NPR News chief Nancy Barnes to leave network: NPR

NPR News chief Nancy Barnes will leave the network in November. She announced her departure the same day NPR said it would hire a chief content officer to oversee both news and programming.

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Wanyu Zhang/Wanyu Zhang

NPR News chief Nancy Barnes will leave the network in November. She announced her departure the same day NPR said it would hire a chief content officer to oversee both news and programming.

Wanyu Zhang/Wanyu Zhang

NPR’s chief news executive, Nancy Barnes, said Friday that she would be leaving the network, prompted by NPR CEO John Lansing’s decision to create a new executive role over her.

A new chief content officer will oversee NPR’s news and programming divisions, which have collaborated and almost often conflicted over resources and priorities.

“As many of you have noted to me and others, there is increasingly overlap between the news and programming divisions,” Barnes wrote in a memo to employees Friday afternoon. “Now is the right time for me to pursue some other opportunities.”

The development means that NPR, one of the few key players in national news organizations, will seek two top executives on news at the same time.

Barnes called her decision “bittersweet”, but wrote that she supported Lansing’s decision and asked staff to support her as well: “NPR is a national gem. The work we do is critically important, now.” more than ever.”

Barnes wrote that she would be there until at least the end of November. Lansing and Barnes both declined to comment for this story.

NPR’s leadership in podcasting has made the popular audio form one of the network’s growing sources of audience and revenue in recent years. Yet it has come under pressure from competition from other public radio players and, more recently, for-profit organizations – leading to an arms race for talent, audience, and revenue.

Barnes and NPR’s senior vice president for programming and audience development, Anya Grundman, often disagreed about which podcasts or innovations to pursue. (Grundman did not respond to a note seeking comment.)

According to several colleagues, Barnes was surprised to learn how many podcasts apparently stemming from journalistic efforts were under Grundman’s control, such as planet money, (Some of them were eventually placed under the guidance of both officers.)

Lansing’s remarks in an initial memo to employees about the new executive job, released Friday morning before Barnes’ revelation, suggested that the network’s search for a new chief content officer was driven by strategic objectives and financial pressures. This reflects the changing nature of media business and the need to fight for the audience.

“We are adding our international, national and local journalism to all available platforms to reach a younger and more diverse audience,” Lansing wrote. “We are also facing unprecedented competitive pressure from commercial media in all those locations and the reality of our limited resources as a nonprofit.”

NPR faces increased competition from commercial outlets

According to the most recent figures, dating back to the spring, NPR has 24 million listeners of broadcast shows, 8 million listeners of its podcasts, and 16 million different visitors to its website each week.

Lansing announced a national search for a chief content officer led by Celine Hong, NPR Chief People Officer, with search consulting firm Russell Reynolds Associates.

This move represents a back-to-the-future approach. Lansing’s predecessor, Jarl Mohan, relieved In 2014, he realized that the executive at the time was giving up too easily on NPR’s promise in broadcasting amid a change in audience behavior. Mohan argued that NPR should spread its ambitions across all platforms.

There is a philosophical as well as bureaucratic tension at play: NPR at times alternates between considering itself as one of the nation’s leading news organizations, which also provides music and humor, and a media company whose brand and mission are a part of the News as a major part. (NPR presents the comedy show wait wait don’t tell meYouTube videos and music podcasts of “Tiny Desk Concerts” Alt.latinoamong many other projects.)

A newspaper veteran, Barnes has been accused of the #MeToo scandal. Inherited a newsroom hurt by

Barnes arrived on NPR in fall 2018, headed to the newsrooms Houston Chronicle And this Minneapolis Star-TribuneTwo leading regional news organizations with strong records of enterprise reporting.

She Faced the Challenge of Helping Herself Reinstate an Employee still shaken by the behavior and departure of his predecessor, Michael Orkes. He was ousted a year ago on multiple allegations of sexual harassment during #MeToo.

Barnes helped NPR News make significant achievements in a period marred by external crises that the network had to endure and cover. It accelerated NPR’s investigative and enterprise reporting efforts; helped in reporting on epidemics and war in Ukraine; and broadened the network’s coverage of race, identity and social justice issues.

In addition, he oversaw a more aggressive stance from supporters of former President Donald Trump in reporting on the growing threat to democracy. Barnes also established a more muscular presence for the network in covering climate change. The newsroom continued to receive major acclaim, winning its first Pulitzer in collaboration with two member stations, and becoming a multiple-time Pulitzer finalist.

Under Barnes, NPR News adopted analytical tools to help determine which stories to cover, in what manner, and on which platforms, while trying to fulfill the network’s stated public service mission. Those tools were also perfectly deployed to track recruitment practices and the variety of people NPR interviewed in its stories and programs.

Lansing called Barnes a “strong fellow” in a note to staff announcing a national search for his replacement.

Still, the newspaper giant’s early tenure proved volatile and difficult. Barnes took a significant amount of time to get up to speed on the imperatives and rhythms of broadcasting, the complexities of dealing with the hundreds of member stations that make up the public radio system, and the increasingly turbulent newsroom staff. Some public radio station executives felt that they did not fully understand his priorities.

An initial slight of coverage, and later concerns over major departures

One example: an address to public radio station officials about the need to increase reporting on German issues to people of color included a comment that NPR’s coverage was “So much more lacking than we realized.” It was taken on as a minor by the network’s Code Switch team, which was founded in 2013 and launched the podcast three years later. (When Apple named it praised its work code switch Podcast of the Year in 2020.)

In another example, Barnes announces it will do targeted layoffs redirecting resources to its priorities; After an outcry, most of those affected, including longtime correspondent David Velna, took on new positions at NPR.

He didn’t strike a strong public presence as a journalistic thought leader, as Orakes did; And Barnes was also alienated from his newsroom by several colleagues, although over time he weighed in on lengthy and laudatory notes to the news staff. The distance forced by the pandemic bolstered that notion.

Last winter, uneasiness broke out in public view over the departures of four female NPR hosts of color — one each for other occasions. His decisions were marred by despair over compensation, opportunities and support. Several people said they found interactions with the network disturbing or objectionable. Barnes’ top executive in the news magazines left the network several months later. Nevertheless, the recruitment of people of color within NPR and NPR News during his time in an upward trajectory.

On Friday afternoon, Barnes shared a warning while he struck a collegial tone in his note.

“We serve the public at a time when journalism is under attack and Americans cannot always agree on shared facts,” Barnes wrote. “We also know that countries like China, Russia and Iran promote propaganda as a way to destabilize the United States. We need to be strong as a credible international journalism organization.”

Disclosure: This story was reported by NPR Media Correspondent David Folkenflick and edited by Deputy Business Editor Emily Kopp and Chief Business Editor Pallavi Gogoi. No senior news executives or corporate executives were allowed to view this article before it was posted publicly.

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