NPR’s new executive editor scouts paths for audience growth

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Michael Zamora/NPR

VP and Executive Editor Eva Rodriguez oversees NPR’s global news operations, directing coverage for all of its platforms, news desks and beats. 

NPR VP and Executive Editor Eva Rodriguez arrived in her new job in September as a huge fan of the news organization and longtime listener — and as a veteran journalist and editor with deep experience in national and international news coverage.

In her previous role at The Fuller Project, a nonprofit newsroom covering issues affecting women globally, Rodriguez directed coverage as editor in chief. Her journalism career also includes roles editing and managing teams at the Washington Post and New York Times and reporting for the Wall Street Journal. Now Rodriguez oversees NPR’s global news operation of some 200 journalists, directing news gathering for all of its digital platforms, news desks and beats. 

In a recent interview with Current, Rodriguez discussed her first months as executive editor, her intention to deepen NPR’s collaborations with member stations and her goal to make sure NPR is “covering the whole of the country and the whole of the world in its nuances.” 

Rodriguez also described how her experience as a young journalist taught her to welcome ideas from everyone in the newsroom, regardless of rank, and the opportunities she sees to connect with new audiences through digital platforms.  

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Gregory Wakeman, Current: What attracted you to the job of NPR executive editor?

Eva Rodriguez: I have loved NPR since long before I even thought of becoming a journalist. So NPR has been part of my daily life. It has been part of my DNA, honestly, for years and years and years.The opportunity to come to this organization, which I have learned from, relied on and trusted, was a dream come true. 

Current: You’ve said that you want to bring all of yourself and all of your experiences to bear on what NPR does on a daily basis. Which specific experiences of yours will help NPR?

Rodriguez: I wouldn’t say “help,” I’d say “contribute” because there’s immense talent and strength here already. If I can contribute to that, that would please me no end. I’ve been in this business a long time. 

I’ve worked in large newsrooms and learned how to make sense of those. I’ve worked on many different types of beats, as a reporter, a supervisor and editor. I feel that what I’ve learned throughout my career, I can bring to bear here. Also my experience as a human being in this business when it comes to working with people and, hopefully, inspiring them to do their best work.

I think that matters and I hope that I can make a difference in that way, too.

Current: What have you been focused on since you entered the job three months ago?

Rodriguez: Strategic vision work with many of my leadership partners. How we can connect [to listeners] through our legacy, our beautiful programs, our website and our beautiful app. We want our existing and, just as importantly, new and more diverse audiences to listen. That’s been a real focus, as well as getting to know everyone that I possibly can on an individual level. 

Current: Have you had to adjust your professional approach at NPR?

Rodriguez: At NPR, I have found echoes of the best places I’ve ever worked. Whether it’s the New York Times, the Washington Post, or my first job at the Miami Review, which was a small but incredibly ambitious, trusted and honest organization. 

We are about journalism first. The accuracy, context, fairness — that’s as high of a level as any place I’ve ever worked. 

One of the things that’s thrilling is to put a face to the voices and the bylines of the talent. To realize, “Oh, my gosh, this is the real deal. They really are that smart. They really are that thoughtful. They really are that great.” 

Of course, there are differences. First and foremost, for me, is the mission to inform everyone who we possibly can connect with. That is just such an important mission. I’m so grateful that I am at a place that wants to inform anyone who possibly wants it. I understand and don’t begrudge commercial newsrooms, they have to support their journalism somehow. Here we put the information out there for anyone who wants it, who can benefit from it, or who is just curious. That’s a big difference.

Current: What specific areas of coverage do you think NPR needs to increase its focus on?

Rodriguez: That’s a great question. The truth is, right now, I don’t have a definitive answer. I am still very much in learning mode and information collecting mode. I’ve been hearing from as many people in the newsroom as possible. 

Above all though, my guiding star is making sure we are covering the whole of the country and the whole of the world in its nuances. Whether we agree with them or not, whether we find it wonderful or not. We need to cover and tackle issues. And, when we look at communities, make sure that we are reflecting accurately and fairly the whole of America and the whole of the world. 

Current: How can NPR ensure that the talents and insights of women and journalists of color are fully utilized?  

Rodriguez: That is really important to me as a woman and a person of color.  The life experiences of women, people of color, or transgender individuals are very different from other colleagues who also bring wisdom and insight. I may see something as a story that someone else without access to a community … may not have identified. That is true whether I am a white man who grew up in Missouri or a woman of color like me who grew up in Miami. 

We bring those different perspectives on what is the story, what is worth covering — and we need to have those experiences reflected in the whole of our coverage from NPR. We need to be connecting with different communities, folks with different perspectives in the country and in the world. To make sure we are also accurately telling their story and sharing it with our listeners, readers and viewers.

Current: What ways do you see to do that through your role?  

Rodriguez: First of all, just saying it, right? Communicating that in person, in meetings and in discussions that we have about stories and priorities every day. We need to … make sure that we are hearing from and calling on different approaches to stories. 

I was really lucky that my first job in journalism was in a small, wonderful place, where it didn’t matter if the best idea came from the executive editor or the editorial assistant. It was, “That’s a great idea! Let’s do it.” I had that experience as a very green journalist. The executive editor said that my idea was better than his. 

That’s how it should be to make sure you’re getting the best idea. We need to hear from different people and different voices and forget about rank. Let’s talk and get to the best idea.

Current: In a Nieman Lab prediction for 2024, LAist Chief Content Officer Kristen Muller wrote, “NPR needs to bring a laser focus to strengthening the local news stations who have the potential to be the most trusted messengers in their communities — but not if they’re only reaching the existing rapidly shrinking broadcast audience.” How can NPR do more to help stations deliver news beyond just on radio?

Rodriguez: I read that and agreed with everything she said. Having started at a small place, I know you don’t have to be a behemoth or in a particular city to do amazing work and have amazing talent in your newsroom. I’m thrilled today that my boss and my boss’s boss and others see and value that as well. 

“There are ways that we can reach audiences — listeners, readers and viewers — through digital means that just aren’t available to us in broadcast, as wonderful and as important as that work is.” 

I have been working incredibly hard to make sure that we solidify our partnership with member stations. Just one recent example was when the tragic mass shooting happened in Lewiston, Maine. We had just organized a working partnership with a number of member stations in New England. Moments after we learned of the shooting, we connected with our New England partners so that we could immediately start reporting. Because of that working partnership, we were able to provide local, regional and national audiences with accurate and non-exaggerated news that day. That’s just one example. 

We also have partnerships with the Gulf States, Texas and California newsrooms and we are working to build those. That really makes a difference on the local, regional and national level for audiences.

Current: Are there other ways you plan to deepen NPR’s collaboration with member stations? 

Rodriguez: By getting to know my colleagues in all parts of the country [and] understanding what works for them, what their needs are and how we can get the kind of partnership that works beautifully for them and for NPR. Ultimately, it’s about serving the communities and the audiences out there with information that they continue to rely on and trust. 

As we see coverage in other areas and local newsrooms are struggling, our mission is to provide the kind of information that folks can rely on and decide on for themselves. We want to make sure we’re there as a network for local, regional, national and potentially international audiences. 

Current: You’ve talked about growing NPR’s audience by bringing in listeners who “haven’t had the chance to get hooked on NPR the way I did many, many years ago.” How do you plan to do that?

Rodriguez: Digital — whether it’s our website, our new app, podcasts or streaming radio. These are huge opportunities for NPR as part of the network for member stations. There are ways that we can reach audiences — listeners, readers and viewers — through digital means that just aren’t available to us in broadcast, as wonderful and as important as that work is. 

We are very much focused on growing connections, growing audiences and offering our journalism to millions more through these digital means. There are amazing tools that we are trying to take advantage of.

Current: Is there an aspect of NPR that’s unknown or underrated by listeners, readers and viewers?

Rodriguez: I can’t speak for how others perceive things. I know that there are many, many, many more people who we can reach. We can’t stand on a mountaintop and say, “Hey, y’all, we’re here. Here you go. Look at what we’re offering. If you appreciate this, there’s much more.” 

I do think we need to do a better job of both alerting folks to the serious work that we do here and how seriously we take that work on every major issue of the day.

Current: What are your metrics for the success of NPR’s news operation? 

Rodriguez: There are lots of metrics. I’d love to see increased audiences on all platforms. Broadcast in general, not just NPR, is a challenge because more and more people are choosing to get their news and information through digital. 

We still have our crown jewel programs like Morning Edition and All Things Considered. These are still the ways that the vast majority of people today listen to and consume NPR. We want to make sure that we continue to serve those folks while increasing our connections with new younger and more diverse audiences, through websites, through the app and through podcasts.

Current: What do you want to achieve at NPR?

Rodriguez: In a very big picture way, I want to  be part of setting us up for huge success in terms of connecting our journalism to millions and millions of people in this country who may not know about it, or may have a certain idea about it. 

They may think, “Oh, this isn’t for me.” I want to say, “Yes. This could be for you. Give us a chance.”  I think they will find us trustworthy, responsible, open minded and really dedicated to the craft of journalism, which is the highest level performed anywhere I’ve ever seen. 

Maybe 50 years from now, when we’re speaking with our grandchildren or great grandchildren, you will be able to see an evolution in how NPR is delivering our journalism and how people are consuming our journalism. But we’ll still recognize NPR as the organization that brings you serious news — with context and in a way that is authoritative. 

Correction: The original headline on this article mischaracterized Rodriguez’s role and has been corrected. Edith Chapin, SVP of news and editor in chief, is NPR’s chief editor, not Rodriguez. As VP and executive editor, Rodriguez reports to Chapin. 

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