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Five Things: NPR's Sam Sanders On Trying New Things And Being A Grownup

Hugo Rojo/NPR

During the tumultuous 2016 election, I became addicted to the NPR Politics podcast. Several times a week, a few NPR reporters would talk through the latest news, bringing their expertise and analysis to a discussion of current events that was smart and thoughtful, but also funny and real. I relied on it every week to help me understand what was going on, and I still listen regularly.

One of the breakout stars of the podcast was reporter Sam Sanders, who served as one of the hosts in between reporting trips. He's now the host of his own podcast (and radio show), called It's Been A Minute, in which he talks with newsmakers, artists, and other reporters about everything from music and television to a round-up of the week's news. It's been described as a show for people who are exhausted by the news but can't stop — which probably describes many of us these days.

I was delighted to talk with Sanders recently, although he was in a studio at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., and I was in a studio in Louisville so we couldn't see each other. He sent me a couple of pictures of some of his items, including a compost bin that was part of a story he did very early in his career, a hat that looks like a pizza (yep), and his couch.

Listen to our conversation in the player above.

On doing a story about composting in which he learned a lot:
"Since that whole ordeal and endeavor, I've held on to that compost bucket, just because I loved getting to do it. I loved leaning into doing a story where I admit I don't know a thing about this thing, and it was just fun to have fun at my own expense, for the radio. I feel like so much of what we're trying to do with the show, I want to be the listener, and our listeners are curious and not afraid to admit what they don't know, and learn new things."

On when he learned to improvise with his church band:
"At my church, this Pentecostal church I went to, no one read music — we all played by ear and it was in the Southern gospel tradition where you just play what you felt and there was no sheet music. And my mother was our church organist, and when I started playing the saxophone, she wanted me to play in the church band, and I'd always say, 'Mom, I can't play without my sheet music. I don't know how to make that happen.'

"And one Wednesday night, she stuck my saxophone in the back of the car without me knowing it. We drive to church, she gets in to go play the organ and she says, 'I got your saxophone in the back, you need to pull it out, and come sit up here and play with us, and if you don't, I will embarrass you in this church.' And I did as I was told, because MOM, and it went really well."

On when he covered a Trump campaign rally in Green Bay:
"I had walked into that setting, having seen on CNN, you know, coverage of the handful of drunk guys at the Trump rally saying all kinds of foolishness. But when I got in that room, I smiled and I listened, and people were really really nice to me. And I'm not saying that that speaks for everyone that's at every Trump rally, but my experience was very positive there. And I think that had I come in saying, 'Well, this is definitely not going to work out,' it wouldn't have worked out.

"Some of the work that I've learned over the course of being in the field, talking to folks, is that walking into a situation with an expectation of the positive, it infects the interaction. And if you bring that with you, before you know it, they feel your positivity, too, and they can't resist it."