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NPR Chief Announces Departure Of Key Digital Strategist


The top programming executive here at NPR, Kinsey Wilson, is leaving the network at the end of this week. The announcement came this morning from NPR CEO Jarl Mohn. Mohn has also promoted another senior NPR executive. But Wilson has been seen in journalism circles as a leader on the digital front and his exit follows the departure of several other NPR executives. We're joined from our studios in New York by NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. David, give us some context here. First off, tell our listeners who Kinsey Wilson is and what he did at NPR.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Well, Kinsey came to NPR - he had been a very successful executive over at USA Today, both on the digital and the print side - but what he really did here was work often in tandem with folks in news and with CEOs to improve what we do digitally.

I mean, if you look at what we in the website - but if you look at our apps, if you look at a number of our recent initiatives - something called NPR One, which is a kind of infinity player where can hear a constant stream of NPR and public radio content. If you think of NPR reaching deals with car companies, with iTunes and with others to reach listeners however they may be on the go.

He really was a leader in saying, we have to reach audiences where they want to listen to us, not just where we always have, through our hundreds of radio stations. I might say, this also was a sticking point for many radio stations, who themselves are trying to embrace the digital change, but are unnerved by the question of a direct relationship between NPR and the listener.

MARTIN: So what is the reason being given for Kinsey Wilson's departure?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I talked at some length not very long ago with Jarl Mohn himself, our still fairly new CEO. And he said that it was a really a re-organizational notion. That - he said that it wasn't just content - Kinsey was our chief content officer - but that news was really at the heart of what NPR does.

He wants the senior vice president for news to direct - report - to report directly to him. Currently, it's our acting head of news. Chris Turpin, used to lead All Things Considered for many years. In addition, he said, he wanted to elevate a chief operating officer, Loren Mayor, who has been one of our senior strategy executives to that role. Basically, Wilson was seen as the odd man out.

MARTIN: Wilson, as you said, had a real focus on moving NPR into a new digital space, trying to attract new audiences. What does it mean for those initiatives that he's - that he's leaving?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I think that's a question that's going to be asked - in part, you know, teased out throughout our profession and particularly people interested in digital media. I will say, Jarl Mohn very emphatically - and we walked through a number those initiatives - supports what Wilson did and committed himself to continuing them during his tenure, which - he, you know, hopes to be CEO this company for quite some time.

Mohn said that Wilson made some very tough choices, but exactly the right choices, both in NPR One and in some other efforts - in apps and digitally, but also in doing things like arranging - and this is very inside baseball - but what's called a new clock. And that's the schedule of what you hear throughout an hour.

There was some tension between NPR and local stations about what they were and weren't allowed to do, in terms of covering up some segments or some story slots throughout the hour. Wilson made some tough stands, but also, you know, was seeking to try to reconcile some of the anxieties of stations. And Mohn said, a lot of what needed to be done was talking this through and that they've come out the other side a lot more productively.

He says, Wilson helped lead NPR to where it needs to be, but Mohn, himself a very successful executive in the worlds of cable - he had helped lead MTV, E Network. He had been chairman of the public radio giant in Southern California KPCC. He says, it's time for him to help lead and for him to help get the resources for the news division to flourish.

MARTIN: And lastly, David, this is the second very high-level senior news executive to leave NPR. Are these kinds of shake-ups in journalism institutions common?

FOLKENFLIK: They're not only common. They're almost to be expected. You see, any time a new CEO comes in - particularly someone as dynamic as Mohn has proven to be - they want their own team around them - people they feel comfortable to help groom a strategy, rather than sort of have something already in place.

I will say, the difference about NPR - particularly, I've got to say, in the entire decade I've been here and covering NPR - is that not only has there been a lot of change in a short time. There's been a lot of change for a long time.

You've seen a lot of turnover at top ranks of NPR at the CEO level, as well as at the senior ranks. And that's in significant part because of the tectonic shifts digitally that we're seeing in the industry and, also, the insecurity that has created our relationship with those member stations. So I think this is something we're going to have to watch for.

MARTIN: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Thanks so much, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
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