Friday, January 21, 2022

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

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This story initially appeared in Hot Pod Insider, The Verge’s subscription audio trade publication. For extra tales like this, you’ll be able to subscribe right here.

Something’s occurring at NPR, and everyone has a theory as to what. But first, the impetus. On Tuesday, All Things Considered host Audie Cornish introduced she’s leaving this system after practically a decade as its host. Her departure, which she says on Twitter is her becoming a member of many others within the “great resignation,” marks three hosts of colour to depart the community in latest months. (Noel King of Morning Edition left in November for Vox Media — disclosure that Vox additionally owns Hot Pod — and Lulu Garcia-Navarro of Weekend Edition joined The New York Times in late September.) This additionally follows a thread from Sam Sanders, host of It’s Been A Minute, who listed all of the hosts from marginalized communities who had left as of September, which incorporates Shereen Marisol Meraji of Code Switch and Joshua Johnson of 1A.

Many different NPR staff throughout numerous roles, together with a few of colour, have left lately, too. These are simply names that got here up in the midst of my reporting. There are certainly extra. Brakkton Booker, a reporter on the National Desk that’s now at Politico, left in March; Sam Gringlas, a producer on All Things Considered, left in December; Jacob Goldstein, co-host of Planet Money, left in September for Pushkin; and, as of this week, two HR staff who had been companions of the information and programming division left as effectively, in response to a supply, who requested to not be recognized due to their ongoing work with the community. On Twitter, Ha-Hoa Hamano, principal product supervisor, additionally mentioned she’s leaving (and mentioned many different troubling particulars about her expertise on the community). In 2020, David Greene, host of Morning Edition, additionally stop.

As my supply says: “There’s been an email bidding farewell to somebody every week.”

An electronic mail additionally went out yesterday from CEO and president John Lansing, acknowledging each Cornish’s departure and the broader dialog occurring round these strikes. You can learn the related portion right here, however he says an all-hands subsequent week will “talk about development and advancement at NPR — for all staff, including our hosts.” He additionally calls “diversifying our audience that relies on our content, sourcing, and staffing” its “North Star.” And that “staffing relies on hiring but also development and retention.”

So clearly, the turnover is actual, and everyone is scrambling to chalk it as much as a particular motive, together with myself, the Twitter universe, and even Reddit. I spoke with 4 present and former staff, most of whom requested anonymity due to their continued work within the trade, to get a sense of the scenario and what’s led as much as all this turnover, and everyone’s ideas coalesced round a few themes: extra opponents who can supply each larger salaries and extra inventive freedom; NPR being a legacy media firm hesitant to enormously alter its tried-and-true packages; and broader frustration with failures to hold out the community’s empowering mission assertion, notably for reporters and hosts of colour.

However, earlier than we absolutely get into it, I do wish to say I wasn’t capable of communicate to any of those hosts immediately, and I’m certain, sooner or later, after they’re desirous to share extra, we’ll obtain the true causes behind their leaving. Much of that is knowledgeable theorizing and emotions, and I feel everyone knows the choice to depart a job is usually extremely private, so let’s assume there’s a mixture of issues occurring, together with the X issue of pandemic burnout and restlessness. Now, for what I’m listening to.

“There is still a mindset, I think, with certain levels of management that’s ‘why would you ever want to leave NPR once you get here because we are … the top gig when it comes to audio,’” says one 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 that you do, and those are just things that we have not moved quickly on, and we’re seeing it play out now in the form of highly talented people across the newsroom and across different parts of the building just say, ‘Well, I don’t have to be here to do the kinds of things that I want to do. I can go somewhere else to do that.’”

Which is to say: the area is extra aggressive than ever, and that makes it a prime second for creators. Lots of media firms are investing in audio, want certified and gifted hosts, and are keen to pay for that entry.

Another former producer notes, for context, that after they labored at NPR, listeners would write into the community mourning a host who had left 10 years earlier than however that they nonetheless missed. This individual, who was with the station for a few years, says retention has all the time been a drawback for producers and reporters however by no means acquired a lot consideration as a result of they weren’t the “higher profile people.”

“Why else would you care,” they ask.

But as for why these hosts are leaving these packages proper now, particularly All Things Considered and Morning Edition, one other producer says internet hosting these exhibits is a particular job that requires sitting in a chair for hours, which could not enchantment to reporters who benefit from the on-the-ground facet of gathering audio and interviewing. Another factors out that these exhibits’ hosts or reporters may not have been capable of attempt new codecs or segments inside the exhibits’ particular expectations.

“You have to stick to a certain broadcast clock, you have to continue to sound like what people think NPR should sound like, and there’s not a lot of room for experimentation in that kind of format,” they are saying. “So if you’re looking 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 newsmagazine that’s going to look and sound the same every day.”

One producer factors out that when former ATC producer Theo Balcomb needed to supply a totally different sort of every day podcast, she took it to the Times, for instance, leading to The Daily.

Maria Hinojosa, who says she was the primary Latina employed at NPR in 1985, says these departures and the broader upset on the community doubtless need to do with not adhering to its mission assertion to tell and symbolize your entire American public. She created and runs Futuro Media Group and in addition hosts Latino USA, which NPR beforehand distributed, although as of June 2020, it’s distributed by PRX.

“For me, it was a difficult decision to leave NPR,” she says. “Because I was a child of NPR, you know, it was my first job.” She provides that NPR “wasn’t that into” Latino USA main as much as the separation and that she fought to “keep the show alive.” She additionally factors out that, through the years, she bumped into uninformed questioning from the staff. One host, she says, requested her if she was “pro-Latino” and could possibly be “objective” as a result of she hosted Latino USA, for instance, and he or she says she felt she needed to “jump through certain hoops to prove to certain people” that a present or reporting model made sense and would achieve success.

“The critique that I was making, that we were making, that we have been making for decades now, was not to take NPR down and not because we were curmudgeons, but because we understood what the future of the country looks like,” she says. “Therefore, the deep responsibility that NPR has is to be truly representative, and that takes a lot of self-critique, and you’ve got to go to therapy for that.”

In a response to this story, NPR spokeswoman Isabel Lara pointed to varied hires, together with Sandhya Dirks, Erika Aguilar, and Nick Charles, in addition to the naming of recent hosts, like Leila Fadel for Morning Edition and Up First; Scott Tong for Here & Now; and A Martínez for Morning Edition.

“Diversity in our staff, sourcing, and coverage is not only crucial to the accuracy and fairness of NPR’s content, but to the future of public media and our audience at large,” she says. “Ensuring that public media reflects the people of the United States is not a responsibility or initiative, but a necessity.”

She additionally added that the corporate tracks voluntary attrition, and its attrition fee in 2021 was 9.3 p.c, down barely from 10.1 p.c in 2019.

I think about we’ll be listening to extra about this story within the days, weeks, and months to return, notably within the expanded world of public media and member stations. For now, although, I’ll depart you with some Twitter threads I’ve discovered over the previous couple days so you may get much more particulars and ideas on what’s occurring.

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