Public radio and the diversity problem

Kat Chow of Code Switch
Kat Chow of Code Switch

Public radio historically has been diversity-challenged. This American Life’s Stephanie Foo recently wrote for broadcast a “manifesto on diversity in public radio” that uniquely pointed out “all the excuses” often heard by station execs and others “and offers simple ways to override them.”

But should it be up to Black journalists or other journalists of color to ensure that NPR or their local outlets across the country be diverse? This notion was recently discussed with MPR’s Tom Weber and Kat Chow of NPR during her November 2 appearance at University of St. Thomas.

Related content: Code Switch deepens race conversation on the airwaves

Weber says too much is put on a Black reporter or a person of color to “represent” their entire ethnic group, while no such expectation is placed on White colleagues. “This ‘double-consciousness’ is what reporters of color must deal with, he said.

Oftentimes, “That’s the burden of journalists of color in public radio,” added Chow, who joined NPR in 2013, and is a founding member of the network’s Code Switch, a group of journalists that looks at “the frontiers of race, ethnicity and culture” through broadcast, online and social media platforms. She also is featured on the front page of this week’s MSR.

Although there continues to be a paucity of Blacks and other people of color in public radio and challenges in this area, Weber dismissed the notion that people of color don’t want to work in public radio.

“There are plenty of people of color who want to work in public radio,” he pointed out.  But Weber also admitted, “When you hear a Black person on [public] radio, he or she is talking about race as opposed to just [a person of color] doing a show on [another topic]. That you are only filling this void with a person of color when you are talking on something related to race.”

Chow says diversity in management also is important because “so much can get lost in the edit” of the story, she pointed out.

“One of the things we are trying to do [at Code Switch] is to help NPR look and sound more like America. We are doing this both on radio and online,” said Crow. “I think it is important that media organizations like NPR look like the population it is trying to reach…[it is] so important that it is staffed with reporters who grew up experiencing stories [they cover].”


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