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'1A' host Jenn White shares stories that shaped her journalism

Vermont Public logo | Picture of Jenn White | NPR Logo | 1A logo WAMU NPR Network
Laura Nakasaka
Vermont Public

With a career beginning at Michigan Public Radio and later at WBEZ in Chicago, Jenn White has become one of the most recognized voices in the realm of public radio as the host of the nationally syndicated talk show 1A.

White capped off a week in Vermont with an appearance on Vermont Edition to discuss her background and what drives the "listener-centered" show.

"We're interested in helping the country have a conversation," White said. "That is someone in Vermont, talking to someone in Michigan talking to someone in Mississippi, because in the current media landscape, which is so fractured, it's so easy to create your own little bubble, and to be very disconnected from what people across the country are experiencing."

Below are highlights of White's conversation with Mitch Wertlieb, lightly edited for clarity.

On grounded and empathetic journalism

"Going back to my my Michigan days, my Michigan Radio Days, when we were recovering the Flint water crisis, that experience helped me understand the importance of connecting policies, practices, laws, to people's lives. You can explain a thing and say, 'this is the thing our government is doing.' But if you don't connect it to the lived experiences of people, it doesn't really mean much. It's just words on paper.

"... It is deeply emotional. And it's really challenging, I think, for not just me, but all journalists who are doing this kind of coverage to reground yourself in a way that lets you come back to the work the next day with the same level of care, the same level of empathy and not to become calloused."

On the influence on her father, a minister, and her mother

"He had polio as a child. And so later in life, what can happen when you have polio is that it's almost as if your body experiences it again. And so he had a lot of muscle weakness, and he wasn't able to really stand or walk for long periods of time, so he was in a wheelchair. But up until the day, he was physically unable to do so anymore — and mentally unable, he had vascular dementia — my parents would visit people who were sick and shut in. So my dad would be in his wheelchair, and my mom would push him through the halls of a hospital to go visit someone who was sicker than he was. And that example of service, that example of care for people is foundational for me and the work I do.

"Also the thing my parents, my parents really instilled in us was the importance of allowing yourself to be used for good. And so before I go on the show every day, I spend some time just thinking and praying and meditating. And this may sound kind of woo-woo for some folks, but really asking that I be used in a way that is a service. And that is beneficial to the people who are listening, that's beneficial for our team, that's beneficial for our station, and the world. And that's the way I approach the work. ... Those examples from my dad and from my mom, and the way they practiced their faith, it feeds into everything I do."

On personal health challenges that started the 'In Good Health' series

White had a condition that ended up being diagnosed as adenomyosis. "I knew I was not the only person who'd had that experience of going into a doctor's office and feeling like you're not hearing me," she said.

"When I was going to have to go out for surgery ... it felt like a moment to be really transparent with the audience and to maybe start a different conversation on the show. And so I was very transparent and said, 'This is what's happening. And I think probably you've had the same experience or something similar, and we want your stories.' That became the first episode in what has become In Good Health, a series on the program where we bring on experts to talk about some of the many health issues we're facing, how to navigate them, how to better have conversations with your doctor to know what questions to ask how to navigate the health system.

We've talked about the discrimination women face in the medical system, we've talked about chronic illness. We've talked about things like caffeine and the effect caffeine has on your body. There's so much misinformation out there. And we're a show where people can come and get answers from people who actually do the research who are experts and get their questions answered."

On impressions of Vermont

"When we got here it was very foggy and sort of cloudy, you couldn't see too much. And then the second day we were here everything just cleared — and the lake and the mountains. It's just stunning. But the people are so warm. I don't know that I've encountered this degree of warmth and hospitality really any other place I've traveled. It's remarkable.

... If for nothing else, I will come back to Vermont for the trails and for the maple creemees."

Broadcast live on Friday, May 3, 2024, at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

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A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Andrea Laurion joined Vermont Public as a news producer for Vermont Edition in December 2022. She is a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., and a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. Before getting into audio, Andrea worked as an obituary writer, a lunch lady, a wedding photographer assistant, a children’s birthday party hostess, a haunted house actor, and an admin assistant many times over.