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The open letter is a format that probably deserves to be dragged out back and shot. Still, I’m with Root editor Joel Dreyfuss on his complaints about how white white white NPR is, to new head Gary Knell:
NPR has long reflected that liberal myopia. As far back as 1993, the liberal watchdog Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting showed that NPR’s guest list was overwhelmingly white and male and its views centric, and few on-air experts were black or women. In 2009 NABJ complained (pdf) that there was only one on-air black male personality on NPR — Juan Williams. The network responded by hiring Keith Woods from the Poynter Institute as vice president for diversity issues. But few can discern a fundamental change in NPR’s tone and approach since.
By contrast, I have a broader vision of a multihued NPR, with a range of voices and worldviews not often heard or seen on commercial radio and TV: conservative, liberal, radical, atheist, religious, African American, Latino, immigrant and Native American — all in a glorious rainbow cacophony.
I imagine a news show that doesn’t treat the occasional story involving downtrodden African Americans, Hispanic Americans or poor people like a dutiful piece of foreign reporting before reverting to its dulcet-toned narrative of all things white and comfortable. I imagine an NPR that includes black and brown and female experts on the economy, ecology, energy, foreign affairs and everything else, instead of your standard bland diet of the same old tired voices that already pollute mainstream media.
Dreyfuss may be dreaming, but that doesn’t mean his ideal isn’t something to strive for. I had a friend who consulted on diversity for NPR tell me that people there joke that the only place one can consistently spot black folks in the offices is where Michel Martin‘s Tell Me More—-a show that carries the burden of the network’s multicultural coverage—-is located.