WAMU General Manager J.J. Yore will leave the station, American University announced Friday. Yore presided over big increases in revenue and membership since the Marketplace co-creator arrived the public radio station in 2014, but the end of his tenure began with a public debate over the station’s ability to retain Black journalists and blossomed into a full-on staff revolt that followed an investigation into one editor and revelations about how WAMU treated allegations of harassment by former reporter Martin Di Caro.
In a note to staff, which you can read in full below, Yore said reflection had led him to believe he had “not led the station through recent events in a way that has earned and maintained your trust and that trust is essential to our mutual success and to the success of WAMU.” He wrote that he had “concluded that, as much as I would like to continue leading WAMU, you will be able to move more quickly to the next great era if I step aside.”
American University Lisa Stark tells Washingtonian in an email that the school and Yore “agreed mutually that he would step down.” Asked what, if anything, AU paid him upon his departure, Stark declined to comment, citing personnel matters.
WAMU also announced that Monna Kashfi, who had replaced content boss Andi McDaniel on an interim basis, will be named officially to the job of chief content officer. Kashfi will chair a task force charged with immediately reviewing the station’s culture. American University will launch its search for a new general manager once the task force, which will include members from all parts of WAMU, finishes its work. The university says it expects to name a successor to Yore within a month-and-a-half.
It also plans to hire an employee relations consultant (a hire Yore announced to staff during a contentious meeting last Friday) and to provide “equity, inclusion, and anti-racism training” to its leadership team and later to the whole staff.
Yore’s note to staff:
I have been reflecting over the last 60 days, and particularly since our staff meeting last week, on what is best for me, WAMU, and the communities we serve and I have decided to step down as general manager. This has been a very difficult decision for me because running WAMU was not just a job for me. WAMU is a station I love, in the city where I grew up.
However, as I have looked back on the past months, I realize that I have not led the station through recent events in a way that has earned and maintained your trust and that trust is essential to our mutual success and to the success of WAMU. I regret the sense that I have let you down which is why I feel I must now step aside. I assure you that I respect you as colleagues and friends and it was not my intention to cause any ill will.
I am deeply proud of what we have achieved together during the last six years. Through our mutual efforts, WAMU is stronger than ever. Revenue is up more than 70%, from $20 million in FY15 to $37 million in FY20. We grew reserves from a low of $400,000 to more than $7 million. We transformed ourselves from a financially struggling radio station to a robust, widely respected broadcast and digital news organization for the nation’s capital. That made it possible for us to increase support from the community, growing membership by almost 40 percent. Our staff is more than 50 percent larger, and far more diverse, than it was in 2014. I hope we will be on a pathway that opens more opportunity for the future through these efforts and that our efforts on diversity will be enhanced and continued by those who follow.
We also made extraordinary advances in our content. Diane Rehm’s iconic national program transitioned to a new hit show, 1A, reaching 4 million people a week and whose team reflects the diversity of the country. We transformed the quality of our local journalism with new reporters and editors and new beats that deliver greater range and depth of local coverage than ever before. We made huge leaps in reaching people beyond radio, quadrupling our digital audience to more than 16 million unique visitors this year. We accomplished that not only by acquiring and investing in DCist but also by increasing our reach on WAMU.org, our podcasts and, increasingly, our newsletters.
I say all of this not to highlight my achievements but to remind all of us of how far we have come and how proud I am to have worked with all of you on this journey. You are the strength of WAMU. I am especially gratified that even as the pandemic is costing WAMU millions in revenue we were able to start the fiscal year without laying off a single permanent, full-time employee.
Coming home to head WAMU has been the most difficult yet rewarding role of my career. But I have concluded that, as much as I would like to continue leading WAMU, you will be able to move more quickly to the next great era if I step aside.
I’m looking forward to what the future will bring. – I’ll always remain a fan, cheering you on from the sidelines.
Best – JJ