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With Hosting Changes, NPR Displays Commitment to Diversity

The network says it's still committed to broadcasting from the West Coast, too.
NPR's DC headquarters. Photograph by Stephen Voss/NPR.

NPR announced some major shifts on Thursday: Former Tell Me More host Michel Martin will become the host of All Things Considered‘s weekend program, and Kelly McEvers and Ari Shapiro will join Robert Siegel and Audie Cornish as hosts of the weekday All Things Considered, the network’s flagship evening news show.

There’s a fair amount for NPR-gazers to unpack here. For one: Production of Weekend All Things Considered will move back to DC. So what does this mean for NPR West, the 25,000-square-foot facility the network opened in Culver City, California, in 2002?

The weekend edition of All Things Considered moved to the facility in 2013 and was the only NPR News show produced exclusively on the Left Coast. One of the reasons for the move was to provide a backup production facility should something happen to NPR’s Washington headquarters—”September 11th made it apparent in a very urgent way that we need another facility that could keep NPR going if something devastating happens in Washington,” Jay Kernis, then the network’s senior vice president for programming, said at the time.

But NPR West was also supposed to stand as a bulwark against the East Coast orientation that NPR has been criticized for for decades. When Weekend All Things Considered moved west in 2013, Steve Leickteig, who until this announcement had been the program’s executive producer, told the Los Angeles Times the program’s new home “reflects America a lot more than Washington does.” NPR says Leickteig plans to resign in August with Weekend ATC leaving California.

Reached by phone, NPR vice president for programming and operations Christopher Turpin says there will be more, not less, production coming out of NPR West after these moves. McEvers will be based there, joining Morning Edition’s Renee Montagne, meaning the network’s biggest news shows will have permanent West Coast anchors. “We’re hopefully going to be bringing West Coast perspective” to more news, Turpin says.

Some current Weekend ATC staffers out west will have the opportunity to move with the show to DC–the network has been vague about what’s happening with current host Arun Rath—and Turpin says NPR will create jobs in the western facility to support the weekday All Things Considered. NPR will have jobs for everyone working on Weekend All Things Considered, he says. “We regard having a facility that’s outside of Washington that can help us tap into the West Coast as key.”

But perhaps the bigger story of these moves is buried in the news of the hosting changes. Carline Watson, who was executive producer of Tell Me More, will become the weekday executive producer of All Things Considered, and Kenya Young, who was a producer on Tell Me More, will become executive producer of Weekend ATC. Watson, Young and Martin are all African-American and stayed with NPR after it canceled Tell Me More last year.

That show was geared toward African-American listeners and the decision to bag it prompted much discussion about NPR’s commitment to diverse programming. NPR said at the time Watson and Martin would stay on as “part of an initiative to incorporate the kind of coverage of issues of race, identity, faith, gender and family that appear on the show,” David Folkenflik reported at the time.

NPR maintained Code Switch, a digitally focused “team of journalists fascinated by the overlapping themes of race, ethnicity and culture.” (Incidentally, two-thirds of that Code Switch’s radio reporting team is based at NPR West, Turpin says.) Now two of the four producers of its biggest news programs will be African-American, as will the host of Weekend All Things Considered. “I hope that makes a statement about how we feel about diversity,” Turpin says. (That said, Rath is Indian-American.)

Cornish is African-American as well, and Shapiro, who will return to DC from London to take up his All Things Considered hosting duties, is gay. That leaves Siegel as the only straight white dude delivering the news on ATC.

Correction: This post originally said two-thirds of Code Switch’s entire team is based at NPR West. That figure referred to its radio reporting staff.

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Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.