Faces Of NPR: Chris Benderev

Feb 16, 2018
Originally published on February 16, 2018 10:44 am

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 inspires them. This week's post features Chris Benderev, a producer for NPR's Embedded.

The Basics:

Name: Chris Benderev

Job Title: Producer for NPR's Embedded podcast

Where You're From: Laguna Hills, California

Twitter Handle: @cbndr

An Inside Look:

How did you get started at NPR? What advice do you have for someone who wants a job like yours?

I came to NPR as an intern at All Things Considered. I did a considerable amount of flailing. In my first seven months here, not a single one of my story pitches was accepted. But I managed to stick around as a temp producer until Weekend Edition hired me. I recommend learning how to cut a two-way and write a host intro. That kept me afloat.

Did you always want to work in public radio? What drew you to audio journalism?

Typical story. I always enjoyed public radio. Then in college I heard This American Life and Radiolab and thought, wow, if I could do something like that for a living, life would be grand.

What's the first thing you do when you get to the office?

I power up the laptop and while it's doing its thing I fill my travel mug with ice water in the kitchen. The water dispenser on the sixth floor refrigerators are really excellent. Sorry, everyone on floors three and four.

You're a producer on Embedded. What does your typical day look like?

It varies wildly. If we're about to release an episode, there's a lot of audio mixing as we continually tweak a piece—adjusting music or narration or tape—to get it to the finish line. If we're between seasons, I might be reading up on a topic, calling up people, or pulling archival tape. Or we could be traveling somewhere to report an episode.

What is your role as a producer?

The job of producer entails everything from research to writing scripts to reporting to just generally making sure everything sounds right. It's sort of a catch-all title, which is a good thing. It ensures the job is never boring or too predictable.

Embedded just released a couple of deep-dive episodes on the Russia investigation. What was it like covering a story that feels like it's evolving every day?

Mostly invigorating and a little bit terrifying. We send each other the latest Mueller investigation headlines as we see them in a Slack channel so we're all as up-to-date as possible. But you also can't help worrying about what would happen if another bombshell guilty plea or indictment or resignation happened right before your carefully calibrated episode is scheduled to drop.

After these two new episodes finishing the "Trump series," what's next for Embedded? Are there any stories you really want to explore?

We are not closing the door on the "Trump Stories" series. We may add more to it later. But we're also eager to report on a wide range of other news stories in the same sort of documentary style. At the same time, we don't want our sound to become predictable. We did a lot of field reporting in our first season and we'd like to mix some of that back in too. (That's in the works already. Subscribe and stay tuned.)

Personally, I find the challenge is narrowing my interests. I think most journalism people have a long, meandering list of ideas or topics somewhere and mine includes everything from health to crime data to media bubbles. The trick is finding the ones that can actually become something.

What's on your desk?

Lots of steno pads. A water bottle. The one picture pinned to my tackboard: me and my fiancee at the arboretum. The DVD boxset of the first season of The Apprentice, which I'm proud to say I watched in its entirety as part of my job.

What are some of your favorite past projects?

In 2016 I worked with a very talented reporter, Shereen Marisol Meraji, to document the closing of Wilkinsburg High School after more than a century in operation. It was the only high school they had in this burrough just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The whole experience drove home the value of revisiting a town or location and building relationships. And I would be remiss to not mention the years of fulfilling work with the big family of a team that is Weekend Edition. I fondly remember cajoling Rachel Martin, the Sunday host at the time, into doing a story about the neuroscience of whether humans can use virtual reality to tickle their own arms with their own hands. I think she was ready to strangle me by the end.

Describe the podcasting industry in one word. Also, where do you think it's headed?

Suspenseful.

Frankly, I don't think anyone knows exactly where it's headed.

Favorite Tiny Desk?

Los Campesinos. Back in the old building. The setting didn't seem to intimidate them into being too shy, which I think it understandably does to some bands.

Are you a coffee or tea person?

Both.

What are you binging right now? (Streaming movies, albums, podcasts, books)

Finally watching The Americans. Season four.

Do you have any favorite foods?

The Roaming Rooster food truck's honey butter fried chicken sandwich with slaw.

What is your guilty pleasure?

This Is Us. It's almost unbearably corny. Like, even the most perfect dad was never that perfect. But I can't stop watching.

Speaking of, Mandy Moore from This Is Us just tweeted back to Embedded. How do you feel?

Starstruck! And I seriously didn't just put that answer in because of that. I'm all caught up on Season 2.

What is your favorite thing about working at NPR?

There's no way to completely avoid cliches here, so I'll just say it. The people here are always curious. Plus they're smart. And really funny. And, by the very nature of the news, the work never gets boring.

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