A Conversation With 1A Host Joshua Johnson

Jul 9, 2018

Joshua Johnson is the host of 1A.
Credit WAMU

A new program is part of WFAE's news lineup. 1A -- which stands for First Amendment -- airs weekdays from 10am to noon in place of On Point. Johnson spoke to WFAE News Director Greg Collard about his news philosophy and how the show strives to connect with listeners.

Johnson says it was good timing when 1A debuted in January 2017. I assumed that was because of the election of President Trump. Not exactly.

"I knew that regardless of who won the election, the program we were going to create would be necessary because either we would be dealing with the first term of Donald Trump or we would be dealing with America's first ever female head of state,” says Johnson. “Either way, the nation was going to need to talk quite a bit."

That means reaching out to listeners in a way that Johnson says lets them co-author the show. And he says it means not overly relying on experts from Washington D.C.

Joshua Johnson: The main thing that we look for from our audience is their personal stories. You know it's one thing to ask people for their opinion but I can argue your opinion I can't argue your life and it elevates people to an incredibly important place. If they are able to tell their own story. Because you are the expert on your life. So one of the best kinds of engagement when we ask people to leave us a voicemail or now use our new app called 1A Vox Pop and leave us a an audio file with their story. It just allows you to be an authority. And it makes your story just as important as whatever our expert guest has to say. That's what makes the show more than just this “intellectual examination of the issues of the day.” It makes it a lens on things that matter to people just like you and me. That's when the show really works.

Greg Collard: What have you learned as the host of this program, both professionally personally - about the nation? What have you learned?

Johnson: I've learned that it's not as bad as people think. I've learned that there are people across the political spectrum who are so tired of the screaming and yelling, even in DC. You know, if you think about going into a forest and seeing an ant hill, like a big hill of red angry army ants – If you look at that ant hill and think that's the forest -- that's kind of the equivalent of our news environment today.

Now, that ant hill is real but it's not the forest. The forest is vast and Congress and the divisions -- they're real. The White House and the controversies they're in are real but that's the ant hill. There's so much more to America than that and I don't want to miss the forest for not even the trees, but for the ants. Our job is to zoom out and to not ignore the ant hill, but to not ignore the forest either.

Collard: Is this an evolution you've had as a reporter? How did you get to this point?

Johnson: Well. I never liked yelling and screaming. I'm not the kind of person who likes bickering and arguing and cussin’ and fussing and fighting. I've never liked talking about my own politics. Ever since I've been registered to vote -- I always remembered not wanting to tell people whether or not I was affiliated with a party and which party I was part of or how I voted or who I voted for.

I just never liked it because – and it didn't take me long to realize that question really has nothing to do with me. That question is about you. It's about you reassuring yourself that I am OK for you to like. You want to reassure yourself that you have made a good choice and the people you associate yourself with. And then it's OK to keep me in your inner circle. And after a while I realized I don't care what you think of me, especially if it's just to assuage your conscience.

And so it caused me to flip around and view people very differently and it forced me to think of people outside of this kind of (the) paradigm that everything seems to fall into. And so as I became a journalist, I kind of resolved not to pigeonhole others but to see them as best I could for the fullness of who they are and one day allows us to do that.

Collard: When you think of Charlotte and the news that happens here, what comes to mind?

Johnson: I don't know.  I don't.

Collard: OK.

Johnson: I don't know Charlotte, and I say that with no shame. I would be lying if I said I fully understood Charlotte. I can't recall that I've ever been (in Charlotte) except through the airport. And I would love to know Charlotte better. I think that's one of the nice things about this job is that I don't have to know. You know, we have to have the willingness to say, ‘We're not sure about this, but you probably know. Tell us your story.