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A voice of NPR got his start at MSU

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    Steve Inskeep at the ruins of Carthage. 2012. (John Poole/NPR)
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    Steve Inskeep in Karachi, Pakistan (2010/NPR)

 “NPR anchor Steve Inskeep (90) grew up in Carmel, Ind., but his work now takes him all over the world.”

Published in the Indianapolis Star, reprinted with permission

It's 5 a.m. as your clock radio alarm kicks on and the familiar, soothing voice begins to fill the room.

"It's Morning Edition from NPR. I'm Steve Inskeep . . ."

And the news begins.

Actually it began nearly three decades ago for Inskeep, who grew up in Carmel and has perhaps the most recognizable voice of any Carmel High School graduate

In the mid-1980s, he developed his talents for radio while broadcasting Carmel football games on WHJE-FM (91.3), the student radio station.

But that was no mere trial run behind the microphone for Inskeep. Instead, a particularly tough football game put to test his ability to remain neutral in the face of a dramatic game for the Greyhounds.

"One year they made it to the regional championship and lost to Warren Central on a last-minute field goal," Inskeep said in a recent interview from his home in Washington, D.C. "We called it straight -- my colleague Craig Shemon and I -- and by straight, I mean we didn't act like Carmel fans but like reporters.

"It was disappointing to lose, but our job was to give the facts."

These days he may hold his own opinions while interviewing government officials and international heads of state on National Public Radio, which is heard here on WFYI-FM (90.1). But the lessons he learned in Carmel about sticking to the facts and remaining neutral have never gone away.

Inskeep is more interested in reporting the news, rather than his opinions.

"There is a lot of awful, inaccurate, incomplete, misleading information (on the air)," said Inskeep, a 1990 graduate of Morehead State University in Kentucky.

"I spend every day wanting to make sure my work is a little more like that of people I admire, and a little less like the people who make me sick.

"And I would encourage everybody who consumes the media to spend a little time getting to know the difference."

Inskeep, 44, is married to Carolee and has a 7-year-old daughter, Ava. He has been a global traveler for NPR, reporting assignments that ranged from the Persian Gulf to presidential campaigns, the Pentagon to hurricane-ravaged New Orleans.

He joined Morning Edition in 2004 as an anchor. He also wrote his first book, published last fall: "Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi," which looks at the struggles of a Pakistan city to deal with an epic migration of people.

In a lengthy email interview with The Star, Inskeep shared his thoughts on a variety of things. Here are some excerpts:

Question: Describe your typical workday. 

Answer: I get up about 2:45 and am at work by 3:45. People are horrified by this, but it's easy compared to my co-host Renee Montagne, who is in California and does all the same things three hours earlier.

The show goes on the air at 5 a.m. Eastern, and, after that, every day is different. Some quiet days, a lot of the show is taped; some busy days it's almost entirely live. At 9 a.m. the staff is meeting to discuss tomorrow's program or next week's or next month's. Later I may be taping interviews for future shows, writing, working sources, taking interesting people to lunch.

The day ends when it ends -- sometimes at noon for me, which is great because I get to meet my wife or pick my daughter up at school. Sometimes later.

Q: What do you read to stay informed about world events? 

A: The New York Times, the Economist, the New Yorker and Twitter.

I include (Twitter) because I have made sure to follow interesting people, and they tweet an immense number of links to compelling articles. Twitter is how I keep up with interesting writers, people on national security issues, a host of campaign correspondents, various columnists. In many cases my loyalty is to the writer as much as the publication.

Q: Tell us about your life in Carmel. 

A: Born in Indianapolis and adopted when I was 10 days old by Roland and Judy Inskeep, who'd bought a house in what was then a new subdivision in Carmel. I think it was the first, or almost the first, real suburban subdivision in a town that was about to explode.

When I was a kid, I remember The Star would refer to Carmel as a "bedroom community," because people lived there but worked in Indianapolis. Now that's changed. I came home at some point in the 1990s and realized that Carmel had become an "edge city," a suburban city with a lot of offices and jobs as well as homes.
The landscape has changed so immensely. The new town center, with multistory buildings, townhomes and the Palladium -- all that area was cornfields and railroad tracks and industrial parks. My memory of that part of town was watching the freight trains go by, sneaking out in somebody's field with a couple of friends to drink a six-pack.

Q: Who has inspired you in your career? 

A: I could mention lots of news people, but let me mention some family members who have inspired me through their character. My parents, Roland and Judy, have always been there for me and always looked after themselves. They were both teachers (English, science). And what they did is what I try to do now in my job: learn things and pass on what I learn.

My brother Bruce has become a sales person for a series of tech companies in Dallas, and he is great with people, great with details, knows his job, and he's honest. You could say the same of my brother Jim, athletic director at Carmel now.

Q: Name the five most famous people you have met and interviewed. 

A: President Obama; President Bush; Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; Bruce Springsteen; Meryl Streep.

Q: What has been your favorite or most impactful interview? 

A: Let me mention a series of interviews with Donald and Colleen Bordelon. They're not on the list of most famous interviews. They survived Hurricane Katrina, staying for weeks in their flooded house just outside New Orleans, and we checked back in with them for years as they rebuilt.

When Donald died suddenly in 2010, I will admit that I struggled to say what I had written for the obituary. I went off in a studio by myself and recorded it in advance; no way could I have gone through it live.

Q: Have you ever been in danger while doing your work, or felt threatened in any way? 

A: There is some risk in going to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan or a few other places I've been. Journalists do get threatened or killed, and it can be as scary for me as anybody else. But you work to manage that risk; you keep a low profile, go about your business, do what you have to do and don't call attention to yourself.

And I don't want to overstate what I've done. I think there are many, many colleagues who have taken many more risks than I have.

Q: As Carmel is celebrating its 175th birthday, we have to ask: Do you think NPR will be around for another 175 years? 

A: I would suggest to you that support for public broadcasting is awfully strong. Public radio, in particular, recently survived a year of very bad moves, mistakes and political attacks. It certainly didn't survive because of flawless management. It survived because people across America, regardless of their politics, believe in the importance of what we do for their communities.

The battle over public funding for public broadcasting is interesting, but obscures a larger reality. The largest single source of funding for WFYI in Indianapolis, and just about any public radio station, is not the government. The leading source is local listeners who volunteer to pay for something they could otherwise get without paying.

Unlike most news organizations, which are desperately struggling to force its users to "go behind a pay wall" to get their content, public broadcasters have listeners who volunteer to put themselves behind the pay wall. That's a rare thing.

People do it because they know public broadcasters work every day to do the honest and honorable job of keeping our fellow Americans informed.

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