NPR CEO Responds To Senior Editor’s Scathing Op-Ed

by State Brief

NPR’s new president and CEO Katherine Maher has responded to a recently published op-ed by a 25-year veteran of the network that heavily criticized NPR’s editorial direction in recent years.

Last week, Uri Berliner, NPR’s Senior Business Editor, released a scathing op-ed with The Free Press describing his 25-year tenure with the network. Berliner said “an open-minded, curious culture prevailed” throughout NPR early in his career, though noted the outlet’s direction didn’t reflect on America in recent years. According to Berliner, the outlet has been experiencing a lack of “viewpoint diversity.”

The senior editor went on to claim NPR‘s top network executives had pushed for the outlet to transition their messaging toward a consistently progressive liberal framing, citing examples of the outlet’s investigation of former President Donald Trump’s alleged connection to Russia, the controversial death of George Floyd in 2020, and more recently the Israel-Hamas conflict.

On Friday, Maher, who assumed her role as head of the network less than a month ago, responded to Berliner’s criticism with her own op-ed through NPR.

“I joined this organization because public media is essential for an informed public,” Maher wrote. “At its best, our work can help shape and illuminate the very sense of what it means to have a shared public identity as fellow Americans in this sprawling and enduringly complex nation.”

Maher said the network’s service to their “aspirational mission” was called into question by Berliner’s criticism of the network’s quality of journalism and ethos.

“Asking a question about whether we’re living up to our mission should always be fair game: after all, journalism is nothing if not hard questions,” she continued. “Questioning whether our people are serving our mission with integrity, based on little more than the recognition of their identity, is profoundly disrespectful, hurtful, and demeaning.”

The NPR CEO said Berliner’s argument was “deeply simplistic” because it suggested America could be reduced to “any particular set of beliefs,” and criticized his “faulty reasoning” for surmising the network’s identity was demonstrative of NPR’s political leanings. Maher went on to laud the work of NPR’s associates.

“We are stronger because of the work we do together, and we owe each other our utmost respect,” she wrote. “We fulfill our mission best when we look and sound like the country we serve.”

Maher continued:

This is the work of our people, and our people represent America, our irreducibly complex nation. Given the very real challenges of covering the myriad perspectives, motivations, and interests of a nation of more than 330 million very different people, we succeed through our diversity. This is a bedrock institutional commitment, hard-won, and hard-protected … It takes great strength to be comfortable with turning the eye of journalistic accountability inwards, but we are a news organization built on a foundation of robust editorial standards and practices, well-constructed to withstand the hardest of gazes.

The NPR CEO acknowledged the network’s audience has changed over the last two decades, arguing NPR had “earned new trust from younger, more diverse audiences, particularly in our digital experiences.”

“This is why the organization has taken up the call of audience data, awareness, and research: so we can better understand who we are serving, and who we are not,” she continued. “Our initial research has shown that curiosity is the unifying throughline for people who enjoy NPRs journalism and programming.”

Maher went on to say the network must “invest in the resources” that allow NPR to be reflect the curiosity of their audience. She also announced the network will establish quarterly network-wide editorial planning and review meetings.

“These will serve as a venue for NPR newsroom leadership to hear directly from Member organization editorial leaders on how our journalism serves the needs of audiences in their communities, and a coordination mechanism for Network-wide editorial planning and newsgathering,” Maher wrote, adding the initiative would begin this week. “In the spirit of learning from our own work, we will introduce regular opportunities to connect what our research is telling us about our audiences to the practical application of how we’re serving them.”

NPR Editor-in-Chief Edith Chapin will also establish a “broad-based, rotating group” to meet monthly to review and discuss NPR’s coverage across all platforms.

“This is an opportunity to take a break from the relentless pressure of the clock in order to reflect on how we’re meeting our mandate, what we’re catching and what we’re missing, and learn from our colleagues in a climate of respectful, open-minded discussion,” Maher added. “Every person I have met so far in my three weeks here has shown me how they live our mission every day, in their work and in their contributions to the community.”

In conclusion, Maher vowed the network will continue to “uphold our excellence with confidence, having inclusive conversations that bridge perspectives, and learning more about the audiences we serve in order to continue to grow and thrive, adding more light to the illumination of who we are as a shared body public.”

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