Rough Translation, NPR's latest podcast offering, positions itself as "a show where we look at how the things we talk about are being talked about somewhere else in the world." My first thought after hearing this tagline was Isn't this what NPR has been trying to do forever? To make international stories relevant to an US audience? This may well be the case, but the public radio behemoth has never been so blunt about couching its goal. For me, a regular and longtime listener to whatever NPR affiliate graces my current city, this seemed a bit heavy handed. Shouldn't I already be interested in the goings-on across the world without having a line drawn to my specific experience? Ironically, after sampling the first episode, I didn't feel like the correlation was being made evident enough.
To kick off the series, Rough Translation focused on a story out of Brazil that revealed a new policy: jobs exclusively reserved for black people. It's a compelling story, detailing the process of how to prove your skin color in order to qualify for a new government sponsored program. Other than a nod to the idea that skin color is more of a construct in the US than in Brazil, there was just not a lot of one-to-one "translating." Maybe I'm being too literal. So I move to episode two, which boasts the attention grabbing title "Ukraine vs. Fake News." This immediately seemed more precise, with a specific analog to a broad American phenomenon. Again, other than a quick note about journalistic integrity fighting Trump, there isn't a lot of setup of the American side of things. From my perspective, however, this didn't need as much in the way of introduction. I've followed the fake news conversation, from the way a story can generate real world consequences to the news mills in Macedonia, and so maybe I'm simply more primed for this story to make the connection on my own.
Other than the lack of pointedly tying content together, there is little to criticize here. The reporting is solid and the source material is grade A. Much like NPR's Embedded, Rough Translation takes a story that could've been a 4 minute spot on All Things Considered and unravels it into a carefully considered tapestry of investigative journalism. Which is to say, if that's your thing, you will definitely like this show. If the producers were to lean into featuring more exposition of the American angle, it could lead to drawing in a new (possibly more jingoistic and less NPR-friendly) demographic. Is that the right thing to do? I'm not sure. But either way, I'm intrigued enough to follow along and see how it evolves.