Michel Martin is host of NPR's Tell Me More.
After the program I am headed to New York to check on family and to attend the Edward R. Murrow awards ceremony where I am very honored to be receiving an award for, of all things, my “Can I Just Tell You?” commentaries. Can I just tell you, how weird that is? (NOT that I am not grateful and humbled and all that. I am and I am and I am.) It’s just that opinion is not a side of the business I ever thought I would be in. I have always thought of myself first as a reporter, a digger, a correspondent, a person who goes out and tells other people’s stories, not my own.
And it’s also interesting to me because it comes at a time when many people who appreciate NPR tell us they appreciate this network in part because we are fact-driven and not opinion driven, in the way that a number of other outlets so obviously are these days. Obviously, judgment is always going to play a role, and judgment can look a lot like opinion, but it is not the same thing.
A better way to put it is that we try to be guided by a balance between what we think is most useful to the most people we know are out there and to balance it with stories that we think might be of interest or useful, even if everyone does not, at first glance, agree. Judgment has to play a role. If for no other reason that resources, time and attention are limited. We are never going to satisfy everyone. But that is different from being led by what is most useful to a “side” or what reinforces an existing ideological predisposition.
Anyway, opinion…. It occurred to me that I am back to the future in a way. I had not thought about this in a while but as I was thinking about the awards tonight and I remembered that when I was in college I almost exclusively wrote op-eds for the college newspaper. Why? Because I had to work so many hours at my off-campus/work-study jobs to make enough money to stay in school that I could not afford the time to go out on stories. But I really wanted to write for the paper. So I would dig around for things to write about when I was on my way to or from those off-campus jobs; or on my lunch hour, if I had one. And then I would write my pieces very late at night (OK, I’ll admit it, very, very late at night) when I had finished my homework – kind of like I do now except that now I usually start writing after the kids are asleep.
Thank goodness for editors, in this case Alicia Montgomery, Luis Clemens and Kyle McKinnon. And Teshima Walker, who gives it a read from time to time.
So I share this award with them as well; and the folks who work with NPR Digital, like Lee Hill and Ellen Silva, who give it the play it gets on the NPR homepage and have helped make the commentaries one of our most popular features.
Although you won’t be up there with me, you share the award, as well.
But, no, I am not bringing you back any dessert. Sorry.