Thursday, October 13, 2005

Tavis Smiley Returns to NPR

As self-promotional commercials inform me every hour or so, Tavis Smiley has managed to finesse his way back into the NPR line-up, although mercifully the show will be scheduled for an hour or so on the weekends. When the Tavis Smiley show got axed--shortly after Smiley's seemingly endless birthday celebration of himself--and was replaced with another African-American themed show, "News and Notes," hosted by Ed Gordon, it took me a little while to realize just how bad Smiley had actually been. Smiley's show was about Smiley: while he was good at getting conservative African-Americans like Condaleeza Rice to come on for interviews, and good at using his aw-shucks persona to ask pointed questions, his show always seemed amateurish and cliquish to me.

"News and Notes" suffers from some of the same problems that Smiley's show did: their regular "round table" features a grab-bag of African-American semi-public figures who are then asked to opine, without any particular expertise, on the hot topics of the particular day. The discussions usually offer few new thoughts and are often decidedly less serious than a decent political blog's comment thread. Ed Gordon deserves respect for his journalistic record and seriousness, though, and he seems to be able to anchor a show without insisting that it all be about him, unlike Smiley. "News and Notes" is also gradually allowing the very excellent Farai Chideya to take a more prominent role. She actively seeks out news stories, travels to do interviews, and actually reins in the often silly roundtable participants to keep them on topic. It's a national show, and Chideya is showing the potential to be a great national reporter.

Note to NPR: Smiley may have mad contacts, and he may be able to push forward business plans and exert external pressure to get it accepted. He's not likely to evolve much, and he's already a 50-50 proposition. But if you want to encourage black voices in the news, take a bet on Farai Chideya. That woman is doing journalism, is experimenting with what radio can do, is serious and professional, and has a kind of integrity that doesn't seem to be wrapped up in her ego.

Your call, of course, and since I'm not black, maybe what I think isn't terribly relevant to what you're trying to do with these shows.

[Update, here's Farai Chideya's bio from NPR. Good heavens: it's impressive. At this time there is no NPR bio of Smiley. My post was written purely off my impressions of their radio presences.]


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