I am Sam Sanders, host of the show It's Been. I’ve worked at NPR for 10 years and have talked with every type of person you could imagine to make radio, from historians to journalist to celebrities. Ask me anything about the news and how to talk a...
I’m a correspondent and host at NPR. I’ve spent years as a field producer, breaking news reporter and 2016 campaign reporter at NPR, but now my full time job is hosting It’s Been A Minute, a twice-a-week news and culture podcast (that also airs on the radio) On the show, I’ve interviewed everyone from Jennifer Lopez to one of the principal organizers of the Black Lives Matter movement, to try and make sense of current events and find some bright spots in all the noise. Ask my anything about interviewing, processing the news, the state of the media industry, or making podcasts/radio. I’m on Twitter and Insta @samsanders. I’ll be answering your questions starting at 2pm ET!
Hi! So yeah - it's hard. I am always trying to figure out where to draw the line with artists I support. For Kanye - I still love him. I think his first view albums are just hip hop canon. And I think he can be a jackass but like, things he's done haven't risen to the point of me leaving him alone completely. I've stopped listening to R. Kelly, but like - I haven't stopped listening to Michael Jackson! And, I don't have a coherent explanation as to why. I am interested tho, in the ways scrutiny on these kinds of things is applied. I think we are much more inclined to ask these questions of black singers, especially black men, than of white musicians. All this to say - I haven't answered all the questions I have for myself on this - which means there will probably be an interview on the show soon where I ask a smart person some of these things!
Hey Sam!! I am an avid up first listener on Spotify, what other NPR programs do you think I should listen to if I want more than just 15 minutes of news?
I always recommend The Indicator and Planet Money from NPR. Those two shows do a wonderful job making sense of our current economic reality while also including personal heartfelt stories that share the human toll. So start there for sure. After that, I mean - where do I stop! CodeSwitch is so timely right now. Hidden Brain ALWAYS makes things make more sense for me. Embedded, Invisibilia and Rough Translation are really at the cutting edge of narrative, immersive storytelling. I could go on!
How would you recommend balancing being informed about the current issues in the world with not becoming depressed and burned out from all the negativity?
Read fiction. Long, immersive novels. Read them as much as you read the news. Trust me on this.
It's been a tough week for public radio with layoffs, etc. How does public radio stay alive going forward, especially in the current political climate?
I think a few things need to happen. NPR needs to be very, very aggressive about finding the NEXT generation of public radio listeners - they are going to be the ones giving us the financial support we need in the future. And that means NPR has to lean into mediums we haven't traditionally been in - like video of all types, or even newish platforms like Tik Tok (Check out the Planet Money TikTok - it's great!) Also, we have to look at the ways in which old bureaucratic systems in public radio are redundant and wasteful. Streamlining to focus on the journalism above all is necessary - and you are seeing more of that in increased partnership between NPR and member stations and member station networks. Thirdly, we have to be more aggressive, and blatant about showing people our worth and asking - VERY DIRECTLY - for their money. In my dream world - we finally figure out a way to have an NPR kickstarter. Or like, have NPR personalities make Cameo videos to raise funds. All the things!
Ok! I have to run to an interview. Thanks everyone for the thoughtful questions. I am sorry I couldn't get to them all! Thanks for listening and supporting and challenging the folks doing what I do to be our best selves. I appreciate y'all!
How do they make shows like the NPR Politics Podcast sound so natural? It just sounds like a bunch of friends talking with no scripts, yet everything comes together so perfectly.
FUN FACT: There are scripts! At the bare minimum there is an outline for how the convo should flow. This topic first, then THAT topic, etc. And at the other end, sometimes entire conversations with Q and As and back and forths - they are scripted out in their entirety. (That is increasingly rare, tho). Also, after every interview, producers and editors cut them down a LOT to make them flow well and have a nice pacing. Most of my long form interviews, I'll record with the guest for an hr or, and they are usually cut down to 30 minutes. There's a LOT of work on the backend to make us sound great!
Sam Sanders!!!!! Huge fan. What made you want to leave the politics podcast/beat to do Its Been a Minute?
No particular reason. It was just a feeling I had in my gut. Like, when I was imagining my career 5 or 10 years later, that vision didn't have me covering politics. No negative feelings about it, I just knew it wouldn't be my forever job. And I miss my politics colleagues every day! But right now with the show, I am able to kinda cover whatever I want. Which confirms for me that I would much rather be a generalist than a specialist, when it comes to what I cover.
You did one of my favourite interviews ever, with Uzo Aduba! I come back to that one for inspiration sometimes.
Having interviewed as many people as you have - does it make you realize certain common truths about people? Or do you see more uniqueness than before?
Yes! She was such a joy. So - the thing I think we all have in common is that most of us are really just trying to do the best we can, and this shit is hard for EVERYONE. Without fail, celebrities who I think are the most powerful, most self-assured, on top of EVERYTHING - they will reveal these insecurities that seem so RELATABLE, just after a few questions and a few minutes on the mic. And I don't think it's a performance. Like, the act of living - LIFE - it is in many ways hard for all of us. I find it comforting when rich people and famous people and ridiculously beautiful people confirm that for me.
Hi Sam! Another Sam here - I'm applying for the It's Been a Minute Fall remote internship - what are some qualities/experience you're looking for in an intern that might not already be on the job listing?
A genuine interest in the world. And like - not just one thing - an interest in ALL the things and how they are connected. Great writing skills. An ability to use the Google and the Internet and all that stuff quickly and effectively - half of all our work is factchecking and researching, tbh. Also a sense of humor. Funny people are more fun to work with.
Sam, I've loved hearing your takes on thing even as far back as the NPR Politics Podcast.
What's the most difficult conversation you've had to have with someone impacted by one of the news stories you've covered (BLM, Trump's election, etc.)? Have you kept up with that person?
All of my conversations with guests of color over the last few weeks have really been gut-wrenching. My interview with Kenya Young, an NPR colleague and the mother of three black boys -- about "the talk" -- it really took a lot out of me. There's a chat I had with two black women ministers about holding on to faith (or letting it go temporarily) in this moment of turmoil that totall gutted me. We had to cut some of my crying from the audio in post-production. I think I will always stay in touch with the people I spoke with for those conversations. As for my days reporting, covering the aftermath of mass shootings has always been awful. As a producer and reporter I have been on the ground in Sandy Hook, in Aurora, CO after the movie theatre shooting there, at the Ft. Hood shooting, the LAX shooting, and the list goes on. Those are always extremely emotionally taxing. Honestly, it would feel weird to keep up with a lot of the people I interviewed in those scenes. It always felt weird to put a mic in their faces in the first place.
Sam Sanders! Love your guest spots on PCHH! How do I (white as snow) listen to and support my black friends WITHOUT making them feel like a token or poster child? I so want to learn from their experiences, but I don't want to burden them with absolving my white guilt!
Let them bring up this stuff with you FIRST. I, and so many Black people I know, have been OVERWHELMED by all of our white friends and colleagues reaching out over the last few weeks. It's been - a lot. Remember, your job as a friend/ally is to cultivate a relationship that feels open enough for your friends of color to share things with you organizally, on THEIR timeline. When you force it, it kind of feels like were being asked to sit for oral exams or something and defend some race dissertation. If your friends of color DON'T bring up these things with your organically, ask yourself what you may have done in the relationship to make them feel that they can't?
Sam - What’s it like being out as a journalist? Have you ever felt pressured to cover a certain beat, or to stick to certain topics? Were you always out, or did you have a coming out as a journalist, and what was that like?
You are an inspiration, man. Really. You have several times brightened my week over the years, and your work has been a light in dark times. I have many, many times gone back to your “can’t let it go” reaction to Pulse - what you said about safe spaces has stuck with me ever since. I felt so seen and so heard. Thanks for being strong and positive rep and a voice for the gay community!!
Thank you for listening and for the question! So - being out as a journalist has actually been a long journey for me. I come from a very religious strict Pentecostal/Apostolic family. So - just coming out in my personal life was a thing that happened later for me. Like, I wasn't really out until my mid to late twenties. And it really came in waves. You come out to a few, then to a few more. Tis is why Coming Out Day always kind of annoyed me. For most of us - it's never just one day! Anywho, after I was just like, out as a human in the world, there were these big questions about whether it made sense to address my sexuality in my reporting. When I was covering breaking news, I never felt the need to add an "I'm gay" to a story about ya know, stock market fluctuations. But as my journalism has come to include more of my personality, especially on my show It's Been A Minute, it increasingly felt strange NOT to share that. So I did. We had a big coming out story in which I talked about my sexuality and a lot of other folks sexuality. It was one of our best-performing episodes to date. Now, for me, the conversation I have with myself about my sexuality (and my race) - is "how do I embody those things for ME, in a way that feels right for ME?" Like, I refuse to be black-on-demand, or gay-on-demand. If those parts of me are discussed on the show, it has to feel organic and natural. I don't explicitly TELL people every episode that I am black or that I am gay. But when it makes sense to have it in the conversation I do. And everyone I know knows that *I* reserve the right to make those decisions. And only me.
Whats the best way to be informed without following main stream media?
Public radio - of course. But also physical newspapers! Seriously, reading a full article without the temptation to scroll on your phone midway thru - it is so refreshing.
Do you feel that NPR is vulnerable to misleading media narratives in similar ways that CNN or other outlets are?
Of course! But also, expound more? I want to better understand your question
How do you percieve npr in chomski's propaganda model?
I and most of my progressive freinds have lost all respect for npr because of thier neoliberal coverage during the 2016 campaign, suppressing popular support for Sanders. Thats since gotten worse there. I imagine it was going on before, the pure panning of sanders maybe was just what woke me up to it.
Sorry to depress anyone. I remember a time when journalism did its real job (speaking truth to power and informing the public) instead of entertainment and manufacturing of consent of the corporate ownership of what we call the usa.
I think about this a lot. I actually covered Bernie Sanders in 2016. And I spent a lot of time working on stories that spoke with young people, particularly black and brown people, who supported Bernie in ways that the traditional narrative around him may not have reflected. So - those stories are there - they came from NPR - and I wrote/reported them. But I definitely hear your point. Some of this I think, is about the way in which legacy newsrooms are used to covering politics by going to large political institutions FIRST and foremost. For decades, the way to cover politics in America was to cover the DNC and cover the RNC. That's where it started, and that's where it ended. That is no longer the case. Bernie started his revolution OUTSIDE of that. Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter - the two movements MOST changing our politics right now - they came from OUTSIDE of that. And like, legacy newsrooms are still catching up to that reality. I hope we move quicker on this front soon.
I really love your show and your voice! I have a few programs in a small community radio station, Vancouver Coop Radio coopradio.org. My question is, “how do you prepare your voice and enthusiasm/energy for on air recordings on the days when you may not be feeling your best?” Thanks for being here, love what you and your organization do every day!
Some days you just know you have to fake it. The last three months of lockdown and America's racial unrest have been hard to take in. So yeah, there have been a few days where I just do not want to sound nice or happy on the radio. So - sometimes, we have conversation in which I am able to convey my exhaustion or anger or grief with the guest. And other times, I just meditate for a few minutes and yell - SAM GET IT TOGETHER - and I just make it work. My commitment to my audience is optimism. Some days that is work - but there are definitely worse jobs to have.
Hey Sam, I met you in South Carolina at a College Dems watch party of the NH primary in 2016! Anyways, my question is: what are some stark differences to this year’s presidential election than that of 2016 based on your coverage? I.e sentiment, outcome expectations, issues people are most concerned with, etc.
A few things are becoming even more clear, after we saw signs and trends in 2016. For instance, national parties will mean even LESS in 2020 than they did in 2016. Traditional political endorsement will mean even less as well. The speed of our political news cycles has accelerated even further. BUT - I think the biggest shift this cycle will be seeing who drives the story of the day, at least when it comes to politics. For a few years, Donald Trump did it with his tweets. He could change the entire national conversation with a single tweet. That is no longer the case. And in this current moment, things like protests movements and stock market fluctuations are driving the day - and the conversation - much more than any one man.
What’s been your favorite experience?
Explain? Interview experience? Reporting experience during my time at NPR? Reporting wise, covering the winter olympics in Sochi was a DREAM. Also being on the trail in 2016 was surreal the entire time.
Hi Sam! It’s Been A Minute seems to take a bit of a departure from format from other NPR shows/podcasts. (At least the ones I’m familiar with.) How did you go about the process of designing the structure of the show?
I can not all the credit for this! NPR producer extraordinaire Brent Baughman really laid the blueprint for the show. And I know that he is obsessed with all the late night hosts and what they do - LIKE HE LOVES LETTERMAN - so you can hear some of that energy in the show. Like, us having Aunt Betty as a recurring, announcer type voice? That was Brent's idea and it came from late night. Also, we just ignore some of the convention. Our show is a podcast and a radio show, so every week we have to have a full hour that will air on stations. Most of the flagship shows have very rigid clocks - like this segment is eight minutes, that segment in 15, the break is that long, etc. And you can RARELY change that up. But we decided to use what we call "floating breaks" for my show. Which means we can make segment longer and shorter every week if we want, because we allow ourselves to but breaks and underwriting in wherever it fits, not just in the same spot every week. It is freeing!
How many times does Barenaked Ladies pop up in your head?
At least once a week. Maybe more ;-)
Has there ever been an interview you have done where the person or group was willfully ignorant to the subject of your questions? To that point what's been the most rediculious instance of this?
I am a big fan of your reporting and your work and thanks for taking the time to do this.
We pre-interview most guests before I chat with them, so we can confirm that they are the right voice, so thankfully I have been able to avoid that! I am assuming with live radio, it happens all the time!
I've been a huge fan of your shows through the years!
Everything I've seen on Twitter and on your show points to you have a wonderful work environment (both from your time in DC and now in LA) and it makes me envious. What do you actively do to manage this?
First of all, gotta say, NPR West - the west coast branch of NPR, in Culver City - it's a DREAM. It's a much smaller shop than NPR DC, and that makes us all really closer and more connected. I think there are maybe 70 of us total. Several of those colleagues are some of my best friends on this side of the country. They make going to work easy. In terms of managing my work environment, it's all about my routine. I don't start work most days until I've mediated, gone for a jog and had my coffee. The ritual helps me get ready for the day - and I have space in my calendar for it - every morning. If I don't do it - the whole days is bad! Always! So, finding routine and sticking with it. Also allowing yourself lots of breaks. I'd rather have a day that's spaced out and feels manageable than one where I finish at 3pm but feel like I was on a hamster wheel the whole time
Was there ever any interviewee who you originally had doubts wether you could get them on the show?
JLo. I never thought we'd get her. My colleague Anjuli Sastry fought for that booking for a YEAR. And I didn't believe it actually happened until I heard it on the radio.
With so much extreme news, how to you keep your emotions and tone neutral when on air ?
I don't ;-) -- they cut all my ranting and raving in post production! JK JK JK. Seriously, over time you get really good at it. I was a reporter for years before hosting the show, and I've just learned over time the things you can't say as an NPR personality. Like - I will never endorse a candidate on our air. But I CAN say - well, the thing that politician did - it is universally, all around a bad or a good move. I think I am allowed that, especially on issues where my experience offers me particular credence to comment on such things - like issues of race, or even sexuality, to a certain extent. I also reserve the right to mock celebrities. I don't care what anyone says!
With the assumption that everyone and every news organization has a bias to them, what do you think your bias is, and what do you think NPR's bias might be? *I don't mean bias in the pejorative, I mean bias in the sense of favoring a certain POV.
If I had to say, my bias is towards all the kids I sat with at the cafeteria table or in the band hall in high school. The awkward black and brown kids. The non-athletic kids. The queer kids. The emo kids. Those of us who were never gonna be on homecoming court. I think that plays out now in my seeking to cover communities that are constistenly marginalized, whether by popular culture, or our political and judicial systems, or in any number of arenas. I would like to thing my bias is for them. For us.
Thanks for doing this! You make the news both informative and bearable and I love your pop culture takes. What tv show would you reboot and how?
Happy Endings - pandemic lockdown edition. Original cast.
Who's on your dream list to interview?
And for fun let's say it can be anyone - alive or not
I would love to interview Bayard Rustin right now, in pride month, in 2020, while race is at the forefront. I think he'd have the most amazing insights of all of it. Also Beyonce. And Kate McKinnon.
Have you ever though of having Rund and Ramtin from Throughline on your show? I'd love to hear the back and forth between you all, I'm sure it'd make a great episode.
I have had them on before! Here's a link.
Hi Sam. I've got two questions for you.
Firstly, how did the idea of the last segment about the heat thing that happened to you this week come about. It's such a simple, powerful and unique idea that I suspect there's a story there?
Secondly, is that your Aunt Betty doing "Who said that?" How did you convince her to be the voice of your show?
That was a thing I saw friends on Facebook do MANY years ago. Then I started doing it on my Facebook page every Friday, just as a way to get away from the snark and negativity, at least for a bit. When Brent and I were putting the show together, we asked all of our friends and colleagues to offer suggestions for segments or anything really, and my friend Theo Balcomb (now at The Daily) suggested we put the best things thing on the air in some way. The rest is history. ALSO - the Who Said That intro sound is actually a clip from the Real Housewives of Atlanta! I show I love. Betty is the voice you here in the rest of the show, tho. My colleague Brent Baughman made the ask. And Betty said yes without hesitation. I don't think she fully knew what she was signing up for!
Sam, thank you for interviewing R. Eric Thomas. He's fantastic. I learn so much from your podcast and appreciate your willingness to be vulnerable and discuss your life.
Question - when are you getting a second dog?
Thank you! So - I gotta get a house with a yard before I consider a second dog! Also, walking two dogs at once is like 5 times harder than walking one dog... But who knows!
Sam, I've been a fan of yours for a while and recommend your podcast every chance I get!
I know that you're a big music guy and are/were a fan of Kanye. Given everything that's happened over the last few years, do you still enjoy his music?
I always struggle with what to do with the music (or films or art, etc) created by people that have said or done things that I disagree with -- or are just objectively abhorrent (looking at you, R. Kelly). How do you approach this type of thing?
Keep up the great work! Also, I'd love to hear more Native American/Indigenous-focused voices and stories on the show. I particularly enjoyed your conversation with the Eastern Band of Cherokee citizen a little over a year ago on per capita payouts and their impact on the tribe.
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