The top news executive at NPR announced Friday that she is leaving the organization, an unexpected departure that coincides with a shake-up in the nonprofit media giant’s management structure.
Her decision came hours after NPR’s chief executive, John Lansing, announced the creation of a new position that will oversee all of NPR’s programming — trademark news programs such as “All Things Considered” as well as podcasts and non-news programming such as “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me.” The new chief content officer position would have effectively created another tier of management over Barnes, who previously reported directly to Lansing.
Barnes and Lansing did not respond to requests for comment.
A highly regarded newspaper editor at the Houston Chronicle and Minneapolis Star Tribune, Barnes took over NPR’s newsgathering operations from an interim manager following the resignation of Michael Oreskes in 2017 amid multiple allegations of sexual harassment.
NPR said it would conduct a search for Barnes’s successor, who will become the fourth person to run NPR’s news operations in the past five years.
She leaves at a time of growing financial pressure on NPR, a nonprofit organization that is funded primarily by fees from noncommercial radio stations and corporate sponsorships.
For fiscal year 2021, NPR had revenue-after-expenses of $16.9 million — a swing from a deficit of $14.1 million the year before. Officials have indicated that the organization was hit hard by the pandemic, with daily listening and corporate support falling as fewer people listened to news reports while working from home. At one point in mid-2020, NPR imposed unpaid, week-long furloughs on most of its newsroom employees.
Lansing announced the new chief content officer position in a staff memo Friday morning. Barnes announced her resignation that afternoon.
She wrote in an internal memo that there is “increasingly overlap between the news and [non-news] programming divisions” and that she supported Lansing’s decision to add a new chief content officer. She called her departure “bittersweet.”
NPR’s news division currently employs 481 people. The programming division employs an additional 183.
Barnes supervised NPR’s coverage of the 2020 presidential election, the pandemic, social unrest following the murder of George Floyd and the Russian military invasion of Ukraine. She also created a climate desk, a disinformation team and a breaking news investigations team. She said she would remain on the job through the 2022 midterm elections.
NPR won its first Pulitzer Prize under Barnes last year, in audio reporting, for an investigative podcast series called “No Compromise” about gun rights activists. A second NPR-produced series, “Throughline: Soleimani’s Iran,” about the assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, was a finalist for a Pulitzer last year.