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Digging Deeper into Journalism with Award-Winning Public Radio Host Krista Tippett

Nov 03, 2016 04:00PM ● By Nicole Gould

Photo by Simon Oosthuizen

Peabody award-wining broadcaster and New York Times best-selling author, Krista Tippett, is certainly making her mark in the journalism world.

With her journalist passion, Krista received the National Humanities Medal in 2014 from President Barack Obama and landed her most recent book, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, on the New York Times best-seller list.

Willing to break down the complexity that is faith, ethics, and human life, Krista created the Peabody Award-winning public radio conversation and podcast, On Being , which airs on more than 400 public radio stations across the U.S.

Experience a live conversation led by Krista at the Avalon Theater on Thursday, November 17th, 7–8:30 p.m. She will be interviewing Anil Dash, a tech entrepreneur, activist, and advocate working to make technology and the tech industry more humane, inclusive, and ethical. Tickets are $15 general admission or $35 general admission including an autographed copy of Krista’s new book, Becoming Wise. Tickets can be purchased here.

What made you decide that you not only wanted to be a journalist, but a religion journalist?

Photo by Ann Marsden

I had been a journalist in divided Berlin, which is where I started. I was covering breaking news and politics and I had actually taken a job with the state department. I started to question the remis I had going into this that politics is where all the interesting questions are being played out and the solutions are being formulated. Then to test that hypothesis I went to Yale Divinity school.

I came out of that having dealt with Theology, which is kind of like Economics, and what I saw, was that you had this collision between few very strident voices and I think journalists are entertaining, they stood up, and were assertive. They spoke for all religious people and God. I was thinking about this whole swath of life, religion, spirituality, ethics, and I felt that we don’t have anything near the sophisticated way of converting this part of life and its complexity the way we have complex ways covering politics, economics, or the arts. That’s kind of how I got very fired up, making something happen that was different.

Tell me a little more about “On Being”, which was originally named. “Speaking of Faith.” What pushed you to start your own radio show/podcast? What are you hoping to accomplish with “On Being”?

As I said, I had been a journalist and trained as a journalist. I felt like there was this black hole where intelligent in coverage of religion should be. I was also someone who loved radio. I felt like public radio was a place where it might be possible to create a new paradigm. I really wanted to create something about this part of life that would open imaginations up rather than shut them down.

Most of the coverage of religion shuts it down. Podcasting wasn’t around yet. Starting a public radio show you have to conquer one station at a time, there are gatekeepers involved to get this fantastic public radio audience. Podcasting pens the connection to the world and this direct relationship to listeners, which has been wonderful.

What are your thoughts on the way journalism was years ago compared to where its developed to today?

I do feel it’s still true that journalists are a littler sloppier with religion coverage, people, and ideas than they would be covering political people and ideas. They generalize and don’t fact check. I think that’s getting better, but it’s an ongoing problem. The larger questions of journalism is something that’s on my mind a lot right now. I don’t think that the forms of journalism that came down to us from the 20th century are good for us anymore.

In a 24/7 environment when people are bombarded with the same news, were not internalizing that as extraordinary, were internalizing it as the norm. We live in a moment where we need to muster courage and resilience. We need to cultivate generative ways of being with each other and talking about hard things and inhabiting communities of difference.

Strangely, journalism is more of a demoralizing force than a helpful or curating force. This is something we have to grapple with. I definitely see journalism having its version of that moment where a lot of things that felt right and worked just a decade ago have outlived their usefulness.

Let’s talk about you most recent New York Times best seller, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living. What was the inspiration behind this book? Did you ever imagine it would become a best seller?

That book grew out of a question I’ve been asked across the years, wanting me to reflect on reoccurring qualities of grace and wisdom. I was also working with this language of Einstein I really love. He said there was such a thing as spiritual genius and he was looking at people such as Gandhi. That kind of intelligence I was asking myself, “What does spiritual genius look like?” As I was working with that language and thinking about the language of saints, the more I pursued what I had been learning, something that was wisdom, what felt really important to me was that we put saints and spiritual genius on pedestals.

What I learned is wisdom is something that emerges from the raw materials of life. As much through meeting the darkness in life and waking through it and with it. Wisdom became the theme for me to write about and how its accessible to all of us in any life.

Writing a book is such a painful and hard thing. You want people to read it and its very thrilling when people actually start doing that.

What was your most challenging topic that you covered and why?

One of my approaches journalistically is to try to find the fresh angle into a subject that is being covered a lot. This year and the last couple of years we’ve been doing a lot on trying to find new ways in to this matter of racial healing. I like to use those words together. I think that we kind of use the language of the race conversation, but I don’t think we have a race conversation.

I did an interview with John Powell that had important lessons to me. He talked about how can we open the question of race to the question of belonging, and I’m going to keep following that question and it is hard and its works of generations and I’m not going to do a single show or year of shows that can be adequate. I think we all have to do our part and that’s my part.

What is your personal favorite topic to discuss?

I almost might say the same one as the previous question. Not just the question of race, but the amazing unparalleled reality were living in now of the proximity to others. Another way you can say that is we are really experiencing the fullness of ourselves as a species and we have the possibility and understanding of what it means to be whole as a human being. We have all these tools, understanding of our bodies and brains, spiritual technologies. All these ways to become more whole than we have before, spiritual and scientific. I think the same thing is true.

We are the first generation to really take in the fact of our connectedness of ourselves as a species and that is as stressful as it is promising. I feel like whether I’m talking to poets, physicists, or talking to people who are involved on the frontiers of race or politics, were all working with some piece of that puzzle of the possibility of coming whole and the possibility of becoming more fractured because of the stress involved with that.

Photo by Mandel Ngania AFP Getty Images

What was it like receiving the 2014 National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama? Did you ever think your career would become so successful?

Receiving the medal was like an out of body experience and I don’t remember much. If I didn’t have pictures I wouldn’t have believed it happened. It was an incredible thing, partly because I started this from scratch and its true of anything that you start no-one has quite done before, you spend a lot of years trying to convince other people. I was a real gorilla warrior and it was kind of amazing to get a phone call out of the blue that someone just wants to honor you for the work you’ve done. It was really amazing.

This thing I’ve worked on for years, it’s not by any means the biggest media project out there, I’m always kind of surprised when other people think of it that way. But, to be aware that its touching people and reaching people, that really comes back at me and it feels pretty miraculous.

What are you hoping to accomplish over the next five years?

Right now, I’m aware of what kind of frail and damaged place we’re in culturally. I think there’s a lot of wreckage from this campaign and will be with us after this election. I feel like somehow these last few years, and topped off by this campaign, have just put all of our unfinished business out into the open.

The fact that we don’t know each other and have these huge divides and cut across race, income levels, education, generation levels, and yet I really do believe, at the same time, I know there’s a huge amount of resilience and incredible initiatives that are bridging divides and we are becoming more whole and understanding our need.

I’ve been involved in shining a light on that narrative and what I feel now [is that] I want to be working [on] bringing those narratives together and helping us have a sense of a full picture and resources that we have rising to our best selves. There’s hard work to be done, but I know we can do it and I’ll do whatever I can to be a part of that.

When you’re not working, what are some other activities that you enjoy?

I do a lot of yoga, which I love and I’ve been doing a lot of biking lately too. I really enjoy reading well-written mystery novels. They have to be well-written. I’m just excited about all the great TV in the world now. I spent the weekend watching the new season of the show The Fall. I spent Friday night switching back and forth between Anderson Cooper and Megyn Kelly, then I decided to immerse myself in murder for the rest of the weekend. It was awesome.