Black talents in public media you may not know but should

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In February, Current shared stories from our archives focusing on African-American people and culture in public media. In addition to reflecting on their achievements, we wanted to look forward to identify rising black talents poised to make a big impact on public media.

We asked readers to help recommend up-and-comers whose names we may not know but should. Current highlighted Hana Baba and Leila Day, hosts of a new podcast who led a workshop at the National Association of Black Journalists conference in New Orleans Wednesday. Below are the other names you submitted. Nominators were asked to describe their nominee in three words, included with each profile.

Just about every name is included here with few exceptions. Out of 62 submissions, half were for freelancer Keisha “TK” Dutes. A handful of names were excluded because the nominee hosts a nationally syndicated show or wildly popular podcast, so they’re arguably familiar names to many in public media. Several others were excluded because of incomplete submission forms. Unfortunately, the producer category needed to be whittled down, so editors here made some tough choices. Overall, we wanted to highlight people who are bringing something different to public media.

The Music Hosts

Garrett McQueen, senior programmer/announcer, The Afternoon Concert, WUOT in Knoxville, Tenn., @garrettmcqueen

In three words: Insightful, broadminded, engaging

What others say: “Garrett is an exceptionally talented symphony musician and classical radio host. Garrett has a very unique show highlighting music that is often overlooked in classical music, especially focusing on modern works. His wit, insight, personable style combined with his high level of knowledge make him an outstanding host.” — Todd Steed, WUOT music director

What McQueen says: “As someone who’s performed classical music for the past decade, my ears are well tuned to the trends and patterns in the programming of classical music, both live and through vehicles like YouTube and public radio. This knowledge is … an integral part of how I program music – both continuing important traditions and exposing listeners to things I know are obscure in classical music, but still important. Fully aware of the challenges of introducing the genre to new listeners, and more importantly, keeping those new listeners interested, I shape each of my shows around a theme or a concept that listeners, both new and seasoned, can attach themselves to and make relevant in their own lives.”

Confucius Jones and Fresh, hosts of The Breaks on KUTX in Austin, Texas, @TheBreaksOnKUTX

In three words: Local, passionate, knowledgeable

What others say: “New to public radio, they are tapped into the hip hop community in Austin, an underserved demographic. The Breaks is highlighting the growing Austin Hip Hop scene and public radio in general is lacking these voices.” — Matt Reilly, PD at KUTX

What Confucius Jones and Fresh say: “Coming from Austin, Texas, there are few hip-hop radio shows in the market. We wanted to make one that only plays the newest and hottest music but also is on air personality driven.

“Fresh and I knew we had the capacity to create that type of show from our experience in podcasting and online radio, and KUTX luckily believed in us as well. The work is important for us simply because our show … gives a voice to a part of town that is increasingly becoming voiceless due to rising cost of living and gentrification.”

The Graphic Designer

Rodney Lambright II, animator, television artist and producer at Wisconsin Public Television in Madison, @rodgod38

In three words: Creative, curious, conscientious

What others say: “Rodney is incredibly creative and technically skilled as a graphic animator and artist.  He began working with WPT as a student production assistant in our graphic animation unit, and it became quickly apparent that he possessed a strong artistic talent. Rodney has insightful ideas regarding visual storytelling, with an ability to weave a story featuring characters with which anyone can relate or empathize. In addition, he is an excellent visual artist. The combination of these attributes have real potential for a creative and impactful career.”  — Christine Sloan-Miller, EP of news and public affairs, WPT

What Lambright says: “In my work I want readers/viewers/listeners etc. to take away the fact that there are different perspectives and situations that define who we are as individuals. And those situations make us sometimes different than others, but if we take the time to understand each other’s stories you might be amazed or have a change of heart of who someone might be.”

The Freelancer

Keisha “TK” Dutes, host, producer, programmer with Bondfire Radio in Brooklyn, N.Y., @tastykeish

In three words: Tenacious, entertaining, genuine

What others say: Most of the people included here were nominated once, but not Dutes. Thirty-two submissions came in for her. Nominators used more than the three words noted above to describe her. One wrote that Dutes, an AIR New Voices Scholar formerly of WBAI-FM, is the “voice in your heart during emotional issues and the voice in your head during political issues, she is the laughter in your day when you need that.” Dutes hosts TK in the AM, an internet morning show for people of color. Listeners said she empowers others to be a voice for change.   

What Dutes says: “If you want to be represented in media, don’t wait. Create.

“90 percent of my work has come from dissatisfaction with the status quo. There is no reason we can’t have quality, informative, fun, programming that isn’t classist, capitalist, racist or sexist. Do not let mega corporations dictate to you who you are and what you listen to.”

The Project Manager

Amanda Granger, associate director, education at WNET in New York, @grangerzone86

In three words: Collaborative, creative, impactful

What others say: “Amanda is a smart and driven public media professional who hopes to be a General Manager at a public media station one day — maybe back in her hometown of Minneapolis! She serves on the Millennial Content Committee, is a valuable part of the WNET Education team, and has been recognized by many station partners as a supportive partner in public media. I know Amanda will be an asset to public media for the longterm.” — Carole Wacey, VP of education, WNET

What Granger says: “I’ve always been interested in a broad range of subjects, and I think my colleagues would say that I’m someone who is quickly able to see a relationship between things that are seemingly unrelated. Having a wide knowledge base and the ability to connect people and ideas helps me as both an educator and public media professional. The media and education landscapes are changing so quickly now, it’s essential for all of us to be lifelong learners and to be able to draw inspiration from unexpected places.”

The Reporters

Priska Neely, education reporter at KPCC in Los Angeles, @priskaneely

In three words: Creative, mentor, diplomatic

What others say: “Priska seeks out the voices we don’t always hear on the radio. Foster children. Gay teenagers. Homeless mothers. She has a warm, inviting way of asking questions that puts people at ease and creates really intimate interviews. She’s an amazing profiler. She’s also a mentor of young journalists at our station, especially journalists of color and women. She will be an amazing manager — hopefully someday soon!” — Emily Guerin, environment reporter, KPCC

What Neely says: “Mentorship and training are passions of mine and I often take time to talk to aspiring journalists and train interns and temps who are just starting out. Sometimes it can feel lonely being a young, black reporter in public radio. This doesn’t make me want to run away. It makes me want to stay, grow, learn and help make public media more reflective of the communities we cover.

“When I walk into classrooms, I view just being there as an incredible responsibility and opportunity. I know I might not be what the kids were expecting, or the teachers for that matter. I often take time to explain what I do (plug the station!) and let them know they could do it, too.”

Kenneth Burns, former City Hall reporter for WYPR in Baltimore, @PKBNews

In three words: Intense, comprehensive, insightful

What others say: “Ken Burns has a unique talent for holding public officials accountable. He can work local and national. His coverage of the ‘Baltimore Uprising’ was better than local and national broadcasters.” — Charles Robinson, reporter and associate producer, Maryland Public Television

What Burns says: “For people in parts of the city that feel left behind, they want straight, truthful answers — when will someone do something about these vacant buildings in my neighborhood, how can we get the police to the table and interact with us — questions like these are very real concerns for those parts of the city. They are tired of feeling patronized. … I try to get real answers or at the very least a real explanation to issues and concerns that they are concerned about. … Every single person listening to me or reading my online work is smart. Every person simply wants to know ‘what is going on’ and ‘what does this mean;’ I hope I’m able to do that with each story.”

Sasha-Ann Simons, Then: TV host/radio reporter and producer at WXXI in Rochester, N.Y.; Now: Housing and Urban Development Reporter at WAMU in Washington, D.C., @sashaannsimons

In three words: Ambitious, compassionate, friendly

What others say: On the heels of police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota, and the mass shooting of officers in Dallas, Texas, Simons produced a radio piece on the conversation black parents like her have with their kids about police violence. The piece was shared with other member stations and sparked conversation in upstate New York communities. “She was asked many questions by white listeners who had no idea that ‘the talk’ was a thing,” wrote Matthew Patterson, former audio engineer at WBFO in Buffalo, N.Y.

What Simons says: “My role as a public media journalist is an important one, especially at a time when our country is so politically divided. Every time the opportunity presents itself, I write stories with a particular focus on the needs of underserved audiences, including children, minorities, and low-income Americans.
“In summer 2016, in the midst of several cases of police brutality against black people, I … faced the task of explaining the violent trend to my young children. I spoke with colleagues, mental health professionals, educators and other parents to tell the local audience what it was like to be an African American parent in those times, and the need to have ‘the talk’ with our children … about their conduct when dealing with police officers. That story was shared among member stations across upstate New York, reaching hundreds of thousands of listeners. It prompted questions and much-needed conversation within the Caucasian community, many of whom were unaware of this struggle.”

Tonya Mosley, Then: senior reporter at WBUR’s Edify in Boston; Now: senior Silicon Valley correspondent with KQED in San Francisco, @TonyaMosley

In three words: Bold, Thoughtful, Warm

What others say:

“Her series Black in Seattle started a national local conversation that spread across the country (especially on Twitter, which is key to expanding audience). It was a bold decision to turn a personal experience as a black woman in a very white city into an important piece of journalism.

“Also an accomplished TV host, her series Beyond Ferguson received many awards and took the story beyond the headlines.” —  Priska Neely, KPCC education reporter

What Mosley says: “I’m constantly surveying my surroundings and listening for what isn’t being said. I also try my best to ingratiate myself into the communities I cover. … I do a lot of pre-interviewing before producing a story. I spend as much time as possible talking to my interview subjects, I want to learn as much as I can about the issue and the person. I map out where we will meet for our interviews … and I envision what “my wildest dreams” would be for a story before I head out to report on it. This gives me a sense of what I am aiming for, but I also let the story dictate the reality.

“I want to make people feel when they listen or watch my stories. Feel something. Joy, anger, despair, disgust, joy, remorse. … I want the journalism I produce to be a call to action.”

Renata Sago, reporter with WMFE-FM in Orlando, Fla., @renatasago

In three words: Tenacious, bright, intrepid

What others say: “She’s fearless and passionate and has a great ability to get people to open up and tell her their stories. Sago is versatile in that she’s not only a solid journalist but she can fill the host chair with a cheer, presence and professionalism our listeners have noticed.” — Crystal Chavez, All Things Considered host and reporter at WMFE

What Sago says: “I bring an unconventional voice and a fresh perspective to public media, which has to do with how I grew up and where my young adult life has taken me. I was raised in part of Chicago where the legacy of prominent black figures — writers such as Lorraine Hansberry, media innovators such as Oprah Winfrey and John H. Johnson — were as formative to cityscape as the famous Chicago skyline. These figures reminded me that I have a voice, which is so key as a storyteller. I went to school for international relations and French. I also lived overseas for three years in places where I developed a keen understanding of what it means to be black; to be American; to be an outsider; to be a native; and to be a human. My storytelling focuses on the complexities of how people navigate race and class, culture, and politics.”

Elizabeth Miller, Great Lakes Today reporter/producer, WCPN/Ideastream in Cleveland, @llmiller12

In three words: Curious, diligent, collegial

What others say: “Elizabeth has the inquiring mind, diligence and sensitivity to develop a wide variety of stories. She brings a personal warmth to interactions with colleagues and sources; that also allows her to build trust among sources in a range of circumstances. The result: a highly resourceful journalist who is poised to tackle any situation. Having Elizabeth on our reporting staff enhances the quality of our storytelling at ideastream and Great Lakes Today. ” — Dave Rosenthal, managing editor, Great Lakes Today, and Mark Simpson, managing editor, News, Ideastream

What Miller says: “As a public radio reporter, I think it’s important to tell a story as honestly and in someone’s own words. I also hope it’s engaging and entertaining – sometimes that can be difficult with stories that seem to be more on the academic side.

“There are so many stories to tell about the Great Lakes and this region, with lots of compelling characters. With every story I do, I hope to do my sources justice while also telling a complete story.”

The Editor

Lee Hill, senior editor, digital news at WNYC in New York City, @public_lee

In three words: Innovative, hardworking, visionary

What others say: “Lee makes things happen — when he has a vision, he sees it through to the end. He’s committed to highlighting the voices of underserved communities and creating fresh, diverse, and current content for the web.” — John Asante, associate producer, WNYC’s The Takeaway

What Hill says: “My hope is that my contributions help make the news more accessible …and enrich people’s understanding of the world around them. With editorial projects, I lead newsroom conversations about who WNYC should be reaching and how — What social media ‘influencers’ should be aware of our work? Who should we partner with to reach diverse communities? I make sure these questions remain staples of our newsroom dialogue.”

  • Lou Watson

    I love the idea behind this article, but I have to say it’s really lacking. I’m agast that it neglected to mention “A Seat At The Table” which is a GROUNDBREAKING show at one of the largest PBS and NPR stations in the country – Georgia Public Broadcasting. Check it out! http://www.gpb.org/seat-at-the-table/about