Joshua Johnson, the host of ‘1A,’ a new program on WAMU, discusses the show’s editorial process and vision, the legacy of its predecessor, ‘The Diane Rehm Show,’ and more.
Does your program continue the legacy of The Diane Rehm Show, which formerly held the same time slot?
Diane and I have a lot in common: a deep devotion to civil discourse, a deep curiosity about the world. We both are highly allergic to double talk. We both want to see public radio reach deeper into audiences that we haven’t typically reached. So a lot of the DNA of The Diane Rehm Show is in 1A.
How do you select the show’s topics?
We’re not so married to the news cycle that we are captives to it. If you let what’s happening inside the Beltway define your life or govern your news diet as a journalist or as a consumer, you’ll make yourself crazy. You will forget that there are many, many things in the world that have very little to do with politics that are just about life beyond this binary death match that we seem to be in right now. We want people to have that full view of the world.
What’s your response to this administration’s approach to the media?
I was always taught by my grandmother, “It ain’t what they call you; it’s what you answer to.” I don’t answer to “enemy of the people.” I answer to “citizen.” I answer to “voter.” I answer to “taxpayer,” which means I hear the call of our Founding Fathers, who implored us to be a check against government overreach and just to be a check on government decisions whether they overreach or not. We have a responsibility to question authority, but that’s not something that I have that’s special as a journalist; it’s something that we have as citizens.
As a newcomer to D.C., what’s your impression of the area?
When I moved here, it very quickly became obvious to me that there’s Washington, and then there’s D.C. And people work in [using formal announcer voice] Washington, but they live in D.C. It’s what people think it is from the outside and from the tourist brochures and from watching television, and then there’s the lived experience of people on the inside. Public radio speaks very well to the lived experiences of people who are actually part of the community.
Neighborhood: Van Ness, D.C.
Favorite thing about being a journalist: Public radio journalism appeals to my creative side in terms of the art of storytelling. It appeals to my intellectual and scientific side in terms of being an arbiter of information. And it appeals to my patriotic side in terms of feeling like I’m part of something that has the potential to do good for the country.
Inspiring journalists: Gwen Ifill, Ed Bradley, Bernard Shaw, Oprah Winfrey, Diane Rehm, Robert Siegel, Nina Totenberg, Peter Jennings, Stuart Scott
Favorite podcasts: United States of Anxiety, Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period. (Johnson taught a podcasting course at the University of California, Berkeley.)
Personal soundtrack: “Something Different to Say” by Etherfox, Bobby McFerrin’s rendition of “The 23rd Psalm,” the Avengers theme—my inner superhero will not be denied.
Most and least favorite dessert: Most: anything with copious amounts of chocolate and/or Nutella. Least: blueberry pie