NPR television critic Eric Deggans speaks to journalism class

In college, National Public Radio’s first full-time television critic Eric Deggans discovered what he wanted his career to look like.

Eric Deggans, who is the first full time television critic at NPR, speaks about his role as a journalist of color and radio critic in a conversation with Annenberg associate professor Mary Murphy. Photo by Emily Smith | Daily Trojan

“I had a definitive plan,” Deggans said. “My goal was to be an arts critic with a national voice.”

Deggans achieved that goal after spending nearly 20 years at the Tampa Bay Times as a television and media critic before joining NPR.

Deggans spoke at Wallis Annenberg Hall Monday night about his role as a radio journalist and critic, and his experience with racism in the media.

Deggans came to USC as a guest speaker for students in the “Entertainment, Business and Media in Today’s Society” journalism course. Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Professor Mary Murphy, who teaches the class, interviewed Deggans, before opening the floor for questions for students.

“I reached out to [Deggans] because I felt like he had a unique voice in terms of covering television and media,” Murphy said. “He was one of the few people of color in the Television Critics’ Association, and he represents the growing medium of radio and podcasting.”

Although Deggans lives in Florida, he was in Los Angeles for a Television Critics’ Association conference, where major broadcast networks host press conferences about their television shows for the upcoming season. During the interview at Annenberg, Murphy asked Deggans about people of color who are leaders in the entertainment industry.

“When you’re a person of color in a position of authority, you have to be careful to make sure you don’t look like you’re tipping the scales in favor of people who look like you,” Deggans said in his speech. “White presidents of entertainment can be more aggressive in terms of meeting the diversity demand because they aren’t seen as having an agenda.”

During the conversation, Deggans talked primarily about the role television plays in determining national culture.

“Everything happens on television — race, politics, gender issues,” Deggans said.“Whatever it is, it’s on television.”

Deggans spoke about why he joined NPR, and  the emerging role of podcasts in modern culture.

“Podcasting opened up an avenue to young people that we didn’t have before,” Deggans said. “It builds a bridge for young ears — ‘Code Switch, Pop Culture Happy’ Hour — those podcasts talk about issues that young people are interested in.”

Deggans also discussed how the media has played a significant role in creating a political divide. This served as the primary subject of his book Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation.

“There are certain media outlets who have decided that their strategy for success is by dividing the audience and only serving a certain segment of the audience,” Deggans said. “Fox News has decided that white men is their target audience, so it presents the world in a way that is in concert with its viewers’ world view.”

Deggans grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood, but went to a private middle school where only two other students were people of color. During his talk, Deggans spoke about how this experience influenced his role as a media critic.

“What I do now is decode popular culture for a mass audience,” Deggans said. “And in order to do that, I need to understand white culture. I don’t think I would be effective at what I do if I didn’t know how to communicate about white culture.”

Undeclared junior Grayson Adler attended the talk as one of the students in the class. Adler said he enjoyed the talk because Deggans had a lot to say about popular culture.

“It was fascinating to hear his insight about [media] and how he built his career from his childhood onwards,” Adler said. “For people looking to get into entertainment and journalism, he’s definitely someone to look up to.”