NPR’s David Folkenflik speaks at Playhouse

CMI kicks off media speakers series

Written By Carley Bonk, Editor-in-Chief

On Tuesday, Jan. 16, David Folkenflick, a media correspondent for NPR news and a host for NPR’s “On Point,” spoke in the PNC Theater at the Pittsburgh Playhouse.

The event, presented by the Center for Media Innovation (CMI), Pittsburgh Playhouse and 90.5 WESA, is the first in the “Media Innovators Speaker Series.” Throughout the spring semester, journalists from multiple media outlets will be visiting campus to discuss the media’s ever-changing role in society.

“What we try to do is bring in people who are doing interesting work in the media,” Director of the CMI, Andrew Conte said. “For students, it’s a chance to see that from Point Park you can go to NPR or the New York Times Magazine.”

Conte and Terry O’Reilly, President and CEO of Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting, opened the event by introducing a project the CMI has been involved in over the past year in McKeesport.

The project addresses how a community of nearly 20,000 residents is essentially a media desert, without a local news source to inform them. Conte discussed the progress they made in working with the young people in the community on how to build stories themselves.

“We got a micro-grant from the Department of Community Engagement and the Center for Inclusive Education for $800, just enough to get us started,” Conte said. “We did an initial project with the students where we talked about what they loved and what they hated about their community.”

With funding from the Pittsburgh Foundation and the work of Point Park alum Matt Petras, the program was able to expand through the summer. 

O’Reilly took the stage next, speaking briefly about the challenges the field of journalism faces today.

“It will come as no surprise to you that journalism in general is in a pretty difficult day right now,” O’Reilly said. “It will come to no surprise to you that journalists on one hand have never had better tools and distribution platforms for the work that they do and yet the stories keep coming. As we ride one of this country’s longest economic waves, newspapers are shrinking.”

Despite the shrinking size of the media, Folkenflick expressed his faith in journalism today when he appeared on stage with moderator Liz Reid, an editor at 90.5 WESA.

“It’s an important element of American democracy,” Folkenflick said. “This matters; this is how we’re informed about things. NPR does an exemplary job, but it doesn’t do it all right. We’re not perfect. But we try really hard and do a pretty damn good job.”

Folkenflick also touched on ethics in journalism, as he is the recipient of the Society of Professional Journalists’ 2018 Ethics in Journalism award.

“What other profession publishes their mistakes,” Folkenflick asked. “People obsess over that stuff, they care about that stuff and most of them really do try to get it right.”

NPR’s devotion to their audiences was another main point in Folkenflick’s assessment of the media.

“In a time when there’s constriction of ambition at so many mainstream regional news organizations to define the news agenda to tell us what is happening around us, you see public radio stations stepping up saying ‘we’re going to fill that space we’re going to offer a civil but expansive ongoing public conversation and debate about these issues in our region, our city our county,’” Folkenflick said.

Hearing what the audience cares about is a way for Folkenflick and his fellow reporters at NPR to mold new stories that haven’t been done before.

“We’re also going to offer accountability and try to inform you about things and not just the same stories you read or heard,” Folkenflick said. “If it’s truly consequential to our listeners, we want to follow that story.”

Conte is looking forward to working with the local public radio station for upcoming events.

“We really benefited this year by partnering with WESA, who helped us envision what the series would look like and helped us make the contacts with the public radio speakers,” Conte said.

The next “Media Innovators Speaker Series” is to be held at the Pittsburgh Playhouse on Thursday, Feb. 21 at 7:00 p.m. New York Times Magazine contributor and published novelist Nathaniel Rich will take the stage.