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NPR Business Correspondent Yuki Noguchi Discusses Journalism, Empathy, and Music

Linda Fittante
Yuki Noguchi visited Murray State's Wrather Auditorium on Thursday, June 6th.

Yuki Noguchi, a correspondent on NPR's Business Desk out of Washington, D.C., recently visited Murray State's Wrather Auditorium to discuss business, the economy, and more. Noguchi visited the Sounds Good studio prior to her evening lecture to discuss her journalism career, the importance of empathy, and music.

Although Yuki Noguchi is now an 11-year NPR veteran, the St. Louis native did not imagine herself pursuing a career in radio or journalism. "I grew up very quiet and very shy. I'm an introvert," Noguchi explains. "So it seemed very unlikely that I'd like to be public about anything. I was always a science and math person; writing was actually my least favorite subject. It was the subject where I got the worst grades pretty much through high school. So, no, it didn't seem like an organic fit. But it's a great job. You get to talk to people, you get to sort of think about issues, and then you have the honor of basically trying to tell people stories." 

Noguchi began her journalism career as a reporter, then editor, at the Washington Post. There, she mainly reported on business and technology. Noguchi credits the Post for "toughening up" her shy exterior, saying that it was "exciting to be learning almost by osmosis from people around me who are really good at their jobs." Although intimidating at first, Noguchi soon found her niche at the Post. "What I brought to the table, I think, is actually a normal person's view of business and technology. What a normal person might be interested in. An outsider perspective, someone who is not of those worlds, what do they care about?" Her ability to present somewhat difficult or tedious ideas to readers all over the country proved to be beneficial in her transition to NPR. 

Noguchi joined NPR in 2008, but she was no stranger to the format. "I always listened to NPR. That was what we listened to while I was commuting to school. I just found myself sort of losing myself in a story and learning things you didn't know. [But] I never really imagined myself being on air. I had a surreal experience of Noah Adams [long-time co-host of NPR's All Things Considered] being my mentor when I got to NPR, so I had my own sort of fangirl moment."

Ross: In a very general sense, can you talk about a couple things you've learned in your years of covering business in the economy?

Noguchi: "I'm a business reporter, I cover economy - these things can sort of make your eyes roll in the back of your head if you're not particularly interested. But if you really think about it, I cover everything that touches money, everything that touches technology, and that's everything. I think of myself first as someone who covers the workplace. I cover the hours between, you know, when everyone works. What's relevant to you when you work? Everything from your relationship with your manager, the way you get your work done, whether you have benefits, grievances that people have, sexual harassment issues. These are things that people really think about that really touch their lives. It's not just about profit and loss and accounting and about numbers. It's about people behind those numbers."

Ross: Do you enjoy stories that are kind of tangentially related to business and the economy?

Noguchi: "I live for those stories. I love those stories. To me, I go out and I find people to tell these stories. In [the] example about Netflix break-ups, it's something that people don't think about or don't realize that they're thinking about. Those stories are just so fun because I get to talk to people who are so candid about their lives, and it's so relatable. I think that's what makes those stories really work. I love those stories. They don't come every day, but I just love having something like that on my plate. I think news is many different things, but when we get to think about things that make us laugh or smile or reflect on our lives, I think that's the most fun."

Noguchi was awarded a Gracie Award in 2019 for her coverage on the impact of opioids on workers and their families. When asked about the difficulty of reporting on such sensitive topics, Noguchi explains: "I mean, it is difficult, for the short answer. The longer answer is, you know, when [I'm] reporting, I think of myself as a representative of the public interest. That's true whether I'm talking to the CEO of a company or someone who's grieving. But I think when you're talking to somebody who's really going through a difficult spot, there's no substitute for empathy. It is paramount, I think, as a reporter to be aware of where your sources are and to empathize. You're a representative of the public, but you're not necessarily entitled to this information. You're honored to receive it. Reporting is much more art than science, probably. Reading people and understanding where they are is always going to get you the best story because you're going to get the most honest version of what they have to say. I find that in some of the worst, most tragic situations, people really bring out the best of their humanity, and I find that so inspiring. I've seen that time and time again.

Ross: Do you have a favorite story you've done or a story you're most proud of?

Noguchi: "You know, it's funny, I love the stories like the Netflix break-ups. I [also] did a story about what is apparently the most common workplace etiquette problem, which is people stealing each other's lunches. These are things that make me laugh, and I love those stories because I think that kind of levity is important. But I've also been deeply touched by the opioid story that you mentioned. I did a story about a group of inmates who were getting internships, who had gotten degrees in college, to try to bridge from their incarceration to employment. I was floored about how inspired I felt doing that piece. It wasn't what I expected. I think there are stories where you find unexpected human dramas playing out. I don't know if it's pride exactly, I'm just so privileged to be exposed to that. When I was in Japan after the tsunami, it was a very difficult, desolate place. And yet again, the surprise was [that] people were so resilient and kind and brought the best of themselves. There's this kind of honor, sometimes, to be in those moments. I think, for me, that's what's restorative. It renews my sense of purpose around journalism."

Ross: What role does music play in your life?

Noguchi: "I grew up as a cellist, a concert cellist. I think in my yearbook, people identified me as 'most likely to be in an orchestra,' not a journalist. But it wasn't really something I wanted to do professionally. I have a deep appreciation for music. I think as a child, music teaches empathy. I think it's a great creative outlet and now, I listen to all kinds of music. A lot of my kids' music. To me, it transports me into a mindset or an era. I love to cook, so I love to listen to music and cook. To me, it's a way of shaping my mindset. 

You can find more information on and archives of previous stories by Yuki Noguchi here. 

Tracy started working for WKMS in 1994 while attending Murray State University. After receiving his Bachelors and Masters degrees from MSU he was hired as Operations/Web/Sports Director in 2000. Tracy hosted All Things Considered from 2004-2012 and has served as host/producer of several music shows including Cafe Jazz, and Jazz Horizons. In 2001, Tracy revived Beyond The Edge, a legacy alternative music program that had been on hiatus for several years. Tracy was named Program Director in 2011 and created the midday music and conversation program Sounds Good in 2012 which he hosts Monday-Thursday. Tracy lives in Murray with his wife, son and daughter.
Melanie Davis-McAfee graduated from Murray State University in 2018 with a BA in Music Business. She has been working for WKMS as a Music and Operations Assistant since 2017. Melanie hosts the late-night alternative show Alien Lanes, Fridays at 11 pm with co-host Tim Peyton. She also produces Rick Nance's Kitchen Sink and Datebook and writes Sounds Good stories for the web.
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