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NPR veteran Edith Chapin tapped to lead newsroom

NPR has named Edith Chapin its senior vice president for news, overseeing the newsroom. She has been serving in that position on an acting basis since fall 2022.
Stephen Voss
Stephen Voss
NPR has named Edith Chapin its senior vice president for news, overseeing the newsroom. She has been serving in that position on an acting basis since fall 2022.

NPR has moved to shore up its leadership at a time of significant transition, naming veteran news leader Edith Chapin as its senior vice president for news and editor in chief. She has been serving in the position on an acting basis since fall 2022.

"NPR has extraordinary journalists who tell stories and getting to participate in the leadership of that journalism is a tremendous privilege," Chapin said in a brief interview Monday morning. "We all aim every day to serve our audience with information and moments of joy that are useful and relevant."

Chapin has helped lead NPR for more than a decade, joining in 2012 as foreign editor and then rising to become executive editor, the effective top deputy for the news division. Previously, she had been a journalist for CNN for a quarter century, working her way up from intern to vice president. As a producer and assignment editor she covered Nelson Mandela's election to the presidency of South Africa, the first Gulf War, genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia, and then helped lead her network's coverage of Hurricane Katrina and a deadly tsunami in south Asia.

"During a turbulent time, she has been a steady hand and wise counsel to me," NPR chief executive John Lansing said in an interview. "Her editorial leadership has helped NPR produce some of the most excellent journalism that we've ever had."

Lansing also cited Chapin's qualities as "her experience in terms of leading our international coverage, her experience in leading NPR's collaborative journalism with our member stations, her day-to-day leadership as executive editor, and her outstanding work as stepping in as head of news after Nancy [Barnes] left."

Financial troubles and leadership departures have rocked NPR's newsroom

Barnes left last fall as senior vice president for news — becoming editor in chief of the Boston Globe -- after Lansing announced he would hire a chief content officer above her. That new executive is to set NPR's strategy in an age of streaming, when podcasts have become nearly as important to the public broadcaster's bottom line as traditional radio shows. The content chief will also oversee NPR's programming and music divisions, which encompasses most, although not all, of its podcasts.

Lansing's predecessor, Jarl Mohn eliminated a similar content chief position shortly after he arrived in 2014, seeking to ease tensions between the radio and digital sides of the network. In recent years, however, NPR's news and programming divisions clashed frequently over their priorities, resources and need to innovate.

Barnes' departure was followed in ensuing months by the announcement NPR would freeze much of its spending due to a sharp drop in podcast revenues; the subsequent need to lay off and buy out about 10 percent of the network's staff; the departure of the network's chief financial officer, Deborah Cowan; the departure of Chapin's top deputy, Terence Samuel, to become editor in chief of USA Today this month; and, most recently, the announcement on July 14 that NPR's chief operating officer, Will Lee, will leave the network after less than two years for a new corporate position as yet unannounced.

Not all of those developments are related; taken together they spell a steep challenge for Lansing and the network. According to three people with direct knowledge, NPR had fixed on Alex MacCallum, a former senior executive at CNN and The New York Times, to be its chief content officer. Earlier this month, however, she accepted a position as chief revenue officer for The Washington Post.

Lansing said Monday that NPR had other finalists but has decided to reopen its search. He said the network has taken the painful steps necessary to ensure its financial stability given difficult realities of the industry.

"We're starting to click on all cylinders again," he said.

Chapin pointed to NPR's work covering the upcoming presidential election, its past coverage of the pandemic drawing on teams covering international affairs, public health and politics, as part of the efforts to bolster its reporting through collaboration with local stations.

"The distinct proposition that public radio has is knitting together local, regional, national and international," Chapin said. "We've shown success with the work so far. And now we need to scale that up."

Disclosure: This story was reported by NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik and edited by Deputy Business Editor Emily Kopp. No senior news executives or corporate officials were allowed to review this article before it was posted publicly.

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David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.