NPR’s losing top talent — everyone has a theory why
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NPR’s losing top talent — everyone has a theory why

by arun809097
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This story originally appeared in Hot Pod Insider, The Verge’s audio industry newsletter. Subscribe for more stories like this here.

Something is happening at NPR, and everyone has a theory about what. But first the impetus. On Tuesday, All together host Audie Cornish announced she leaves the program after nearly a decade as a presenter. Her departure, which she says on Twitter will join many others in the “great layoff,” marks three bevy of colors that have left the network in recent months. (Noel King of) morning edition left in November for Vox Media – reveal that Vox also owns Hot Pod — and Lulu Garcia-Navarro from Weekend edition joined The New York Times end of September.) This also follows a thread from Sam Sanders, host of It’s been a minute, who mention all hosts from marginalized communities who left in September, including Shereen Marisol Meraji of Code switch and Joshua Johnson from 1A.

Many other NPR employees in various roles, including some of color, have also left recently. These are just names that came up in the course of my reporting. There are probably more. Brakkton Booker, a National Desk reporter now on… politics, left in March; Sam Gringlas, a producer on All together, left in December; Jacob Goldstein, co-host of planet money, left for Pushkin in September; and as of this week, two HR employees who were partners in the news and programming department also left, according to a source, who asked not to be identified due to their continued work with the network. On Twitter, Ha-Hoa Hamano, Lead Product Manager, also said: she leaves (and discussed many other disturbing details about her experience at the network). In 2020, David Greene, host of morning edition, also stop.

As my source says, “Every week there has been an email saying goodbye to someone.”

An email also went out yesterday from CEO and President John Lansing acknowledging both Cornish’s departure and the wider conversation surrounding these moves. You can read the relevant section here, but he says that next week all hands will “talk about development and progress at NPR — to all employees, including our hosts.” He also calls “dividing our audience that depends on our content, sourcing and staffing” his “North Star.” And that “staff depend on recruitment, but also on development and retention.”

So obviously the revenue is real, and everyone is trying to write it for a specific reason, including myself, the Twitter universe, and even Reddit. I spoke to four current and former employees, most of whom requested anonymity due to their continued work in the industry, to get a sense of the situation and what led to all this turnover, and everyone’s thoughts came together around a few themes: more competitors who can offer both higher salaries and more creative freedom; NPR is an old media company that is hesitant to make major changes to its tried-and-true programs; and wider frustration at failing to carry out the network’s empowerment mission, particularly for reporters and hosts of color.

Before we get into it in full, though, I’d like to say that I haven’t been able to speak to any of these hosts directly, and I’m sure one day, when they’re willing to share more, we’ll get to the real reasons behind their departure. A lot of these are well-founded theories and feelings, and I think we all know that the decision to leave a job is usually very personal, so let’s assume there’s a combination of things happening, including the X factor of pandemic burn out and restlessness. Now, from what I hear.

“There’s still this mentality, I think, with certain levels of management that’s ‘why would you ever want to leave NPR once you’re here, because we’re… the best gig when it comes to audio,'” says a producer . “But there are so many other places now that are willing to let you do different kinds of interesting things, and they’re willing to pay you more, and they’re willing to give you IP ownership of the things you do, and that’s just things that we haven’t dealt with quickly, and we’re seeing it play out now in the form of very talented people in the newsroom and in different parts of the building, just say, ‘Well, I don’t have to be here doing the things that I want to do. I can go elsewhere to do that.’”

That is, the space is more competitive than ever, making it a top moment for creators. Many media companies invest in audio, need qualified and talented hosts and are willing to pay for that access.

Another former producer notes, for context, that when they worked at NPR, listeners wrote on the network to mourn a host who had left 10 years earlier but who they still missed. This individual, who worked at the station for many years, says retention has always been an issue for producers and reporters, but never received much attention because they weren’t the “higher people.”

“Why else would you care?” they ask.

But as for why these hosts are leaving these programs now, specifically? All together and morning edition, another producer says hosting these shows involves a specific job that involves sitting in a chair for hours, which may not appeal to reporters who enjoy the local aspect of collecting audio and interviews. Another points out that the presenters or reporters of these shows may not have been able to try new formats or segments within the specific expectations of the shows.

“You have to stick to a certain broadcast clock, you have to keep sounding the way people think NPR should sound, and there’s not a lot of room for experimentation in that kind of format,” they say. “So if you want to do something different and you want to try something different, it’s hard to do that when your position is such that you’re part of a news magazine that looks and sounds the same every day.”

One producer points out that when former ATC producer Theo Balcomb wanted to produce a different kind of daily podcast, she took it to the Time, for example resulting in the daily.

Maria Hinojosa, who says she was the first Latina hired at NPR in 1985, says these departures and the network’s wider dismay are likely related to its failure to live up to its mission to inform and educate the entire American public. represent. She created and runs Futuro Media Group and also hosts Latino USA, which NPR previously distributed, but will be distributed by PRX as of June 2020.

“It was a difficult decision for me to leave NPR,” she says. “Because I was a kid of NPR, you know, it was my first job.” She adds that NPR “wasn’t so into” Latino USA leading up to the divorce and that she was fighting to “keep the show alive.” She also points out that over the years, she has faced uninformed inquiries from the team. A host, she says, asked her if she was “pro-Latino” and could be “objective” for hosting Latino USA, for example, and she says she felt she had to “jump through certain hoops to prove to certain people” that a show or reporting style made sense and would be successful.

“The criticism I made, that we made, that we’ve been making for decades now, was not to bring NPR down and not because we were stingy people, but because we understood what the future of the country looks like,” she said. . say. “That’s why the deep responsibility that NPR has is to be really representative, and that takes a lot of self-criticism, and you have to go into therapy for that.”

Commenting on this story, NPR spokeswoman Isabel Lara pointed to several collaborators, including Sandhya Dirks, Erika Aguilar, and Nick Charles, as well as the naming of new hosts, such as Leila Fadel for morning edition and Up first; Scott Tong for here now; and A Martínez for morning edition.

“Diversity in our workforce, sourcing and reporting is critical not only to the accuracy and fairness of NPR’s content, but also to the future of the public media and our audiences at large,” she says. “Making sure that the public media reflect the people of the United States is not a responsibility or initiative, but a necessity.”

She also added that the company is tracking voluntary churn and that churn was 9.3 percent in 2021, down from 10.1 percent in 2019.

I imagine we’ll be hearing more about this story in the coming days, weeks, and months, especially in the expansive world of public media and affiliate stations. But for now I’ll leave you with some Twitter wires I have found it about the past couple days so you can get even more details and thoughts about what’s happening.

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