August 14, 2020

WNYC Employees Demanded Diversity. They Got Another White Boss.

After the talk-show hosts John Hockenberry and Leonard Lopate left amid accusations of sexual misconduct, WNYC replaced them with Tanzina Vega and Alison Stewart, both women of color. But newsroom leadership remains almost uniformly white, and most reporters are white. Only two people of color currently have direct reports; across the station’s content division, which includes its podcasts and cultural programming, there is only one additional person of color with a staff. There are 157 staff members on the content side and 15 of them are Black. The staff specifically demanded two Black reporters and two Black producers to be hired within 100 days. During that time frame, the staff also asked that a concrete plan be developed to retain Black staff members.

Part of what has also left so many at WNYC upset is the corporate, inorganic nature of the search that resulted in Ms. Cooper’s appointment. It was led by an outside consultant, a Harvard M.B.A. and headhunter — the station’s diversity and inclusion officer was not brought into the process. Too often, media and cultural organizations insecure about their own management abilities default to handling things the way the protocols would require at Procter Gamble or Citibank, with little consideration to how alienating that can be to a creative, passionate and politically minded work force.

Ms. Sheikholeslami, who is well-liked, repeatedly said that she is committed to diversity and believes that the staff is unequivocally right in its current demands. But she defended the station’s selection of Ms. Cooper to me on the grounds that she is “an exceptional newsroom leader.’’ With the publisher of The Chronicle, Ms. Sheikholeslami said, “she did an amazing job of taking a newspaper that almost was not going to exist and bringing it to where it is today.” And over and over she heard that Ms. Cooper was beloved by reporters.

WNYC — home to “Radiolab,” “Morning Edition,” “On the Media” — is an institution worshiped by a vast and incredibly knowledgeable audience, and it stands for a set of values that extend beyond the payment of lip service to principles of equality and fairness. If it cannot live up to those values in terms of its own operations, what is the hope for those companies and organizations speaking to the vast world beyond Brooklyn?

To those invested in the hope of profound social transformation that recent weeks have suggested is now possible, the tumbling of statues and the renaming of buildings at Princeton can begin to feel hollow if not even lefty public radio can adjust its power structure.

As Rebecca Carroll, a cultural critic at WNYC, put it in a note appended to the letter staff sent to management this week: “The WNYC site states that we are ‘America’s most listened-to public radio station’— if this is in fact true, it’s unconscionable that our newsroom and the organization at large fails so miserably to reflect the racial makeup of America, but perhaps even more pointedly, that of New York City. In the year 2020.”

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/03/nyregion/wync-audrey-cooper-staff-revolt.html

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