One Life Considered: A Portrait of a Reporter

A review of WYPR Presents an Evening with Robert Siegel

“You don’t look like I thought you would.” It’s the greeting every radio hosts hears when listeners finally see him or her in person. Robert Siegel, senior host of “All Things Considered” on NPR, got to reverse the role and began his address this way to the crowd at MICA’s Brown Center last Tuesday night. He seemed to enjoy the interaction with his audience, finally being able to look people in the eye when he talked to them.

The talk was introduced by the evening’s host, Sheilah Kast, best known as host of “Maryland Morning” on WYPR, Baltimore’s NPR affiliate. The enthusiastic crowd, a full house of a few hundred fervent NPR fans that packed the theater-like auditorium, listened closely as Siegel covered the major events in his career, from how he started as a journalist to how he wound up on the stage in front of them. He was thankful that a lot of his listeners have stuck with him and NPR for a while. I laughed out loud when he talked about how so many people have told him that they were strapped in a car and forced to listen to NPR on long trips. That rings a bell. It seemed like the audience was eager to connect this unknown face with the familiar voice. They were hoping for compelling stories and Siegel did not let them down.

A graduate of Columbia University in the turbulent nineteen sixties, Siegel decided during his undergraduate career to report on the demonstrations that were taking place around him rather than participate in them. He believes that his work received major recognition as believable journalism because a lot of high profile media outlets were covering the same stories with a more political point of view. Gradually, he turned his attention to radio, even though he admitted he thought it was a medium that was already dead.

Elizabeth Sherwood
Robert Siegel at MICA, photo by Elizabeth Sherwood

Born and raised in New York, and feeling that it was the media capital, Siegel was skeptical of a job that brought him to any other city. However, he explained, by taking the NPR job and being asked to move to Washington, he found many interesting opportunities and exciting news stories, and his reporting became increasingly rewarding. He was also able to cover world issues by being assigned to liaise with BBC in 1979 and working in London for four years after that.

Siegel spoke with the clear voice of a long time radio host. He used this talent to put his inflection and pauses in the right places, to make his stories come to life and to add drama where needed. He was matter-of-fact, but thoughtful when answering questions during the Q and A. His stories about various aspects of his career as a reporter prompted a question during the Q and A that resonated with me: “is there a time where you don’t think you got the story right?” Siegel thought for a moment. He spoke of a story he did in Israel about intermarriage. When reporting it, he made the story out to be a bigger deal than it was, he said, because in his family it was a big deal. He said the lesson he learned was a journalist must make sure the story is not about him or her, but about the facts as they are. But this Tuesday night the story was about him. And judging by the reaction and ovation he received from the audience, it was a story they would remember for a long time.

WYPR Presents an Evening with Robert Siegel

MICA’s Brown Center 1300 Mount Royal Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21217

<http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wypr/events.eventsmain?action=showEvent&eventID=1605723&gt;.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015 7:30 PM

Elizabeth Sherwood is a Baltimore-based writer and exuberant pursuer of adventure and travel.

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