NPR junkies are a dedicated lot. I’ve known some who lull their latchkey pets with A Prairie Home Companion on busy weekends. I’ve known others who are utterly obsessed with Ira Glass. NPR fanatics drive to work with Diane Rehm and come home with News and Notes, hosted by the razor-sharp Farai Chideya. If you’re not a regular NPR listener, you may not be aware of what a brilliant journalist or great interviewer Farai Chideya is. She’s an accomplished author, a compelling personality, and a strong-minded afrobella who does her part to keep America informed about politics, culture, and the issues that affect the black community. She’s become one of the key figures in new media, and is an inspiration to any young, smart journalist who is trying to find a place in the changing landscape of American media.
Farai Chideya is young still — she’s in her mid-thirties, and her drive is evident in the amazing range of her achievements. Let’s break it down by types of media, shall we?
In terms of print, Farai started out as a researcher at Newsweek magazine. She was a writer for MTV News from 1994 to 1996. She’s already published three books — 1995′s Don’t Believe the Hype is already in its eighth printing. 2001′s The Color of Our Future: Race in the 21st Century was named one of the best books for young adults by the New York Public Library. In 2004, she released the timely Trust: Reaching the 100 Million Missing Voters. In 1997, Newsweek named her to its “Century Club” of 100 people to watch.
In 1996, Chideya founded PopandPolitics.com, a brilliant site that combines music, film, international news, and political perspectives. The site has won beau coup awards and accolades, including a MOBE IT Innovator award. Chideya has been named one of Alternet’s New Media Heroes, and both her and the site were ranked in PoliticsOnline.com’s list of 25 Who Are Changing the World of Internet and Politics.
On television, she’s been a correspondent for ABC News, and anchored Pure Oxygen on the Oxygen channel. During the 1996 Presidential election campaign, she provided commentary on CNN. She’s also appeared on ABC News, Fox, and MSNBC. Before she found a home at NPR, she hosted a daily news and cultural call-in show on San Francisco’s KALW 91.7 FM.
And oh yeah, then there’s this from her official bio: “In 2001-2002, she was a Knight Fellow at Stanford University. She has published articles in newspapers and magazines including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Time, Spin, Vibe, O, The California Journal, Mademoiselle, and Essence. Awards for her writing and broadcast work include a 2004 “Young Lion” award from the Black Entertainment & Telecommunications Association (BETA), a GLAAD Award for the Spin article “Hip Hop’s Black Eye,” and a National Education Reporting Award for work at Newsweek. She currently serves on the Journalism Advisory Committee of the Knight Foundation, which disburses over $20 million in journalism-related grants each year.”
Whew. Got all that?
In a remarkably short span of time, Farai Chideya has managed to rack up awards, publish books, start websites, and establish a stellar reputation within her myriad fields of expertise. On her daily program News and Notes, she delivers the kind of information that is meaningful to a listener like me — and quite possibly a reader like you. Just in the last month, Farai has interviewed soul singer Martin Luther, then tackled the Jena 6 case in a really refreshing way by reaching out to the community for their feedback. Most recently she hosted a sizzling discussion about old school vs. new school civil rights activism, addressed the extremely disappointing Marion Jones scandal, and hosted a great round table discussion on black journalists covering the world of black celebrity.
In this fascinating interview with PIP magazine, she explains why so many young Americans aren’t watching the news: “Younger Americans — and I speak here mainly of people in their 20s and 30s — are rarely seen in speaking roles on network news. The target audience is middle aged, middle-class, and white. The networks use people meters to test what stories those audiences like, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that thatâ€™s the kind of audience they get. Meanwhile, younger audiences have drifted away, and many people donâ€™t watch the news at all. To change that, news editors will have to really respect the voices of their whole potential audience — younger and older, of all ethnicities.”
And she does just that on News and Notes every day. Chideya’s areas of interest intersect neatly with mine — hip hop’s surface level activism and its depiction of black women has been an issue she’s addressed boldly and bravely. She spoke out about opportunistic hip hop political posturing in her book, Trust, and her interview with Russell Simmons left the yoga master with his feathers ruffled after her questions about his role within the kingdom of pimps and hoes. (She addresses the interview further here). That notably uncomfortable interview set the stage for Chideya to further explore this issue with the rappers who help to perpetuate negative and limited female images. Recently she appeared as a panelist on BET’s Hip Hop vs. America, which gave her an opportunity to address materialism and ask Nelly about the portrayal of women in his infamous “Tip Drill” video. After watching the BET debate, I’m honestly not sure the rappers understood where the criticism was coming from, but the fact that there was a healthy discourse on the source of the issue is a good start towards positive change, I think. I hope.
I’d like to see more of that kind of enriching interdisciplinary discussion on TV. For now, I’m more than happy to get my fix on News and Notes. I respect Farai Chideya because she always speaks her piece intelligently, uses her power wisely, and isn’t afraid to ask the questions or make the statements that are sometimes unpopular. She’s a go-getter who is paving a path that others might follow. And besides all of that, she’s a beautiful and strong black woman who is setting an example that old media needs to learn from. She gives this afrobella a lot to aspire to. Hats off to you, Farai Chideya! You’re my very first Afrobella of the Month! *
Want to keep up with the news according to Farai? Check out the News and Views blog, which adds context to the on-air reporting that she and her co-workers do so well. Do you prefer to crank your tunes on the way home from work, rather than plug into talk radio? You can listen to all of NPR’s broadcasts online whenever you want.
* I had to do it, y’all. The weekly pace was killing me!