NPR employees get laid off and of course it’s racism

NPR has been trying to lay off employees because of a huge shortfall that has the company headed toward bankruptcy, but along the way the company has now come under fire over its allegedly racist practices.

“Last week, NPR laid off 84 people and stopped production on four seasonal podcasts, including Invisibilia, Louder Than a Riot and Rough Translation. The company warned in February those cuts would be coming after it projected a $30 million sponsorship shortfall this year,” Bloomberg reported in late March.

Following the cuts, the “Louder Than a Riot” podcast took to Twitter to complain that all of the podcast staffers who were fired were minorities or LGBT members.

[T]he majority impacted in these layoffs were queer, poc staff & programs,” the show tweeted on March 23rd.


“We stand with our laid off team members. … They are without a doubt the best and deserve better,” the show added.

NPR reportedly tried to address concerns by hosting “multiple, tense all-hands meetings” via Zoom, a teleconferencing app.

“While layoffs often mark the abrupt end of an era at an organization, NPR’s story has stretched into this week, spilling over into multiple, tense all-hands meetings in which impacted employees grilled executives about their decisions,” according to Bloomberg.

During these meetings, NPR CEO John Lansing reportedly got into it with a laid-off black staffer.

“That employee voiced concern that some podcasts hadn’t received marketing support and wondered how a show could gain audience without it. This person also listed executives’ names and repeated statements they had made in the past, asking for more accountability,” Bloomberg reported.

The individual then asked how NPR would make diversity work essential. Lansing replied that all the organization’s programming should be relevant to all of America — a stated mission for NPR,” according to Bloomberg.

After replying, Lansing then reportedly slammed the employee for singling out executives by name and asked the workers to “turn down the rhetoric.”

“I would never, ever, on your worst day, call you out by name in a meeting with 827 people. Let’s please keep in mind nobody is happy about this. Nobody is more unhappy about it than those affected, but certainly everybody in the company, beginning with me, this is the last thing we wanted to do,” he said.

Some of the minority employees reportedly interpreted this as so-called “tone-policing.” The idea is that you’re not supposed to tell a loud and obnoxious minority to behave themselves, because that’s racist.

A couple more questions later, some of the employees asked Lansing to explain how they could be specific without calling people out by their name.

“Lansing re-committed to his answer and said that the conversation should have been more civil, which some employees interpreted as a direct attack on the earlier employee,” according to Bloomberg.

Staffers were reportedly irate enough that they called Lansing’s response “racist.” Meanwhile, one staffer reportedly dropped a link to an NPR “Code Switch” podcast episode titled, “When Civility Is Used As A Cudgel Against People Of Color.”

“Civility is a weapon wielded by the powerful,” one employee reportedly complained.

“This meeting has made me more afraid for the future of public media than any conversation I have had in a very long time,” another added.

Following the tense meeting, NPR chief communications officer Isabel Lara sent a statement to Bloomberg downplaying what had occurred.

“[NPR creates] forums for internal staff conversations and respects the hard questions that come from our staff. We value the feedback we receive and acknowledge that this is an incredibly difficult time for everyone in our organization. Our staff has the right and duty to hold NPR leadership accountable,” she said.

She added that the network committed to establishing an environment where “we treat our colleagues with the utmost compassion, respect and dignity, and we will continue to provide opportunities for everyone in the organization to provide feedback on this process and support continuing dialogue.”

Vivek Saxena


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