Passion for Storytelling: Meet the Founding Mothers of NPR


NPR has long been known as a hotbed for female journalists in a male-dominated industry. By 2012, women made up just 18 percent of all radio news directors, but at NPR, women held the top editorial position at five of the seven news programs. This was just one legacy of NPR’s Founding Mothers, who played a defining role in a revolutionary media when public radio began in the 1960s. They created the template for a new conversational way of telling the news and an expanded definition of what news is. 

Our guest Lisa Napoli covered media and technology for the New York Times at the dawn of the web, was the internet correspondent for MSNBC, and reported for the public radio show Marketplace. She joins us to talk about her latest book: Susan, Linda, Nina & Cokie: The Extraordinary Story of the Founding Mothers of NPR




Nancy 0:02 (1:02)
It's really hard to believe that once upon a time, there was no NPR, no National Public Radio. Would you take us back to the beginning when it started? How it started?

Lisa 1:15
Yeah, it's so interesting because in our lifetime, radio was marginalized by television. And in the late 60s, when President Johnson decided to create public television, there were a bunch of guys at little, tiny educational radio stations and in small markets around the country, who decided to advocate for radio, and if they hadn't, who knows what would have happened, but they did. And they got radios, sort of literally glued into the Public Television Act, which made it the Public Broadcasting Act, which allocated a paltry sum of money for these people (and they were mostly men) to figure out how to create a national radio system. And that sounds like duh, you know, we could do that right now on our computers, right. But back in the 60s, connecting everything ran television and radio, ran over phone lines. AT&T ruled the world and all the little local telephone companies. And it was the strange matrix of phone lines that connected everybody. And so that's what these guys did in 1970 was charter National Public Radio, not knowing what it was going to be, what was going to be on it, but knowing that they wanted to connect to these smaller stations that weren't commercial, to give an alternative. And then in 1971, they flipped the switch on their first experiment, which was all things considered, and nobody had a sense of what that would be, or would there be 24 seven, of course, was just unthinkable then it was just really an experiment in giving new voice, a new sound, and no one was listening to.

Nancy 2:59
And no one was listening. Okay, well, later, I'm going to talk about how you give that wonderful anecdote of Susan Stamberg, who becomes the voice of all things considered, and, for many of us, the voice of NPR. And, as you said there was no one listening. And she said, “Okay, if you are listening, send in your picture, just so that I could show, show someone that there's someone listening here,” which is exactly what I did in the early days of the internet, because no one thought anyone was using the internet. So I asked, I asked the women to send in pictures, it was the only way to prove there was an audience.

Lisa 3:41
Yes, yes. And that's why I love this story, because I watched what you were doing in the early days of the internet as a reporter, and I didn't know then what I know now about the creation of CNN and the birth of cable, and then the creation of before that the creation of this public radio network. So it's just amazing to think, well, we were doing this interesting stuff back in the 90s. Well, guess what? People were doing interesting stuff decades before.

Nancy 4:07
And very similar. So how did, this is a nascent industry, as you said, radio was, you know, off to the sidelines, television was the meat, was the medium. So now NPR comes along. How did it become the place for women?

Lisa 4:30
Well, it became the place gradually, and it became a place for women, as the women say, because they were the ones who were willing to work for no money. No, of course, there were men there. It wasn't. You know, the the fallacy about my book is to make it sound like these were the only women. I mean, these were only women who were behind NPR, and they were the ones who made it happen. Of course, there were many people behind the scenes, who made it happen of both genders. But, these women were able to carve out roles for themselves, that they might not have it, or that they couldn’t, absolutely couldn't have, in other places, because they were women, they were willing to work for less money. They understood that they had a shot at something that they couldn't do in commercial broadcasting. So that made them hungry. So that's why there's so many great lessons that women can learn from all of this because they were able, you know, and this is, of course, at a moment in time when everything was different for women. I mean, their ads just started to get desegregated by color and by gender, just around the time that NPR was started. You know, doors were opening in ways that they hadn't before. So it was really because it was a startup, and nobody was saying nobody could afford to discriminate. And that gave the women entrée and these smart women and you know, I always say if one of them had wanted to run it, they probably could have, but they were focused on being on the air. They wanted to be the, you know, in front of the microphone people.

Nancy 6:03
Well, Frank Mankiewicz, who ran it at one point, when he was asked, “Why are there so many women?” He says, “You get bigger bang for your buck.” Not something most men could say nowadays in mixed company.

Lisa 6:18

Nancy 6:20
But that, as you say, it was a startup. And startups do attract people who don't necessarily need a living wage, and might be able to have money from a spouse or run another job or something.

Lisa 6:36

Nancy 6:37
And now, there's a wonderful man who, boy he sounds terrific, who's really the guy who did the blueprint for NPR. His name is

Lisa 6:47
Bill Siemering.

Nancy 6:49
Bill, who then later went to win a MacArthur as well, he should, because he wrote out the blueprint. And one of the things he says in your book is, he called the qualities he was looking to inculcate in NPR, and all things considered, that it wasn't just about reporting the news, it was asking, “what does the news mean?” It was not interviewing just the “so called” experts, but talking to regular people who would be impacted by any of these issues. And he said these qualities are not necessarily female, but human is the word he used.

Lisa 7:29

Nancy 7:30
But I wonder, would NPR have even become human if these women hadn't been, as you call them, the founding mothers?

Lisa 7:39
Well, and Susan Stamberg in particular, because she became the defining voice of the network. In 1971 when they launched, it was an establishment white male named Robert Connelly, who was given the host seat. And the people behind the scenes, it was a man who works for Bill Siemering, a young man at the time, named Jack Mitchell, who was, you know, he was assigned to be the producer of the show, the only show they were doing, and he recognized that of all the people rotating through, and that's how it was, that's how loose it was; it was kind of like, “Oh, you showed up, you're in charge today.” And so, which is why, you know, startups are the most crazy, but most wonderful places. And they ruined me, I could never -- every time I've worked for a place that isn't a startup, it's hard. But, so basically, this guy Jack Mitchell heard that the woman Susan Stamberg, who sat in on occasion, was so much better than anybody else that he sort of overlooked; he did overlook the fact that she was a woman and gave her the job and there was pushback, but she was so good at and she was so different at that time. All you heard were stentorian voices from the mountaintop, and you would never have heard somebody laughing or just having a casual conversation like this. And she was not only doing that, but she was so good at it, it's hard to imagine that she didn't just grow up with a microphone in front of her face practicing it. But that's what was that's what worked, is that she just was so authentically herself without trying to be authentically herself, that it defined the sound of the place and the tone, the tone the figurative tone to because she didn't want to just interview some guy from the hill. She wanted to back end into stories in a way that was so inventive and creative and different than what the three networks were serving up that that really caught the ear of the American public as more and more people were able to tune into the, to the network.

Nancy 9:43
It is so significant. What she laid down. And it is really a secret sauce of NPR. It goes, this is you, you and your book, you're going, “On NPR, they must speak in regular voices as regular people, not announcers, in order to let the country hear itself.” That was huge. It's saying at a time before the internet, before we had, you know a two way conversation, which is what the internet allowed, radio because of Susan Stamberg’s imprint was creating a participatory -- I mean even though you couldn't talk back to radio -- you felt a relationship.

Lisa 10:32
Right, and when she did ask people to send them pictures of themselves, and separately from that just if she sounded like she had a cold, people felt this ownership. I went to thankfully, before the pandemic shut everything down, The University of Maryland holds her papers, and my goodness this woman should have been a librarian, and it's good thing she wasn't because we got her in another capacity, but she was so meticulous in her record keeping that she had fan mail, and to go through the fan mail and to see what people were saying to her in the 70s… You know, she wasn't a big, highly paid, hardly, movie star, she was this person on the radio and people loved and adored her. And they wrote in this incredibly personal fan mail. And, yeah, it's an incredible thing to think about how, how it mirrors what we get in the, in the internet, and what we love about the internet. And, you know, the other thing, Nancy, is when I was a young woman, and I went to work in Atlanta first for CNN and then to North Carolina to work at a local television affiliate, I remember on Sundays, scrounging around for the places where I could buy my hometown newspaper, The New York Times. And now, of course, you can sit anywhere in the world, if you have an internet connection, and read anything, but to think about how in the 70s when Susan was doing her newscasts, that was, in many places, the most sophisticated media that they'd ever heard or, or, or, you know, there was no newspaper that mimicked The New York Times where they lived, and people couldn't access it. So she was bringing, she was really opening the world connecting the country, at least in a way that it hadn't been before.

Nancy 12:10
Yeah, it really was national. And when it first started, I was a freelance writer. And I realized I could just work around the clock and never sleep, which wasn't a good thing. So, I made All Things Considered my alarm clock to end my day.

Lisa 12:27
That’s great!

Nancy 12:29
And I would hear, “Do, do, do,” -- I can't do their songs -- “Do, do, do.” And then Susan's, Susan's voice would come on, and I'd go, “Okay, end of day, put my things away.” And later in my life, all things considered, like, during dark times for the country. It was like, as long as that was there, I felt there was a chance for civilized life to continue. No, I mean, I mean, it that literally, I, I depended upon it to bring me comfort.

Lisa 13:04
No, I understand; a lot of people feel that way. And being able to celebrate these women, and that, that real, I think that was the real heyday of the service as it was coming up. You know, now the world is crowded with noise, there's so much you can listen and still be so selective. But the idea that they were just really taking the nation by storm, in a quiet way, it's so remarkable. You know, when I first got the idea to write this book, I wrote to Susan, and the other two women, Linda and Nina. And Susan wrote to me, and I thought it was on behalf of all three of them. And she said, You know, we're really not in the mood to talk right now. So I went ahead and saw her papers, which are in this scholarly library in Maryland. And I started writing to her and I said, “You know, I know you didn't want to write to me, talk to me,” She didn't know who I was, “You I know you didn't want to talk to me, but I saw this, and I put this and this together.” And she wrote back and she said, “Oh, my God, I haven't thought about that in 40 years.” So I think that she was ready to be celebrated. And I'm so grateful that they finally did talk with me.

Nancy 14:15
Oh, yeah, me too. You talked about the other women, so let's move on to the other three. Nina Totenberg. Okay. I mean, if anyone's heard Nina Totenberg’s name you know that she's almost synonymous with the Supreme Court, you know, created and made it her beat to cover it. So, I know her as kind of cool, calm and collected. What I did not know, and you put this in the frontispiece to your book, okay, listen, everybody, “Interviewer: How do you feel when you meet younger women in journalism who haven't any idea how rough things used to be in the quote ‘battle days’ end quote? Nina's answer: murder comes to mind.”

Lisa 15:04
And of course, they all said versions of that and they all over the course of their lives. Cokie before she passed away a couple of years ago. But you know, she would quote the Wicked Witch, you know, “Just you wait my pretty,” you know, that she just, they, they, they had a joke about it. And of course, they didn't really mean it, but they, of course, I hope, I hope they didn't really mean it, but they just, they just for me to see what they had gone through to get their jobs is, can you imagine that someone would tell Nina Totenberg, you can't do anything? I mean, it's hard to imagine, but they did in their early part of her career.

Nancy 15:40
That’s right, that’s right.

Lisa 15:43
And that's why I loved writing this book because I love digging deep behind the mythology. It's one thing to know, you know, somebody is a superstar, but to figure out how they got to be a superstar is a thrill, and to know that she had all this pushback.

Nancy 16:00
Yeah. And Nina, in particular, I just love what you report about her is that, yeah, she was being dismissed putting to the side, you know, to cover some women's issues. And so she did something which, women who want to get ahead still have to do, I believe, which is the self assignment. You don't go off and do what they keep telling you to do, which isn't what you necessarily want to do. You assigned yourself the beat you want to get to. So could you talk about that? I mean, it's so cool what she does.

Lisa 16:30
It's amazing. So most women at that time, if they were even, you know, had the presence of mind to want to be in journalism, were told they could either be researchers, or maybe behind the scene reporters, they wouldn't get a byline, but they could go out and run around. But they couldn’t, they couldn't write the stories themselves. And so there's, of course, this landmark suit at the, you probably knew

Nancy 16:55

Lisa 16:56
Yeah, that's an amazing thing, good girls revolt. But, Nina was in that situation at a newspaper. And she went to her boss and she, at the time, and younger women listening to this may not remember this time, the birth control pill had just come on the scene, and it was very controversial, who would get it and how you could get it, all this moral issue behind it. And Nina wanted to go to college campuses to show that college girls, college women, could get their hands on birth control, even though they weren't married, which is how most women -- the only way most women could get it. And she went to her editor and she said, “Look, I've done some research, and I really want to do this story.” And the editor said, “Nina, I can't let you do this story. Are you a virgin?” And Nina said, “Yes!” And the other day, I was talking with Nina on some show about this, and she said, “The funny part about that is that I was a virgin at age 21.” But she said yes. And the boss said, “Well, I, you know -- have you ever had an internal examination? I can't, I can't let you report this story.” And she said, “No, I've never had an examination.” So she didn't get to do the story. So she basically had to go out, and you know, at night with an evening news photographer, volunteering, watching what was going on and sending back information, learning every part of the business, which is great training, of course. And, and doing her sort of extra work that way to prove that she could be in the fields. And she still had to go to another place that was smaller, where she actually got to be a byline reporter. And from there, she got the next job, the next job, the next job. And then by accident, really, she got this job at NPR, which was this little piddly service four years in, three years in, and that needed a workhorse reporter. And, again, they didn't care that Nina was a woman. She's been in DC by then, you know, a couple of years and knew the ropes of the city, and she was willing to work for whatever junky money they paid her because it was a job, and the places she'd worked had closed down. So, it was just, I'm sure, she said when she walked in the door, she didn't expect that she'd be there fifty years later. Of course not. And she's got an era.

Nancy 19:10
Yeah, can you talk about her role in the Anita Hill hearings?

Lisa 19:15
Well, that's another interesting thing. And of course, I remember that as a younger woman when it was happening. And it was, you know, Anita Hill was this hero because she was, you know, unwitting hero. She didn't want to come out and talk about this stuff. But she exemplified what women for so many years, decades, had gone through in the workforce, which was, you know, discrimination. Of course, she was also Black. So she was discriminated against in two different ways. She'd come up from poverty, gone to Yale. She was an incredibly accomplished lawyer. And when Clarence Thomas was put up as a Supreme Court justice nominee, she had quietly said, behind the scenes, that this was not cool. That because he was, you know, he was an abuser, a verbal abuser. And, you know, ironically, making the story even more incredible is she was working for him at the EEOC. And he was coming on to her there, and came out eventually, that it was her who had made this accusation. And apparently, there were other accusations. And Nina was the second person technically to break this story. It was a Newsday reporter who revealed that this was happening. And of course, this was a different moment in time. Today, you know, we hear all kinds of allegations and terrible scandals and I don't know about you, but at a certain point, they never cease to shock me, but we hear it so often now. It's like you almost expect it. But back in the 90s.

Nancy 20:44
This was the late 80s.

Lisa 20:45
It was the late 80s. It was one of the first times anybody had come out and made this kind of allegation, certainly against, you know, a Supreme Court justice nominee. And Nina ran with the story. People I guess on the hill suspected that there was something up in his confirmation proceedings. But I'm truncating the story -- briefly, there's a really super documentary about it if anybody's interested in learning more and books about it -- basically she ran with it. She convinced Anita to come out and say it in her voice. And of course, this firestorm was, you know, erupted around it, you know, there was testimony on the hill, hearings. Nina, you know, but basically Nina’s career, which was going well because she was breaking stories left and right. This elevated her as she said the other day, you know, my speaking fee went really high as a result, but more importantly than her speaking fee, and she would say this, too, is that it gave voice to what women had experienced for so long. And all of a sudden, women were marching forward and saying, yes, you know, this is not dissimilar from what we experienced a few years ago with the Me Too movement. The difference is that it was so shocking to people that this kind of behavior happened. To some people, it was shocking. And then it was also shocking to have it revealed because this was still a time in society where it was believed that you didn't talk about somebody's personal life. You didn't. And that was considered to be their personal life.

Nancy 22:26
And we're fortunate that Nina Totenberg was there to report it.

Lisa 21:32

Nancy 22:33
I mean, I don't know. I think it took, I do think it took a woman to understand how significant this was. And it wasn't just a sidebar, watching the story.

Lisa 22:46
Wait, well, in fairness to Timothy Phelps, he did understand that it was, you know, he did report it, but to your point, the whole idea, and this is what Susan Stamberg used to say, we wield power with our microphones, we ask questions differently than, you know, a man might. Doesn't make it better or worse, it just is introducing. This is the whole point of diversity inclusion is that if somebody has a microphone who isn't like the other person who has a microphone, they think differently. I come from a working class family. So I think differently about money and access to it than somebody who was fortunate enough to be born into a wealthy family. I just do. And you know, I live with a man, my longtime partner is from Ethiopia. So he thinks about immigration differently than I do. So it's just this all, this these conversations we're having today, and this is what I love about history, are so resonant of the conversations we've been having for generations, but writing this book really put a fine point on that for me, how really the seeds of what we're discussing now, were sown. Certainly, you know, back then.

Nancy 23:58
So many stories. Yeah. Which is why people should read your book.

Lisa 24:03
I hope so.

Nancy 24:03
I hope they will. And now I'd like to move on to Linda Wertheimer, who is okay, Linda Wertheimer is the political correspondent. And in the book, you tell what, just as the role models as the women you are profiling will become role models, I'm sure to younger middle aged women who read your book. Tell us about when she was growing up and she saw on television: Pauline Frederick.

Lisa 24:40
It's amazing to think that there was a time when you would turn on TV, and TV was new to where Linda lived in Carlsbad, New Mexico, which just back to the whole phone line thing I was discussing before, television wasn't easily available everywhere in the country even after it started. And so she lived in a market where television was introduced late and once it finally came, by then she fell in love with Edward R. Murrow and her ambition was to be a secretary to Edward R. Murrow. And she knew to do that she was going to have to get out of Carlsbad and get the best education possible. Thankfully, she was a really good student. So she kept winning awards and all of that. But then once television finally came to Carlsbad, and she had it in the family living room. Her father was a grocer so he, you know, made an adequate living, but it wasn't a fancy family by any stretch of the imagination. She was watching television, she saw Pauline Frederick and she said, Wait a minute. Wait, that's a woman reporting on television. And Pauline had worked really, really hard to get on the air. Interestingly, she didn't get on the air until she was 40 regularly. And she did so because she covered the birth of the United Nations. So once the United Nations was established, it was basically, well, okay, you know what that is, so you should keep covering it. So she back ended into this beat that made her a star but also was important in its day and she was on the, you know, the networks were all the only game in town.

Nancy 26:12
What’s the time here?

Lisa 26:13
This is in the 50s, in the 50s.

Nancy 26:15
So she's, she's the first woman or one of the first to be on television.

Lisa 26:20
Yeah, I think they say that she's the first. I always loathe to say first, first, first, but because there were other women who did appear on television in some sort of correspondent roles, but it was never, rarely, in a serious way. But I think she is known as the first, the first woman on television. And so first correspondent news person on television. So she is, you know, delivering these reports and Linda's watching. And, you know, her ambitions shift, because now she sees a woman on the air. She wants to do that, too. And thankfully, she got an amazing scholarship, Linda did and collided with a woman. And this is why mentors are so important. You, she would have been happy to go to New Mexico. I know, right? I mean, she was so happy to go.

Nancy 27:05
The quote you have in your book as she goes, she's watching this, and turns to her mother and said, I didn't know a woman could do that. But just seeing it now, it opens up.

Lisa 27:20
Yeah. And you get shivers when you think about Kamala Harris and, you know, Amanda Gorman. These are women people are seeing today. And you know, for some of us, it's not surprising that they're incredibly smart, accomplished women, despite whatever, you know, their ethnic heritage is, racial heritage is, but for a lot of people, it is shocking to see that and to imagine that that's possible. And just by seeing that, it makes it available to you and makes that ambition available to you in a different way than it is for most other people. You were certainly for men, you know, men didn't have to worry about the role modeling, but there's Linda and she's this ambition is sparked. And a woman in town who actually had gone to one of the seven sisters, one of the you know, great women's colleges, said you know, you're not thinking big enough, you should apply. And she did and she got in and she got a scholarship. So off she went to Wellesley, which of course, was life changing. And that's not to say that if she'd gone to New Mexico State or to, you know, one of the Mills College, I think, was another women's college on the West Coast that she thought about, if she'd gone there, she might have had an equally fascinating, scintillating, wonderful life. But she didn't, she went to Wellesley and that just set her on a different trajectory than had she gone to another school.

Nancy 28:41
Absolutely. And now let's move to Cokie Roberts, the great Cokie Roberts. And I want to read a whole section from your book here because it's so germane to kind of the tying up your book with a ribbon. Cokie, of course, wrote a book about the founding mothers of our country, actually two books. But as you write, “just as so many citizens forgot the struggles that had led to the formation of the United States, and didn't know the stories of the women who helped shape it, most people did not remember if they ever knew the struggles Cokie and the other founding mothers had faced as women at the start of their career at the dawn of public radio.” Why is it so important for us, the readers, the listeners, to know the struggles it took to achieve these accomplishments?

Lisa 30:02
I'm a process person. I mean when I go to a museum, I want to know how that artwork got made. I think it’s so important to understand. You know in our culture we venerate celebrity, and I didn’t know that Cokie Roberts struggled. I didn’t know that Cokie Roberts had no ambition to become a working woman in the early part of her life. Really, her ambition was to get married and have kids. And so, to your question, I think it’s really important that we understand where people come from. We’re all, you know, we can’t help where we come from. We can’t help where we’re born. Cokie happened to be born into an incredible political dynasty. You know her father was in congress, and when her father died an untimely death, her mother stepped up and ran for congress and won and served for many years, and was extremely admired and revered on Capitol Hill. So knowing that about her and knowing that still, she came out of that world and wanted nothing more when she got out of Wellesley than for her boyfriend to marry her. And that she trounced around after him in his career while she was having children and then finally she got, you know, not tired of that, she loved her role as wife and mother dearly, until the day she died, but she wanted more. Once she did, it wasn’t just doors opened for her because she was married to a New York Times correspondent or daughter of, you know, venerated politicians. It still was hard for her and she still cried and she still just had pushback because she was a woman. I think it’s very important to understand history, period. Of all sorts.

Nancy 31:46
And Lisa, that really does lead beautifully into my penultimate question, which is, if you were to distill, which is no easy assignment, the most significant takeaways for women living today, takeaways from this wonderful group of stories you've presented, what would they be?

Lisa 32:08
Well, don't give up. Don't let idiocy and pushback stop you. Hopefully, be fortunate to be born with drive. Because I think that drive, you know, that is a singular force that's hard to instill in people. You can study it all you want and read all the books you want. But you, the innate drive is something these women all had. Timing and luck are something that most of us can't control. They were all coming on to the scene at the birth of a medium. And that served them well. Somebody coming into NPR today, which is a whole different organism, and it's huge and it's political, and all of that. Political, I don't mean in the democratic, republican sense. I mean, in the sense of it's a big, huge organization with layers and all that and getting in isn’t easy like it was not, you know, relatively for them back then, because nobody else wanted the jobs. I think that the prevailing takeaway is that these women loved each other and supported each other and felt it important to support other people around them. To create their own old girls network, and over and over and over again, in my life and in the lives of people -- you and I have never been fortunate enough to meet but of course, I knew who you were. And, and we, we all need each other. You know, it's not a zero sum game. If you're successful, I can succeed. And you know, when you hear Linda talk about the fact that she was this gal from New Mexico, who studied up on Congress, studied up on Congress, and then all of a sudden, Cokie Roberts walks in the door. And she's, she should have been, she was freaked out, Oh my God, you know, this woman's in my world, and she's gonna obliterate me. And instead, Cokie said, “No, we need to work together. They need both of us to do this job.” So the idea that you can -- we're so much better if we help each other, male or female. If we connect with each other and support and advance each other, it's just a better place for everyone. And that, these women did that till literally the day that Cokie died. And they still do it now. I see it when I do events with them. The love and adulation that they have for each other and the quibbling and...

Nancy 34:26
the Saturday night dinner.

Lisa 34:29
...Yep, the dinner. They used to have dinner every week. When all of them, yeah, when Susan Stan Burke's husband died, she, you know, they made sure she came. It's just, it's an incredible thing to see. And it's sadly, it's shocking. I think there was a New York Times review of this book or something. A young woman who wrote the review was surprised that this is actually true. But you know, and I have no skin in the game. I don't work for NPR. I didn't know the women, I had to endeared myself to them. But everything I read and saw about it, supported the idea that they all really wanted to help one another. And that was a moment in time when women felt that they needed to do it differently than we do.

Nancy 35:10
And they needed to do it together. Yeah, we're gonna have a fighting chance.

Lisa 35:13

Nancy 35:15
Lisa, I think you have written just a monumental, significant contribution to history and women's history. And I'm so glad you did it. And I know how hard it must have been to do it because weaving four stories together, and the larger story, is one heck of a job and you did it so well. And I'm so pleased.

Lisa 35:37
Thank you so much. That means so much to hear from you. Thank you so much for inviting me. It's great. It's important to also point out that you work with a woman who I worked with a zillion years ago. And that's another point of interconnectivity. So you never know who the person you met five minutes or 20 years ago is going to resurface and help you or connect you. So yeah, that's another important takeaway. Yeah.

Nancy 36:05
So there you go, everyone. Thank you, Lisa.

Lisa 36:07
Thank you. Excellent.


  • Bill Siemering on the qualities of good reporting
  • Matriculation of woman into NPR, with leaders such as Susan Stanberg paving the way
  • What is self-assignment?
  • The history of All Things Considered
  • Nina Totenberg’s coverage of the Anita Hill hearings
  • Cokie Roberts and her journey from housewife to trailblazer
  • Takeaways for women living today


Lisa Napoli
Instagram: @lisanapoli
Twitter: @lisanapoli

Lisa Napoli is a native of Brooklyn, NY and a graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. who currently lives in downtown Los Angeles. She has covered presidential campaigns, the Waco standoff, reported for the public radio show Marketplace, and covered technology for the New York Times. She has produced two documentaries and written four books. Susan, Linda, Nina & Cokie: The Extraordinary Story of the Founding Mothers of NPR , her latest book, is the subject of our show.

Lisa loves hearing other people’s stories and helping to tell them. She also loves to help; in addition to serving on the board as an advisor to a refugee-led media group called the Bhutan Media Society, she leads a cooking group that feeds homeless women on Skid Row in Los Angeles.