If you’re like me, you miss hearing Audie Cornish on the radio. For a decade, Cornish hosted “All Things Considered,” distinguishing herself as a smart, nimble, sometimes playful interviewer. Then, in January, she announced she was leaving NPR, where she’d worked, in various capacities, since 2003. Cornish is among a few high-profile women of color who departed NPR within months of each other — Noel King and Lulu Garcia-Navarro are the others — raising questions about NPR’s treatment of minority journalists. Cornish is back on the air — sort of — at CNN, where she’s host of the new podcast “The Assignment with Audie Cornish.” (She’d been tapped to host a show on CNN+, but the streaming service was shuttered in April, just a month after it debuted.) The new podcast, whose first episode focuses on activist parents running for school board, promises to “pull listeners out of their digital echo chambers to hear from the people who live the headlines.” We called Cornish the other day to chat about her new gig.
Q. I want to talk about the podcast, but, first, you grew up in Randolph?!
A. I did.
Q. Is it widely known that Audie Cornish is from Randolph?
A. I don’t know. I don’t think Randolph has ever gotten its due. [Laughs] I’m a South Shore girl all the way. Hung out at the South Shore Plaza. Me and my friends used to go all around — Braintree, Quincy, etc. I started out in Boston, in Mattapan. I was a METCO kid. When my parents reached a certain level of financial stability after coming to the US, they bought a home in Randolph.
Q. They’re Jamaican?
Q. You started in public radio at UMass. Was that your ambition as a young person?
A. [Laughs] I don’t know what my ambitions were as a young person. I wanted to get a college degree and I took things one step at a time. I started in radio at UMass, at WMUA, which is a well-known station out there. I helped in the news department. And then I worked at WFCR, which was the public radio station. I think I was just taking advantage of the opportunities around me to learn journalism from the ground up.
Q. You were a host of “All Things Considered” for a decade before leaving earlier this year. Do you miss it?
A. Do I miss being on the radio? Of course. I love the listeners. I loved public media. I still do. I’m still a listener. I think all I’m doing now is trying to bring some of what I brought there to a new space.
Q. There were a few other women of color who left NPR around the same time. Is it fair to say there were circumstances at NPR that made leaving an easier decision.
A. I think about it a little differently. I came up in public media and had interned there. So I always felt like the junior person. And I think there was a tendency to treat me like the junior person. Very frequently, whether it was status or title or pay, I was in the position of the junior person; I would never be ahead because I was one of the youngest hosts. Over time, I think you need to be seen where you are in your career. You need to be recognized. I think people want me to tell a horror story about working there. That’s just not the case. There were questions that I and other women of color had about, like, is our pay commensurate, equal to, acknowledging of, our experience compared to our white counterparts. And that was not always the case. Those discussions and that dynamic is something people were very attuned to last year as several of us started leaving. But also, did people feel like they could grow in the position they’re in? Are they respected in the position they’re in? We weren’t the only people who asked those questions. I think people are now calling the Great Resignation, the Great Renegotiation. If you look at the data, women, specifically, started to look at where we are and ask: Is this the best match for me right now?
Q. You’ve said that making this change is a little anxiety-inducing. Is the uncertainty part of the appeal?
A. Probably. I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn to say that we’re a little cautious by nature in public media. Yeah, I was nervous. You know, is this the right time? Is it too late? Does anyone know who I am? I asked myself all of these questions.
Q. Podcasting is a crowded field. Are you a listener?
A. I am. I’m not gonna lie, I actually like to listen to podcasts that are very far from what I do. So sometimes drama, sometimes fiction. Right now I’m listening to that one from Monkey Paw Productions, Jordan Peele’s company, called “Quiet Part Loud.” It’s done really well. But I also listen to the Meghan Markle podcast like everyone else. I listen to Esther Perel. I listen to “Campaign HQ with David Plouffe.” I listen to all of these weird podcasts about life hacking. What I like about podcasts is it’s just niche programming on demand and you can dip into other people’s worlds.
Q. Was it intimidating to think about the niche you could occupy?
A. It probably should have been more intimidating. But I’m not very good at looking to the side, if that makes sense. My mom always taught me to look forward and up. And I think I still do that.
Q. How would you describe the podcast?
A. I view it as an opportunity to make the strange familiar, to hear from people from their own point of view. There’s an inherent tension in a show like that in this day and age because, like, why should these people get to speak versus those people?
Q. Is there somebody you’d really like to sit down with?
A. Typically, I don’t have an answer for that. But, lately, I’ve wanted to hear from Colin Kaepernick. Sometimes I get a bee in my bonnet about specific people who, I think, I’ve seen out in the world but they obviously don’t trust the media to tell their story with any complexity or nuance. I do want to see someone like that sit with an interviewer who has a skill set to really have a conversation where the questions aren’t so literal or so reductive. I’m hoping I’m creating a space to do that. I don’t think the job of a professional interviewer is dead.
Mark Shanahan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MarkAShanahan.