NPR news chief pushed out after nine months

by KATHARINE Q. SEELYE, New York Times

William K. Marimow, the top news executive at National Public Radio and the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, has resigned after nine months in the job, the broadcasting network announced today. He agreed to become the ombudsman for the network.

The move is one of several changes within the network’s news division and signals a period of instability as many jobs are being filled hastily on an interim basis until permanent replacements can be found.

As part of its restructuring, the network is creating a new managing editor position to supervise shows and newscasts and has temporarily hired Richard Harris, who spent nine years as senior producer of ABC’s “Nightline” and “This Week” and was a former executive producer for NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

Some NPR employees who attended a staff meeting this morning when the changes were announced described it as harsh and even “nasty.” They also said that some of their colleagues praised Mr. Marimow for raising the network’s level of journalism.

Mr. Marimow, the former editor of The Baltimore Sun and an investigative reporter and editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, where he won his Pulitzers, was hired in 2004 to help strengthen and expand the news division after NPR received a bequest of $235 million from the late Joan B. Kroc, widow of Ray A. Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s. Since 1999, NPR’s weekly audience has doubled to almost 26 million listeners.

The network produces and distributes 150 hours of programming a week in conjunction with 815 public radio stations.

Mr. Marimow oversaw all activities of the news division, including approximately 350 employees and 36 bureaus around the world and such award-winning programs as “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition.” As ombudsman, he will serve as the listeners’ representative, with no news responsibilities.

In a memo to the staff, Jay Kernis, the head of programming, cited three goals for the next few months: to replace Mr. Marimow, “maintain continuity in the division and advance our news growth projects, including creation of the digital newsroom.” He said the network had retained the Sucherman Consulting Group to conduct a national search for a replacement for Mr. Marimow and would also use an internal search committee.

Ellen Weiss, the national desk editor, is taking Mr. Marimow’s duties temporarily.

Colleagues said that Mr. Marimow, a long-time print journalist and investigative reporter, was perceived as having failed to adapt quickly enough to radio, particularly as radio converges with the Internet. They also said that he was on the wrong side of an internal power struggle.

He becomes the first major casualty of the two-week-old tenure of Ken Stern, NPR’s new chief executive, who replaced Kevin Klose, the chief executive who had hired Mr. Marimow from the Baltimore Sun. Mr. Klose remains at NPR as president. In promoting Mr. Marimow to vice president of news in February, Mr. Klose had overruled an internal search committee that included Mr. Stern and Mr. Kernis and had not recommended Mr. Marimow.

In announcing Mr. Marimow’s promotion back then, Mr. Kernis had said: “Bill is a dedicated journalist who has already demonstrated ability to make a difference at NPR News, both in our newsgathering and in the ways we translate it to emerging platforms that are critical to the expansion of our public service.”

In his memo today, Mr. Kernis said: “Bill leaves a newsroom that is stronger in its investigations, research and daily reporting. Bill’s skills also make him a great fit for the ombudsman role, which demands an appreciation for powerful journalism and how NPR delivers it day in, day out.”

In his own memo to the staff, Mr. Marimow said that during his tenure, he had created new beats, expanded the news division’s contribution to the network’s Web site, NPR.org, and had produced “a steady stream of solid investigative projects.”

He said that working at NPR had been “a revelation and an inspiration,” adding: “A revelation because I’ve learned about the beauty and the impact of the world of sound on the human heart and mind; an inspiration, because the work you do makes NPR a bastion of great journalism in a world in which great journalism is in short supply.”

article originally published at http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/13/business/media/14radiocnd.html?ex=1318392000&e....

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey