Jennifer Stayton is the host of KUT’s “Morning Edition” program, and this year’s winner of the Gladys Whitney Hearst Outstanding Member Award. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Williams College and a Master of Science degree in Radio-Television-Film from Syracuse University, and produces and co-hosts KUT’s “Higher Ed” podcast. In addition to her work in public broadcasting, Jennifer has extensive experience with public media and education nonprofit organizations, and serves on the WCA board.
You’ve spent nearly all of your career in public media. What sparked your interest in this field, and what makes it unique in the realm of communications?
I first encountered public media as a listener to NPR’s afternoon news magazine program “All Things Considered” when I was in college. I was immediately struck by the depth and breadth of the coverage and by the respect shown for the listener’s intelligence and desire to be well-informed.
I first encountered public media as a radio professional when I interned at an NPR affiliate in Syracuse, New York during graduate school. I had worked in a commercial radio newsroom prior to returning to school and immediately grasped the difference in mission between the two kinds of operations. In commercial radio, the first question asked about programming was driven by revenue: “Who will advertise during this show?” “How can we sell this opportunity?” In public radio, the first question asked about programming is usually driven by audience: “How will this show serve our audience?” “How can we better serve our audience?”
Of course, those two missions are not mutually exclusive – commercial radio does care about serving the audience, and public radio has to keep an eye on revenue – but when I started working in public radio, I felt I had found an operating philosophy that aligned with my priorities.
As a native Austinite and journalist, you have unique insight into the stories of our local community. What issues or aspects of our city and public life do you wish were more widely known?
I wish people better understood the diverse communities, neighborhoods, and groups that make up our city. My hunch is that most people operate in their familiar circles and are pretty unaware of the diversity represented in Austin.
Not all segments of the city have shared in its boom and prosperity, and I also think there are lots of stories to be told about communities that feel Austin’s growth and accompanying opportunities have not benefited them.
This year’s banner theme is “Sisterhood is powerful,” which reflects the importance of women lifting each other up in work and in life. Who has made a meaningful difference in your career, and what can we do to help build up other women in communications?
My 17-year-old stepdaughter Samantha is an endless source of inspiration to me. She tackles each activity she undertakes with gusto; appreciates the opportunities that have been presented to her; loves learning new things; and has a healthy approach to balancing life’s requirements with fun and diversion.
All of those are lessons that I have taken to heart in my career. I only wish I could have benefited from her wisdom even earlier! I would consider Samantha a kind of mentor to me, and I think mentorship is one of the best things we can do to build up other women in communications.
Everyone needs a hand from time to time, and the sounding board and professional guidance a mentor provides can do much to help fellow women communications professionals stay happy, engaged, and advancing in their work.