mail to cbaker@washingtontimes.com.

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