Discover more from The Squeeze
Behind the Reporting: Death, Sex & Money
PLUS: A Few More Details on the Layoffs
It’s been a brutal couple of weeks (in many respects) and I hope you are all hanging in there.
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To everyone: I’m working on a more in-depth piece regarding NYPR’s layoffs, but in today’s short newsletter, we’re going behind my reporting on the status of Death, Sex & Money. Please chime in with reactions or questions in the comments and if you have a sec, hit the like button. Thanks!
Death, Sex & Money: Behind the Reporting
Last Monday, I reported that New York Public Radio had made the decision to cut podcast heavyweight Death, Sex & Money from its portfolio and lay off its four-member team, though production would continue through the end of the year. Meanwhile, the organization’s executives have positioned this news differently. During a recording of an all-staff meeting which I reviewed last week, CEO LaFontaine Oliver can be heard saying that if NYPR can “pull a deal together” with a partner “in a significant way,” then it could keep the show under the WNYC banner. “If we are unable to do that by the end of the calendar year, the show will be sunset,” says Oliver.
These two narratives are in conflict.
Oliver’s narrative is based on his words. Those words soften the impact of this news and they allow New York Public Radio to evade —or at least delay — accountability for the full scope of its actions.
My narrative is based on a legal document. I published the news about Death Sex & Money — along with very specific details regarding NYPR’s other cuts in personnel — after obtaining the information from this document over a week ago. The document includes a list of job titles, responsibilities, and ages of all NYPR employees who have been selected for “involuntary termination as a result of a reduction-in-force.” The four Death Sex & Money staffers — its “Managing Editor & Host,” “Executive Producer,” “Producer I,” and “Broadcast Engineer,” — appear on this list, about six rows from the top, right below an executive assistant from WQXR and above the host of WNYC’s More Perfect. There is no differentiation between DS&M staffers and anyone else on that list.
The night before I published the information I sent New York Public Radio VP of Communications Jennifer Houlihan Roussel a copy of what I was planning to run in The Squeeze as a courtesy. At the time, I did not necessarily expect to hear back from Roussel, as I was reporting facts pulled from a primary source; the facts spoke for themselves (also, about a month and a half ago the VP started ignoring my press requests again).
In the wake of this news becoming public, DS&M host Anna Sale asked me to share a statement, which I published on Twitter last week.
This was the first public acknowledgement from anyone at New York Public Radio that DS&M was in transition. But then, two days later, Hot Pod published a story about WNYC’s layoffs, which echoed Oliver’s narrative around the show and included quotes from Roussel. (Interestingly though, no one has challenged any other facts I published in last week’s newsletter.)
The next day, I reached back out to the VP again, requesting that she clarify the discrepancies between NYPR executives’ words and the organization’s legal documentation regarding the layoffs. “I don’t care one way or the other,” I said in email. “I just want the truth.”
Later that morning, someone with knowledge shared that there had been movement on the issue; Roussel was “checking with legal” on the “exact language” to use in a response to me. This seemed promising; if landing on an answer required legal assistance, it must mean Roussel was taking my question seriously.
Oh, what a naive reporter I was back then!
It’s now been more than four days and “checking with legal” is the closest I’ve come to an acknowledgement of the actual facts from New York Public Radio. It appears that the organization has decided it’s better to say nothing.
If NYPR’s lawyers got over their skis with the paperwork, why not say so?
If Oliver was too optimistic in his positioning around all of this, why not say so?
People and organizations make mistakes! Why is transparency so hard for New York Public Radio?
This is something I’ve thought about a lot as I’ve reported on the organization over the course of the last seven months. Public relations, and even crisis PR, is often grueling work, but it’s not rocket science. (Like Roussel, I was a PR executive for many years.) You make a mistake —> you admit it —> you take full responsibility for it —> you do better on the next round. Over time, these simple steps buy your organization trust and credibility. Dodging questions and acting shady accomplish the opposite.
Speaking of transparency, here a few more details regarding the layoffs:
— According to legal documentation, the person who was let go from the organization’s marketing department was their “Director of Research & Audience Data.”
— According to legal documentation, the person who was let go from the organization’s development department was a “Senior Associate” in legacy giving.
— According to the recording of an all-staff meeting, the person who was laid off from the Radiolab team was leading its “hugely successful” Patreon business model.
— As part of the organization’s recent restructuring, On the Media lost a producer to another team, and Radiolab and New Yorker Radio Hour, have open positions that will now not not be filled.
I’m hustling to get you another piece on NYPR’s layoffs by the end of this week. Until then, take care of yourselves out there, and if you’re looking for a new job, Podnews has a good list of the latest opportunities.
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