If you haven’t yet become familiar with journalist Lulu Garcia-Navarro, that is about to change. This award-winning journalist whose career has taken her all over the globe has recently been named host of NPR’s popular newsmagazine show, ‘Weekend Edition Sunday’.
Although this job will see her more permanently based in Washington D.C, Lulu has previously been based in Brazil (while she was NPR’s South American Correspondent), Israel, Baghdad (as NPR News’ Baghdad Bureau Chief) and Mexico City as a foreign correspondent. She was one of the first reporters to enter Libya after the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, an event which has changed geo-politics in the Middle East forever.
Clearly Lulu is not afraid to jump in the deep end and take on difficult topics like war and conflict. But now she has a new mission on hand – to be part of the growing number of journalists and news hosts who will be reporting the facts, speaking truth to power, and providing listeners and readers the analysis and context they need to make sense of this changing world.
As Donald Trump and his team use the term “Fake News” with alarming regularity toward newsmedia as it exposes the details of his regressive agenda, Lulu finds herself once again on the frontlines of a very important battle, one that will most definitely define an entire generation.
A 2015 report on women in media from the Women’s Media Center showed that women make up just over 45% of the radio landscape, but Latinos only represent 6.2% of that number. In that demographic, the majority are male, making Lulu Garcia’s presence in this area all the more important.
Since March is Women’s History Month, we decided to ask Lulu some questions about her new role, and her perspective on the role of women in newsmedia in the current political climate, in the hope that her achievements will inspire more diverse young women to recognize the power of their voice and participation in journalism going forward. But first, hear a snippet of her latest work in the clip below:
Congratulations on your new role as the host of NPR’s ‘Weekend Edition’! Can you tell us the trajectory of your career at NPR and how you landed this position?
I joined NPR in 2004, as the Mexico City bureau chief. At the time, I was based in Iraq for the Associated Press and I was so excited to leave war reporting behind. I had been living in a hotel room in Baghdad, in a compound that was a regular target of attacks. But, because the war was still raging NPR asked me to keep reporting from Iraq so I kept going back. Ultimately, I was made Baghdad bureau chief in 2007. To cut a long story short, there were many more years and many more wars until I ended up in Rio de Janeiro, where I stayed until moving to DC this year!
You are also NPR’s first Latina newsmagazine host, making you a role model for so many young women around the country. What does this new job mean to you in light of your Latina heritage?
I’m very proud to be Hispanic. Being a host is different than being an anchor on TV. We are literally trying to ‘host’ people, inviting them in as if they were sitting around a dinner table with some of the most interesting people in the world, having a glorious conversation. I am so curious about so many things and I think my background gives me a different point of view.
You were one of the first reporters to enter Libya after the Arab Spring uprising in 2011. Can you tell us what that was like, how you were feeling, and some of the stories that stood out to you most over there?
It was terrifying and exhilarating. We literally walked across the border without any idea what we would find on the other side. There were armed men and we didn’t know who they were and what they wanted. That was my first introduction to the Libyan rebels. In those first few days, people would hug us and cry. Libya had been so closed off from the world that many had never seen a foreign reporter before.
The most surreal moment was being based in the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli while Moamar Ghadafi was still in power. They would call us for press conferences in the middle of the night; take us on excursions to dangerous front lines with no explanation or preparation, all while constantly lying about what was happening in the country. They would also bring in people to berate us and call us lying imperialists, sometimes while we were simply eating lunch!
We were also constantly being spied on. It is very hard to do my job under those circumstances. I had to sneak away from our minders to talk to people, putting them and myself at risk. I’ve worked in many places where the press is considered an enemy, but Libya was by far one of the most extreme experiences I’ve had.
Having worked all over the world and now based in Washington D.C at a time when American politics is experiencing a lot of tumult, what are you most excited about covering or discussing on Weekend Edition?
I think it is important to hear both sides of an issue. This country is divided. On people’s Facebook feeds, even in real life people aren’t connecting to others with different views. And then it becomes easy to demonize them. Listeners can decide what they want to believe. But I truly believe that you should read widely, and think critically. You don’t have to agree with what you are hearing but you should listen. NPR is a mission driven organization. We are public media. That means we serve all the public, not just the ones we may agree with on a given issue.
Newsmedia has been under incredible scrutiny since the 2016 Presidential election, with so much focus on fake news, as well as the power of media to shape narratives and perceptions. As an experienced reporter, how do you use your voice and expertise to navigate these times?
I’ve traveled all over the world and one of the things that is amazing about the United States is the protection of freedom of the press. It is in the 1st Amendment, along with freedom of religion and expression. It is one of the founding principles of this country. The role of a free and independent press is deeply embedded in the identity of this country.
We have a very hostile administration which has labelled us ‘enemies’ not only of them but also of the American people. My answer? I believe we have to do our jobs. I have reported from countries governed by right-leaning leaders and left-leaning leaders and I have always reported without fear or favor. I don’t believe we should be hostile to the administration just because it is hostile to us.
We are there to report on what is happening, not to take sides or get into a fight with this government. We should not be distracted from the task. That said, Americans must be vigilant. Democracy is a fragile idea that requires its citizens to fight for it and support it. It cannot be taken for granted. I’ve seen how quickly democratic norms can evaporate in other nations.
The Women’s Media Center has examined the number of women in newsmedia compared to men, and the ratio is far from equal on a number of platforms. Why do you think it is important we have as many diverse voices as possible reporting and sharing news?
Diversity is important because it brings us different perspectives and points of view. When I say diversity I mean it in all senses: political diversity, geographic diversity, racial and ethnic diversity and gender diversity. The broader our tent the more people we can reach, which is ultimately what we need to do as journalists. People need to see their communities and concerns reflected in what they hear. And they also need to be exposed to communities and concerns from groups they may not understand or not have contact with. Both things need to happen which is why you need all sorts of people working inside the media.
Are there any particular news stories or pieces of reportage throughout your career that stand out? Can you tell us why?
Although my war reporting gets a lot of attention, the work I’ve done is Latin America is some of my most satisfying. I did a lot of reporting on gender, the environment and race. I spent weeks in the Amazon reporting on the crisis of deforestation. I told stories of women affected by the Zika virus. I looked at how race impacts Brazil in myriad ways. Latin America is often overlooked and I’ve always wanted to show the complexity and richness of the culture.
Is there one place in the world, or one person in the world, that you would like to interview and report on that you haven’t yet? Tell us why.
One of the reasons I became a host is because I am intensely curious and I love talking to people and hearing them tell their stories. To be honest, I’ve always been the kind of journalist who wants to hear from regular people that we may not have heard from before. I never focused on interviewing officials. The thing that still thrills me is bringing to air a perspective that is unique and surprising.
Finally, a question we like to ask all our interviewees, what makes you a powerful woman?
I’m not afraid to speak my mind and challenge those above me. I try to always be empathetic and supportive to those coming up behind me. I’ve found kindness and honesty to be a powerful combination.