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Getting 'On Point' With Hosts Meghna Chakrabarti And David Folkenflik

This week, Meghna Chakrabarti and David Folkenflik start the next chapter of their journalism careers as the new co-hosts of On Point, a public radio weekday news and talk program. We caught up with them to talk journalism, the radio landscape and more.

What's your pitch to new listeners about why they should listen to On Point?

Meghna: On Point is that now exceedingly rare public space where you hear nuanced explorations of complex topics live and in real time. It's urgency and timeliness matched with depth. Podcasts, too, are rising as powerful tools for long format journalism. But by definition, on demand content is decoupled from the immediacy of the day's or week's news. On Point gives you richness, intelligence, and intensity right now. Plus, it's live. Hearing things get hashed out in real time is always a thrill. It's a place where you're going to learn, you're going to be challenged, and you're going to have fun, too. Expect to hear me laugh a lot.

David: We intend to present engaging conversations about the issues, trends and characters that interest them most. We intend to surprise our listeners, too, with captivating stories and insights they didn't know they wanted, or needed, to hear. I'm aiming for a blend of a sense of history, humanity, humility and humor. And I think it needs to speak to the era we're living in, without becoming dizzying. On Point represents democracy in action, every day. Our audiences often know at least as much as we do. And the show absorbs and reflects their perspectives and questions in real time, with calls and social media messages. For those who have been fans of the show in the past, I think you'll find a welcome mix of the familiar and the new. A slightly different sensibility accompanied by an appreciation of On Point's traditions.

You've spent a lot of time working with On Point, have you been able to reassess /get some clarity around your approach to hosting the show given that you're already so familiar?

Meghna: My first job in journalism was as a producer for On Point. This is the show that taught me to relish deep research, pursue and cherish facts, and how to press for the right question that yields the greatest insight. Those are core values of the program that have informed my journalism career. I've spent about twice as much time away from On Point, reporting in Boston and hosting Radio Boston. That's allowed me to weave in the tools of a radio reporter into hosting – an enterprise approach to stories, knowing when to take a back seat to the power of sound and other human voices, how to listen, how to build a show that fearlessly ranges about the entire spectrum of human emotion and experience.

How has covering an increasingly complex and fraught media landscape prepared you for this job as host?

David: The media beat has often been perceived as a side dish. Right now, it's the main course. President Trump invented himself as a figure on the national scene in the pages of New York City's tabloid newspapers and then as a reality host on NBC. He famously obsesses over coverage from specific networks and newspapers and even individual reporters. He knows how to set the news cycle on its ear with a series of tweets. I think we are living in a media moment and that will help inform my hosting. In addition, as a media critic, I'm confronted by questions every host should consider: How could a story have been handled differently? What's the bigger picture? Whose voices are being left out of the conversation?

What's a lesson from hosting Radio Boston and Modern Love: The Podcast over the last year that will be valuable to your success in hosting the show?

Meghna: The great lesson from Modern Love: The Podcast is simple. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can match the power of a story, beautifully told. Radio is the most intimate form of broadcast media. We are all transported by the sensation of hearing someone whisper their joys and tragedies directly into our ears. I believe there's room for that magic at On Point.Similarly, the towering lesson from eight terrific years hosting Radio Boston is also rather simple. The news doesn't just happen. It happens to someone. Decisions and events aren't just abstractions. Somewhere, people are feeling the impact of those moments. Their experiences, their lives are being changed by it. Radio Boston taught me, above all, that shows that are too analytical, too high level or high concept, risk becoming overly abstracted and therefore meaningless to the actual lives of real people. Find the people who are living the news you're talking about and let them tell you what it really means.

What advantage or specific insights does your background in print journalism and non-fiction writing provide you in this role?

David: I think my years as a reporter - in print and for radio - have helped to give me an enhanced appreciation for fixed facts and hard truths. And my writing a book gave me a sense of what it takes to offer a fuller treatment and to construct a larger narrative on a scaffolding of careful reporting and research. And I've acquired a feel for hidden influences for the stories that play out in open view. I intend to bring that journalistic care and interest in telling a story to the show. That said, I feel as though I've been preparing for this for years, without realizing it: as a listener, a guest, an occasional subject, and, now, most recently, as a (substitute) host.

What is most exciting about this new role for you?

Meghna: All of it. Can't wait to get started.

Do you have any short term goals for the Friday show?

David: My sister used to tell me: "Never be boring." That sounds like a pretty good mantra to me.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Griffin Rowell