BPR Interviews: Tamara Keith

Photo Credit: Caitlin Sanders, NPR.

Tamara Keith is a White House correspondent for NPR and is currently covering the presidential election for the station. In addition to her regular reporting, Ms. Keith also co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast. She has been at NPR since 2009, where she has also worked as a business reporter and Congressional correspondent.

 

Podcasts are having a bit of a moment now. Why do you think there is such a sudden interest in podcasts?

 

I think what we can do with the podcast is have more of an informal exchange of ideas. And sometimes with more traditional public broadcasting, it’s like everyone is sort of sitting next to each other, looking forward, rather than sitting around a table talking to each other – in terms of the feel of it. And I think that with the podcast we are able to interrupt each other [and] really just have a conversation. I think that for a lot of people that is a more relatable way to talk about politics.

 

Just to put in a pitch, I think our podcast is really, really special and a little different than pretty much any of the other political podcasts because we don’t assume a level of knowledge in our listeners that some of the other podcasts assume. I think a lot of podcasts, political podcasts – and I love them – but they start halfway through the conversation in a way, and are tailored more to political junkies… The other thing that is super special about our podcast is our diversity. And I just don’t just mean just racially, but also in terms of age, life experience, religion, all of these things.

 

As a reporter, how are you able to distill politicians’ comments into something that isn’t just repeating what their campaigns have already publicly said?

 

We, throughout the course of time, have been able to ask some questions, but it wasn’t in that same sort of press-conference-type format, which I think has its advantages. You don’t just listen to the candidates and the candidates’ staff. You talk to other people: you talk to voters; you talk to undecided voters; you talk to people in the crowd, some of whom actually are undecided voters. You really just try to get a diversity of voices beyond simply what the candidate is saying…A lot of people haven’t listened to a single stump speech all the way through. So, there is value in telling voters what the candidate says and what the candidate believes and putting that in a larger context.

 

Could you talk a little bit about what you actually do on Election Day? What kind of coverage or exit polls should college students be looking at?

 

This Election Day will be a little different for me than past election days, because typically I have been [a] general assignment political reporter, and I’ve been sent to a state, oddly enough typically Ohio, to wait for returns to come in. In that role, what I always do on Election Day is go for a run, and I go out and interview voters, and then those interviews are used in our broadcasts later in the evening or in the afternoon. Then I go on All Things Considered, and then I go to some ballroom somewhere and hang out with people who are either going to be very happy or very sad as the night goes on. This year, I am assigned to a candidate, so I will be with Hillary Clinton wherever she is, which means hanging out at a hotel and then going to a ballroom where people will either be very happy or very sad. I probably won’t get to run, and I probably won’t get to interview voters.

 

I believe that our coverage is always excellent. I think that we have a good mix of voices and people. Or you could go to the New York Times website or Politico’s website; they both have really awesome maps and of course FiveThirtyEight will have really great stuff too. In terms of exit polls, you have to take them with a giant grain of salt. I would never hang my hopes and dreams on the results of an exit poll because the early exit polls don’t necessarily reflect the final results.