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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 12:35 PM ET, 02/22/2012

WAMU news director claims ‘firewall’ transgression

Yesterday, WAMU announced the departure of news director Jim Asendio. This morning, WAMU held an event to bring together donors and WAMU staffers.

Those two events are connected, says Asendio.

The 60-year-old newsman says that he learned a little while back that a couple of the reporters under his supervision were scheduled to hobnob with the donors at the breakfast affair. Asendio voiced his objection to the arrangement: Under no circumstances should reporters be meeting with donors; that was a task for managers.

On that premise, Asendio signaled that he would not attend the event. He says that he then received an e-mail from WAMU General Manager Caryn Mathes. Asendio recounts the wording of the e-mail: “My refusal to attend a major station event would send an irreversible and permanent statement on whether I was a member of our team.” Strong message right there. “So, seeing the handwriting on the wall and not wanting to get into any kind of job difficulty, I felt it best to stand on my journalistic ethics and resign.”

The get-together between donors and members of the editorial staff, says Asendio, was something that the station’s development office had put together. “This was put on by the major donor office,” he says, noting that he was “led to believe” that it was a “meet the producers” theme. He wouldn’t have had significant objections to that setup, but the involvement of reporters set him off. “When it comes to crossing the firewall, that’s where I draw the line. That questions our credibility and trustworthiness,” says Asendio.

The other side of the story is slow to emerge. Director of Programs Mark McDonald yesterday declined to address any matters relating to Asendio’s departure. Benae Mosby, WAMU’s communications manager, today repeated the station’s policy of not commenting on Asendio’s departure, citing the policies of American University, the station’s licensee.

Asendio had worked for decades in commercial radio before taking a job in public radio at WLIU in Long Island in 2002. He hopped on board of WAMU in 2006. Early in his tenure, he clashed with his bosses over questions of editorial independence but maintains that he managed to forge a good working relationship with the station’s leadership. The only thing that really bothered him, he says, was the pressure from the development side of the operation.

When I caught Asendio, he was headed to Western Maryland to ride his motorcycle. “I’m fine,” he said. “I wish my newsroom all the success. It’s one of the hardest-working newsrooms.”

By  |  12:35 PM ET, 02/22/2012

 
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