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All Things Considered

Jenn White Takes Over As Host of NPR's '1A'

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Public radio veteran Jenn White is the new host of NPR's nationally syndicated talk show 1A. White comes to 1A from WBEZ studios in Chicago, where she hosts the critically acclaimed podcasts Making Oprah and Making Obama.

She joined NHPR’s All Things Considered host Peter Biello to talk about her new role as host of 1A.

(Below is a lightly edited transcript of the interview.)

So I'd like to give our audience a chance to get to know you a little bit. Can you tell us how you got started in public radio?
 
Well, I have to go all the way back to when I was 16 years old. My sister, Dana, we were driving somewhere and she said, “There’s this show you've got hear. It's these two guys. They're crazy, but they're really smart and they know a lot about cars.” And she introduced me to Car Talk. And that was my entry into public radio. So I started listening to car talk and eventually expanded my listening out from there and started working in public radio in 1999. I started off, strangely enough, on the fundraising side, but eventually was able to make a turn into the newsroom, which was where I really wanted to be.
 
Well, tell us a little bit about 1A. What appeals to you about 1A? What makes it different from other radio talk shows?

I love 1A because it really centers listener voices in the conversation. There's so many ways for people to engage with us, to engage with our guests. You know, by tweeting at us, or leaving a message on Facebook, or texting us, or leaving a voice memo through our Vox Pop app. And, you know, it just gives us a chance to hear from people across the country to hear their perspectives and to present a conversation that's reflective of the conversation the nation is having right now.

So let's talk about what it means to take over 1A at this particular moment in history when we're having a national conversation about race to the backdrop of a pandemic. What is it mean to have this conversation right now?

It's difficult to express how important it is to have this conversation at all, because I'm seeing people engage in this conversation in ways I've never I've never seen before. On my previous show in Chicago, we'd started doing a lot of conversations about these gaps, these equity gaps, gaps in health outcomes and gaps in access to housing. And so, you know, having these conversations at a time when so many people are feeling the impacts of the pandemic, of financial difficulties, you know, it just feels like there's an opportunity right now to engage more people in a conversation.

What is the role of impartiality for journalists? Right now, it's getting increasingly difficult to stand on the sidelines and objectively observe. But sometimes that's where the host has to be, the host has to be at the head of the table making space for everybody. Where do you stand on that?

So I think we have to be careful because there are certain things I'm not going to argue about. Science, for instance, being one of them, if health experts and infectious disease experts are saying wearing a mask helps protect us from the spread of COVID-19. What I think is important is to center the science and what we're hearing from experts. What I think is irresponsible is to give equal weight to conspiracy theories about masks. I think we have to acknowledge and respect the truth that we that we know do the things that we know to be true.

We're broadcasting 1A in New Hampshire, which is a mostly white state, one of the whitest states in the country. We're trying here at NHPR to be better representative with the voices that we bring to the airwaves. I wanted to ask you if you could talk a little bit about how important diversity is in the conversations you'll be having on 1A.

It's essential. It's essential. And I think we as a team production team, and I'm sure your station is grappling with this as well. You have to be deliberate. It's so easy, in the daily grind of producing news to reach for the familiar sources, to reach for the people who you've always reached for. But oftentimes that that leaves us with a group that is not necessarily representative of the nation. And so we take a deliberate approach to make. Ensure that we are talking to a broad range of people, and again, this is a place where listeners come in and really trying to bring more listener voices to the table and include them in the conversation. We get a wider swath of diversity on the show altogether just by leaning into that. But when it comes to sourcing guests, you know, paying attention. I'm doing really critical self-assessments about whether or not we're reaching for the people who are familiar or we're really trying to bring new and diverse voices to the table. But it has to be a deliberate and thoughtful approach to that work.

You can hear Jenn White host 1A starting on Monday, July 6.