No. 44 on the list of Stuff White People Like: Public Radio. Excerpt:
Craig loves Public Radio because it gave him an opportunity to download podcasts on his ipod Post #40. More important, was the fact that the download was free, because Public Radio is non profit Post #12. After Craig listens to people like Amy Goodman and David Sedaris Post#25, he feels like he is an expert Post#20 on the issues that they talk about like polygamy in third world or how awesome it is to watch an old lady pick apples. He brings up these topics to his bosses when they are having dinner or playing golf and next thing you know, he’s landed that promotion. All white people’s opinions are developed from Public Radio. So if you want to sound smart in front of White People, just bring up a topic that was discussed on Public Radio
Now if you truly want to understand White People I recommend listening to Episode 328 of This American Life, entitled “What I Learned from Television”. The episode was recorded in front of a live audience, and what is important here is not the content of the episode but rather the reaction from the audience. Listen to times when they laugh and when there is applause. Confusing? Yes it is! But we’re all here to figure out White People and somehow Public Radio has the answer.
I am a white person with strong SWPL tendencies, and I love public radio. I have been on All Things Considered a couple of times, and I’ve given money to public radio. Yet I recognize the truth in this satire. It all came to mind when a reader sent this priceless column from NPR’s ombudsman, reflecting on the unutterable shame of NPR’s audience poll of best YA novels of all time. Excerpt:
When NPR Books invited audience members to nominate and vote for their favorite Young Adult novels, more than 75,000 responded. The extraordinary outpouring speaks of the passion connecting the books section and its followers.
But in that response also lie the seeds of a defect, for lack of a better term, in the poll. The resulting “Your Favorites: 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels” included only two books whose protagonists are people of color, which critics called unjust. The two were Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street and Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. One of the four heroines in a third book, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, by Ann Brashares, is half Puerto Rican.
Even one of the selected authors reacted in dismay.
“This just might be the whitest YA list ever,” wrote Laurie Halse Anderson on her personal blog. Two of Anderson’s books, Speak and Wintergirls, made it on the list. Still, she wrote, “As lovely an honor as this is, it also made me sad. And angry and frustrated.”
The ombudsman adds:
The issue with NPR’s audience is that it skews white and mature. As I detailed last year in a report on diversity in NPR, roughly 87 percent of the radio audience was white, compared to 77 of the country’s over-18 population, according to NPR’s Audience, Insight and Research Department. African-Americans and Hispanics are particularly under-represented; Asian Americans are slightly over-represented, but they are a much smaller group.
While there is no profile of the 75,000 voters themselves, they surely reflect this overall audience to a great degree. It thus seems reasonable to me to assume that many of the voters merely selected the books they knew, loved and identified with when they were teens.
The poll result, in other words, was innocent, normal and natural. If still sad.
Why is it “sad”? Because NPR’s audience doesn’t “look like America”? That same ombudsman wrote an interesting analysis of diversity and the NPR audience, and found that NPR’s listenership is not so much divided on racial grounds as it is on education and income. When you control for that, the racial differences largely disappear. That is, NPR’s audience skews heavily to those who have college degrees, and strongly towards those who make money. The ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos, makes another interesting point here:
Indeed, I am also trying to follow how NPR is doing in covering the white working and middle class. My sense is that the national news media, of which NPR is part, has done a poor job in recent decades of covering this segment of Americans. The recent coverage of the Tea Party, which to some degree represents this group, has been mostly political, not social in character. I am a critic of some of Charles Murray’s earlier books, but feel that he is on to something in his latest, Coming Apart. His study uncovers a huge cultural chasm that has opened between poor and working class whites, on the one hand, and upper income and highly educated whites on the other. This latter group includes most national journalists.
That is absolutely the truth, and it’s true for almost every newsroom I’ve worked in. As I’ve said countless times, the concern most in the media have for “diversity” does not cover concern for class, religious, or cultural diversity. It’s all what educated, upper-income people think of as “diversity.”
I still fail to see why any of this is “sad.” Frustrating? Yes. Infuriating? It can be. Problematic? Sure. Challenging? No doubt.
But “sad”? Honestly, why is it sad when the overwhelmingly white audience for public radio selects Young Adult novels that are overwhelmingly about people like themselves? Would it be “sad” if a BET audience selected a list of authors that reflected their own tastes and experiences? To be “sad” at this datum, I think, is quintessentially SWPL (even though the writer who deployed that term is not W, but H, suggesting that the SWPL concept is not so much about whites, but about the educated bourgeoisie).
NPR’s own data indicate that if they really want to increase diversity in their coverage, they should report a lot more on what people outside their class bubble — white and otherwise — are doing. The problem is that there’s a deeply conservative sentiment within many newsrooms to doing this sort of thing. In one place I worked, most of our readers were older white people who lived in the suburbs and voted Republican. I had the feeling that most of my colleagues preferred to be writing for younger “diverse” liberals who lived downtown — precisely the people who didn’t buy our newspaper. You see the problem.
Another problem with that is that if NPR started programming meant to appeal to working-class listeners, they would drive many college-educated listeners (and donors) away. “Programming” is not the same thing as “covering in the news.” If you scheduled a public radio-friendly (that is, no cussin’) show called “The Blue Collar Comedy Tour Hour” — based on the hilarious Sirius XM radio channel — I doubt very seriously you would draw any new listeners to NPR, but you would alienate many of the ones you have. Similarly, whenever I’m driving around listening to NPR and one of its programs aimed at a minority audience — “Tell Me More,” say — comes on, I usually switch the channel out of boredom.