Faces Of NPR is a weekly feature that 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. This week's post features Digital News Producer Maureen Pao.
Name: Maureen Pao
Twitter Handle: @maureenpao
Job Title: Digital producer
Where You're From: Greenville, SC, y'all
An Inside Look
You're a producer for the Digital News Desk. What does that mean?
My job is to help create the best content for NPR.org and our other digital platforms. Sometimes that starts with a fantastic on-air story or series. Other times, it means doing original reporting for a web-only story. And sometimes, those digital pieces become on-air stories. These days, I work primarily with All Things Considered; before that I was the International Desk digital producer.
How did you get started here? What advice do you have for someone who wants a job like yours?
NPR was my second full-time journalism job in the United States. (After graduate school, I worked as an editor and reporter in Hong Kong and Taiwan for five years). I was working at USA Today at the time ("temporarily" doing digital stuff) and was interested in NPR. A friend recommended I talk to Walter Watson. I bet Walter doesn't even remember this! And he put me in touch with the person who oversaw editorial operations for the website at the time. It was a far cry from the 24-7 operation we are now. I remember walking into the "pointy end" of our previous headquarters at 635 Massachusetts Avenue, looking around and wondering, "Where is the rest of the team?"
Be curious and push yourself outside your comfort zone (I went to Hong Kong with no job lined up—nothing but a return plane ticket, one friend on the ground, a few names of people to call, and a few hundred dollars in my pocket). That's really the best advice I can offer to anyone who wants to be a journalist, regardless of the medium. Ask questions, early and often and respectfully. Listen carefully. Everyone has a story to tell. Read widely (it makes you a smarter interviewer, of course, but I think it really helps in writing headlines too!). If writing is your thing, write every opportunity you get. Learn the basics of social media, even if you don't think you want to work on the engagement side of things.
What are some cool things you've worked on?
The coolest, bar none: Meeting and writing about Dolly Parton. The most fun I've had recently was hosting Facebook Live segments on topics as random and wonderful as ramen, Chinese sugar painting and the Underground Railroad, and "Headlines with Korva." Korva Coleman is the best, a consummate pro — even when this happens (thanks for immortalizing, Danny!).
What do you love about public radio?
I grew up in what was then a relatively small town in South Carolina. It sounds cliche, but in my case, it really is true: Public radio provided me with a window into the big, wide world out there. It helped me dream big. It challenges and informs. Its mission is a serious one, and one we take seriously. I love the thoughtfulness of our work and I love how widely we roam intellectually.
What's on your desk?
SO. MUCH. PAPER. Artwork by my kids. Various mugs. A magazine about Singapore that started coming to me after I did an East-West Center fellowship tour to Singapore, Taiwan and Myanmar. A beautiful piece of ceramic-ware that Hannah Bloch, our lead digital editor for international, brought back from Pakistan. Outdated photos of my kids (note to self: update the photos!).
Hidden Brain and Code Switch. I was a journalist in Asia for a while, and I really enjoyed the BBC's Intrigue: Murder in the Lucky Holiday Hotel.
Favorite Tiny Desk?
I've been here a long time, so there are many. Kate Tempest. Paul Weller. Wilco. George Clinton & The P-Funk All Stars. The Jayhawks. The xx. Chvrches. Sylvan Esso. Cowboy Junkies. The Arcs. José Gonzalez. Beth Orton. Phoenix.
Favorite places in Washington D.C.?
The Hirshhorn Museum. The atrium at the American Art Museum/Portrait Gallery. The National Gallery's Sculpture Garden (ice skating in the winter, jazz in the summer!). The National Arboretum. Rock Creek Park. Comet Ping Pong. Dumplings and Beyond. 9:30 Club. The rooftop at Perry's. Before kids: Bedrock Billiards.
What are you inspired by right now?
The Renwick Gallery—I went recently and really dug the "No Spectators: Art of Burning Man" exhibit. The gallery has put on one hit after the other since reopening a couple of years ago: Wonder, Murder Is Her Hobby, etc.
I recently introduced my children to the Ang Lee film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, followed shortly by Yo-Yo Ma's most recent Tiny Desk. I'd forgotten how gorgeous both the film and the music are.