Back in January, I became a White House Correspondent for NPR. Before that I covered Congress. Oh, and I covered the Olympics in Sochi. I started in public radio before I was old enough to drive, as an essayist for Weekend Edition Sunday. I've also worked at KQED, KPCC, WOSU, WCPN and Marketplace. Here's some of my recent work (and a couple old favorites):

Here's my proof:

EDIT Totally bummed our time is up. I really enjoyed this. You can keep up with me on Twitter @tamarakeithNPR. I try to be as responsive as possible...within limits.

Comments: 140 • Responses: 26  • Date: 

gunpowdergreen29 karma

Last night on Letterman, former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said this about briefings in the White House briefing room vs. aboard Air Force One:

"It's very interesting to see the difference between the briefing in the White House, fully televised, carried online, tweeted about as it happens -- and the off-camera and on-the-record briefings I would do on Air Force One ... The difference is like night and day, in terms of the tenor ... [and] the kind of posing and histrionics and faux indignation that you get sometimes. ... When you're on TV, you tend to play for the cameras."

Can you speak to that from a journalist's perspective?

TamaraKeith42 karma

I tend to agree with him. When you are on TV, you feel some obligation to present yourself in a certain way. And in particular the TV correspondents in the front row sometimes need to ask the same question the person next to them did, simply because they need footage of themselves asking the question.

beerorkid21 karma

Do you think having a unique name helps when applying to NPR?

@midnight did a bit on it. NPR anchor or minor Star Wars character?

TamaraKeith30 karma

Growing up people always made fun of me for my name. No one could figure it out, and it was mispronounced more often than people got it right. Substitute teachers always wanted to call my Tammy, which I hated. So I thought I had a really weird name. Then I came to NPR and I don't even make the bracket for unique names.

ChallengeResponse16 karma

Who would you rather grab a beer with, Peter Sagal or Ira Glass (and why)?

TamaraKeith16 karma

Tough choice. Going to say Ira Glass. But, I suspect Peter and I would have more to talk about since we are both runners.

gunpowdergreen4 karma

Who would you rather grab a glass of wine with, Peter Sagal or Ira Glass (and why)?


TamaraKeith27 karma

Just to blow your mind, I am more of a beer person. Have a home brew going right now. I'm not so sure about Peter and Ira.

Poser8513 karma

What was your first job in the industry?

TamaraKeith22 karma

I was a columnist for my local newspaper in Hanford, CA...but that didn't pay. My first paying gig was as an essayist for Weekend Edition Sunday. I started when I was 15 years old, and then when I was 18 I got an internship at KQED in San Francisco.

seven_seven11 karma

What do you think about the Obama administration's claim that they are the most transparent in history?

TamaraKeith17 karma

I don't have a lot to compare it to, since this is the first president I've covered. But lots of other reports with a lot more experience covering administrations disagree with the Administration's claim. I guess it may all come down to how you define transparent.

GatewayKeeper7 karma

Hi Tamara, I'm a big fan. I have three questions.

What advice would you give to young public radio journalists?

Do you think women radio journalists face any specific struggles/challenges?

Everyone says, "Just get out there and start." But how do you overcome the fear/paralysis of not having a good idea or not believing your ideas are good enough?

TamaraKeith9 karma

  1. That's a really big question. If you're still in college, I'd say major in something other than journalism, like Poli Sci, Economics, or Philosophy (that's what I did) and then just do as much journalism as you can in your free time. Generally practice practice practice. Make radio even if no one wants to pay you to do it.

  2. Nope! Not really. I guess there's some criticism sometimes that we sound too young, which I don't think is fair. But I've never felt like being a woman held me back in any way.

  3. They are right. Check out PRX, Transom, my old website for lots of tips about how to do it. I'm sure your ideas are awesome.

GatewayKeeper3 karma

Ah, thank you so much! I work at a local affiliate now (and unfortunately majored in journalism in college), but the advice is still very much applicable. Thank you so much.

One follow-up question: Do you think it's worth it to make things only you like? So much of what I want to make/create/write about doesn't seem like it would interest most people and doesn't feel like 'news.' But I guess I need to stop asking for permission in general... :D

TamaraKeith8 karma

Definitely stop asking permission. Even if you are creating radio that is more or less a pet project for yourself, you are getting good experience. In the radio business you have to screw up a bunch of times to get better. If you love making radio, just keep doing it...even if you just put it up on soundcloud for your friends. But check out B-Side. We did radio for a fairly limited audience, and it was a wonderful experience for all of us.



TamaraKeith14 karma

So, I am clearly on Twitter, and FB and whatnot...and just did a tumblr from the most recent presidential trip.

There have been times when I've asked the WH or someone in congress for a comment or confirmation of something and they've said "didn't you see my tweet."

Twitter does make it easier to keep track of what's going on, and in some ways that frees me up to spend more time thinking about how I want to tell my stories.

At NPR, we like to think of ourselves as "breaking idea" and that means we don't have to move at the speed of twitter all the time.

centralVAstuff6 karma

Were conditions in Sochi as bad as the morning talk show media made them out to be?

TamaraKeith15 karma

Yes, and no. I mean, we the media were whining in a big way...because that's what we do. And at the beginning, we were all there with no sports to cover, getting over jet lag and complaining about our accommodations. That said, the paint was still sticky in my hotel room when I arrived, and it smelled faintly of sewage in my room the whole time. A shower head was busted and the tub didn't have any caulking, so my bathroom flooded every time I tried to shower for a week until they fixed it.

That said, the Russian people were incredibly accommodating and nice and I think really just wanted to impress the world. And I don't think all the grump tweeting was really fair to them. (and this is not a statement about the government, just the regular folks I met who seemed to excited to run into an American)

MacroNova4 karma

Do you think the "grump tweeting" had anything to do with anti-Putin sentiment?

TamaraKeith11 karma

No. We're just spoiled brats and thought all the flaws were funny.

gunpowdergreen3 karma

Throughout your entire career, what was your favorite story to report on?

TamaraKeith19 karma

I did a series in 2011 where I gave recorders to 6 unemployed people in Saint Louis. They kept audio diaries throughout the year documenting their experience. It was really tough to report, to manage all the tape, etc but it was also incredibly rewarding. It was the one time in my career where I developed real deep relationships with the people I was profiling. And I also just thought it was an important project, to show our listeners the realities of unemployment and re-employment and the slow painful recovery from the recession beyond just a bunch of numbers.

Vhrix3 karma

Mind if I asked two?

1) How concerned are you about the news industry bowing to market pressures on what to cover? (The forthcoming cancellation of an incredibly valuable show in Tell Me More really concerns me.)

2) Wish your actual job resembled more The West Wing or more Newsroom? :)

TamaraKeith8 karma

I feel like we are pretty lucky in that most of our money comes from our listeners who just want us to do a good job covering the news. I've never ever felt pressure to cover anything, or not cover anything. I also love Tell Me More, as a listener!

I am about a decade behind on television these days, so I haven't seen Newsroom. But I can tell you The West Wing is both relatively accurate and an idealistic pipe dream.

bluengreen73 karma

What are a few things about Air Force One the majority of the public has never considered?

TamaraKeith6 karma

Technically any plane the president is on is called Air Force One. It could be a crop duster, as long as an Air Force pilot is flying it.

Reporters rarely see the president on AF1.

The bathrooms (for the reporters at least) are actually much nicer on the "little bird," the backup smaller plane the president sometimes flies on.

chasely2 karma

I have a few questions, choose what you'd like to answer.

  • Do you think that the ability of politicians to bypass "traditional media" to get their message out - usually through social media outlets - has affected the dynamic between reporters and politicians? If so, how?

  • It seems that journalism - at the highest levels - is becoming a profession for upper-middle class and upper class people since an unpaid internship in places like Washington DC and New York are very beneficial to getting one's foot in the door. Is this view justified, and if so, a problem? More generally, do you think a journalist's background has a large impact on how they report?

  • How frustrating is it to hear rehearsed answers over and over again from politicians/sources?

  • I see you play softball for the NPR team. What's your favorite position to play?

TamaraKeith3 karma

I do think it has changed the dynamic somewhat in that they often don't think they really need us. In reality, though, social media largely allows them to preach to the choir as it were, reaching an audience of thousands who happen to like them enough to follow them or friend them. Conventional media, mass media, still has a much larger audience, so if they want to reach an audience of millions, they still need us.

  • One of my goals in life is to force politicians out of their comfort zones, make them laugh, whatever it takes to get them to accidentally say something a little more human and a little less rehearsed. Sure, it's frustrating, but I love a challenge.

    • I play second base, generally. I like it there.

Cheech472 karma

What level of engagement does the press really have with the Press Secretary or the White House in general? It seems to me that the press conferences are more and more just putting on a show for the national media. I understand that conferences are short and not a proper forum for a proper debate, however it seems that the answers we get from the WH and Press Secretary, even through multiple administrations/secretaries, are pretty flippant when held up to scrutiny and devoid of any real substance.

Thanks for doing this!

TamaraKeith3 karma

I'd argue the daily press briefings are actually painfully long. Often the press secretary has an answer he is going to give on a certain topic, and it doesn't matter how many different ways reporters ask it, you are going to get the same answer. Again and again and again. It makes the briefings drag on without giving us much depth or new information.

The WH does often have background briefings where they share somewhat more. And we can always drop in on the Press Secretary or his deputies. They are quite responsive to e-mail.

But this White House is a pretty tight ship when it comes to reaching out to administration officials (not of the communications variety) directly.

yawsotto2 karma

What exactly is an essayist? And how did you land your first essayist gig?

TamaraKeith6 karma

An essayist is a person who writes short pieces about themselves or experiences and then voices them on the radio. Sometimes they are opinion pieces. Sometimes they are a slice of life. Often they say something larger about the human condition. In my case, I was a teen essayist, which meant I just wrote little pieces about being a teenager...deciding what to wear on the first day of school, taking my driver's exam.

I landed the gig by writing letters to my favorite NPR personalities seeking college advice. The host of Weekend Edition Sunday liked my letter and the show had been looking for a teen voice, unbeknownst to me.

not_enough_electrons2 karma

Hey Tamara, thanks for contributing to NPR in the great way that you do; so many of us appreciate it.

What role do you think radio journalism plays in today's "24-hour news cycle"/internet world? Do you see it continuing into the future? In what way can radio journalists/radio programs help our society that television and even online/print cannot?

TamaraKeith8 karma

One of our former CEO's once said "radio isn't going anywhere, it's going everywhere." I really like that idea.

I think we at NPR can make a difference in much the same way newspapers or TV networks can. A really good story can influence the national dialogue, and the internet makes what we do less ephemeral than it used to be.

What we have that no one else has is the power of the human voice. People are fascinating, and hearing them talk without the distraction of images is a remarkable, intimate thing. Think about some of the best conversations you've ever had, often they are in the dark, over the phone, or in the car sitting side by side and not really looking at each other. Radio journalism does that too.

MacroNova2 karma

What's a harder job, host or correspondent, and why?

TamaraKeith3 karma

I have only hosted once, a two week stint filling in for Scott Simon. It was a wonderful, fun, collaborative experience. It felt like vacation I had so much fun. And I didn't have to worry about my cell phone ringing at 10 PM and having to jump into action and report something.

So, being a correspondent, particularly a White House correspondent is pretty grueling. But it is also incredibly rewarding. And the reality of hosting is that you have to be an expert in so many things.

I guess I don't really know the answer, but I am very happy as a correspondent.

Stangmeister2 karma

Tamara! It's great you're doing this AMA - thank you. I'm a long time listener.

I want to know what it felt like to go into the White House for the very first time - was it just another day at the office or a sort of surreal experience?

TamaraKeith4 karma

Going into the White House is never just another day at the office. Also, when I worked at the Capitol I was awed every day I went to work by the responsibility and honor of covering such an institution, housed in such an amazing building.

Also, both buildings are terrorist targets that regularly get blown up in alien/disaster movies, and I think about that when I am going through security on the way in.

I_Will_Underwhelm2 karma

Hi Tamara! I see you earned a bachelors degree in philosophy. What was your reasoning for pursuing that degree? Did/do you find it useful? Who's the hippest NPR personality to hang out with? It's gotta be Kai Ryssdal, right?

TamaraKeith7 karma

Kai and I worked together at KQED when he was a temp/freelancer and I was an intern...and, yeah, he rocks. You can't imagine all the snark that went back and forth across the low cubicle wall between our desks.

As for Philosophy, I wanted to study something that would be challenging and teach me how to think and ask questions and break apart arguments. It was really good for that. Also, Scott Simon suggested it. Seriously, it was the hardest thing I have ever done. Sometimes I wish I had majored in something easier that isn't such a punchline. But not really. I'm glad I did it.

radams50001 karma

Someone else said you are on the NPR softball team. Is this true? What are everyone's nicknames? Do you call Nina Totenberg "Totes?"

TamaraKeith4 karma

I did play on the NPR softball team this year...but I ended up having to quit midseason because games were on Saturdays and my small child didn't enjoy attending them. But it was good fun while it lasted. Alas, Nina did not play on the team. But if she did, I'm certain we would have called her Totes.

gman2551 karma

What do you think is the biggest advantage for working for NPR over some other news outlet?

TamaraKeith7 karma

The tote bags and mugs! Seriously, we have an incredibly loyal audience, which I love. We're a serious badass news organization. AND we have the power of the human voice. I love putting people's voices and stories on the air.

kittens_in_mittens_1 karma

Do you have any funny stories about something that happened in the briefing room?

TamaraKeith2 karma

Well, a few weeks ago during Josh Earnest's second briefing as the press secretary an intern fainted. She was fine. But it made for an abrupt ending to the briefing.

Sometimes reporters ask some totally random questions. There was one recently where someone asked what the president thought of a circus accident. Huh?!

Gigantor_Junior1 karma


TamaraKeith9 karma

It was actually really tough. He is so incredible, generous, talented. I felt like it would be impossible to fill his shoes. I actually had a nightmare where I was yelling at my boss saying "I'm sorry I can't be as fabulous as Ari Shapiro." It hasn't been that bad. He did a great job of showing me the ropes and I really have to be my own woman - define the White House Correspondent job for myself, and not worry about how Ari did it.

And, yes, he is a very attractive human.

CollumMcJingleballs0 karma

Do you have a sister named Tia?

TamaraKeith1 karma

Ummmm. Just a brother named Donovan.