In both its spoken and written forms, the English language is constantly evolving. Grammar - the system and structure that underpin communications - and linguistics - the science of its study - can help us make sense of these shifts and changes. We talk with experts in each field about the quirks, foibles, understanding and glory of the written and spoken word.
New leadership is coming to NPR for the fifth time in as many years. Nationally syndicated ‘Tell Me More’ is coming to an end this summer after a six-year run, raising anew questions about space for diverse voices on the network. And some member stations are entering into the debate over whether to continue saying ‘Redskins’ when referring to Washington’s football team. We talk about these issues, and others, with NPR’s Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos.
- Edward Schumacher-Matos Ombudsman, NPR
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's a debate that's been ringing out in front of big screen televisions inside the halls of Congress and on every kind of social media under the sun. Washington's professional football team is under increasing pressure to change the name it's used for decades, Redskins.
MR. KOJO NNAMDISome in the news media are part of the effort in one way or another to force the name to change the name, a racial slur for Native Americans, either because they now refuse to print it or say it on the air or because they're making explicit and direct calls to action. But where does this leave public media organizations like the one you're listening to whose listeners expect to report the facts of stories, not to express opinions about them?
MR. KOJO NNAMDINPR's ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos is here to untangle some of the journalistic challenges this debate presents. And as the representative for listeners across the country, he's also here to dive into concerns about the diversity of voices in public radio and much more. He joins us from NPR studios in New York. He's also a lecturer at the Columbia Journalism School. Edward Schumacher-Matos, welcome. Thank you for joining us.
MR. EDWARD SCHUMACHER-MATOSHi, Kojo. Good to be here.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call, 800-433-8850. If you have questions or comments for the NPR ombudsman, 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Edward, during the past few weeks, dozens of members of Congress have called on the Redskins to change their name. Story's been boiling over for months. You wrote in March about the challenges it's presenting to news organizations who cover it. You said your initial instinct was to side with those who feel journalists are honor-bound to report the facts. But then you found it wasn't that simple. Why?
SCHUMACHER-MATOSYou know, the more I kept looking at the issue, the more I began seeing that they're real moral concerns here. And they're real concerns about the impact of this word on -- it has on Native American children across the children. You know, the first reaction that I think many of us have is, oh, no, this is more political correctness. Come on, it's just the name of a football team. It's been called that for so long. You know, what harm can there be? It doesn't mean anything, so forth, and so on. That's for the name of the team.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSAnd then if you're the media organization covering it, well, it is the name of the team, and you have to report the facts. And so how do you get around that? So, you know, that presents a whole separate series of issues, particularly if you're a public media organization. So -- but the more I looked at it, the more I began seeing, you know, words change meaning over time. So one thing is what the word means to Americans in general, and the other thing's what the word means to Native Americans. We don't have good measures of just what it means to Native Americans.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSBut, you know, without a doubt, it's a slur. And more and more Native Americans -- and particularly all their leaders are complaining about it, and they've made a very, very strong case now that they have more money themselves to be able to argue their case that, you know, wait a minute, why are we your mascot? Why are we, you know, your -- well, you know, why are you using us in ways that we don't want to be used? I mean, who are you to do that to us? And so that presents real moral issues.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSAnd so are we, as a media organization, furthering what the team is doing, you know, right or wrong? Are we contributing to this? You know, are we ourselves having an impact on Native Americans across the country feeling stigmatized by this kind of a language and feeling insulted? And so, you know, it puts it in a very difficult position. And my final recommendation was that we need to start pulling back from using that word.
NNAMDIUltimately, you came to the conclusion that the name should be avoided in Web headlines. That was a measure of pulling back. What's different about Web headlines?
SCHUMACHER-MATOSIt's -- you know, I don't know that we're at the point yet that we become almost an advocate by saying we are no longer going to use this word, period. However, we are caught in this situation -- and now I'm still speaking as if I were the public media. We are caught in this situation of a word that's in flux, of a very controversial word, a word that can be taken in different ways. We should, you know, begin to pull back from the use of this word as we continue to study this issue. There is enough good arguments out there that says it -- this does genuinely present a problem, an insult for Native Americans. Let us pull back.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSAnd if Native Americans come around -- and there's a possibility they could come around, say, oh, no, we don't, you know, Native American public opinion comes back and says, no, we don't agree with our leaders, and that's just the advocates talking. We don't mind the word at all. And we can get into this later, Kojo, if you want about indications that suggest that, you know, there are opposite opinions inside the Native American community. But, you know, until, you know, the air is cleared, we should err on the side of not insulting people. And...
NNAMDIWell, two issues about that. I just read a report in, I guess, either The Washington Post or The New York Times today about the United Church of Christ considering whether its 22,000 members should boycott the Redskin's games. And they heard from the organization which presented a number of Native Americans to the leadership of that church who said they did not feel insulted by the name, so that can take us where you indicated that this conversation could go.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSRight. Right. I mean, I -- the way I see it, I think that, you know, to me, the trends are clear. But, you know, this is, you know, me, the ombudsman talking, me, you know, Edward Schumacher-Matos talking as I see it. You know, I just think that the team is going to have to change its name and will change its name the next 10 to 20 years, that you just see the pressure growing. You just know that, you know, this big statement that came out of all these -- out of Congress signed by so many...
SCHUMACHER-MATOS...Congress people. And, you know, more and more churches are standing up to speak against this. And you just see the campaign growing, and you just, you know, you've seen it happen with African-Americans. You've seen it happen with Latinos. And, you know, Native Americans are finally getting to have a strong public voice, and they deserve to have it. So I -- you know, I think the writing's on the wall for the name.
NNAMDIWhat kind of situation do you think it would take for a network like NPR to put -- quoting here, "put a moral stake in the ground" and take a more forceful side in the debate? Exactly when does one know when that moment has arrived?
SCHUMACHER-MATOSI'm trying to write a piece on just that point, Kojo. And...
SCHUMACHER-MATOSAnd I'm hoping maybe you can tell you me just when that point arrives.
NNAMDII don't know. It's clearly become a point when public opinion has become so overwhelming that it becomes appropriate to do that. But finding out exactly when that point is or trying to predict when it will arrive, I know that's very difficult. Allow me to go to Daniel in Rockville, Md. Daniel, you're on the air. I know you want to comment on this issue. Go ahead, please.
DANIELHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. I'm Jewish. I've been living here. And a lot of my friends are Native American. They are really upset about this name, and not all of them, of course. Not everybody's going to be offended. But the ones that are offended raise the point to me that so many of my peers -- and I've had to look at this and see that it's true. So many of my peers don't think of this name as a slur. They just think of it as a football team name, and it's not a big deal. So this is a very important discussion. I just wanted to say thank you.
NNAMDIWell, I've got to say, 25 years ago, most of us thought about it in exactly the same way. But as Edward has been pointing out, these things evolve. And it certainly seems to be evolving in the direction of an increasing number of people -- Native Americans and people at large who think that the name is inappropriate. Edward?
SCHUMACHER-MATOSYes. One of the problems we have is we don't have any really good scientific measures of Native American public opinion. There's only been one poll done. It was one question done back in the '90s as part of this big omnibus poll done every four years by the Annenberg Center at the University of Pennsylvania on politics in the country.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSAnd in that question and that poll, some 95 percent of Native Americans, you know, responded that they weren't, you know, that they had other things that are more important to worry about, that they didn't really care so much about this issue. You could argue about the wording on the question. You could say that this was still a long time ago.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSSo this was before maybe Native Americans were sensitive to the impact of the word on the community in the same way that African-Americans for the longest time, you know, said, oh, I don't care if you call me colored, or I don't care if you call me these other sorts of names. I have other bigger issues, you know. Or you just become so stigmatized yourself that you just accept it. You accept your position in life kind of a thing until somebody suddenly says, now, wait a minute, we've got to stand up and be proud. And you say, yeah, by God, we do. And so, you know, at that point, the opinion really changes as it happened in the African-American community.
NNAMDII guess I should mention that there have been polls in the Washington area where, of course, the team's fan base is in which 66 percent of people favored keeping the name, and 28 percent oppose. But that's a shifting line. I'd like to move on, however. While we're talking about the language journalists chose to use and not use in stories, what is your sense for how the same group of issues played into the decisions that news organizations make by choosing the phrase Obamacare to refer to the Affordable Care Act? Something else you've written on.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSYes. You know, originally it was a, you know, a way to be sarcastic about the, you know, the administration's healthcare, about universal healthcare, and it was a way to -- the Affordable Care Act. And it was a way to dismiss it and criticize it and so forth. And then the administration began to take on the word itself, you know, and even the president began calling it, you know, Obamacare as a way to try and change the meaning of the word as if it were something that we're embracing.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSAnd then now, you know, the administration stopped doing that. But it's become so widely used that it's lost its sting, I think. I still don't think it's accurate or correct to use it, but you do see its meaning changing, and it's being acceptable by people who actually support the Affordable Care Act.
NNAMDIWho do you feel is equipped best to make those decisions about whether or not a word has or has not grown past negative associations, words like Obamacare? Where do you feel that process is best decided within a news organization?
SCHUMACHER-MATOSYou know, I think the editors have to do that, and oftentimes you can poll your own reporters. It's just one of those subjective decisions you try to make the best you can. There's just no good way of doing this. You'll stick your finger in the air to try to see, you know, which way the wind's blowing on a particular word. What does it mean? What does it doesn't mean in the current usage of society? And at some point, you make the decision. And -- but you do have to do it cautiously. I don't think you change every word just because somebody complains. But, you know, that's why the editors get paid the big bucks.
NNAMDIOn to another issue with Paul in Arlington, Va. Paul, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PAULYes. I was wondering, in your work as an ombudsman, what kind of complaints do you get from listeners about the pronunciation of foreign words and names on NPR?
SCHUMACHER-MATOSWe get them all the time. I'm sure Kojo can speak to this being on the air. And there's a tremendous effort. I wish you guys could see what goes on behind the scene sometimes of email sent all the way around, telling people how to pronounce somebody's name. The same just happened the last couple of days with the death Maya Angelou. And a big debate about how does she pronounce her name. And finally they actually took a recording of her speaking on air, her introducing herself, and using the way she pronounced her name was the way everybody was supposed to pronounce her name.
NNAMDIThat's how those decisions are made. Paul, why? What is your observation about this?
PAULWell, I have a few little complaints of my own. I guess since you've asked me I might as well say what they are. One is that 25 years after broadcast journalists invented the phony pronunciation of Beijing, instead of the correct Beijing, many journalists, including NPR ones are still saying Beijing. Another thing is, again, 25 years after the phony pronunciation Tiananmen Square was invented, people are still saying that, even though occasionally you hear the correct Tiananmen Square.
PAULBut 90 percent of the time it's Tiananmen Square. And also I'm bothered by NPR journalist who throw on 100 percent authentic Spanish accent in order to pronounce their own Spanish language name or some other Spanish name or word, when they would never extend that courtesy to other languages. So those are some of my complaints.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSSo do you think they should or should not use that correct Spanish accent?
PAULI think that in pronouncing foreign names it makes sense to adapt the pronunciation to English, regardless of what language because if you insist on 100 percent authentic pronunciation, it's an impossible task. I mean would you seriously require NPR journalists to pronounce Chinese names with the proper tones, for example? And that's just Mandarin, which only has four tones. Cantonese I believe has nine. Would you require, that in speaking about a Chinese person with a southern Chinese background, they do a correct Cantonese accent with the nine tones?
NNAMDIBut which brings me back to your original criticism, Paul, the distinction between Beijing and Beijing.
PAULYes. There's no such consonant as "zha" in Mandarin Chinese. That was purely invented by broadcasters.
NNAMDIBut we are following your advice and trying to pronounce it in English.
PAULBut Beijing is just as English as Beijing is.
PAULIt's like, you know, it's like "Jingle Bells" or "By jingo and by jolly," Beijing is very easy -- it's actually easier to pronounce Beijing than it is to pronounce to Beijing.
NNAMDIWell, you can see the dilemma that confronts both broadcast journalists and Edward Schumacher-Matos on issues like this. In a lot of…
SCHUMACHER-MATOSYou make a really good point, though, about Beijing. I must admit.
NNAMDIYes. Thank you very much for making that point. We're going to take a short break. Our guest is Edward Schumacher-Matos. He is the ombudsman for NPR, the public's representative, serving as an independent source of information, explanation and amplification and analysis for the public regarding NPR's programming. If you have questions or comments for him, give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send email to email@example.com or shoot us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Edward Schumacher-Matos joins us from NPR studios in New York. He is the ombudsman for NPR. We're taking your calls, if you have questions or comments for him, at 800-433-8850. Let's talk about diversity and public radio for a minute. A lot of people were alarmed when NPR recently announced plans to cancel, "Tell Me More," a program with a black host, designed to improve the diversity of voices and stories people hear on NPR. Here is Cassandra, in Silver Spring, Md. Cassandra, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CASSANDRAHi. Mr. Schumacher-Matos, Kojo has summarized my concern. So let me see if I can put it to you in another way. You have a program that has a diversity of topics, they're current, a diversity of voices, especially women's voices, and you have the outstanding journalist Michel Martin handling the questions, the commentary, the conclusions and reaching an audience such as myself that normally would not make it a point to tune into National Public Radio during the day.
CASSANDRAAside from ratings and money issues, can you give me some convincing arguments for why this program has been removed from your roster and why Michel Martin has been relegated to an Ann Curry-type of position, of showing up occasionally and offering her gifts to the listening audience?
NNAMDIThe key to this, before Edward Schumacher-Matos answers, Cassandra, is why would not normally listen to NPR during the day?
CASSANDRAElder care responsibilities and also work.
NNAMDIBut are there other stations that you would listen to during the day?
NNAMDIOkay. Well, here he is.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSWell, you're listening to "Kojo Show," I hope…
NNAMDII hope so.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS…with frequency, and not just today. You know, you raise a good issue. I was very sorry to see the cancelation of "Tell Me More," because I was a big fan of the show. Not just for diversity reasons, but just for straight journalism reasons. They had wonderful discussions on there. And in depth discussions. I found so many of the best discussions that you could find inside NPR, where they really explored issues with experts from different points of view, were precisely on "Tell Me More."
SCHUMACHER-MATOSIt was a great, great show for -- in that sense. Now, I can't -- I don't speak for management at NPR. And so I'm -- it's not my place to defend what they did or even really to criticize it in the sense of it was a management decision. They, you know, what I'm concerned about is what appears -- what you hear on the air or read on the website, you know, is it fair, is it accurate, do you have the diverse voices and that type of a thing.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSYou know, will they now, after the cancellation of this show, be able to have the kind of diversity that they want? I can say that -- and I hope I get this right -- in the arguments for canceling the show is that there has been a, you know, that we're seeing a shift to the growth of the online site. It's almost as big as the -- in terms of audience -- as the radio site. And there you have a great effort with things like Michele Norris' race card project.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSAnd other sites on there that are very geared towards diversity issues that are growing. And growing rapidly. And so, as you take your limited resources, where do you put your money? Should NPR be doing the midday shows? Or should Kojo and WAMU be doing the midday talk shows? This is a, you know, a big issue that NPR has had, as it decides how it's going to do its programming.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSI certainly hope that on air they have the diverse voices, as you -- like you say, not just diverse racial voices, but also gender voices and more women and the like. And that they do fulfill that promise. And I know that they make -- I know that they really want to and I know they try to. I know they really care about it. And the news room is ever more diverse. But let me add to that, again, that you do have the great online effort that is growing in this area.
NNAMDIThe new CEO taking the helm at NPR, Jarl Mohn, has said so much in the past public radio has struggled with diversity. I'd like to add that it's radio that has struggled with diversity in the past in general because the tradition of radio is different to the tradition of television. Radio has always been kind of been divided along racial and ethnic lines.
NNAMDIBut the debate right now seems to be, do you feel programming specifically designed with the goal of attracting African American or other audiences should be part of the solution or is it a matter of incorporating more voices and more storytelling into the everyday business of what goes out over the air?
SCHUMACHER-MATOSI think that you need to incorporate more voices into the everyday that goes out over the air because we are one nation and you want to have all those voices there. Sometimes, as a practical matter, you have the issue of if you're going to the leading experts, if you're going to the heads of the companies, if you're going to the, you know, the congressmen and the senators, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, you still have a disproportionate number of male whites, you know, at that level. Now, that's all changing very rapidly, as we know.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSAs a news media we have a responsibility to reflect the entire country, but we also, you know, you do go to the people who have the most influences to hear their voices, and so that then ends up having a little bit of a bias towards the white male. But that's changing so fast. And I just see a great consciousness about this. Now, you know, I've done some big studies on NPR's diversity, both in the newsroom and in their coverage, the voices on air and that type of a thing.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSAnd I am Latino and if I can say that the one major ethnic group that's been short drift was the Latino one. I don't say that because I'm Latino, I promise you. But they're under-represented in the newsroom, whereas African Americans I see over-represented in the newsroom, but you can argue that's because, you know, NPR's headquarters are in, you know, Washington, D.C.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSSo if you look at it at Washington, D.C., population, it's under-represented. So, you know, there are lots of different ways to slice and dice this thing. The real important thing is that you just get those voices on the air, I think.
NNAMDICassandra, thank you very much for your call. I'm glad you mentioned Washington, D.C., because in terms of the content of the stories are pursuing, there's more pressure than ever to get people's attention, to draw eyeballs, ears.
NNAMDIYou wrote last fall about the obsession with panda stories in Washington, D.C.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSYes. There's a regional bias at NPR. This is totally different from gender and race and ethnicity. You know, we get a lot of complaints from the middle of the country, people saying you guys just cover the Coast. You don't care about the rest of the country. And the -- so I, you know, really broke down all the coverage over four or five years by region, by state. And there was some truth to it, the complaint. Not totally.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSAgain, it depends upon if you weighted it demographically by population, it wasn't too far out of whack. But yes, there is a bias more towards the Coast. The audience is more on the Coast. If you look at it, you know, audience-wise, it kind of reflects the audience. And the one state that got the biggest short drift was Texas, in terms of the number of Texas stories in comparison to its demographic weight in the country just its political importance.
NNAMDIOnto Nick, in Fairfax, Va. Nick, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NICKYeah, I was wondering if you -- kind of getting back to the earlier conversation about the different phrases. I was wondering if you guys could comment about the terms global warming and climate change because I've heard a lot of people -- mostly from the far right -- kind of criticize the media for -- well, I've heard the accusation that the media sort of switched to climate change from global warming.
NICKAnd I heard the accusation made that that happened after this last record cold winter, which I don't personally believe that. But I was wondering if you could comment about those two terms and how they're being used in the media.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSSure, I'd be -- I wouldn't be surprised you've dealt with this on your show before, Kojo, this question, because it's a long-standing one. The switch to climate change was much older than just, you know, the stuff in the last year. And that's because it's a more accurate term about what's going on. Because while there is an overall trend towards global warming -- that's undeniable -- the climate change better captures the fact that in that change is much more extremes up and downs, including extreme colds that'll happen.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSIt's all part of the instability that we're seeing. And you see, you know, extreme weather events and so forth. And so climate change is a more neutral kind of a word that captures everything that's going on. It's not that global warming is inaccurate. It's just that climate change is more neutral and more accurate.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Nick. Our guest is Edward Schumacher-Matos. He is the ombudsman for NPR. He's also a lecturer at Columbia Journalism School. He joins us from NPR studios in New York. I wanted to get back to the issue of news organizations covering stories like Panda-monium here and what they risk. How do you think things have changed in the digital world when it comes to this dynamic?
NNAMDI"Buzz Feed" proved to everyone just how much internet traffic you can collect, by simply posting photo galleries and cats. And, of course, everybody's trying to drive more traffic to their website, even as we try to increase listeners.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSYou know, "Buzz Feed," interestingly enough, is now trying to build up respectability by doing better and better journalism, real journalism and not just those crazy photos of theirs. But those are, you know, they're audience drivers without a doubt. You know, people like that for the fun of it, but in terms of respect for what you do and the news you produce and the influence you want to have, then you really want to have real news, not just that stuff.
NNAMDIOn -- go ahead.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSGoing back to your panda-monium thing, though…
SCHUMACHER-MATOS…that, you know -- and the regional bias, you know, the biggest, needless to say, because NPR's headquarters are in Washington, more stories come out of Washington than any other place. But if you separate out the political stories, the national stories covering the Congress and so forth -- which are national stories. They're not Washington stories. Right. I mean, Washington, D.C. stories, Washington, that you're, you know, you're feeding every day, Kojo.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSThen the bias is much less in terms of Washington stories. But there is still a thing of, you know, wherever your reporters are they've got to do a story and they want to run out and get some people and talk to some people real fast. You know, if you're based in a certain city, then you run out and talk to somebody there, just out of a matter of convenience. And that's, you know, that's a shame. And so that's one of the reasons why NPR has built up, again, NPR West, and its offices in California, to get more and more voices from the West Coast.
NNAMDIIn trying to build audience, both the network and the affiliate stations are trying harder than ever to make sure that audiences tuning in at different times and through different platforms are reached by the content that they're excited about. Sometimes this means the same piece gets re-aired weeks later than it first aired. What do you make of this radio deja vu that some listeners feel that they're experiencing?
SCHUMACHER-MATOSThis is an interesting issue. And we had some -- I've got some complaints on that. And some people say, "Oh, you're short-shifting us by using the same story again." And other people say, "Oh, wait, you know, I don't usually listen at the hour when that original show ran," and so -- or that original piece ran, and that you re-run it at a different time, you pick up a different audience. And it's a great piece. And so why not try to spread it across the audience. That's a management issue more than an ombudsman issue.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSIf enough listeners feel insulted by it then I'm sure NPR will stop it, but, you know, at the moment it seems to be more of a spreading of the wealth to different parts of the market, different parts of the audience.
NNAMDIHere's Diane, in Falls Church, Va. Diane, your turn.
DIANEYes. Oh, this is a grammatically mistake that I hear more and more on NPR and I've even seen in some esteemed columnists in the Washington Post. If something is majorly important you should say, "You can't overestimate it." Or "You shouldn't underestimate it." But you can't reverse those. And so often they say, "You shouldn't overestimate it." And it's just wrong. And they just -- people need to get that straight. "You can't overestimate," or "you shouldn't underestimate." Thank you
SCHUMACHER-MATOSI'm going to go look and see if I made that mistake now.
NNAMDIMe, too. Me, too. Thank you -- thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDIAnd Michael, in Silver Spring, Md., has a question, I guess, for and about you, Edward. Michael, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MICHAELThank you, Kojo. My name is Michael Tanessey. I'm from Guiana.
NNAMDIMichael Tanessey. I know Paul Tanessey.
MICHAELYeah, Paul is my nephew.
NNAMDISee, I know all the Tanesseys.
MICHAELOr my first cousin's son. So that's -- anyway.
NNAMDIThere you go (unintelligible).
MICHAELI would like to ask the ombudsman if it was he who said he's a Latino. If I may ask him where he was born?
MICHAELBecause Latinos and Latinas come only from the Latin American continent. And it is so called because all of the five spoken languages there have the roots in the Latin language, Latin derivative. You couldn't bring a guy from Spain who speaks Spanish and call him a Latino. He's a Spaniard. Similarly, Puerto Ricans are Puerto Ricans, Mexicans are Mexicans, Central Americans, that's what they are.
MICHAELHonduran, Panamanian, Costa Rican and so forth.
MICHAELI, even though I speak English, my native language, I am a Latino, bona fide Latino.
NNAMDIAnd Michael, if you ever wanted anyone to verify for you that you are Tanessey, I can verify it because your nephew Paul makes very similar kinds of arguments. Here's Edward Schumacher-Matos.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSYou make a good argument and you're right, and this goes round and round and round. I mean, you're right and you're not right, if I may say so. You know, polls of Latinos or Hispanics or call them what you will, you know, people of Hispanic descent living in the United States, show that first, they prefer to be called by wherever their home country is. I'm Mexican-American, I'm Nicaraguan-American, whatever it may be.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSSecondly, they actually prefer the word Hispanic over Latino. But Latino is the word most used by people who are very involved in public affairs and very, you know, politically active and that type of thing. You're true that the word Latin America actually comes -- was actually pushed by the French when they were in Haiti and trying to establish their own foot in Latin America. And so they are the ones who really pushed that concept of Latin America. If you go to Spain or Portugal today, they call it Ibero-America. There's no real one right answer, real one solution to this. I think all these terms are correct.
NNAMDIGonna take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Edward Schumacher-Matos. He is the ombudsman for NPR, the public's representative there. He joins us from NPR studios in New York. If you have a comment or question for us, 800-433-8850. Are you satisfied with the diversity of the voices you hear on NPR? Why or why not? If the lines are busy, send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or a tweet at kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Edward Schumacher-Matos, he is the ombudsman for NPR, the public's representative with the network. He joins us from NPR studios in New York where he's also a lecturer at the Columbia Journalism School. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. Edward, any frequent NPR listeners used to hearing this on his or her member station.
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NNAMDIWhat do the listeners you come into contact with tell you about what they hear in these spots other than, well, they hear them a lot, every hour, every day?
SCHUMACHER-MATOSWell they don't hear it that much, which is one of the great benefits of public radio, right?
SCHUMACHER-MATOSThat you don't get overwhelmed by commercials and advertising. But yes, you know, we do get complaints from time to time on who is a sponsor. The biggest one I normally get is, you know, the Natural Gas Association is a big sponsor of NPR, and so all the people against fracking complain about that a lot, and a group of them have come in to see me and I've listened to them and so forth. My own view in general is that, you know, that we just have to -- on the one hand, we do not want to be overwhelmed by advertising on public radio, and mess up the whole concept of public radio.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSAnd we want to keep it limited and so we don't look that there's this big tie in any kind of commercial interest. But you know, that said, you know, sponsorships are one thing, and the news is another, and it's my job to see if there's any kind of a breeching of that Chinese wall, if in any way a sponsor has any kind of influence on the news. I have never found any at NPR, zero. There's no consciousness about who is doing any kind of a sponsorship campaign at NPR. And if in the audience they began to see something and begin to say, you know, see some conspiracy because somebody's a sponsor, you know, then by all means, I do want them to listen to the coverage and show me how they feel that it might be influenced.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSBut at some point, at some point you have to trust your newsroom. At some point, you have to trust NPR, you have to trust WAMU. At some point, no matter where you draw the line and whatever the issue may be, it will always come down to trust. You have to believe that there is a Chinese wall between one side of the operation and the other, no matter how it's done, and no matter who your sponsors are. So -- and if you want to have public media, and if you want to have it, you know, sustainable economically, you have to accept that you have to have these sponsorships.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSAnd so I think most of the audience -- not most of the audience, I think the overwhelming number of listeners understand that there is no connection between a sponsor and the news. But there are some people, of course, who will complain.
NNAMDIYeah, because in print media, it's often the question of the firewall between the editorial pages and the news pages. In broadcast media, it's the firewall between in commercial media, the commercial sponsors, and the news, and in public media, the firewall between the supporters and the underwriters and the news. You're saying that as far as you can see, that firewall is intact.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSIntact, totally. Everywhere I've looked at it, and I've worked in the commercial media too. I've worked for the New York Times, I've worked for the Wall Street Journal, two politically very different newspapers. And a number of other newspapers across the country. And I publish my own small Spanish language papers out in Texas. And even in the commercial press, I've never, ever, ever come across any kind of outside influence on the news.
NNAMDIHere now is Sue in Washington, D.C. Sue, you're on the air, go ahead please.
SUEHi. Well, let me bring up a different kind of firewall. There's a fairly new tendency now to put sound behind the words, so that you might be simply announcing what's gonna be on "Metro Connection" or something, but there's a boingity, boingity, boing. And my ears are older than they used to be. And I find it's like asking me to read a book through a patterned scrim, and I have to say, it makes me furious. It's made me so furious that I stopped donating to WAMU.
NNAMDIWell you're making a distinction between WAMU and NPR, so allow me to ask a question.
NNAMDINPR in particular, I mean, NPR in general, and many of its affiliated stations in particular in this case, WAMU, is in a way famous and reputed for its appropriate use of sound, which includes music. What is your specific objection to any other sounds that accompanies words?
SUEOh, no, you know, it's -- you know how a news report, for instance, will start with a relevant sound.
SUETerrific. As long as it's not a siren, and I'm driving, which has happened. I think it doesn't happen as much anymore, you know, but that can be scary. But it's the sound underwriting or over -- I understand it's called a music bed, but it's a very uncomfortable bed when you can't hear the words. And I don't particularly -- it's hard sometimes to distinguish what I'm hearing on NPR and what I'm hearing on WAMU, you know, to say, oh my goodness, NPR did this, or didn't do that.
SUEBut when it happens, it's -- I have a little experience with...
NNAMDII do understand that you would like us to modulate our sound in such a way that the music does not bury the words that you're listening to, but I'm interested in whether or not Edward Schumacher-Matos has heard that complaint about NPR in general?
SCHUMACHER-MATOSYes, no, I have heard that complaint before. And, you know, I have that same complaint when it comes to movies or TV, you know, when the background music is so loud you can't understand the dialogue. I find, in general, there's this great sensitiveness to that at NPR and they don't turn up the music or overuse music. There are a couple of shows that are more -- or a couple of groups that are more likely to do that.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSPlanet Money likes to embed with music more. A few different features, but for the most part, there is a great sensitivity not to do what you're complaining about. And if they don't do it enough, then perhaps they should go back and look at it what...
NNAMDISue, thank you very much for your call. We move on to Hassan in Falls Church, Virginia. Hassan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HASSANHello, Kojo. How are you?
NNAMDII am well.
HASSANThis is a great show. Anyway, my comment is this. We have a huge and very influential Arab community in Washington D.C. area and, you know, there is no hour passed without mentioning the Middle East problems. I would like to suggest that you will have either reporters from the Middle East or a host, like the gentleman sitting there, to discuss to the American public what's going on in the Middle East and say the positive things about the Middle East.
HASSANIt's not only wars and killings. They're more than that. They have wonderful culture. We are a wonderful people. We are a friendly people. We would like to be friendly to the American people and we are.
HASSANBut we need to be heard and need to be heard from somebody either he knows or unbiased just to tell things as they are.
NNAMDITo which you say, Edward Schumacher-Matos?
SCHUMACHER-MATOSYeah. See now, NPR, for 10 years, my colleague John Felton wrote a quarterly, a review of the -- I want to say Mid East coverage, but really he focused on the, you know, Israel/Palestine issue, but brought in the overall Mid East to some extent, looking to see just to what extent that the coverage was fair. And one of the things that he always dealt on was stories that tried to bring out life, you know, on both sides so that we have a better understanding of it and feel for it and not just about the political issues or the fighting or the violence or whatever it may be.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSSo there is a consciousness to do what you do. Unfortunately, the kinds of stories that you're asking for get squeezed out so often by, you know, the news that is happening, which, too often in the Middle East, for the last decade, has not been positive news, we all regret to say, but that, you know, that it's a rich part of the world. I have a daughter who's married to a Lebanese so I totally understand and it's a rich part of the world that we should all get to understand better.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSYou're right. I totally agree with you.
NNAMDIWe got -- and thank you for your call, Hassan. We got this email from Gail in Bethesda. "I am a long time and frequent listener to NPR and on the point of diversity, there is one category you are neglecting to discuss. Political diversity. The vast majority of viewpoints are liberal and progressive. If --both of these segments self describe as being inclusive and open-minded, unless you differ with them politically." Comments, Edward Schumacher-Matos?
SCHUMACHER-MATOSThis will surprise some members of the audience. I get more complaints from the left than I do from the right about bias. People complain that NPR has fallen into false equivalence and it bent over backwards and has become too conservative. And I get real complaints from people who consider themselves the real progressive left and this is, you know, the Ralph Naders and a whole -- Gloria Steinems and all the people who have, you know, were big leaders from the left side during the '60s and '70s and still are out there today.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSAnd a lot of people to the left of President Obama and to the left of Bill Clinton who are saying that, you know, you are using these centrists as representing the left and the progressives when they're just centrists. And so all of your stories are about the political fight or the views of the center, maybe it's a little bit center left, but not really progressive, as far as they're concerned, versus the right or versus the conservatives.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSAnd so the voice that's being left out is the left voice, not the right voice, if I'm making myself clear. And, you know, they have a very good point. And the reason for that is that the Democratic Party and the more progressive wing, the political fight is between the president and what he represents, the administration right, with the conservatives and the Republicans and the various, you know, as we know, there's a far right and there's a moderate right and so forth.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSThat's where all the political fight is today and the guys on the left, unfortunately, aren't as much in the skrim -- skrim? Is that the right word I want?
NNAMDII don't know.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSAnyway, in the game, right? As the guys between the center and the right. And so they get overseen a lot. In other words, they're not as relevant to the debate today, you know, come the primaries, maybe not in the midterms. But, you know, I think by the time we start looking for another Democratic candidate for president, I suspect their voice will become louder.
NNAMDIThank you very much for call and for your emails. There's some people who seem to think that you said that African-Americans are overrepresented in the NPR newsroom. That was taken out of context. Would you care to explain that again, please?
SCHUMACHER-MATOSNo. That the percentage of African-Americans who work in the newsroom, and I don't have the numbers here in front of me, I regret to say, but I think it's like 16 percent, if I remember right. 16, 18, 19, 20 percent is higher than the African-American percentage of the population. That's what I mean to say.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSOverall, yes. With the African-Americans are about, you know, 12, 13 percent of the population. So that's my point. But if you say, but wait a minute, NPR's in Washington, you know, the greater Washington area or Washington D.C. has a much higher percentage of African-Americans so that was the point I was trying to make.
NNAMDIAnd finally, here is Jennifer in Washington D.C. Jennifer, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Jennifer, are you there?
JENNIFERHi. Hi, sorry, I just had to...
NNAMDIWe only have a minute left, Jennifer.
JENNIFERAll right. So I just want to say that I'm troubled by the way that Michele Martin's Tell Me More gets pigeon-holed as a minority show. I think that it's really fantastic news analysis show that it's really a shame to see go. I really miss Talk of the Nation and it's been sort of my substitute. My other point is that I think I'm going to discontinue my membership with NPR, which has been an annual membership for quite a while, and simple start contributing directly to the shows that I like.
JENNIFERI listen to most of my shows on podcast.
NNAMDIWell, you're out of time, but you're more than welcome to be a supporter of any of the shows that you like. You've probably...
NNAMDIYou've probably been a contributor to this station that we're just about out of time. Edward, thank you so much for joining us.
SCHUMACHER-MATOSThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIEdward Schumacher-Matos is the ombudsman for NPR. He's the public's representative to NPR serving as an independent source of information, explanation, amplification and analysis for the public regarding NPR's programming. He's also a lecturer at the Columbia Journalism School. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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