Like Most Media, NPR Dominated By White Men’s Voices (Literally)

by Alexa Salvato

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), an NYC-based media watch organization, recently conducted its third study on the diversity of commentators on NPR. NPR is known as a liberal/intellectual media haven, so its lack of diversity is particularly disappointing—especially because NPR’s strategic plan includes an impending goal of featuring “stories at the intersection of race, ethnicity, and culture.” That’s pretty hard to do accurately with all white dudes as contributors.

FAIR’s Michael Tkaczevski wrote up a summary of the study: “The study found 14 regular commentators, whose viewpoints were featured in a total of 111 segments. Of these commentators, 11 were men and three were women (79 percent male); 13 of the commentators (92 percent) were non-Latino whites and one was a person of color.” None of the women were women of color.

FAIR also conducted more comprehensive studies featuring more commentators in 2003 and 1991, and unfortunately, things have gotten worse since last decade. “White men were 71 percent of NPR’s regular commentators in 2015, up from 2003’s 60 percent, though down from 1991’s 85 percent,” according to the studies.

One factor in this change is the alterations made to the “Week in Politics” segments. It has become a weekly debate between two commentators, whereas it used to feature a number of different people, and the two regular commentators are white men. (Though, when they’re out, those that have filled in have been of different races.)

NPR’s ombudswoman (basically, the person who is responsible for making sure a news outlet’s ethics are a-ok) Elizabeth Jensen responded to FAIR’s comments last week, saying that the segments they checked out weren’t comprehensive enough, especially because of what they did and didn’t include; the study covered “only what it refers to as ‘commentators’ who presented their work in the form of a monologue—i.e., they presented their opinions uninterrupted by an NPR host.” They also didn’t count one-time commentators, which Jensen notes as a particularly diverse group. Still, she didn’t deny NPR’s problems with representation, admitting that “the broad sweep of [the study’s] conclusions pretty much echo what NPR already knows.”

Representation in the media matters; who has the privilege to tell stories is what allows certain stories to get told and certain others to be cast aside. We hope that NPR meets its goals of diversifying its commentators as soon as possible; maybe this study will hurry that up. 

Images via NPR and the author/GoogleSheets


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