STEVE INSKEEP – MORNING EDITION – NPR

The evening reminded me of the song by Billy Joel…

It’s a pretty good crowd for a Saturday

And the manager gives me a smile

‘Cause he knows that it’s me they’ve been comin’ to see

To forget about life for a while

And the piano, it sounds like a carnival

And the microphone smells like a beer

And they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar

And say, “Man, what are you doin’ here?”

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The “piano man” in this case is the host of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, Steve Inskeep.

The “crowd”, students and admirers on the campus of U of Indy (University of Indianapolis).

The “Man what are you doin’ here?” is Steve Inskeep, in Indianapolis for a talk and book signing.

Let’s begin at the beginning of this evening.

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When I first walked up to Steve Inskeep I noticed he is a polished, professional looking man. He carries himself confidently wearing a dark blue suit with black polished shoes. He is not tall nor is he short. He appears to be in good physical shape. His hair is conservatively cut and only now starting to gray just a touch at the temples. There is no flair to his clothing. His dark blue suit is accented by a crisp blue shirt with a spotless conservative blue tie. I noticed only two pieces of jewelry; a gold wedding ring and a watch with a conservative dark leather band. No flashy jewelry to catch your eye on this man. His demeanor is much like his dress. His asset,however is his eyes. They are piercing, probing and inquiring. His eyes are blue or green or perhaps a little of both. Imagine being interviewed by Inskeep; you dare to make eye contact with him and immediately you are drawn in and you tell him your story.

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Inskeep started his presentation by reminding the audience that he would be finished before the IU – Kentucky basketball game got underway. Inskeep went back to his Carmel High School days, and told us that he and Christopher Schmidt were both high school class mates and both produced local radio by broadcasting high school football games together on the Carmel High School radio station. Inskeep gave a little good natured dig to Christopher Schmidt about their different styles of presentation on the high school radio air waves.

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Christopher Schmidt, Professor of Anthropology at University of Indianapolis.

Inskeep spent some time telling us how badly he wanted to get away from Indianapolis after high school. He wanted “to get out of Dodge” you might say. His goal was to get as far away from Indianapolis as possible. Inskeep remarked that his parents were both school teachers. His vision was realized , sort of, when he enrolled at Moorhead State University a few miles down the road from Indianapolis. Morehead State is located east of Lexington, Kentucky.

In his introduction of Steve Inskeep, Christopher Schmidt, Professor of Anthropology at University of Indianapolis, said that Inskeep had a “full ride” to Morehead.

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As my grandson is currently being courted by three different schools to attend their music program, I can understand how one might choose a school. In the case of my grandson, Indiana University, Butler and University of Indianapolis are all interested. As IU is a state school, it offers little or no scholarship money because it is state supported. IU is talking about 1,000 maybe 2,000 dollars a year. Butler is offering 15,500 and the University of Indianapolis is offering a 16,000 dollar music scholarship. So, in the case of my grandson and possibly Steve Inskeep, do we, or did Inskeep, “follow the money?” If I heard Christopher Schmidt say that Inskeep got a “full ride” then you go where you can get a diploma with as little of out of pocket money as possible. A full ride would be a good reason to call Morehead your next stop. Even if it’s only down the road from Indianapolis. Inskeep’s first professional experience in radio was a stint as a sportscaster at WMKY-FM at Morehead.

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Inskeep graduated from Morehead in the spring of 1990, and moved to New York. So, his first decision as a graduate with very little money and no real job was to move into the most expensive city in the United States. Again, can you hear the drum beat… get as far away from Indianapolis as possible? As it turns out Inskeep was chasing a girl, Carolee, who later became his wife. Daughter, Ava, was born in 2005.

Inskeep found temporary jobs and freelance work and he was hired and laid off a few times. He also had a little money saved from mowing lawns in Carmel, Indiana. But Steve wasn’t making much, so gradually he went through those savings. It took more than a year before he was finally offered a full-time job.

Inskeep was now doing the morning news at a public radio station in Newark, New Jersey, coming to work in the middle of the night. He was told, “The job pays $25,500 per year.” Today, of course, I understand that if someone offers you a job with a funny number like $25,500 they are probably negotiating. They are leaving room for you to say, “Can you make it a little more?” and they can say, “Okay, twenty-six thousand.” But he didn’t ask for more; he needed that job. Inskeep said “I’ll take it.”

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Inskeep states, “I loved that job. On my first payday, I had to cash my check at the bank down the street from the radio station in order to have the $3.75 to ride the train back home. My cash reserve was down to less than two dollars, but I made it through. I found out who I was. I am a journalist. I listen, and learn things, and pass on what I’ve learned. It’s a great profession for me.”

Inskeep was in Indianapolis to sell his book, Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi. The book looks at changes in Karachi, Pakistan, as it grew dramatically in the second half of the twentieth century. Karachi grew from a port town of 350,000 residents in 1941 to a commercial center of more than 13 million today.

I have always wondered how an author could justify the cost of promoting a book by flying into a city, factoring the cost of a hotel room, taxi, meals and shipping several boxes of books to the event venue. Then the cost of shipping books back the books in boxes that didn’t sell. The other carrot that might have brought Inskeep to Indianapolis was a possible speaking fee. This evening’s event was publicized free to the public and sponsored by the Blanche E Penrod Anthropology Lecture Series, curated by Inskeep’s friend and fellow Carmel High School class mate, Christopher Schmidt, Professor of Anthropology at University of Indianapolis.

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If you Google speaking fees and look around the internet you see lots of people who charge very large sums of money for speaking to groups and organizations. I believe the one person right now that is leading the speaking fees pack is President Clinton. The Student Association at the State University of New York, Albany, Inc. entered into a contract with Bill Clinton on March 2, 2011, for a speaking fee of $200,000. In 10 years as a private citizen, Clinton has delivered a total of 417 paid speeches and earned an average of $181,000 per event. Former president Bill Clinton has charged $75.6 million in speaking fees since leaving office in early 2001, according to a CNN analysis of financial records.

While publishers’ bureaus may charge lower fees for author appearances, most outside agencies start their authors at $10,000 and take a 20 – 35 percent cut. They’re constantly adding new clients and dropping others. In recent years a growing number of writers, from the best-selling to the less so, have hit the rubber-chicken circuit speaking at colleges and businesses, chambers of commerce, trade fairs and medical conventions. While a midlist novelist might ask, though not necessarily get, $2,500 per appearance, a superstar presidential historian might command $40,000. Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose presidential histories include “Team of Rivals,” about Lincoln’s cabinet, charges as much as $40,000 an appearance and some seasons averages a lecture a week. Some best-selling authors charge double that.

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I am not sure I totally understand the amount of money being spent to hire a politician, entertainers, sports figures or a NPR Morning Edition anchor to speak at your college, convention or activity. But I think it’s clear, if you write a book and have some notoriety you are able to earn some serious money from speaking fees.

I did notice a theme in Inskeep’s presentation which centered on “get out and meet people and listen to their story.”

In preparation for his next story about one of his first interview experiences in Columbia, Inskeep quoted Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill once said to a woman berating him for changing his position, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, madam?” The following story by Inskeep demonstrates that position.

Inskeep was assigned to cover a kidnapping story in Columbia in 1999. Steve’s story goes something like this…

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“I had accepted a journalism fellowship, a chance to do some reporting in Colombia, which is a dangerous country today and was then, one of the most dangerous countries in the world. I decided to do this and decided to work without an interpreter, even though I didn’t speak Spanish. I had a few months in advance to learn all the Spanish I could and then I went, but my Spanish was still uneven.

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Once, to do an interview, I had to catch a flight from Bogota to Medellin. I got in a taxi, but the driver and I didn’t communicate very well. He thought that since I was a foreigner I must be going to the international airport, not the domestic airport. So he took me to the wrong airport, and by the time I got to the proper airport my flight was leaving in just ten minutes. I got to the airline counter and said I was there for the flight, but the woman said I was too late. I said the flight time hadn’t come yet, and asked the woman to let me proceed. She answered, “Siempre, siempre, siempre cerramos la puerta quince minutos antes volar” – “Always, always, always we close the door fifteen minutes before flying.”

I had missed my flight. In other words, “I was screwed.” Now, here’s another lesson that I learned. If you are in a dangerous country struggling to speak the language and find yourself in an airport and miss your flight, you will pick up the words you need very quickly. I did find the words and while I didn’t get on that flight I made the next one. Then we landed in Medellin and I got in another taxi.

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The airport in Medellin was in the mountains outside the city. As we rode down into the valley of Medellin brilliant green mountainsides with white skyscrapers were at the bottom. The taxi driver started talking. That’s when I realized that the Medellin accent was different from the Bogota accent and the Spanish I had just finally learned was not going to be very useful. But we continued down the narrow roads to Medellin and reached the office where I was heading.

The people who worked there included a woman named Claudia Tamayo. She wasn’t rich or powerful and held no public office. She worked for a human rights organization in a very violent country. Her organization gathered information and published a report about the violence of a paramilitary group that had killed many people. It took courage to publish such information in a country with very little law and order. Soon after the report was published gunmen came to the office.

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The gunmen kidnapped the human rights workers, blindfolded them, put them in a vehicle and drove them into the countryside. There they were held in a house for days, expecting at any moment to be killed. Eventually, the gunmen came back and loaded the women, blindfolded, into a vehicle. They all believed they were heading for death. But when the vehicle stopped, and the blindfolds came off, they were standing on the porch of a house. A man came out of the house. It was the leader of the militant group they criticized. It turned out that while the human rights workers were in captivity there had been nationwide protest against their kidnapping. The militant leader was under so much public pressure that he decided to let them go, including Claudia Tamayo. But before he let them go he served them lunch and kept them for three hours, lecturing them on why he was not such a bad guy after all. This leader had many armed men at his command and could have killed them at any time. As it turned out that man cared what they thought. This was the story I heard in that office in Medellin, the office where the kidnapping took place. Did the paramilitary leader understand that the facts of his situation had changed? Did he change his mind? Perhaps.”

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Inspeek addressed the living conditions in Pakistan with the help of a few slides. The country’s population has exploded. People there simply take over land and build small cube-like dwellings selling the small rooms to whoever can afford them. They have no right to the land, they don’t own the land but they build. It was obvious Steve has a great respect for the people of Pakistan and I can only assume he wants to tell their story. Inskeep tried to make the case that the people in Pakistan love and respect America… which for me was a stretch given all the negative news coverage by the media. But I tried to keep in mind what Inskeep had said earlier, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, madam?” What do I do? I am not sure I was persuaded to change my mind, but I tried to understand that perhaps some people who live in Pakistan might feel warm toward the United States. I guess it’s possible.

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Questions then came from the audience about political considerations in Pakistan and other questions were about the daily operation of NPR “Morning Edition.”

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A guest and member of the audience.

Steve Inskeep tells the audience gets up at 3:45 A.M. His co-host, Renee Montagne, living on the west coast gets up at midnight to be in the studio. “Now if you think getting up at 3:45 in the morning is crazy, getting up at midnight… is really crazy.” I sit in a studio in Washington and look at a monitor of Renee in California. The director, on the other side of the glass, points his finger at me and I talk. Then the director points his finger at a monitor with Renee’s image and Renee talks… it’s really quite amazing. We each have a red phone with a light on top of it… if Renee wants to talk with me she lifts the hand set on the west coast and the red light lights up in my studio. I lift the hand set and we simply talk to each other (off the air) about what we will do as we go into the next break. Morning Edition is heard locally in Indianapolis on WFYI-90.1 FM/HD1.

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Steve Inskeep, Host NPR Morning Edition, Christopher Schmidt, Professor of Anthropology at University of Indianapolis.

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A couple of Inspeek family in the hall for the talk.

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About the author

Stephen A and Scott Duncan publish "ByDuncan.com" Scott photographs (Duncan Photography) and is the guy who keeps this site running. Steve (left) is a photographer (Duncan Photography) and writes to "ByDuncan.com"