NPR launching new diversity initiative with $1.5 million from CPB


The Corporation for Public Broadcasting has granted NPR $1.5 million to help launch a "major journalism initiative to deepen coverage of race, ethnicity and culture, and to capture the issues that define an increasingly diverse America." The team will be assembled this autumn, NPR and CPB announced at UNITY's annual convention Thursday.

The project will be overseen by Ellen McDonnell, NPR's executive editor of news programming. An NPR spokesperson says the project team will be comprised of six people, including correspondent Karen Grigsby Bates (already on the diversity beat at NPR) and an editor, Luis Clemens. On Thursday, NPR posted four job openings related to the new project, advertising for a correspondent/blogger, a news reporter, an apprentice reporter and an apprentice journalist. Matt Thompson, a former member of Poynter's National Advisory Board and the project manager for NPR's Project Argo, will manage the buildout of the digital platform for this project, too.

The $1.5 million is to be spent over two years. After covering the cost of six people, I asked, what would the news org do with the rest of the budget. NPR senior vice president Dana Davis Rehm said, "I think the budget is fairly lean, really," with salaries and travel expenses eating up the grant fairly quickly.

This past April, NPR Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos wrote about diversity on NPR's staff, which he judged to be "significantly better than the industry averages in radio, television and newspapers." The press release for this diversity initiative says it's "part of a multi-year strategic imperative: to ensure that NPR 'looks and sounds like America on air and online.' ”

In Schumacher-Matos' post, he wrote about NPR's audience, too, and noted 45 percent of its listeners have household incomes over $100,000. Among that group, racial differences weren't all that stark:

Asians in this category actually out-index whites. Nine percent of these wealthier college educated Asians listen to NPR, compared to less than 8 percent of whites. The percentage among Latinos is close behind at slightly more than 6 percent, followed by African-Americans at 5 percent.

Rehm points out that "30 percent of public radio listeners don't have a job at all." She says that the network does "index high" on income, but "it'd be wrong to conclude that's the composition of the public radio audience."

In the release, Keith Woods, NPR's vice president for diversity and Poynter's former dean, said the organization is "tackling diversity across a large swath of differences that include class, gender, ideology, sexual orientation, faith and, with this effort, race, ethnicity and culture.”

Asked whether class would be a focus of this project, Rehm said "It'd be fair to say it's not a specific target that we've laid out, but the whole effort here is about inclusion."

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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