December 10, 2021
Current, a nonprofit news organization covering public media in the U.S for professionals in the industry, recently shared an excerpt of Christopher Chávez‘s The Sound of Exclusion: NPR and the Latinx Public.
The Sound of Exclusion examines how National Public Radio conceptualizes the Latinx listener, arguing that NPR employs a number of industry practices that secure its position as a white public space while relegating Latinx listeners to the periphery. These practices are tied to a larger cultural logic. Latinx identity is differentiated from national identity, which can be heard through NPR’s cultivation of an idealized dialect, situating whiteness at its center. Pushing Latinx listeners to the edges of public radio has crucial implications for Latinx participation in civic discourses, as identifying who to include in the “public” audience necessarily involves a process of exclusion.
Here’s part of the excerpt from Current:
When I spoke with NPR’s Bill Siemering about how the network originally conceived of its listener, he affirmed that NPR was initially designed to serve ethnically diverse audiences. However, Siemering’s conception of diversity was centered primarily on Black and Indigenous communities. This orientation came largely from his own professional experiences. Siemering had previously served as general manager of college radio station WBFO-FM in Buffalo. There, he spent his first years at the station learning about the local community, conducting interviews with the African American community, which were used to develop a series called To Be Negro. Siemering also worked with Indigenous communities living at nearby Niagara Falls to produce a series of programs on the Iroquois Confederacy called Nation Within a Nation.
Siemering admitted that Latinxs were not much of a consideration when he wrote his mission statement, stating, “At that time, there wasn’t much awareness about Latinos.” This is to be expected. In 1970, when the network first aired, Latinxs accounted for only 4.5 percent of the total U.S. population.1 But when I asked Siemering how a single network was meant to appeal to the broad spectrum of the nation, he stated that a unifying trait of NPR’s audience is curiosity. “Being curious is very important,” Siemering told me. “That cuts across all divides.”
The notion of curiosity has been a defining characteristic of the NPR audience over the course of its history and is reflected in the marketing materials NPR uses to sell its audiences to corporate underwriters. For example, NPR markets a number of products under its “Curious Listener” series, which educates listeners on how to appreciate music and culture. However, Siemering was firm in his belief that NPR should not consider the economic value of its listeners to be its paramount consideration. When we spoke, he read aloud a sentence in the mission statement that he felt was particularly important: “NPR would not regard its audience as a market.” Yet, this is exactly how the network regards the listener. The research conducted by Audience Research Analysis was designed to cultivate a listening audience that would support the network financially. This strategy has, in turn, informed how NPR conceives of, and pursues, its ideal Latinx listener.
Read the entire excerpt here.