Holding the Doors of Opportunity Open, with NPR's Audie Cornish

Audie Cornish has spent the last two decades becoming a trusted voice in journalism. Her interview subjects have ranged from pop stars such as actor Richard Gere, to political figures such as former First Lady Michele Obama, to literary icons like Ta-Nehisi Coates. Her career in journalism began at the Associated Press in Boston in 2001. The following year, her love of radio brought her to Boston's WBUR. After joining NPR's National Desk in 2005, she reported from Nashville. The 2008 presidential race brought her to NPR politics where she covered the historic election of Barack Obama. In 2011, she earned a George Peabody Award for her work with David Isay's StoryCorps 9/11 Project. Her feature reporting on the opioid crisis in Baltimore earned her a Salute to Excellence Award from the National Association of Black Journalists. And in 2020, the National Press Foundation recognized her work with the Sol Taishoff Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism. Today she is the co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered. In the following interview, she discusses why when doors open for us we should leave them open for others.

What drew you to radio as opposed to any other journalistic medium, and how did you get your big break?

Instead of one “big break” it feels like lots of little breaks. I started out at the Associated Press in Boston when I was fresh out of college. But I had worked at radio stations while I was a student, and I had been bitten by the radio bug. So when I got the chance to work at a station again, I took it. That station was WBUR in Boston. And really, I've never looked back.

You have covered some of the most crucial moments in US History over the past two decades, including political races and legislative battles and so much more. Are there some particular times or stories that stand out for you as a journalist and why?

Presidential races are always compelling, dynamic and high stakes. And I was able to cover the campaigns of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama – both of whom were making history with their runs.

I also covered the legislative developments that lead to the legalization of same sex marriage in Massachusetts. At the time it was an international story, but Boston was my hometown. And in a way I knew the kinds of people who were on “both sides” so to speak, and it's always something that has stuck with me.

Finally, I think the story that stands out for me, on the whole, would be covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I wasn't there for the storm, but I spent a good year coming and going to the city afterwards. And it was such a long and sustained effort by the people of the city to hold on to what they loved. And I've never forgotten it.

Through your work, you have met and interviewed some of the most influential people in the world? Who inspired or surprised you the most?

Recently, I interviewed President Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen, and I have to say, they surprised me as a pair. I wasn’t surprised that they had things in common. But it was fascinating hearing them think out loud.

You might sit down and talk with Bruce Springsteen about his music career, but you might not get to ask him about how he's come to his politics. And similarly, with Barack Obama, you might ask him a million questions about politics, but you might not really dig into how he thinks of himself as a builder of stories and narrative. That interview really surprised me. And I think it surprised a lot of people.

Instead of one “big break” it feels like lots of little breaks.

How does an All Things Considered story come together? Can you share a little of the process of research and preparation?

An All Things Considered story comes together when we sit around a table and think about what the biggest news stories of the day are turning out to be. We each bring ideas that we've come across in our individual readings, and say, Hey, have you seen this? And you know, the goal is not to have a Venn diagram where everything fits. The goal is actually to engage with a diversity of ideas.

The process of research and preparation for me, usually begins with a question. ‘What are the motivations driving key people in this story?’ ‘Why are they doing what they are doing?’ ‘Are there aspects of their reasoning that people may not know about? contexts that the public doesn't understand?