News

WAMU Reorganizes Newsroom Amid Staff Turmoil

News Director Jeffrey Katz will step down and be replaced by DCist Editor-in-Chief Rachel Sadon on an interim basis.

WAMU's headquarters on Connecticut Avenue, Northwest. Photograph by Jeff Elkins

Jeffrey Katz will step down as news director at WAMU, according to a memo from Monna Kashfi, the local public radio station’s interim content boss.

DCist Editor-in-Chief Rachel Sadon will step into Katz’s job on an interim basis while WAMU searches for a permanent news director, Kashfi writes, and DCist staff writer Natalie Delgadillo will become DCist’s interim managing editor. Katz will become a senior editor.

WAMU has seen quite a bit of staff turmoil over the past weeks. At the end of June, 1A producer Morgan Givens tweeted that WAMU GM JJ Yore was “seeking a way to fire me,” something Yore denied in a company-wide email. Other WAMU staffers tweeted their support of Givens. Earlier this month, several people accused former WAMU transportation reporter Martin Di Caro of harassment. And on Monday Current reported that American University, which operates WAMU, is investigating senior managing editor Zuri Berry, who one former employee told Current had created a “toxic environment” in the newsroom. Berry remains on the job, according to staffers.

Katz shared some of his thoughts about leaving his role via Kashfi’s memo, saying he looks forward to working with individual reporters, and that it’s the “right time for the newsroom to have new leaders who can meet the moment in new ways.”

Kashfi’s memo follows:

As you know, the last few weeks have brought about many difficult conversations and moments of introspection and self-reflection for us as a media organization. After listening to the thoughtful and heartfelt feedback that many of you shared at our meeting on July 1, it was very clear that changes are needed to address the tensions and broken systems that have been a source of stress in the newsroom for a long time – fissures that have only been widened since we were thrown into the unprecedented circumstances of working remotely during a global pandemic with increased intensity and demands.

One of the main concerns I have heard from many of you is that the newsroom has not functioned as a cohesive team with shared goals, and a clear and inclusive plan for working toward those goals, for a long time. It also alarms me that some of you have not felt empowered to speak up about your concerns or have felt that your input or judgment was not valued. It’s time to heal those breaches of trust and create a culture that values our people as much as our work.

The first step toward making impactful and lasting change is to allow room for fresh ideas and new leadership; this is the approach that Jeffrey whole-heartedly recommended to me. To that end, Jeffrey has decided to take on a new role at the station as a Senior Editor in the newsroom where he can use his immense skills as an editor and journalist to help improve and grow our journalism. Effective today, Rachel Sadon will serve as Interim News Director at WAMU.

The station will be conducting a full and thorough search to hire a permanent News Director and that decision will be made this fall. During Rachel’s interim role, Natalie Delgadillo will serve as Interim Managing Editor of DCist and will assume responsibility for the day-to-day operations of that team. I am confident that both Rachel and Natalie will provide the strong leadership and clarity of vision we need to navigate the next few months as we continue to meet the demands of the news cycle while also working to find tangible answers to the tough questions we are facing as a media organization.

Jeffrey also wanted me to share his sentiments with you:

I’ve long known that editing is what I most enjoyed about my job. It’s what I was first hired to do at NPR and then here. I have been approaching a point in my career where I wanted to return to that, spending more time working with individual reporters and in smaller groups.

This is also the right time for the newsroom to have new leaders who can meet the moment in new ways, especially given the challenges of all of us working remotely. It’s also the right time to accelerate the progress we’ve made over the past several months to have the newsroom and DCist work more closely together. That’s why I’m so pleased that this change presents new opportunities for Rachel.

Periods of transition are not without growing pains. There will undoubtedly be more changes as we all reflect on ways that we can move toward creating a culture of greater respect, inclusion, diversity of thought and open and honest communication. That will not only allow us to serve our community better, but will also put us on the path to the healthy workplace and team dynamics that every single one of you more than deserve.

We will gather today at 11 a.m. to discuss all of this further. Maureen will send the meeting details shortly. I look forward to making this commitment a reality with you.

Monna Kashfi
Interim Chief Content Officer

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Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.