Jul
11
2014

NPR and the Eagerness of White Guy Sources

Edward Schumacher-Matos

Edward Schumacher-Matos

Exiting NPR ombud Edward Schumacher-Matos was interviewed (7/10/14) about his three years in the job. Asked about  the recent incident in which NPR education blogger Anya Kamenetz was criticized on social media for a tweet in which she complained that she couldn't make her stories diverse because "only white guys get back to me," Schumacher-Matos said:

The best I can tell, judging from the background of this reporter and the kind of work she's done, is that this is really an innocent frustration that could have been better expressed and just got her in a lot of trouble.

Sigh. With all respect to the reporter's previous work, the criticism of the remark was not that her frustration wasn't real–it was where she seemed to locate the blame for that frustration, namely with the perhaps underdedicated people of color and women who aren't returning her calls by deadline.

Anya Kamenetz

Anya Kamenetz

To the extent that it reflected "innocence," it's of a sort people of color and women can ill afford from journalists, reflecting a worldview that simply does not consider that there must be a proactive effort–something other than business as usual–in order to include in public conversation precisely those voices that have been and still are excluded. It suggests a misunderstanding of fair representation as a frippery rather than a core journalistic value–which may indeed be common but, for those whose lives are impacted daily by their media marginalization, is not so easy to shrug off.

NPR's official response to the brouhaha was a memo, instructing staff to be more careful about sharing private thoughts on social media. Likewise missing the point that the problem lies in what the network does–and doesn't do–in public.

About Janine Jackson

Program Director and Co-producer of CounterSpin
Janine Jackson is FAIR's program director and and producer/co-host of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. She contributes frequently to FAIR's magazine, Extra! and co-edited The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s (Westview Press). She has appeared on ABC's Nightline and CNN Headline News, among other outlets, and has testified to the Senate Communications Subcommittee on budget reauthorization for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Her articles have appeared in various publications, including In These Times and the UAW’s Solidarity, and in books including Civil Rights Since 1787 (New York University Press) and Stop the Next War Now: Effective Responses to Violence and Terrorism (New World Library). Jackson is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and has an M.A. in sociology from the New School for Social Research.