NPR programming boss denies accusations of ‘catastrophic’ staff exodus

A vice president at US public radio broadcaster NPR has hit out at accusations of a “catastrophic” staff exodus at the organization, as she revealed it had surpassed 100 million podcast downloads a month.

Speaking at The Podcast Show in London on Wednesday, NPR senior vice president for programming and audience development Anya Grundmann admitted that NPR’s set-up “is not for everyone” but said the organization was such a good place to work that its current annual staff turnover rate is just 5%.

Earlier this year, the US non-profit broadcaster was hit by a spate of resignations of senior talent including Audie Cornish, the long-term host of flagship news program All Things Considered, Noel King of Morning Edition and Lulu Garcia-Navarro of Weekend Edition .

The trio’s departure, some of the network’s most famous hosts of color, led to accusations in January that the origination was in “crisis” and that it had failed to carry out the network’s mission statement to represent the entire US public, particularly people of color .

While not directly citing the departures, Grundmann denied there were “catastrophic levels of people leaving” NPR and said any departures were due to a more competitive labor market in the radio and podcasting spaces.

“We’ve grown up the next generation of presenters and given people platforms in podcasting that wouldn’t have been available previously,” she told the event. “And so that’s been incredibly exciting, and also actually pushed us in directions that might feel slightly uncomfortable for NPR.”

She added: “I think we used to have a 2% rate of people leaving [annually]now it’s something like 5%, and it’s never gone beyond 7%.

“I don’t think we have catastrophic levels of people leaving. I think people who have been with us for a long time are seeing opportunities and are being very prized in the audio industry, in a way that maybe ten years ago we never would have imagined. ”

“We pay good salaries, we have a platform where you can be heard and a lot of opportunities for people to move around in the organization and then take on different roles,” she went on.

“And we do much longer-term commitments to things so the chances of success and commitment are very high with us, and we’re willing to take risks… But it is not for everyone.”

Podcasts now helping to fund ‘core’ NPR business

Podcasting has become an increasing focus for NPR in recent years, with the brand now boasting eight daily podcasts and an array of weekly or limited series that total 107 million downloads a month according to Grundmann.

That figure marks a 55% increase on 2015 when NPR reported receiving 69 million podcast downloads a month.

The broadcaster’s podcasting work has proved so successful, Grundmann said, that it is now sending money back to fund NPR’s “core business”.

Without going into specifics, she added that NPR was set to continue expanding in the podcasting space “in a very successful way”.

The comments came at an event which also featured BBC Sounds controller Jonathan Wall, who hit back at similar claims that the BBC had been “haemorrhaging talent”, announcing a series of big-name podcasts featuring the likes of Emily Maitlis and Chris Kamara.

In response, however, Grundmann criticized the idea that you needed celebrity talent to front successful podcasts, saying that NPR was focused on building “talent from within” and that the quest to recruit expensive celebrity faces was not the game we need to be playing ”.

Picture: Paul Hennessy / NurPhoto / Getty Images

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