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Joe Matazzoni's Response

Joe Matazzoni's Response

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Published by: NPRombudsman on Sep 07, 2012
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09/23/2013

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Senior Supervising
Producer Joe Matazzoni’
s full response:
The NPR Books team takes the issue of diversity in our books coverage veryseriously, as I think our record of covering minority authors and bringing diversereviewers and commentators to air and to our digital platforms demonstrates.Our annual summer poll is different from the stories and reviews that the NPRBooks editorial team assigns: the poll is a reader-driven project. The audiencegenerates the list of nominees; audience voting decides the winners. The process isanything but scientific. But learning about the favorite reads of 75,000 book-lovingNPR fans is inherently fun and interesting, and the poll is a big hit every year.That said, I'm glad people have brought the issue of diversity in the poll to ourattention. We've been doing a summer poll now for four years. I think this issuecame up this year because the poll was about teen novels, and people are moresensitive to these questions when young people are involved.Some people have pointed to the makeup of our expert panel as an issue. Thepanel's job this year, as in years past, was to help us winnow the nominated booksfrom a list of well over a thousand to a manageable voting roster of a few hundred.The panelists are all experts in the field but none this year, as far as I know, arepersons of color. This will be something we will certainly remedy in future polls. I'llcaution, however, the panel's influence on the outcome is limited.It's important to understand that, for the most part, the panelists are more like lineumpires at a tennis match than judges of a beauty contest. Which is to say, theydon't pick the finalists or the winners. In the vast majority of cases, the books that make it to the final voting are the books that received the most nominations fromthe audience. The panel's job is to rule out the titles that, in their estimation, falloutside the boundaries of the category -- be it science fiction, thrillers, or, this year,young-adult fiction.This year, as in years past, we allowed the panelists to include up to two of theirown favorite books in the voting roster -- as a courtesy to thank them for theirservice. Some of them took us up on the offer. But, to paraphrase an old saying, youcan lead a reader to works of literary merit, but you can't make her vote for them. Asin years past, when the voting came around, the audience ignored the "editor'spicks"; none made the top 100.A few people have suggested that we shouldn't call the top-100 the "best-ever"books, since a popularity contest doesn't determine quality. It's a fair point. Wepicked that title this year to suggest breathless, teen-aged enthusiasm. Also, the listsof recommended books on the NPR Books site are usually restricted to new works,so the title is meant to indicate that the novels on this list come from all periods.Our job at NPR Books is to find great books for our audience to read. Audience pollsare one way of doing this
a way that complements the reviews, interviews,

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