¿Quien Soy?


I’m Brenda Patricia Salinas Baker. I’m a trilingual public radio producer living in London. I was awarded the highly competitive Kroc Fellowship at NPR in 2012. Since then I have reported pieces for NPR’s flagship programs, Marketplace and PRI’s The World as well as a number of podcasts including Life of the Law. I have a B.A. in Economics from Columbia University. I was one of the founding producers of the Texas Standard, a daily news magazine show that broadcasts state-wide from KUT in Austin. I helped re-launch NPR’s Latino USA as a full-hour show and have reported original stories for the show as a freelancer. I was a founding producer of the personalized radio start-up 60dB where I reported original stories and helped publishers bring their print-pieces to audio life. I’m now working at Google where my team is re-imagining the future of radio.

I’m committed to building a media landscape where every woman of color has the power to tell her story. I am proud to be an NPR Next Generation mentor, a board member on the Association of Independents in Radio, an Advisory Council member of the PRX/PRI Podcast Creators’ Program and a coach to young woman breaking into the world of public radio. The world needs our stories.

Want to know more? Follow me on Twitter or shoot me an email at brendapsalinas at gmail. Can’t wait to hear from you!

Exciting News: Google Launches ‘Your News Update’

The Google product we’ve been working on in the two years since the 60dB acquisition launched this week. I’m so proud to be a part of this important step forward in the future of radio. For more information, check out our Google blog post.

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Podcasting and digital audio are booming, but in many ways the audio web is like the text web of the 1990s. When newspapers first came online, their early sites were hard to navigate and search, didn’t link stories together and often published stories on the web after they went to print. Audio is similar today. It’s an evocative, powerful, massively popular and convenient medium—but because the digital experience has lagged, it’s difficult to find things, especially timely, relevant stories that are meaningful to you. 

At Google, we saw an opportunity to help move digital audio forward by focusing on audio news. By analyzing what’s being said within a given audio file, we can apply our understanding around what text articles are about, how news stories evolve, how topics link together and what might be most relevant to a particular user’s interests.

Today, we’re introducing Your News Update, a smarter way to listen to the news hosted by the Google Assistant. You can try it today by updating your Assistant news settings.


Your News Update settings

When you say, “Hey Google, play me the news” on any Assistant-enabled phone or smart speaker, Your News Update will begin with a mix of short news stories chosen in that moment based on your interests, location, user history and preferences, as well as the top news stories out there.

If you’re a Steelers fan who follows the stock market and lives in Chicago, for example, you might hear a story about the latest “L” construction, an analysis of last Thursday’s Steelers game and a market update, in addition to the latest national headlines. Keep listening and the experience will extend into longer-form content that dives deeper on your interests. In between stories, the Google Assistant serves as your smart news host that introduces which publishers and updates are next.

In 2016, we launched our initial News on Assistant product, with news briefings from top publishers. In 2018, we enhanced this functionality with the ability to get spoken responses to news queries on your Google Home—like “Hey Google, what’s the latest news about Brexit?” Your News Update expands on that work by creating an experience that’s fresher and more tailored to you.

Collaborations with publishers from around the world over nearly two years have helped us imagine the future of audio news, and have reinforced the importance of building a healthy ecosystem for both listeners and publishers. And of course, the high-quality stories our partners provide are critical to creating a comprehensive yet intimate news experience for listeners. 

Partners for Your News Update

Your News Update is now available in English in the United States, and will expand internationally next year. You can find Your News Update in Assistant settings: Under the You tab, navigate to News and switch your News playlist format. Then say “Hey Google, play me the news” or add news to one of your Assistant Routines.”

Check out what other people had to say about our exciting launch:

USA Today: Google debuts personalized news feed

Fast Company: After conquering print, Google News is invading audio

Fortune: Google Partners With Media Outlets to Launch a News Update Audio Service for Assistant

The Verge: Google is putting an algorithmic audio news feed on its Assistant

TechCrunch:  Google Assistant introduces personalized playlists of audio news

Search Engine Land: Google brings audio news aggregation to smart speakers, phones

CNET: Google partners with publishers to bring audio news feeds to the Assistant

Venturebeat: Google Assistant will prioritize briefs over longform audio news

Android Authority: Google Assistant audio news clips will be better catered to you

9to5Google: Google Assistant launching personalized audio news feed w/ shorter stories & updates

Thurrot.com: Google Assistant is Getting AI-Powered Audio News

Radio and Internet News: Google Assistant launches personalized news stream

Seeking Alpha: Google Assistant launches personalized news playlists

Engadget: Google Assistant’s latest feature is a personalized audio news feed

Android Central: Google’s Assistant can now present you a curated selection of audio news

Slashgear: Google Assistant gets personalized audio news feed feature

AllAccessMusicGroup: Google Launches ‘Your News Update’ Briefing For Google Assistant


What a ride! And it’s only the beginning. Stay tuned.

The Future of Radio

In 1962 a cartoon called The Jetsons premiered on American television. The premise was simple: what would life look like for an American family in 2062? 

The protagonist, the family patriarch was named George Jetson. This is George Jetson’s commute to work. This is how George jetson walked his dog, Astro. How he brushed his teeth. How he got his news.

This is George’s wife, Jane Jetson. In the 50s, the men who created The Jetsons, and they were men, imagined a future with flying cars, video conferencing, smart watches, electric toothbrushes, But they couldn’t imagine a future where a mom worked outside the home. I mean, Jane had a robot maid, what exactly what was she doing all day?

All this to say, as futurists we’re very good at dreaming up new technology. But we’re not so good at predicting all the ways the technology we build might change us. 

That’s what I want to talk to you about. You’ve likely been hearing all about new technologies that might change the way you reach your audience. Now, I want you to challenge you to imagine how that same technology might affect your newsrooms and the work they do from the inside out. Come on this time-hopping journey with me. 

I love this tweet. It reminds me that humans have been telling each other great stories as long as we’ve been around as a species. Our reptile brains didn’t evolve to read and write. They evolved to tell each other stories. The earliest examples of literature, like The Odyssey or the Epic of Gilgamesh, were oral traditions meant to be performed in front of a crowd. 

In the 1890s when Marconi created his radio, the crowd you were performing in front of suddenly got a lot bigger. It was world changing technology. He unlocked the story’s potential to travel across the air. All of a sudden you could broadcast your voice to people miles and miles away. 

Radio is magic. It captures our imagination and inspires us to consider experiences and perspectives other than our own. We gather around it in our living room. That was true in the 1930s, and it’s true today. The research we have shows that families gather around smart speakers in their living rooms, kitchens and cars. 

And do you know what’s one the most common things that people ask their smart speakers to do? Tell me a story. Like Marconi’s radio, this technology is world-changing. Think about it. We have these affordable, high fidelity speakers everywhere that make all the audio in the world searchable, and they actually understand what we say. It’s amazing.

But it’s still VERY early days. The world of audio looks the way the World Wide Web looked in 1996 – this was the Wall Street Journal’s home page. It’s clunky: no links between stories, it looks bad, not user friendly, we don’t really know how it’s going to shape out. Here are problems that technologists say they’re solving for right now: 

  1. Giving creators new tools and platforms to tell better stories
  2. Getting the right story to the right listener at the right time. 

But I want to fast forward to the future, let’s imagine what the Radio of the Future might look like once these problems are solved. This is what I see when I close my eyes and think of the future. Radio that’s more on-demand, data-driven and interactive

What you see when you close your eyes might be a little different, that’s okay. I just want to show you how I go from the technology to its creative implications, and like a science fiction author, I want to invite you to do the same with the technologies you’re most excited about. So let’s hop in to my imagination. 

You might ask yourself, why are tech platforms obsessed with audio all of a sudden? Radio has been around forever. Here’s some context. In the last few years, improvements in machine learning have powered automatic transcription that’s cheap, quick and accurate. That transcription makes it possible, with enough computing power, to treat mp3 files like text. Before ML, mp3 files were like black boxes. Now it’s possible for computers to know what an mp3 file is talking about without the use of metatags. 

If we can treat mp3 files like text, we could link between them. What might it be like to fall into an audio rabbit hole? What would it look like to have programming that expands and contracts depending on how much time a listener has or where they are in their day? With better personalization what’s news to me might be slightly different than what’s news to you. It used to be that you had one giant antenna for your whole audience. Now, as a broadcaster you have many antennas for many audiences

In a future where you don’t just have one big audience, but many, I think having a diverse newsroom is more important than ever. Look around your newsrooms right now, what talent are you overlooking? Who could you start developing right now? I think you could future-proof your newsroom by hiring more people that look like your audience and training them today! 

In the radio of the future, the role of editors might change. They’ll still be really important, Editors are the ones who decide what’s news. But it used to be that one of the main functions of an editor was choosing which stories went into the circular file – the trash can. You only had so much air time. But with dynamic on-demand radio, they won’t have that problem. In this version of the future, I think the best editors won’t be the gatekeepers. They’ll be the champions. The advocates. And they’ll have an incredible tool in their tool belt: data. 

With data, we can overcome our personal biases to make better informed editorial decisions. It’s no longer I like this, I don’t like that. A savvy editor could learn about their audience and what works for them. We can use data to tell better stories. With second by second analytics, we’ll make better choices about our craft. We could A/B test a lead, for example. We can question everything! 

Lastly, in the future, I think listening to a great piece of audio will no longer be a strictly passive, linear experience. We have platforms that speak to back to us and understand what we say. 

Here’s another example I mocked up. My friend and colleague Lewis Wallace’s beat is LGBTQ+ issues. He’s found that when he’s telling a story for his own community, he tells it one way. But when he’s talking to a general audience he simplifies it, changes it. What if he didn’t have to? What if when I didn’t understand something, I could interrupt him and ask, just like when we have a conversation in real life?

Now, I don’t want it to sound like I’m reinventing the wheel. The idea of interactive radio is not new. Think about the ubiquity of call-in shows. They’ve been around forever. The first interactive radio show in the U.S. was called America’s Town Meeting of the Air. It aired in 1935. 

Go ahead and listen to it. You might feel like the topic of the show sounds familiar: “Will the Machine Dominate Man?” Will the Machine automate man? No! It wasn’t true in 1935 and it’s not true today. Great storytelling isn’t going anywhere, because the art of telling a story hasn’t changed for thousands of years. We are about to enter a Golden Age of Radio.

If you’re someone who is creative, intellectually curious and game for experimentation, I think the future of radio is going to be great for you. I know because we are going to build it together. 





A colony of feral parakeets has invaded London


Get the full story on PRI’s The World.

London is at the center of a very loud mystery. A colony of feral parakeets has taken over the British capital. Nobody knows how the small, green birds originating from South Asia and Central Africa came to be in the capital city. While some Londoners consider the foreign birds to be a threat to native birds, others have adopted the colorful parakeet as an unofficial city mascot.

Parakeets are a type of small parrot that is frequently kept as a pet by people all over the world. But in London, if you want to play with a parakeet, you can skip the pet store and go straight to a park.


Since moving to London from Australia, Alysia Micali feeds the parakeets in Hyde Park every week. “I love birds, and I think it’s just really awesome to hang out with them and feed them,” Micali said. “It’s just fun to do in the city that you don’t find anywhere else and they’re wild, so they’re not in a cage or anything.” Micali warns that the birds can get a little bit aggressive if you run out of food.

After living in London for nine years, writer Nick Hunt realized that the number of parakeets was rapidly multiplying. At the last official roost count in 2012, researchers counted over 32,000 feral parakeets living in London.

Hunt teamed up with photographer Tim Mitchell on a book called “The Parakeeting of London: An Adventure in Gonzo Ornithology.”


Hunt and Mitchell first set out to debunk some of the urban legends about how the parrots first came to London, like the story that musician Jimi Hendrix released a breeding pair on Carnaby Street after a wild night in the 1960s. “Nobody seems to have known him to keep parakeets,” Hunt said. “I think one of the reasons this myth is so potent is that they can have a kind of Jimi Hendrix quality, they’re kind of bright, garishly dressed and they have a harsh kind of grating sound that hasn’t really been heard in the city before.”

Another urban legend states that the parakeets were released on the set of the film “The African Queen” in 1950. Mitchell thinks that’s bogus. “We’ve fastidiously watched that film and there’s not a single parakeet in it,” he said.

The true origin story is significantly less dramatic. The social birds probably escaped from Victorian aviaries and adapted to city life. That has happened in many other places around the world, like Brussels and San Francisco.

“Geographically, they have a very broad range,” Mitchell said. “And we have loads and loads of trees in the cities in this country.”

Pubs, rugby clubs and even a local beer company have adopted the feral parakeet as a London mascot, but some Londoners see the loud birds as an invasive species. “People who don’t like them say they’re a threat to native British birds,” Hunt said.

The rapidly multiplying parakeets compete with smaller birds for resources like nests and food, and they’re a nuisance to local food crops. However, the British government has decided they’re not a big enough threat to cull the flock.

Hunt and Mitchell believe human activity is a bigger threat to the native bird population than the introduction of foreign parakeets. “The reason why I think kingfishers and woodpeckers are in decline isn’t because of a few tens of thousands of parakeets,” Hunt said. “It’s habitat loss, climate change and pollution.”

London’s parakeets also benefit from the warming climate. In the last 20 years, London has seen 19 of the warmest winters on record. “We got into some interesting thoughts and conversations about the meaning of what is native,” Hunt said. “Does it even make sense in an age where climate is shifting to have this idea of native?”

No matter how they originally came to London, feral parakeets are likely here to stay and to squawk, proving it’s not where you’re from, it’s where you thrive.

Wimbledon, Steeped In Tradition, Embraces Artificial Intelligence


Get the full story on NPR.

Match highlights at Wimbledon are selected and assembled by robots. Artificial intelligence is used to pick the most dramatic moments, making those judgments by crowd noise and player gestures.


Wimbledon is in its second week, a tennis tournament steeped in tradition and also embracing artificial intelligence. We should note that a company that makes AI, IBM, is a financial supporter of NPR on our way to letting you know that Wimbledon is using AI to produce highlights of the most exciting moments much more quickly than a human producer. But how does a computer program know what makes for good tennis? At Wimbledon, Brenda Salinas explains.

BRENDA SALINAS, BYLINE: Fans from all over the world are gathered around 18 grass tennis courts cheering on their favorite players.


SALINAS: In this match, Russian Daniil Medvedev faces off against the Italian Paolo Lorenzi.



SALINAS: But I’m not watching the tennis drinking a traditional Pimm’s cocktail. I’m in a basement where engineers use that very sound you’re hearing to power an artificially intelligent program.

ALEXANDRA WILLIS: We are in the room affectionately known as The Bunker.

SALINAS: Alexandra Willis heads up digital marketing at Wimbledon. She shows me the IBM dashboard that can automatically determine what parts of a tennis match are the most exciting for fans to watch. Every match is automatically clipped and ranked according to three categories.

WILLIS: The first is the noise of the crowd. So how they react to that particular point.

SALINAS: The computer program knows what point in the match it is.

WILLIS: So was it break point? Was it an ace? What kind of point was it?

SALINAS: And lastly, the tricky bit, what emotions the human tennis player is feeling.

WILLIS: So are they fist pumping? Are they actually looking in complete despair?

SALINAS: That’s right, the computer can tell whether a tennis player is celebrating or wincing in despair.

WILLIS: For a while, player gestures, it was picking up this movement – wiping your face – and thinking, is that some kind of celebration? Actually, it was the player saying, I want my towel. So that’s the whole beauty of this, is that we have to test it and learn it constantly.

SALINAS: Wimbledon has been using this technology for three years, but this year, it says it’s smarter than ever. The highlight reels get distributed all over Wimbledon’s digital properties, including on the Jumbotrons and its YouTube channel. IBM engineer Dave Provan shows me how it works.

DAVE PROVAN: Good crowd reaction on the volley. Looks like a set point. So the highlight will automatically do the set points, match points and other points like that.

SALINAS: The polished highlights reel comes together just two minutes after a match has ended. That’s about nine times faster than a human video editor. Plus the program can analyze matches across 18 courts. No human can do that.

So did this just come to you like this?

PROVAN: Yeah. It comes fully edited like this together.

SALINAS: No human input at all?

PROVAN: There’s human review to make sure that it looks good, but yeah, it’s basically an automatic system.

SALINAS: Tennis always follows the same structure, but the story of every match is different. That’s why Courtney Nguyen is skeptical that robots can capture the most important parts of the game.

COURTNEY NGUYEN: Yeah. That’s nuts. (Laughter).

SALINAS: Nguyen hosts a podcast for the Women’s Tennis Association where she analyzes the texture of the game.

NGUYEN: I think that when you’re actually cutting a highlight package that tells the true story of the match, there could be, you know, in oftentimes, in those situations, something very different happening that maybe even a crowd completely misses, or even a player doesn’t even notice is happening, could turn a match.

SALINAS: Computer programs are sophisticated enough to capture the emotions of a crowd or on a player’s face, but they’re not smart enough to capture the tiny moments that can make a match. At least, not yet.


SALINAS: At Wimbledon, I’m Brenda Salinas.

Press: Google’s Thoughts On The Future of Audio


I was thrilled to be a feature speaker at Radio Days Europe in Lausanne, Switzerland this year. Radio Days Europe is the largest radio conference in the world.

Get the full story at Radio Days Europe.

“Everyone has been talking about Google this year, this afternoon it was their time to take to the stage.

Brenda Salinas, from Google News, eased delegates into her thoughts on the future of bringing audio to audiences with a hilarious and informative presentation.

She outlined three fundamental aspects of radio in the future: on-demand, interactive and data driven.

Firstly, Brenda talked about how Google is using data to customise radio for individuals. She reminded delegates that radio was designed for an antenna that would broadcast to many people, so one programme would be designed for a large and diverse group. However, with the internet serving people at an individual-scale, this homogenising is not necessary and, actually, is a barrier to connection.

Brenda went on to explain how interactivity will likely be central to the future of radio. Interactivity can be thought of in the context of how radio has traditionally “interacted” with audiences. However, in the future interactivity could literally provide an opportunity for audiences to converse with a voice coming through their speakers – interrupting and asking questions. This might sound scary but actually it is exciting, as listeners can supply the answers to live questions right there and then.

Brenda leaves the auditorium with a positive thought: “Radio isn’t going anywhere because the art of telling a great story has stayed the same for thousands of years”.

Another insightful and practical example of what audio might look like in years to come.”

Google is launching a voice-driven version of Google News for smart speakers and phones

I’m excited to finally be able to talk about what we are working on since the acquisition.

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Get the full story from Neiman Lab

“People like smart speakers, but there are a lot of things they don’t like about news on smart speakers.

As recent research by Nic Newman — published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, and written up by us here — shows, consumers aren’t the biggest fans of the sort of news briefings that publishers have been pushing out. Common complaints: The briefings are too long. They’re not updated frequently enough. They’re too repetitive; when bulletins from different news providers run together, stories get duplicated. And it’s hard to skip stories you’re not interested in — or hear more of the kind that you are interested in.

Google is hoping to address some of these concerns with a new experiment, announced today, that will deliver more personalized audio news feeds through Google Assistant. “We are combining Google News with the interactivity and voice experience of Google Assistant,” said Liz Gannes, a former reporter for Recode, Gigaom, and AllThingsD who is leading the initiative. The company has spent the past year working with around 130 publishers to build a prototype of a news radio station that customers can control — using voice to skip stories, go back, or stop and dive further into a given topic. It’s built using each story as an individual chunk, rather than a briefing of stories chunked together. This video helps it make more sense:

“Imagine if you ask for news and get a quick update on the stories of the moment, then you get stories that speak to your personal preferences and interests. It’s like your radio station,” said Gannes. If you tune in in the morning on your phone, you might get a quick update. If you listen in your car — or anywhere else throughout the day — stories you heard earlier won’t repeat.

“To benefit the industry as a whole, we have together drafted an open specification for single-topic story feeds,” Google wrote in a blog post announcing the effort. “We have also worked closely with publishers” — including the Associated Press, CBS Local, and KQED — “to develop ways for an aggregated audio feed to serve as a discovery platform for their owned-and-operated sites.” Google is now looking for more publishers to submit their single-topic story feeds and try the technology. Being part of Google Assistant means this product could end up available on millions of Google Home speakers, Android phones, and a range of other devices for the home and car. But for now, Google says, it’ll “only be heard be a very limited number of people on phones and speakers,” only in English and in the United States.

Longtime observers of podcasting may recognize some of this new effort’s DNA from a couple other recent projects. The idea of assembling a rolling, radio-like feed out of individual stories and segments was key to the startup 60dB, which promoted itself two years ago as a “service for high-quality, short-form stories,” with an emphasis on short. (No two-hour bro-chats about movies here.) There the connection is genetic — Google acqui-hired 60dB’s team, including Gannes, a little over a year ago, and this is something of a successor product. As Nick Quah wrote at the time, the aim of 60db — a company started by former Netflix employees as well as NPR veteran Stephen Henn — was

some combination of solving the inefficiencies ingrained in the traditional broadcast radio experience — if you’re hearing something that you don’t want, your moves are either to switch across a relatively limited selection of channels or wait for time to pass within the confines of a specific station — and the newer inefficiencies that have emerged from the theoretically infinite choice horizon introduced by the Internet, including breakdowns in discovery and curation. The nature of the solution is twofold: (1) to usher in an audio creation environment in which the atomic unit of content is not an individual episode (whose lengths, as any podcast listener can tell you, range widely) but a short, individual story piece; and (2) to match listeners with appropriate stories through ‘algorithmic personalization’…

The theoretical upside for publishers is also familiar: in theory, these short-form audio pieces, should publishers choose to produce them, will (presumably) be consumed by more listeners as a result of these solved inefficiencies.

The other clear antecedent to Google’s effort is NPR One, the public broadcaster’s popular app that also itemizes individual stories into streams that can be personalized based on user behavior. (We first wrote about it way back in 2011, in its previous iteration as the Infinite Player. Yes, enjoy that rarest of moments: Google catching up to an idea public radio had 7 years ago.) About 19 percent of NPR streamingnow goes through smart speakers, up from just 4 percent a year ago. NPR One, though, is mostly (if not entirely) about the broader public-radio universe of audio; Google’s effort has no such boundaries.

“News on smart speakers is not living up to the promise of what it could be,” Gannes told me. “Publishers are super savvy about smart speakers, but they don’t necessarily feel that they have the development resources to build the whole thing for themselves.” Smaller outlets, for instance, may not have been able to experiment with voice because of the infrastructure and skill required to produce audio; the hope is that if Google helps on the tech end, more publishers will be able to get their content out.

Google will offer participating publishers some analytics — to start, how and where people are listening. Some advertising will also be added eventually. “We have made a commitment to participating publishers that we do expect to monetize this product and support their existing monetization methods,” Google spokesperson Maggie Shiels told me.

Like Google News, this audio venture will ultimately be available to pretty much any news publisher that can work with Google’s open standard and adheres to Google News’ basic (and vague) content standards. In other words — from what I can tell at this early point — it isn’t impossible that some garbage news will slip in.

But “we want to balance inclusivity with making sure that we’re delivering a real news product and not something that misleads users,” Gannes said. “We’re balancing personalization and giving people what they want with the fact that this is a news product, so we want to tell you what we think are the top stories of the day, based on what the top outlets are telling us are the big stories of the day.”’

The Google Podcast Creator Program

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In the last 17 months of being at Google, I’ve been focusing on learning the business of journalism while supporting the audio industry.

I’ve been a judge for the Audio Production Awards and the British Podcast Awards. I’ve been a mentor/judge for Spotify’s Sound Up Bootcamp. This year I’ll also serve as a mentor for Google’s Podcast Creator’s Program, in partnership with PRX/PRI.

The Google Podcasts creator program is designed to increase the diversity of voices in the industry globally and lower barriers to podcasting. Selected teams will receive seed funding and participate in an intensive training program.


Protect Your Magic: A Survival Guide for Journalists of Color

Read the full story on Poynter.org


There’s an awakening among journalists of color in public media: The racist and sexist incidents that many of us have privately endured aren’t anomalies. They’re systemic.

We’ve known this anecdotally for some time. We have whisper networks devoted to believing and supporting each other as we fight to make our voices heard in an industry where many of us feel unwanted.

In the past few weeks, I’ve felt overwhelmed by my anger. I am angry at the complicity of newsroom executives who talk about diversity in hiring while doing nothing about retention. I am incredulous at the business reasons for favoring one brilliant jerk’s career over the productivity of dozens of women.

The proof is in how little NPR’s dismal diversity numbers change year over year. At the local level, the proof is in the all-white newsrooms that cover minority majority regions. Undeniably, there is something rotten in the system.

Many of us have focused our efforts on the “pipeline problem” — a favorite excuse of hiring managers who are unwilling to expand their networks and challenge their biases. Our padrino — godfather — is Doug Mitchell, the founder of NPR’s Next Generation Radio. Since 2000, Next Generation has been pairing journalism students with professional journalists in workshops all over the country. I had been a mentor for Next Generation twice and was gearing up for round three when news stories broke about abuse at NPR, WNYC, WBUR and MPR.

In light of the reports, I reached out to Mitchell. I told him I was feeling ambivalent about continuing to mentor students of color for our industry. I asked him, “In training young people of color and women for public media, are we just teeing them up to be abused?” I hadn’t even met my mentee yet and I was already imagining getting a call from her in three years, hearing her tell me “something bad happened.”

In typical fashion, Mitchell responded to my question with a homework assignment. He told me the time had come to give our students an additional form of training. Since I would be one of the six women mentors at our project in January at the University of Houston, he asked me to lead a candid discussion with our students. I accepted the assignment without any idea of what I was going to say.

I knew that if I wanted to avoid discouraging our students from pursuing careers in media, I’d have to leave my anger at the door. I decided to emulate the tone of conflict reporting training, since maintaining your creativity in a hostile work environment can feel like a daily battle.

I opened my reporting notebook and started making phone calls.

I talked to Amy Gastelum, Lewis Wallace, Andrew Ramsammy and Luis Clemens. It was Wallace who taught me the phrase “preserve your magic” — borrowed from Nick Daily, who is a dean of black affairs at the Claremont University Consortium. I subconsciously changed “preserve” to “protect” after reading conflict reporting guides and I decided to keep it. Gastelum teaches journalism at the Indiana University Media School, where she candidly talks about these issues with her students. “I wish we didn’t have to do this” Gastelum said, “but they can handle it.”

Clemens was my advocate at NPR during my Kroc fellowship and has been my mentor ever since. The founding editor of NPR’s Code Switch, Clemens has been fighting for representation and inclusion in our industry throughout his career. He’s taught me many valuable lessons over the years. For this presentation, he told me to never forget the fact that “this is a really freaking cool job.” His words inspired me to ground the discussion in joy. Andrew Ramsammy consults public media organizations on diversity issues. Ramsammy encouraged me to add the final slide about mental health and asked me to tell our students to “be an active participant in your own success.”

If you haven’t had a chance to look at the slideshow at the top of this story, I encourage you to do so and then read the thoughts behind each one.

SLIDE 1: I organized our thoughts into a publicly available slidedeck that anyone can present. I hope it helps facilitators kick off thoughtful conversations that empower young journalists. If you use it in a professional capacity, please let me know how it went.

SLIDE 2: I started the presentation by asking everyone in the room to put their devices away and close their eyes. I led the group in a guided meditation. “Think about all the little things that make your voice special,” I said. “The flourishes that make you a unique storyteller, all the things that let me know, even before I see your byline that a story is YOUR story. The people in your community who build you up, the ways you code switch between different worlds, your sense of humor. Okay now take all the these things and fuse them together into a ball of energy right in front of your heart. Hold it. What does it look like? What does it feel like? Keep holding it. Acknowledge it, Thank it.”

SLIDE 3: “That ball of energy is your magic. We are all here because we see your magic. We believe in your magic and its ability to change the world.”

SLIDE 4: “Our relationship with you doesn’t end on Friday. We’re your new network for life. Our goal for you is to get you to a workplace where people value your magic. At this point in your career, the determinant in your success is having access to a good editor who believes in you. An entry-level job should pay you a living wage, you should have the space to have a life outside of the newsroom and be given the opportunity to grow your career.”

SLIDE 5: “Maria Hinojosa asks every young journalist she works with what their ‘Dream-O-Vision’ is. ‘I can’t help you if I don’t know what the Dream-O-Vision is,’ she tells them. Your first, second or third job is probably not going to be your dream job, but it’s a step on the Dream-O-Vision ladder. Maybe you decided to take a GA reporter position even though you dream about hosting Marketplace. It’s not your dream, but you are going to acquire skills that are going to take you one step closer. Maybe you’ll have to work an overnight shift every once in a while. When you start out your job won’t be perfect, but it should make sense in the story of who you want to be. Build up your personal board of advisors — a group of mentors that you routinely check in with. Work on cultivating a strong group of people who see your magic and will be a source of advice throughout your career.”

SLIDE 6: “Paying your dues never means being the victim of abuse: verbal, emotional, sexual, whatever. If you find yourself being victimized, it’s never your fault. Tell your network ASAP and we’ll figure out a plan to get you out of there. If you follow trade news, you know that some very ugly secrets have been coming to light. People like us have been working toward a public media system that is inclusive and fair for everybody, but the truth is we’re not there yet. The rest of this presentation is going to be about how to keep your magic safe.”

SLIDE 7: “If you were reporting on a story, you would never go into a scene cold, right? You’d find out everything you could before actually going out on the field — why would you do anything different for your career? Do your research. Become a LinkedIn sleuth. Find people who used to work at the workplace you are looking at. If you see a bunch of people who did brief stints there — under a year — that’s a bad sign. If you see another person of color who worked there for a short period in the near past, reach out to them. Find out what happened.”

“During the interview process: Be polite, but also ask a lot of questions. If the manager wants to hire an actual journalist, they’ll be impressed. Here are some questions you might ask: What happened to the last person who held the position you are applying for, or if it’s a new position, why was this position created? What happens to people who take entry-level jobs at that workplace? Do they get promoted internally or do they leave? What kind of career development opportunities are going to be available to you? Has that development been available to others, and if so, can you talk to them about it? Don’t just take their word for it. Will you be able to go to conferences and apply to trainings and workshops? Will they help you pitch your work to outside editors? If they tell you you can pursue these opportunities on your own time, or that you’ll need to take vacation days for career development, that is a huge red flag. Keep your eyes peeled throughout the interview process. Are you going to be the ‘only one?’ What happened to the last ‘only one?’ Forget that you really need the job for a minute and take off your rose-colored glasses. The dynamics you see during the interview process will come back to haunt you if you take the job. Is the manager disorganized? How does the manager treat the receptionist? Does the manager make you feel comfortable? Write your impressions down at the end of the day and debrief with your mentors. That’s what we’re here for.”

“Here’s a little secret: You don’t have to take every job that you’re offered. Trust your gut. I know a young reporter that turned down the only entry-level reporter position in his city because the manager seemed like a jerk. Instead, he worked part-time as a substitute teacher and lived with his parents while he got his freelance career off the ground. His stories got the attention of a fellowship committee at CUNY — he ended up getting a full ride to the journalism graduate school.”

SLIDE 8: “Once you do find an opportunity that seems like a good fit, talk to your mentors about what an appropriate entry-level salary looks like for that market and make sure you get it. Don’t listen to your mom on this one — you should not just be grateful that they are offering you a position. Don’t be shy about negotiating your salary; it shows that you value yourself. Managers expect that you’ll negotiate a higher salary, many times they are not allowed to pay you more money until you ask. Before you accept the offer, get your job description in writing. This is the start of the documentation you’ll do throughout your tenure at that workplace. It’s a good thing to have in case you ever need to reference it. If in the future your manager wants you to do something that isn’t in the job description, you can negotiate a different title and/or salary. Ask your manager how you are going to be evaluated, with what frequency and on what metrics. This will define what success will look for you internally and will give you a solid foundation to make the case for a promotion and a raise. Get that in writing.”

SLIDE 9: “On the job, get as many things as you can in writing, over email. This is helpful if you have a manager that forgets things or changes their mind easily. As a journalist, you should be journaling every day for your forthcoming memoir, but at the very least you need to take contemporaneous notes when something weird happens. Write it down, using full names and dates. And when something makes you uncomfortable, talk to people you trust about it. In many cases it’s better to talk to people outside of your workplace about it. Lucky you — you have a big network of people who have your back.”

SLIDE 10: “You don’t have to be the office diversity warrior (if you don’t want to be). At this stage, put your career first. You need to acquire social capital in this industry before you can shake it up. So be thoughtful. As a person of color, sometimes you get labeled as a ‘problem’ for speaking out. You might start getting dinged for performance reasons that aren’t really a big deal. Depending on the workplace, going to HR isn’t always the best idea. Many times they are there to protect the employer, not you. But don’t be discouraged — there are small, meaningful ways you can start to make change. You can mentor interns. When someone says something biased you can ask ‘What do you mean by that?’ or ‘Why do you think that?’ When someone crosses the line, you can say ‘That wasn’t very kind’ or ‘That wasn’t very professional’ and walk away. There are ways of clearly state your boundaries and expectations without being perceived as ‘aggressive.’  Acknowledge that you are going to brush up against conflict. You can decide how you will react right now.”

SLIDE 11: “Most jobs are like lily pads, you’re not going to stay there forever. Most people stay in the same job for two years before moving on, either to another position at the same organization or to another workplace altogether. Figure out what you need to do to get to that next step. If you see a posting for a dream job you’re not qualified for yet, see if you can set up an informational interview with that manager. Ask what you need to accomplish before getting a job like that in the future. You might be surprised; that hiring manager could become a future mentor. Get outside feedback on your work. Freelancing stories allows you the opportunity to network and work with editors with different management styles. Apply to workshops and go to journalism conferences. Many cities have monthly ‘listening lounges’ where you can get constructive feedback about your work. You can also train your loved ones to listen to your work with a critical ear — ask them to tell you when they found their attention wavering, when they felt bored.”

SLIDE 12: “Be your own stage mom. Don’t isolate yourself. Document all the great things you do and talk to people about it. Make time to walk the floor of your workplace every week. Get to know what everybody does and make sure they know what you’re capable of. I had a colleague who emailed our GM every time he made a Storify. Do you know how easy it is to make a Storify? Make sure your professional website and your LinkedIn are up to date. Apply for journalism awards and fellowships. Email your work to your mentors every couple of months to get their feedback.”

SLIDE 13: “Find communities that nourish your spirit outside of your workplace. Community can take many different shapes. You need to have people who see your magic outside of your professional capacity. Have a group of people that you can vent to. As journalists, we tend to really wrap up our identity with our work, and that’s not healthy. Whether you get 10 Peabodies or nobody ever knows your name, your self-worth needs to be exactly the same. This will help you navigate career changes. Believe in the strength of your community, that’s your safety net and your trust fund. When many of us moved away from home our families said ‘Baby, you can always come home.’ That’s how we journalist of color in public media work — we have each other’s backs.”

SLIDE 14: As a storyteller, there is nothing more important than your mental health: You can’t be creative if you’re not healthy. Focus on cultivating a rich internal life. It takes a lot of work to realize that we are small characters in other people’s lives; the way that people react to you often has very little to do with you. It is not selfish to take care of yourself. For some of us, being disciplined means knowing when to take time to stop working for the day. Self-care means different things for different people. Therapy. Church. Meditation. Medication. Figure out what you need to keep yourself healthy and productive.

* * *

“Protect Your Magic” was our first session of the workshop and it set a great tone for the rest of the week. We took time after the presentation to discuss the thoughts and feelings it provoked.

Next Gen mentor Crystal Chavez is a host and reporter at WMFE in Orlando. “I have rarely met a  POC journalist who hasn’t experienced some type of discrimination in the newsroom, ranging from cultural incompetency to racism,” Chavez said. “It’s heartening that we are being proactive in getting students to think about how they would want to react should they encounter such a situation in the workplace.”

Houston Chronicle reporter Monica Rhor also served as a mentor on the project. “The presentation reminded me of the power we bring to our jobs, to the industry, to the stories we write because of who we are as journalists of color,” Rhor said. “It reminded me that protecting that magic is crucial to protecting my very important voice.”

The students felt empowered by our conversation. “I have often been called overly confident and too spicy when trying to be my own stage mom,” Alejandra Martinez said. “After the ‘protect your magic’ presentation I will say I am valuable and my magic is one of a kind.”

“I’ve had a terrible habit of measuring my value as a person based on my work,” Rafa Farihah said. “Now, I know to protect my magic and make sure to find a way to keep it alive.”

My mentee, Antréchelle Dorsey, felt so inspired by our conversation that she started a hashtag. She told me to expect my #ProtectYourMagic T-shirt in the mail.

* * *

About Next Gen
NPR’s Next Generation Radio is a digital-first journalism training project designed to find and develop college students and early career professionals for careers in public media. Founded in 2000, it began by going to national minority journalism conferences and doing radio projects there. Always innovative, the program has been posting content to the web since it started. Even 18 years ago, students understood the future and it was the internet. Also back then, stations didn’t want to put students on the air, so the program went online.

Now, in 2018, the program is sponsored by NPR, NPR member stations and U.S. colleges and universities. The program is more directly helping stations find their future employees from talent pools that are right under their noses.

“The Talk” during our Next Gen project adds to a guiding principle. If someone is selected to the program, they are now part of the family.

It means:

  • That when they write or call, those emails, texts or voicemails are returned, promptly.
  • That any and all career strategy discussion are had.
  • That any time they are in a workplace situation they do not know how to handle, they have a mentor ready to help them through it.
  • That we are ready to sponsor them.
  • That we have their backs. They were chosen for a reason.

By the numbers
In 2017, Next Gen selected 57 students and early career professionals for its 10 projects. Twenty-two of those participants landed or changed jobs or internships in public media. In 2016, 49 people were chosen for our eight projects; 11 landed jobs or internships in public media.