From Tom Jones | Poynter <[email protected]>
Subject John Lansing’s rocky tenure as NPR’s CEO to come to a close
Date September 6, 2023 11:31 AM
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Lansing’s 4 years in charge included challenges wrought by the pandemic, a racial reckoning and issues in the podcasting business that led to layoffs. Email not displaying correctly?
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** John Lansing’s rocky tenure as NPR’s CEO to come to a close
NPR president and CEO John Lansing, left, sitting with President Joe Biden at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner last April. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

John Lansing is retiring as NPR’s chief executive after a four-year tenure that The New York Times described ([link removed]) as “rocky” and that even NPR called “tumultuous.” ([link removed])

Lansing, 66, will step down at the end of the year — nine months before his term was set to end. According to the Times’ Katie Robertson, Lansing sent an email to staff saying he made the decision in May and that “the timing feels right to me.”

A national search is already underway for his successor.

NPR media writer David Folkenflik wrote, “His four-year tenure will be defined by his handling of the extreme challenges of the pandemic, a racial reckoning, and headwinds in the podcasting industry that led to severe layoffs.”

A part of that racial reckoning? Robertson wrote, “NPR was also at the center of questions about how it treated people from diverse backgrounds after a number of its high-profile hosts who were women of color, including Lulu Garcia-Navarro, Noel King and Audie Cornish, left the broadcaster.”

But in its release announcing Lansing’s retirement, NPR wrote, “Under Lansing’s leadership, NPR’s executive team has evolved to include more than 40% people of color, from 9% in 2019. This is in addition to the appointment of a Chief Diversity Officer and the creation of NPR’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Representation of people of color at NPR also increased from 33% in 2019 to 42% in 2023, including greater representation in audience-facing and supervisory roles. NPR’s DEI commitment also led to the development of programming, content, and campaigns focused on bringing new voices and diverse perspectives on important issues.”

Folkenflik noted Lansing made “diversifying the network's staff, offerings and audiences a hallmark of his leadership, defining it as both a moral and a business imperative.”

Lansing now says, “Currently, our audience on radio does not nearly reflect the demographics of the United States. Our name is National Public Radio and 'national' means everybody.”

The journalism during Lansing’s time, however, has remained strong.

In the note to staff, Lansing wrote, “We have been through a lot together over the past four years, and you have made me proud every day. During the pandemic, we were there when America needed us most, reporting truthful life-saving information when disinformation was rampant. And we were there when America went through an overdue racial reckoning. Our journalists did remarkable work covering the efforts to overturn the 2020 election, and when Russia launched its war against Ukraine. We were also there when our audiences needed joy, laughter and connection in those moments that felt so bleak. All of you — and I mean every person working in every role at every level of this company — played a role in serving our audiences and the public interest at a time of incredible need. You should all stand proud, and it has been the honor of my career to have you as colleagues.”

Lansing now says NPR is operating in the black, but this is due to additional subsidies from the NPR Foundation and severe cuts early this year. In February, NPR laid off about 10% of its staff — around 100 people — and cut four podcasts.

There also have been shifts in NPR’s leadership. Folkenflik wrote, “Lansing's announcement Tuesday comes after months of turbulence and turnover at the network's highest levels, with many key positions vacant, newly filled, or held by someone on a temporary basis. The top news executive, promoted to that post in July on a permanent basis, is additionally serving as NPR's interim chief content officer, a newly created position above news and other content. NPR's top news executive left last fall. Then, after the layoffs in the spring, NPR's chief financial officer and chief operating officer departed. The chief executive over podcasting is leaving in December, like Lansing (although he says he will stay until NPR lands a new CEO). Chief operating officer Will Lee, who became chief executive of Adweek, will not be replaced; Lansing says Lee's duties will be parceled out to new CFO Daphne Kwon and the as-yet unnamed chief content officer.”

In a statement, NPR board chair Jeff Sine said, "We are all immensely grateful to John for his principled and tenacious leadership through a turbulent time for NPR, our system and our nation. From developing pandemic protocols to sitting alongside President Biden at this year’s White House Press Dinner, John has faced the highs and lows with grace and equanimity."

In his remaining time as NPR’s chief executive, Lansing will concentrate on NPR’s future.

He told Folkenflik, “We're digital first. We understand that the new, younger audiences prefer on-demand content. Whether that's local television, broadcast television (or) radio, it's a secular shift in the way people are consuming media. We need to examine our approach to content and journalism production with that in mind. Otherwise, we're really consigning NPR to a very difficult future as the audience ages.”

Before moving on to the rest of the newsletter, I should mention that Poynter’s senior vice president and ethics chair Kelly McBride is NPR’s public editor.

** Anderson Cooper on Chris Licht
CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, shown here last December. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Anderson Cooper sat down with The New York Times Magazine’s David Marchese in a Q&A ([link removed]) in which they talked a lot about grief.

They also talked a bit about CNN and former network chief Chris Licht, who was fired in June. There had been a sense that Licht believed CNN had swung too far to the left in its coverage and that he wanted CNN to veer back to the center.

But Cooper told Marchese, “I don’t know what Chris Licht’s analysis was. I don’t have much confidence that I actually know what he was thinking.”

Cooper went on to say, “I met with Chris and had a general sense of what the concern was. I don’t want to be unfair. I understood what the idea and the vision was. Obviously I am a part of CNN, so I want CNN to do well and be respected, but I try to worry about stuff I actually have my hands on. For me, it’s the show that I work on. That is my priority, and I do whatever I can to make that as good as I can. My sense from Chris was there was not a lot we needed to hash out because I’m not an opinion host. I’m talking to people from different sides and trying to be straight down the middle and represent things fairly and accurately. I keep my head down. I just try to do the best I can. I don’t need to have a lot of meetings with anybody who comes in. With Chris, I had a meeting with him when he first started and touched base from time to time, but we didn’t have a ton of communications.”

Cooper also offered up his thoughts on CNN’s town hall with Donald Trump, as well as the state of TV news.

Cooper will be honored with the Poynter Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism at the 2023 Bowtie Ball ([link removed]) in Tampa in November.

** Game break

The Washington Post announced Tuesday that it will release a newsletter about games called Game Break. By games, the news organization means Post-created games such as On the Record ([link removed]) and Keyword ([link removed]) .

The newsletter will be anchored by quiz writer Amy Parlapiano and include daily links to the games, as well as reader feedback and insights into recent games.

It’s interesting to note that the two news outlets that have really leaned into games are the Post and The New York Times even though games feel very old-style newspaper, so to speak, and are gone or greatly reduced at many publications. You could argue that games have always worked for newspapers, but when it came time for many papers to trim their budgets, games became an easy target. Perhaps the Times and Post are taking advantage by meeting the wants of audiences.

In a statement, Parlapiano said, “The gaming community at The Post has grown immensely in recent years, making it clear to us that there was an appetite among our readers for a dedicated space to interact with our games. In the past few weeks that Game Break has been in beta testing, the average click-through-rate has already become the second highest in our newsletter portfolio. We are excited to fully launch Game Break and provide our readers with a dedicated platform to explore our suite of games while continuing to engage with readers.”

If you’re interested in signing up, you can do so here ([link removed]) .

** A legend retires
ESPN reporter Chris Mortensen, left, talking with Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam in 2014. (AP Photo/Aaron Josefczyk)

Chris Mortensen, an NFL reporter at ESPN for more than 30 years, announced his retirement on Tuesday. Mortensen wrote on X ([link removed]) , “Excited about another season but it’s time to reveal after my 33rd NFL draft in April, I made a decision to step away from ESPN and focus on my health, family and faith. The gratitude and humility is overwhelming. It’s not a classic retirement. I’ll still be here talking ball. It’s just time. God Bless you all.”

Mortensen joined ESPN in 1991 after writing for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National, among other places. He became a household name among football fans during his time at ESPN.

The New York Post’s Ryan Glasspiegel wrote ([link removed]) , “In a cutthroat business, Mortensen has always had a reputation for treating people with kindness and empathy.”

Mortensen has battled throat issues over the past several years. In 2016, he was diagnosed with Stage IV throat cancer and underwent intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments that reduced the cancer to virtually zero detection. Even while undergoing treatment, Mortensen broke the news that Peyton Manning was retiring from football.

NFL media reacted with overwhelming praise after Mortensen made his announcement. Awful Announcing compiled tweets ([link removed]) honoring Mortensen and his career.

ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter tweeted ([link removed]) , “There has been no greater honor than to work with, and learn from, a man on ESPN’s Mount Rushmore. He has been an exemplary husband, father, friend and co-worker. He paved the way in this industry. He is a legend. Thank you for all you did for ESPN and so many, Mort. Love you.”

ESPN NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted ([link removed]) , “Best of the best. What an honor it’s been to spend time with Mort and learn from him. A true titan in this industry and an inspiration in every aspect of his remarkable life and career.”

** Media tidbits
* The Wall Street Journal’s Anne Steele and Sarah Krouse with “Spotify’s $1 Billion Podcast Bet Turns Into a Serial Drama.” ([link removed])
* I wrote about the Disney/ESPN vs. Charter/Spectrum dispute in Tuesday’s newsletter. Axios’ Sara Fischer and Tim Baysinger weigh in with “Disney-Charter fight could be the start of the TV bundle breaking.” ([link removed])
* The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch asked his readers and here are the results of the 2023 NFL broadcasters survey ([link removed]) . Interesting stuff if you’re an NFL fan.
* Need a smile today? Check out Peyton and Eli Manning holding auditions ([link removed]) for their ManningCast “Monday Night Football” broadcast. They also released the list of the nine regular-season games they will be doing, which can be seen at the end of the video.
* For Poynter, Pete Croatto with “How one reporter covers the US Open for newspapers all over the country.” ([link removed])
* Columbia Journalism Review’s Jon Allsop with “What is media criticism for?” ([link removed])
* The Los Angeles Times’ Chris Vognar with “She followed her ‘doppelganger’ down the rabbit hole. What Naomi Klein found there.” ([link removed])

** Hot type
* In-depth reporting, striking photos and impressive graphics in this piece from The Washington Post’s Annie Gowen, Niko Kommenda and Saiyna Bashir about how Pakistan is the epicenter of a global wave of climate health threats: “Climate-linked ills threaten humanity.” ([link removed])
* GQ’s Gabriella Paiella with “It’s Time to Bring Back the '90s Legal Thriller.” ([link removed])
* Finally, one more Jimmy Buffett tribute. Mississippi Today’s Rick Cleveland with “Hattiesburg, Southern Miss recall Jimmy Buffett before he was legend.” ([link removed])

** More resources for journalists
* Poynter will honor Anderson Cooper at the Bowtie Ball ([link removed]) in Tampa, Florida, on Nov. 18. Learn how to get first dibs on tickets ([link removed]) during a donor pre-sale event Sept. 5-10.
* Poynter Leadership Academy for Women in Media ([link removed]) (Mar., May & Sept. 2024) — Apply by Sept. 8, 2023 ([link removed]) .
* Power of Diverse Voices: Writing Workshop for Journalists of Color ([link removed]) (Nov. 15-18) (Seminar) — Apply by Sept. 15 ([link removed]) .
* Subscribe ([link removed]) to Poynter’s Friday newsletter, Open Tabs ([link removed]) with Poynter managing editor Ren LaForme, and get behind-the-scenes stories only available to subscribers.

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at [email protected] (mailto:[email protected]) .
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