A new report published by NPR is confronting the uncomfortable reality of the ongoing exodus of some of its biggest stars, all of whom happen to be people of color.
NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik penned a piece Wednesday addressing the “complex” race issues within the liberal radio giant following the exit of Lulu Garcia-Navarro, Noel King and Audie Cornish, all who left NPR to pursue other career ventures within the last three months.
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“The hosts … are the reason that those shows are so successful, along with all the people working so hard every day on those shows,” NPR President and CEO John Lansing told Folkenflik. “Losing anybody that we see as super-valuable is always a concern.”
Nancy Barnes, NPR’s senior vice president for news, similarly wrote in a letter to staff on Tuesday that the recent resignations have “created a hole in the heart of the organization.”
Folkenflik acknowledged the publicized uproar among colleagues, including “All Things Considered” co-host Ari Shapiro, who claimed on Twitter that NPR is “hemorrhaging hosts from marginalized backgrounds.”
“Much of the commentary reflects a belief that NPR has proven incapable of doing the right thing when race is a factor and is willfully or carelessly driving away its future stars, even as it aspires to attract more Black and Latino listeners,” Folkenflik wrote. “Interviews with 12 people with direct knowledge of recent developments, including NPR hosts and executives, suggest NPR indeed struggles to retain high-profile journalists of color. Hosts have complained to the network’s leadership of pay disparities along racial and gender lines. Some say the network does not keep its promises and makes contract negotiations unnecessarily contentious. And several hosts concluded they were made to be the public face of NPR but did not have the network’s full support.”
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According to the media correspondent, NPR “has emphasized the need for diversity in its staffing, its story selection, and its audiences, and pursued initiatives to fulfill those needs” under Lansing’s leadership, a mission he called the network’s “North Star.”
Barnes noted the “enormous opportunities” journalists have now that didn’t exist a decade ago, telling staff, “This fierce competition doesn’t explain all of our losses, and we will have to work harder to eliminate every obstacle — from processes to problems in the work environment — that might lead someone to leave.”
“We plan to embrace and lift up new voices and build a robust, diverse pipeline of journalists ready to move into every critical role,” Barnes vowed.
As Folkenflik noted, both Lansing and Barnes are White.
According to data shared to Folkenflik by corporate leadership, NPR had a lower turnover rate for employees of color among the entire staff during the last fiscal year and that “78% of all hires were people of color,” a substantial increase from the two previous years.
The report tackled various tensions between NPR stars and management. Hosts like Shapiro and King “pitched podcasts built around their interests” but “felt stymied by NPR’s programming division” according to colleagues. Others “expressed frustrations” that the news and programming sides of NPR “were not run in a more unified fashion.”
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In 2020, four female hosts of color sent a letter to Lansing “seeking a more equitable pay arrangement in comparison to their male peers.” In response, executives unveiled a “grid” meant to “standardize pay, while recognizing years of service and performance.” However, while most female hosts received five-figure pay raises, staffers concluded the grid “imposed a rigid cap on how much pay they could earn, regardless of offers from competing news outlets or other factors.”
According to Folkenflik, numerous hosts complained about the pay structure during a meeting with Lansing last week.
“The grid was a good-faith effort, I thought at the time, to address some concerns from the hosts of color,” Lansing told Folkenflik. “I realized from hearing them out last week, that that’s not the case.”
The report also delved into “acrimonious” contract talks Garcia-Navarro and King had with NPR and top officials “adopted a sharp and dismissive tone,” according to colleagues.
“Colleagues say Garcia-Navarro bristled at the network’s suggestions that she dial back expression of her interests as a Cuban-American or in social justice matters,” Folkenflik wrote. “Last week, after Cornish announced her departure, Garcia-Navarro tweeted, ‘People leave jobs for other opportunities if they are unhappy with the opportunities they have and the way they have been treated. I’m sad to see this happening but it is not unexpected.'”
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Lansing reacted saying “That goes against what I stand for,” vowing to oversee all host contracts before they are finalized.
Isabela Lara, NPR’s chief communications officer, said in a statement previously shared with Fox News, “We’re focused not only on those who choose to leave NPR, but also who is deciding to come… Ensuring that public media reflects the people of the United States is not a responsibility or initiative, but a necessity.”