Takeaways from 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.

Here are our top takeaways from our Confab with Lisa Napoli, author of Susan, Linda, Nina & Cokie: The Extraordinary Story of the Founding Mothers of NPR.


1. No really, how did they do that?

It’s one thing to celebrate women of accomplishment (which we do!) but to learn how they did what they did, that’s the real story that counts. Most people do not remember the challenges Cokie Roberts and the other founding mothers of NPR faced as women at the start of their careers at the dawn of public radio. That is why it is so important for us to hear about the struggles it took to achieve these accomplishments.  Bad days, tough days come with the territory; muscle through.


2. A little professional self-assignment could be a game changer

At the beginning of their careers at NPR, when they weren’t getting the meatier beats they wanted, they went off on their own and reported the stories they wanted to cover.  These extra-credit assignments they gave themselves showed management what they could do.  Yes, women could cover the serious stuff.  Whatever the work place, giving yourself a self-assignment to hand in a project that shows you can do the thing you really want to do, is still one of the best ways to shine a light on your abilities.


3. Work longer, work harder

Wish it weren’t so, but it is still true that women have to work twice as hard as men to get ahead.  The NPR women came in early and stayed late.  They were determined to show that they had the skills and smarts to be bona fide newswomen.  All that work paid off.


4. Lean in and on your sisters

The four founding mothers of NPR became their own support group.  Three of the four had children and helped each other with the old balance question.  All four, with their husbands, met every weekend for brunch.  Eventually their group was so tight, they started ruling the office, not just influencing but deciding what to cover and who to hire.  Remember, there was not one founding mother of NPR, there were four.  Strength comes in numbers.  Create a tribe.