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National Public Radio (NPR) employees accused the network’s CEO of racism during a virtual all-staff presentation last week detailing financial metrics and diversity level updates following the organization slashing approximately 10% of its workforce.
NPR officials laid off 84 employees last week and halted production on four seasonal podcasts, including Invisibilia, Louder Than a Riot, and Rough Translation. The Wall Street Journal reported network officials would cut another 13 employees from the digital team.
Following the exodus from ex-staffers, Lansing and other executives reportedly tuned into a Zoom meeting to address the news department and the programming team, taking questions from employees that included how many employees of different races and identities were laid off compared to those who retained their job.
“We’re here today to take your questions and see if we can move together through this,” Lansing said, according to a recording of the meeting that Bloomberg obtained, adding that the network would have run out of money in approximately three years if the company kept its entire staff.
At one point during the meeting, The Wall Street Journal reported a laid-off black employee grilled Lansing about why some podcasts lacked marketing support, called out by name the executives for repeating statements they made in the past concerning more accountability, and questioned how the network would make diversity essential.
Lansing pointed to the network’s mission statement and told the group to “turn down the rhetoric” and refrain from naming the executives.
“I would never, ever, on your worst day, call you out by name in a meeting with 827 people,” he said. “Let’s please keep in mind nobody is happy about this. Nobody is more unhappy about it than those affected, but certainly, everybody in the company, beginning with me, this is the last thing we wanted to do.”
Despite Lansing’s remarks about making such decisions, a group of employees reportedly accused him of “tone-policing,” causing them to feel offended and uncomfortable with the conversation, which he said should have been more civil.
Employees began calling Lansing’s response “racist” during the Zoom meeting.
One employee referenced a segment from NPR’s Code Switch titled “When Civility Is Used As A Cudgel Against People Of Color.”
“Civility is a weapon wielded by the powerful,” one person wrote, according to screenshots of the chat viewed by Bloomberg.
“This meeting has made me more afraid for the future of public media than any conversation I have had in a very long time,” wrote another.
In an email, NPR Chief Communications Officer Isabel Lara told Bloomberg that the organization creates “forums for internal staff conversations and respects the hard questions that come from our staff.”
“We value the feedback we receive and acknowledge that this is an incredibly difficult time for everyone in our organization,” Lara said. “Our staff has the right and duty to hold NPR leadership accountable,” adding the organization has committed to creating and maintaining an environment where “we treat our colleagues with the utmost compassion, respect and dignity, and we will continue to provide opportunities for everyone in the organization to provide feedback on this process and support continuing dialogue.”
In a February memo distributed to NPR staff, CEO John Lansing broke the news that the network would have to cut most vacant positions and lay off around 10% of its current staff — approximately 100 employees — amid a “sharp decline” in advertisement revenues.
Lansing broke the news nearly three months after pledging the nonprofit media organization would attempt to avoid layoffs as the network said it would lose approximately $10 million from the current fiscal year budget.
“Our financial outlook has darkened considerably over recent weeks,” Lansing wrote in the memo published by The Hollywood Reporter. “At a time when we are doing some of our most ambitious and essential work, the global economy remains uncertain. As a result, the ad industry has weakened and we are grappling with a sharp decline in our revenues from corporate sponsors.”
According to the outlet, the company employs over 700 individuals, with about 490 people filling the newsroom and 230 staff members in the programming division. Lansing told NPR staffers that officials had created a plan to address a $20 million sponsorship revenue fall-off for the current fiscal year, but new projections show at least a $30 million shortfall.