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We say goodbye to 'Morning Edition' host Noel King

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

When she announced her resignation recently, our co-host Noel King said she would prefer an Irish goodbye - you know, where you ghost people without even a hat tip. Well, we'd do just about anything for our friend as she leaves NPR today, but we cannot allow an Irish goodbye because we want you to hear how she has reported on this program. It's an example of how journalism works.

Noel has covered some of the most excruciating stories of recent years, like the killing of George Floyd in 2020. One of her interviews from Minneapolis did not at first seem to be about that news. She met 17-year-old Shawn Richardson, who loved to run.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SHAWN RICHARDSON: How I explain it - it's like gathering energy and then just letting it go.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Does it feel like freedom?

S RICHARDSON: It does. It does. I feel like I don't have to worry about anything on a track.

INSKEEP: But when he ran in his neighborhood, Shawn's mother, Ruth Richardson, had to tell him to run with other people, in a tracksuit.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

RUTH RICHARDSON: Because even with that, you could still be seen as a threat. You can't do the same things that your white friends do.

INSKEEP: Noel King has learned by listening to ordinary people's stories, like asylum seekers who came to the U.S. border and were told to remain in Mexico.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

KING: Julio is almost as tall as his mom. He has her sad, dark eyes. And he's just disappointed. He's a kid, and he thought they'd get in.

JULIO: (Through interpreter, crying) We had heard that if you came with your family or brought a small child, you could come in. So that made me hopeful. But then when we arrived, they said, no more. They didn't even ask us anything. They just sent us back.

INSKEEP: They didn't listen. Noel did.

Now, I want you to know a little about our colleague who was holding the microphone that day. She started in journalism with a simple assignment years ago. She moved on her own to East Africa - to Sudan. She didn't even have a journalist visa, so she worked as a fifth-grade teacher while she was waiting for one. Having seen some of the wider world, she reported for NPR's Planet Money, then joined MORNING EDITION. She became the first host of color in the four-decade history of MORNING EDITION. She co-hosted the podcast Up First and covered everything from elections to entertainment.

Once, she interviewed Barry Jenkins director of Amazon's acclaimed series "The Underground Railroad."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

KING: We had a very small team working on this - watching the series - before we interviewed you. And two of us are Black. And we talked about what - (crying) sorry - let me collect.

BARRY JENKINS: No, take your time.

KING: So we were talking about how we were reminded of our families and their old pictures and their old stories, and also that there are old stories that we can't know about them - and, you know, why some of us look the way we look - because of slavery. And some of it really hurts.

JENKINS: And, you know, in the making of the show - in the beginning it was hard, Noel. It was very hard.

INSKEEP: That exchange illustrates another thing a journalist does - find a connection that can make the story human.

Think of just a few weeks ago, when Noel learned a cranberry sauce recipe from Jack Bishop of "America's Test Kitchen."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

KING: Can I start with a confession?

JACK BISHOP: Sure. I love a good confession.

KING: This recipe calls for some liqueur. And much in the tradition - who was the one who would get sauced before she started cooking? Was it Julia Child? Well, I'm pulling a Julia (laughter).

BISHOP: Well, I mean, you know, you're, like, well past cocktail hour on whatever crazy schedule you work...

KING: Thank you.

BISHOP: ...Right? I mean...

KING: Thank you, Jack.

BISHOP: In your world, it's - what? - like 9 o'clock.

KING: It is. It's about 9 p.m. Yes.

BISHOP: So you should've been drinking four hours ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAUCE")

NAIKA: (Singing) Who brought the sauce.

I brought the sauce.

Who made the sauce? I made the sauce.

What's in the sauce?

I am the sauce.

Who brought the sauce?

INSKEEP: (Laughter) She is the sauce. And she's heading to Vox Media.

And, Noel, you've listened so well. So now we get to listen to you. You get the last word. Go.

KING: Can I have two last words?

INSKEEP: Oh, take as many as you want.

KING: Thank you. I want to say thank you. I hear things played back like that, and I realize what a great show this is and how lucky I have been to work here. I mean, we say this all the time. It sounds like a cliche, but it's such a privilege to work with every producer and editor and engineer and co-host who is with me on those stories and interviews.

You heard me crying there in that interview with Barry Jenkins. I begged our producer Mark Rivers to take that out. I said, that's going to make me sound unprofessional. Please kill it. And he said, I'm going to make it work. And that is what we do at MORNING EDITION. We make it work constantly, day after day.

INSKEEP: Well, thanks for putting your heart into your work. Thanks for the power of your words and of your example. And thanks for being so supportive of everybody.

KING: And I want to do one last thank you, if I can. And I'm going to tell you a really crazy story, OK?

INSKEEP: Go.

KING: So over Thanksgiving, I was visiting my mom. I told her about my decision to move on. And she said, Noel, I started listening to MORNING EDITION the year you were born...

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

KING: ...On WAMC, in upstate New York, 40 years ago.

And it hit me, as it often does, that it is the millions of listeners in this very special club that anyone can join - they are the people for whom we do all of this at all hours of the day so joyfully. I will miss them. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.