Tanzina Vega: 'Change Is Happening' In Newsrooms

Jun 5, 2018

She calls herself an “anomaly” in public radio.

Tanzina Vega, the new host of the public radio program “The Takeaway,” says she knows that the country's top radio hosts aren't generally women of color or those from a low social economic background. 

Vega was "passed the mic" in March, after the previous host of "The Takeaway," John Hockenberry, was accused of sexual misconduct. She previously worked at the New York Times and CNN, where she reported on race, inequality and class in the United States. She is one of the few Latina hosts in public media. 

Vega joined Sundial Tuesday to talk about diversity and inclusion in newsrooms, the importance of creating opportunities for people of color and how it feels to be at the helm of the national radio show.

Excerpts:

WLRN: You came in at a very unique time [when] so much was going on because of the 'Me Too' movement, specifically in the media and public media. When you came in ... what was your approach? 

Vega: Well, I've been working on issues of inclusion and diversity in newsrooms almost by default right since I started in this business and it's become much more of a formal thing for me as the years have gone on. I've tweeted extensively about it but I've also written a lot about it so I'm very conscious of it. I'm a woman. I'm a woman of color. I'm a woman that ... came from a low socioeconomic background. I grew up in public housing. So I'm already sort of an anomaly in this space in many ways and I've taken that as both an opportunity and a challenge.

What I think is happening in the industry is a course correction and unfortunately the course correction is following some pretty horrific things that have happened to people in media. And it's not limited to public media. We saw this at the New York Times, we've seen this at other news outlets, we've seen it in the boardroom, we've seen it in Hollywood. It's sad that it has to take such a terrible thing to happen for change to occur. That said, change is happening and I think the industry is recognizing that it has to course correct. We get off track by thinking we're going to solve this problem by getting someone who checks off the diversity box or the inclusion box or the woman box or whatever boxes. We're getting people who are qualified for these positions into the jobs that they're deserving.

How should managers go forward? 

I do often say, the last thing you want to say to somebody is 'we're reaching out to you because we want to become more diverse.' I think that that's an unfortunate way to approach inclusion. We're creating technology to do things that we didn't even know we wanted to do and yet we sit here and say we can't find qualified people of color. That just doesn't jive for me. That just seems to be more about resistance than it is about actual change. If you can create an iPhone you can figure out how to find qualified and diverse and inclusive people to bring into your organization. So a lot of it just feels like an excuse. 

“The Takeaway” is live this week from WLRN studios in Miami discussing key issues like climate change, gun violence and South Florida's rich diversity.