NPR’s Michel Martin, Weekend All Things Considered Staff “Mainstream” Diversity

Michel Martin (Credit: NPR Photo)
Michel Martin (Source:NPR Photo)

I rarely stop everything and listen to a full hour of National Public Radio programming.

But I listened to every story on the June 18th edition of Weekend All Things Considered.  Host Michel Martin and staff produced a fine example of how to reflect diversity and inclusion in the EVERYDAY news that they’re covering.

All one has to do is look at the rundown of stories from today’s show and see how almost every story mainstreamed the experiences of those from traditionally marginalized communities into this flagship afternoon news program of the nation’s leading radio news operation:

  • Two-Way Interview with NPR Correspondent John Burnett on Mourning in Orlando–   During the debriefing interview, Burnett introduced clips from the protests and counter protests over GLBT issues outside a memorial for one of the 49 victims of last Sunday’s shooting.
  • Orlandoans Reach Out to LGBT Center
  • Voters Frustrated with Party’s Nominating Process  This non-political story on a political process featured a range of voters from across the political spectrum.  For once, there was no soundbite from Donald Trump.  It was refreshing to hear from the diversity of people who are not happy with the WAY we elect a president.
  • “Barbershop” Segment Features  GLBTQ Panel   My observation has been that this regular segment usually features bloggers/journalists or color (often African American).  Today the interview showcased gay, lesbian and transgendered guests.  (One of them is a nurse)
  • Rabbi Outreach To GLBTQ Community   I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a rabbi taking his congregants to a  gay bar.   You have to hear this story from the Jewish community and how one religious leader guided others to do the right thing.  It is remarkable what Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of the Ohev Sholom synagogue in Washington, DC did.
  • Martin “Going There” in Chicago–   Features young voices from this city that’s recently been the center for coverage of police shootings and a skyrocketing murder rate.   In the excerpt played in today’s broadcast, the young people of color in this  town hall type of event were given a whole new platform to spotlight experiences of those who are Chicano in talking about immigration and African Americans in explaining concepts such as redlining and gentrification.  (NPR even posts video of the more than one-hour event on its web site)
  • Feature on Photojournalist who  from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr
    I learned that there was something significant that happened between King’s March on Washington in 1963, the Bloody Sunday Selma March in 1965 and his death in Memphis in 1968.  This story reminded us of the events in Chicago Freedom Movement in 1966.   The photographs of Bernard Kleina were not only vintage archival images, they were also in COLOR!  (Something we take for granted today)
  • Interview with Comedian Kevin Hart on Central Intelligence
    I’m not a huge fan of Hart. But, that didn’t matter as Martin’s questions unpacked the interplay between two African American men, Hart and Dwayne “The Roc” Johnson in their new film, Central Intelligence.  She even touched on the very relevant issue of bullying.

Even in introducing today’s guests for her “Barbershop” segment,  Martin did something I have not seen many broadcasters do — she acknowledged the “gender neutral” pronoun preference “they” for one of her participants.    I’ve just recently (within the last year) undergone training where I fully understand this type of language, which is of particular concern to those from the transgender community.

This is the kind of reporting and broadcast journalism that we need to see on other news outlets.    It’s a template for news organizations on how to make your coverage inclusive.  And, it’s not just because the BIG STORY (the Orlando shooting) includes obvious diverse elements– Muslim community,  a mass shooting where 90% of those killed as Latino or Hispanic.    It’s in seeking out diverse voices to comment on that and other stories.  It is being inclusive in our language when describing our sources.    As journalists, we should always be seeking to access the layered experiences of those in our communities.

npr_logo_rgb1_custom-c365f1a30c37c29387059cb9c5fc12deb06425ea-s400-c85NPR’s Progress

Since hiring one of nation’s authorities on diversity and inclusion, Keith Woods, as its vice president of diversity in news and operations,  National Public Radio has certainly taken some major strides in this particular area.  From the launch of its Code Switch project team in 2013 to the inauguration of a Code Switch podcast just last month,  NPR is making a statement about the importance of making diversity and difference a priority.

Woods previously led the faculty at The Poynter Institute.    Full disclosure: I’ve personally benefited from attending some of his diversity training.

At the same time, the network also faced critics when it ended the Tell Me More midday program, which Martin served as host and was known for being geared toward black audiences.  This was the same network where Tavis Smiley once worked and Michele Norris was host for its flagship program, the weekend edition of All Things Considered.

On Martin, I’m Coming Around

I must admit, I was very distraught when the NPR brass decided to replace Arun Rath, of whom I was a huge fan, as host of the Weekend  “ATC” show.  Rath was considered the first Indian-American to host an NPR news magazine.

I’ve watched Michel Martin since her days reporting with Ted Koppel on ABC’s Nightline.   But,  I was disappointed to see Rath go.   Since the change last October,  I’ve slowly warmed up to the idea of hearing Martin’s voice each Saturday and Sunday afternoon.    And, her “Going There” on the ground reporting, which NPR Presents has branded, really represents something radio journalists have rarely done well.

Hats off to Martin and her WATC team for a job well-done today.


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