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Faces of NPR: Brittany Luse

Brittany Luse
Brittany Luse

Faces Of NPR showcases the people behind NPR--from the voices you hear every day on the radio to the ones who work outside of the recording studio. You'll find out about what they do and what they're inspired by on the daily. Today, we feature Brittany Luse, Host of Its Been a Minute.

The Basics:

Name: Brittany Luse

Title: Host, Its Been a Minute

Twitter Handle: @bmluse

Where you're from: Farmington Hills, MI

Do you think that Howard University prepared you for this position?

Absolutely. My degree from Howard is actually in film production, but for a while my major was public relations so I had to take introductory journalism classes. I would say the things that prepared me the most for this job educationally were going to Howard, and also I had a really great teacher in the seventh and eighth grade named Mr. Koponen. He did a simple unit on journalism and taught us all the journalism terms, how to put together an article. And also he had us watch an episode of Lee Grant to see if we could recognize the terms that we learned and match them to the episode. And honestly, I've been able to come back to the lessons that I learned having Mr. Koponen in middle school and having Lawrence Kaggwa at Howard. The first time I ever used audio software was at Howard for a radio elective that was taught by Candy Shannon. The classes I took at Howard really strengthened my educational background, with Howard being an HBCU in such an international city like Washington, D.C. Also, just being around so many Black people who were from all over the world and had had every type of experience, that shaped and expanded and widened my worldview. I don't know if I would have accomplished anything that I have accomplished in quite the same way if I hadn't had the experience of Howard.

What are your thoughts about NPR so far? If you had any preconceived thoughts beforehand, did they turn out to be true?

So far it's been great. Everyone has been really kind and knowledgeable. Something that has just really made an impression upon me in the first couple of weeks, is how excited everybody on my team is about ideas. That to me is the most energizing part of the job – getting to talk, learning what people like, starting to vibe together and getting into ideas. I've really enjoyed every opportunity that I've had to do that with the team on It's Been a Minute. As far as preconceived notions, mostly people told me that NPR is a very large organization and that the people are really nice. And I would say those things have been absolutely true.

I've been an NPR listener for decades, since I was young, and so it is really exciting to work at an organization that has meant so much to me over the course of my life. But also, I've been working in podcasting for eight years, and in that time I've met so many people who used to work at NPR or people I worked with at previous jobs who now work at NPR. So in some ways, it's like I've ascended to the mothership for the first time. On one hand, I felt like the new kid coming in. But on the other hand, once I came to NPR, I started getting all these Slack messages from so many of my friends who work in different parts of the organization. That was cool. I will say it was the most amount of Slack messages I've ever received in my life because I've never worked for an organization this large. So I was like, "Can they send this many Slack messages? Is that legal?"

What's your vision for you becoming the host of IBAM?

Well, my vision for the show is to really build on the foundation that has been set over the past five years. One of the things that I've loved the most about it and something that I really want to continue is just how wide the breadth of the show's coverage is. I mean, you can pretty much make an It's Been a Minute episode out of anything. I absolutely love that. I really want to home in on making the approach that we take so singular and so satisfying for the listener that whether they're unfamiliar with the topic or whether they're an armchair expert on the topic, the experience of listening – the conversations, the storytelling – is crucial to them in clarifying, understanding the world around them. Like, I really want this show to be necessary listening. With the amount of topics that the show can cover, all the different directions that it can go in, all the different conversations that we can have, it's totally possible.

You're following Sam Sanders who created the show, so you have big shoes to fill. What aspects of your identity are important for you to bring to the show?

For one thing, I started in audio as an independent podcaster, so it's kind of unusual that I'm going to be hosting an NPR show. When I first started making audio, it wasn't because somebody was paying me; it was for fun. And so many NPR hosts have come from within the organization. I think that the passion that I bring as somebody who is trying something new, moving into terrestrial radio, moving into public radio, will definitely be present. Sam's a (Texan) southerner. I'm a midwesterner. I'm really excited to bring some midwestern flavor to the show. And being an HBCU graduate, having gone to Howard University, is something that has shaped and expanded my worldview and continues to inform how I understand the world around me. That's definitely going to be something that's brought to the show.

But also, I'm coming from covering Black culture for the past eight years. Along with The Nod and For Colored Nerds, I hosted a podcast about podcasts and other shows that had to do with different aspects of pop culture, internet culture. I've done a fair amount of writing cultural criticism, essays and celebrity profiles. I know Quibi has shut down, but I made over 130 episodes of The Nod with Brittany and Eric on Quibi. So I've been able to work specifically in telling Black stories across so many different media for so many years. One of the things that I think It's Been a Minute has always done really well is finding the places where culture and politics or culture and news and current events are intersecting. But I mean, that's where For Colored Nerds was from day one. So it'll be really fun to take all of the skills that I have learned from covering Black culture and bring them into this role where I'm going to really be covering pretty much all of culture, if that's even possible.

What I've learned from covering Black culture is that it's impossible to talk about Black entertainment, even the fluffiest entertainment, without talking about our own language, our own traditions, without getting into history, without getting into the news and the political events of the current moment, without getting into entertainment histories around stereotypes and representation, without getting into propaganda and political messaging. It's impossible to talk about even the simplest aspect or the most fluffy aspect of Black culture without getting into all of these 'harder' subjects and topics. I'm really excited to continue to make connections between the culture that we consume, the culture that we enjoy, or for some people, the culture that we create, and the current moment that we're living through. And also taking a look forward to see what's possible or what could be lurking around the corner as well as taking a look back and unpacking how we got to this moment. I'm just really excited to take the skills that I've honed over the past eight years of looking really critically at culture, reading it and seeing what it has to tell us about ourselves. I'm excited to bring that to the show.

Where are you from? You said you're from the Midwest.

I'm from southeastern Michigan. I'm from the metro Detroit area. I'm from a suburb called Farmington Hills, Michigan. So that's the flavor that I'm bringing.

You've obviously podcasted before, but you haven't been in public radio before. So I want to know what your transition into the public radio space has been like so far.

Well, one thing is that I'm in a union, which is great, and that that union is recognized, which is great. I'm really happy to be part of a union and an organization that recognizes them. So that's one really positive thing.

Another thing is, I worked for a startup for several years. I was around when they had like eight employees. I was used to being in a small office where you could just physically go talk to somebody. Everyone knew who everyone was. To go from there, to working on a Quibi show with a production team of like 30 people, to freelancing as just myself, and now to suddenly be a part of this larger organization with so many people across this country and around the world, it's really been an honor to join the public media ranks.

Something that's really cool is that I am an NPR listener. I listen to WNYC, which is my home station now that I live in New York City, and I grew up listening to WDET. I listen to Brian Lehrer all the time. I used to listen to the Craig Fahle show on WDET back in the day when I was living in Michigan. Those are two among so many others. I also listen to Morning Edition and Up First and the NPR Politics Podcast and Throughline and Code Switch and Louder Than a Riot. So I guess what really has made it so meaningful is that I have trusted the people who are now my colleagues with my understanding of the news and my understanding of the world for years. It really means something to me to be considered their peer, their coworker and their colleague.

What in particular excites you about pop culture?

Everything. Sometimes I just like something because it's silly and because it's fun and I have ADHD. So sometimes your girl is just distracted. Sometimes I just like something because it's a good time. But I also love that you can just always go deeper. You can always go deeper. There's a phrase that one of our producers Barton Girdwood came up with the other day to describe the show. He said, 'Culture doesn't happen on accident.' The thing is, a piece of pop culture doesn't become an established part of our culture out of nowhere for no reason. There's always a reason why it's considered important, and there's always a reason why it became or is considered popular. Unpacking those things – why something is deemed important, why it is popular, and also, conversely, what other things are not deemed important or popular – is so interesting to me. It's so easy to look at pop culture and think it's just words and symbols. It's just music; it's just a movie; it's just vibes. And I hate to be like the fun killer, but that's never the case. It's literally never the case. But that's where I have fun. That's where I get my kicks. I get my kicks from going deeper on things like that.

I want to know about your experience as a Black woman in podcasting.

Podcasting is still a relatively new medium when you think about it in the grand scheme of things. Having been in it for eight years, sometimes I really do feel like a podcast grandma. From my vantage point as someone who's been doing this for a while, I feel encouraged by what I perceive as progress. I'm seeing more Black women in these spaces. I'm seeing an expansion in podcasting as far as representation of Black women, gender non-conforming people. And I'm really happy to see that. But number one, it doesn't feel like enough. Number two, it isn't enough. Number three, there could always be more people. I feel really grateful that I have this job, but I'm just one person and I've been doing this for a while. I've been fortunate to have some great opportunities. But not everybody has had the same experience that I've had as far as luck and being able to navigate this space and find my footing. And even still, I've had some rough times in that sense. So I appreciate the change that I've witnessed thus far. I still feel like there's a much longer way to go. Every organization has plenty of room to do better. And I look forward to seeing that come to fruition. I feel like Black women have never been heard from enough, and we could always be heard from more. And I look forward to seeing that come to pass.

What are you looking forward to with this platform?

Learning. That's my favorite aspect of the job. I love talking to people. I love interviewing them. When I ask a question, it's because I want to know. Of course, think about what's going to serve the listener, but I want to know, too. So I love talking to guests because I can be nosy. I can ask them everything I want to ask them. In some ways the show is going to be a reflection of me, but in other ways, I'm like an audience proxy, right? Like, I'm standing in for the scores of people who will be listening. And I want to make sure that I'm exploring topics in a way that's responsible, but also engaging, informative, sometimes pleasurable or fun, sometimes clarifying. Sometimes it's going to be a little bit damning, maybe sometimes it will be the wakeup call that we need. Sometimes it will be a little spicy. But I really want to make sure that we're exploring things that our listeners are going to be curious about, and things they want to know about and that they're seeing pop up in their own lives as important.

It's so funny because on one hand, the biggest aspect of being a host or even working in journalism in general is you are giving people the facts, you're giving people the commentary, the really well-researched, educated hypothesis. People are relying on you for those things. But also in so many ways I am learning right alongside. Like when I interview somebody, I'm going to read their books, I'm going to watch their movies, I'm going to read their other interviews. I'm learning as I'm researching about all of these things as I make the show. I'm looking forward to bringing that sense of curiosity and sense of adventure to the show and bouncing back and forth between me and the audience. I'm really looking forward to just continuing to learn and continuing to grow and inviting the listeners to share in that experience with me.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sommer Hill (she/her) is a social media associate for NPR Extra. She started with NPR in May 2021. Her primary responsibilities include managing the social media accounts for NPR Extra as well as creating blog posts for NPR.org. In her time at NPR, Hill has worked on many projects including the Tiny Desk Contest, the How I Built This Summit, creating a resource page for Juneteenth material, participating in the 'What Juneteenth Means To Me' video and contributing to WOC/POC meetings.
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