Chatting with NPR’s Don Gonyea

By Naomi Lambert and Dianna Wynn

In late August a producer with NPR contacted Marian Lewin, chair of the League of Women Voters of Wake County, asking for help.  NPR was looking for women to be interviewed by Don Gonyea for a segment about the Presidential race.  Don Gonyea is NPR’s national political correspondent and was NPR’s White House correspondent from 2001 until 2010.  Within 48 hours Marian identified two “Leaguers” (Naomi Lambert and Dianna Wynn) and two members of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Alumna willing to be interviewed.

The NPR producer was specific about demographics; they had to be women between 35 and 55 with at least a bachelor’s degree.  Don was meeting with specific demographic groups in eight swing states.  In Florida Don interviewed millennials who are a growing and influential group despite the stereotype of aging Northerners who move there in retirement.  His next stop was North Carolina.  Educated women were his target group in the Triangle, in part, because his research shows that they traditionally vote Republican and are now less likely to do so.

We settled into a corner at the North Hills Panera, and the conversation began.  We introduced ourselves with the usual information and revealed that we were all likely to vote for the Democratic candidate.  The League of Women Voters and Delta Sigma Theta are non-partisan organizations, though Don seemed to assume that both were fairly progressive groups.  All of us made it clear that our opinions were our own, and we were not speaking on behalf of our respective organizations.

Don’s questions were less about specific issues and more about our general impressions.  Many of the questions might be described as “touchy feely.”  How do you feel about the coverage?  Does this election reduce confidence in the electoral system?  Do you think a woman President is historically significant?  Are you excited at the prospect of Hillary as President?  What do you think this election means for the Republican Party?

Toward the end of the discussion we tried to turn the subject to the political landscape in North Carolina.  Everyone at the table, with the possible exception of Don, believed it was a significant element in this election cycle.  Perhaps it’s not a story that resonates nationally, but it may be statistically significant on November 8th.  Unfortunately, we did not get a chance to talk about specific policies or issues in any depth.  But that may also be a reflection of this election season!

Don was still seeking disillusioned Republican women when we left him.  Based on his State of Things interview a couple of days later, he found some.  With approximately six hours of interviews coming out of his North Carolina stay to be edited down to 4 to 6 minutes, we’re not sure our remarks will be the most newsworthy.

NPR’s choice to isolate a group in each state is a novel approach.  We’re disappointed there was not a more nuanced approach to the questions.  We are pleased, however, that NPR was interviewing women in the battleground state of North Carolina for this historic presidential election.  As a thirty-year media professional, we are confident that Mr. Gonyea will craft a worthwhile story out of these interviews.  All in all, we both felt that this was an interesting experience.

Octobr 28, 2016