NPR’s reporter responds…

Posted by Maximum Fun on 30th January 2007

Oops, I made a mess.

This weekend, I wrote an email to Weekend Edition Sunday about NPR’s poor coverage of hip-hop, specifically in reference to two pieces I’d heard back-to-back on the show, one of which was about cyphers on the subway in NYC. Earlier today, the blog posting was linked to by Current, the magazine of public broadcasting, and one of the reporters, Jon Kalish, responded on the email list of the Association of Independents in Radio (of which I am a member).

Thanks to all who have weighed in on my story from Weekend Edition Sunday about rappers performing on NYC subways. It was quite an experience tagging along with the hiphoppers those two nights I went out with them. Much to the chagrin of Mrs. Kalish, I have taken to wearing my jeans so low that my boxers show. I’m glad my editor at NPR let me handle the story in both a featury and slightly personal way. One of my regrets is that I didn’t get to use any sound of a rapper known as Zeps. He was partial to gangsta rap but had a day job at a law firm.

Zeps was one of the rappers who used words such as “bitch,” “fuck” and “nigger” in front of children and elderly people in the trains and in a ferry terminal. He was one of about three dozen 20-somethings who were either rapping or “dancing on the seats” while the train was making its way downtown one Sunday evening. Maybe you had to be there but I think the scene certainly warranted a “gee whiz” approach to this story. I guess it could have been done any number of ways. But for this piece, to get at the issues involved, and considering that it was for a weekend show, I decided to bend over backwards to bring as many listeners as possible into the story.

Whether NPR does that too much isn’t for me to say, though I am aware that the Arts Desk, for which I toil, has generated pieces recently about the rapper Juvenile and the rise of reggaeton in the Bronx.

The assertion that I don’t understand what I’m covering strikes me as a rash judgement that ignores my 27-year track record with NPR. I know, I know, the record doesn’t always count for much in the blogosphere. But please know that I started doing stories about hiphop culture when this young podcasting lad was still in diapers.

I’ve done pieces about graffiti artists, rappers participating in an anti-apartheid recording project, Ice Cube’s endorsement of a Nation of Islam “scholarly work” and mixtapes, to name a few.

I happen to free-lance for NPR, so the suggestion by my little podcasting friend that “it’s OK to hire someone who gets it,” or as he later puts it “hire someone who understands what he’s covering,” doesn’t really apply. NPR acquires free-lance pieces from many people, so I would invite those who think my tone or approach to this hiphop story was wrong to try your hand at reporting for NPR. Hey, they’ll even work with free-lancers who are still in their teens, but that usually invovles some adult supervision.
Manhattan-based newspaper/radio reporter Jon Kalish…