A couple of weeks ago, I talked to Minnesota Public Radio CEO Bill Kling about his June 2011 departure, and he mentioned that his network’s solid content could be stronger. “We don’t win Pulitzers,” he noted.
As a broadcast entity, MPR isn’t eligible for a Pulitzer; the equivalent is a DuPont Columbia University Award. This year, MPR’s American Radio Works unit took one home for “What Killed Sergeant Gray?” a look at a soldier who killed himself after abusing Iraqi prisoners, most likely under orders.
In May, MPR’s national programming arm American Public Media announced major ARW cutbacks, and this week, the details emerged. Some very good journalists who might produce the next DuPont-level story are leaving, others will stay but won’t be doing journalism, and one nationally known personality faces a substantially reduced role.
The two departures include one name that longtime MPR listeners may remember: Catherine Winter, who once did terrific news features about non-metro Minnesota. Kate Ellis, an ARW producer who focused on race relations (including “Say it Plain: A Century of Great African American Speeches”).
The name that will get the most attention is national economics editor Chris Farrell, who is not only leaving ARW (where he worked on poverty initiatives) but his regular commenting job on “Morning Edition.” In a staff memo, MPR news boss Chris Worthington says Farrell’s “last day on our air will be Nov. 1”
MPR says he will still appear on “Marketplace Morning Report” and “Marketplace Money.” MPR|APM has built Farrell into a national brand. He has been one of its highest-paid employees, and Worthington says some business-segment money will be redeployed “elsewhere, a decision with great care and an eye on our priorities.”
It’s certainly possible the money could be better spent — MPR said last spring one motivation was to focus on regional, as opposed to national, news. But for Farrell, this represents a major cutback and I think his MPR|APM future is in flux.
Another documentarian, Laurie Stern, will be moving to Community Relations, of all things, while editor Ochen Kaylan and producer Ellen Guettler will work on digital and other new content.
ARW’s Stephen Smith and Emily Hanford will still produce work, though their documentaries and reports will be limited to education issues.