NPR Is Losing Some Black and Latino Hosts. Colleagues see a big crisis.


Audi Cornish arrives at the MTV Video Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall on Monday, August 20, 2018 in New York. Ivan Agostini / InVision / AP. Photo by

In recent years, NPR has taken pride in its efforts to diversify its ranks of on-air hosts, recruiting several Black and Latino journalists to lead its signature news programs, including Lourdes García-Navarro, Contains voices like Noel King, Michelle. Norris and Audi Cornish.

But now the public-radio giant is grappling with the same talent drain.

On Tuesday, it was Cornish, co-host of NPR’s daily news magazine, “All Things Considered” since 2012, who announced she was leaving for the weekend, destination unspecified. “I have never considered the host’s chair to be a permanent position,” he said, although many of his predecessors have enjoyed decades in the job. “It’s time for me to try my hand at new journalism projects and embark on new adventures.”

Other prominent on-air celebrities of color to leave NPR’s airwaves include “Weekend All Things Considered” host Garcia-Navarro, who left in September to host the New York Times podcast; “Morning Edition” host King, who left for Vox Media in November; and former “1A” host Joshua Johnson, who joined MSNBC.

In addition, NPR has lost the stars of two weekly shows and podcasts in recent months – Maddie Sophia (who hosted the science program “Short Wave”) and Sherin Marisol Merazi of “Code Switch”, who talks about race in America. Let’s discuss.

Some see a pattern – and a problem. Cornish’s announcement, in particular, triggered a public outcry of complaints from within NPR about its treatment of minority journalists.

“If NPR doesn’t see this as a crisis, I don’t know what it will take,” Cornish’s “All Things Considered” co-host Ari Shapiro tweeted. He wrote that the organization was a “bleeding host from marginalized backgrounds”.

Shapiro cited a tweet from another September NPR event host, Sam Sanders, who checked the names of the recently departed staffers and commented, “Look at all the incredibly talented hosts from marginalized backgrounds who have worked in the recent past. Just left @npr… I believe in mission Public Radio; this trend is the opposite of that mission.”

García-Navarro tweeted: “I’m sad to see this happen but it’s not unexpected.” She and Sanders declined further comment, as did Cornish.

NPR’s chief spokeswoman, Isabel Lara, said Tuesday that the Washington, DC-based organization regrets losing familiar journalists, though she pointed to other journalists of color who are filling the ranks of the departed. Among them, he cited Scott Tong, co-host of NPR and WBUR’s daily “Here and Now” program, and “Morning Edition” co-hosts A. Martinez and Leila Fadell. Martinez was appointed in May, and Tong was named in June. Fadel, a former Washington Post reporter, was nominated last week.

Lara argued that many of those who left were scooped up by deep-pocketed companies that are building a podcasting business in direct competition with NPR. “It used to be that hosting a news magazine at NPR was the pinnacle of radio journalism”, she said. “There are a lot of opportunities now” with Apple, Audible, Netflix, The New York Times and others making up the audio-news and nonfiction programming division. “It’s a very competitive landscape.”

But García-Navarro openly opposed this in his tweet. “People leave jobs for other jobs if they are unhappy with the opportunities they have and the way they have been treated,” she wrote.

Despite giving women unprecedented opportunities since its inception in 1970, NPR has struggled for years to diversify its audience and provide alternative perspectives. It hired its first African American host of “All Things Considered,” Michelle Norris, in 2002 (Norris is now a columnist for The Post). It launched shows such as “News and Notes,” and “Tell Me More” aimed at minority audiences, but later became the weekend host of “All Things Considered” hosted by Michelle Martin.

People of color make up 42% of NPR’s podcast listening audience and 21% of its radio audience, according to data compiled by rating firm Nielsen for NPR and shared with The Post last year. NPR has grown its podcasting arm in recent years, which officials say helps meet the organization’s goal of reaching a younger, more diverse audience.

But people familiar with NPR say its management has not done enough to provide opportunities to minority journalists, especially women.

Jenna Weiss-Berman, co-founder of the podcast company, has preyed on many people from public broadcasting, and “every time they say to me, ‘I have no creative freedom, I feel humiliated,'” she said.

Some have big names in the industry but work on short-term contracts; Others complain that they have been denied the opportunity to develop new programs or podcasts, even when they devote their free time. “They just say ‘no’ when it comes to something creative,” said Weiss-Berman, who worked in the public radio and audio division of BuzzFeed for 10 years before starting her company, Pineapple Street Studio. “When you’re told ‘no’ a lot, and you see another opportunity where you can be said ‘yes,’ you’re going to take it.”

Public-media executives often assume that it is paying its employees high enough to be hired. She says it is not so.

Celeste Headley, who has hosted several public radio programs and has written extensively about race in the industry, said she could not speak to the specific reasons individual hosts have left but related to departure. “For companies to put resources into recruiting people of color and then really retaining or supporting them in their roles, they don’t have to put any resources into place so that they continue with the organization.”

She said she regularly hears from public-radio employees of color who say they deal with daily fights and resistance to their ideas, despite the feeling that their job is to help them expand their audiences. Got it.

But Headley — who founded a nonprofit for minority public-radio workers — credits John Lansing, NPR’s president and chief executive officer, for being “gravely dead set on solving these issues.” She added: “If our industry gets a chance to grow, now is the time.”

NPR employees raised questions about the exodus of women of color during an all-staff meeting chaired by Lansing last month, which is generally well-regarded within the organization. But when he told employees that turnover is common in the news media, he received a warm welcome and according to one participant, NPR cannot be a deterrent for employees to explore more opportunities elsewhere.

“There seems to be a lack of acceptance when people give up because they can’t find anything in the house and they don’t see a way out,” said this employee, not authorized to speak to the news media. ,

Referring to Cornish, the staffer said, “There’s a lot of confusion that we’re seeing yet another talented host walking out the door… for unspecified opportunities. There’s concern that it’s going to be jeopardized by leadership.” Not perceived or seen as such.”

Lara declined to characterize the issue as a crisis or a problem, but acknowledged it was “important” to maintain a diverse workplace.

Internal statistics from NPR show that its workforce is 62% White, 15% Black/African American, 12% Asian American, 7% Latino or Hispanic.