People (read: online commenters) ask NPR’s Code Switch team all the time: “Why do you guys make everything about race?”
Alicia Montgomery, supervising senior producer for Code Switch, sees that question and scratches her head.
“I wonder if these are the same people who read the sports section and say, ‘Why is everything in here about a game that was played?’”, she told me on The Pub.
Since its founding in 2013, NPR’s unit covering “news from the frontiers of race, ethnicity and culture” has been a prime target of internet trolls alleging bias, perhaps in part because Code Switch stories are so different from other NPR content.
While a user browsing NPR.org would mostly encounter straight reportage, Code Switch pieces are generally written in a style more associated with commentary sites, like Salon.com (where Montgomery used to work).
In digital-native media like Salon, Montgomery said, “part of the story is telling people where you stand in the story. And I think if we’re going to have revealing and interesting conversations about race and identity, it’s important that we own where we stand in relation to the story.”
This week on The Pub, Montgomery talks about the long-anticipated new Code Switch podcast, responds to criticisms of her unit from both the right and left, and gives her take on NPR’s broader efforts to sound less uniformly like, well, white guys like me.
Also on the show, I beg public media to stop referring to the podcasting market as the podcasting “space,” and three of public radio’s most exciting podcasters — Embedded’s Kelly McEvers, We Live Here’s Kameel Stanley and The Organist’s Andrew Leland — talk about how they made their shows stand out in an increasingly crowded space. I mean, market.
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Adam Ragusea hosts Current’s weekly podcast The Pub and is a journalist in residence and visiting assistant professor at Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism.
Why did you do that? You kept undermining your questions/criticisms, to the point of dismissing them as from “internet trolls.” It was beyond walking on eggshells, more like Stockholm syndrome!
Code Switch is NPR’s most overt display of bias, which is saying something. That’s not to be dismissed as the view of internet trolls. It’s a serious problem for NPR, its audience, and the culture insofar as NPR affects it. The Code Switch team is made up of liberals, and they deliver consistently liberal points of view, more openly than most other parts of NPR. It’s an area in which NPR journalists have confused their political principles with journalistic ones so that they sound like the liberal equivalent of Fox’s “We are the balance.”
Montgomery didn’t use those words, but she made the same argument. Why is there no white, conservative Gene Demby at NPR? Because we already have enough of that, is essentially the answer given. Where? Not among NPR’s journalists. In regard to diversity issues, NPR sees itself as providing a space for views not heard enough, and not for views privileged in the culture (as liberals see it). They see themselves as the balance. And, as with Fox, that implies NPR itself isn’t balanced, but is itself privileging certain views.
It’s unfortunate you so undercut this criticism of NPR and Code Switch that the problems of their position didn’t emerge clearly. You understand the issues better than came out here.
There’s a legitimate question in the words “Why do you guys make everything about race?” The sports section doesn’t spend a lot of time analyzing the presidential race, the military, economics, etc. Code Switch discusses all sorts of things in terms of race, though, including things many see as not about race. That Montgomery doesn’t see the point of that objection is part of the problem at Code Switch. Its biases are invisible to those who share them, and objections therefore appear nonsensical.
I’ve always enjoyed these podcasts, and am glad we will hear more. They challenge me, provoke me to think and rethink my assumptions, and help me see my world and my friends more clearly.
Well done, CodeSwitch. You are part of the healing that comes from truth-telling.